Month: September 2015

Snarky comments on obscure Chefs Catalog products

Snarky comments on obscure Chefs Catalog products

We love looking through each new Chef’s Catalog and enjoy imagining what new kitchen gimcrack we might buy next. But some of them are so outlandish, we had to tell you about them.

 butter shredder Butter mill – This allows you to shred cold butter onto toast “without tearing it.” For heavens sake, in over 30 years, we’ve never torn a piece of toast buttering. Buy better bread! Only $19.95, though.
 vitamix Vitamix Pro Blender. About $600. For heaven’s sake, get hold of yourselves. It’s a blender, not a stereo system!
 convection oven Waring Pro Convection Oven. $499. The catalog photo shows it hold two small chickens. It takes up 1.5 cubic feet of counter space, and at that price is well on the way to costing as much as an actual oven, many of which have convection features. We don’t see cluttering our counter with this clunker. But opinions may vary.
 spice stripper Herb zipper. From Fusion Brands. Strips the leaves off herbs. Only $7.95, but do you really have the kitchen drawer space for another silly gadget. Scissors work just as well, and you already have them!
 3peelers Set of 3 Swiss Peelers. $11.95. These work, but why do you need three of them. Do you color match your veggies with the right peeler? Green for cucumbers, yellow for carrots, red for (peppers?)? We have one of these and it works fine, but we do not need two more to stuff our kitchen drawers, and we prefer the Oxo swivel peeler anyway.
 mushroom slicer Norpro multipurpose slicer. We can see something like this for slicing hard boiled eggs, and we have the same one Mister Rogers had. But mushrooms? Don’t be silly. With our patented knife sharpener, thisOur little chef’s knife can mertilize those in seconds!
 kitchenaid mixer Kitchenaid Artisan Stand Mixer. About $350. This is a terrific product and a good price. But did you know it comes in 21 different colors? Really! Maybe we need one for each day of the week.

Anyway, we really want the Wonder Woman version, but it’s only available in Brazil!wonder woman

 egg poacher Egg poacher  $59.95 for 4 or $69.95 for 6.

You really need to learn how to do egg poaching in a pan. It’s much easier and you don’t have all those dirty dishes with bits of cooked on egg to try to get clean.

For a small number of eggs, just drop them into swirling water.

For a large number of eggs (we’ve done up to 22 in a few minutes) use a big spaghetti cooker pan with salt and vinegar and lift them out when they float to the surface.

 deep fryer TFAL EZ Clean Deep Fryer $129.95.  We’ll have to admit we are really tempted by this one. It filters and drains the oil into a container drawer when it’s cool. The claim is that it eliminates the mess of pouring and filtering oil. But how long does deep frying oil last before it deteriorates and gets skunky? Maybe 2 or 3 times? Then you have to pour it out, and clean the drawer and the filter.  But it looks like a really nice fryer, Santa, really it does!
 griddler Cuisinart Griddler $99.95. Waffle  plates another $39.95. We have this one and use it mostly for Panini sandwiches. It isn’t that great for all the other features.

But we wanted to snark about those pancakes. We can tell you from just looking at the picture that those pancakes are going to be really tough! We have a way better recipe than that!

 corn stripper Deluxe Corn stripper. $19.95. Come on people. You can do it with a knife in seconds, and if the corn is still hot, hold the end with a fork. How do you clean that sucker, and where would you store it the other 10 months of the year? Besides, we always thought that this was a corn stripper!corn costime

We apologize to Chefs Catalog for making fun of some of their catalog items, but we bet they smirk a little over things like the butter shredder and the corn stripper, too.  Happy Halloween!

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Moms Across America consults a mystic

Corn in the sun
Corn in the sun

Moms Across America is a group of well-meaning moms, who, concerned about their children’s health, have become anti-GMO activists. Led by well-meaning uber-mom Zen Honeycutt, whom we interviewed last year, they attend demonstrations, publish their views and have been holding some streaming video interviews and seminars. However, none of them are scientists or have much scientific training, and if you scroll to the bottom of their web page, you will find they have extensive support from the organic industry.

As we noted before, much of the anti-GMO movement has changed from claiming GMOs are poison to focusing on glyphosate (Roundup) being sprayed on GMOs as the actual agent that they believe is causing health problems. Of course, there is simply no evidence for this, as Roundup is generally only present as minute traces which have never been shown to have any adverse health effects, even in long-term studies such as Snell’s, as summarized here by Entine.

Recently, Honeycutt met Priya Advani and asked if she could give an interview on their web site. The interview, which occurred last night was probably as frustrating for Honeycutt as it was for the viewers. It is now available for streaming from the MAM site.

Priya Advani calls herself “Dr Advani,” but her doctorate is a Doctorate in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, which is not recognized by any medical board and is essentially mystical quackery.  As QuackWatch notes, you should “Beware of Acupuncture, Quigong and Chinese Medicine,” because there is no evidence they work, and have no scientific basis. Science Based Medicine also has a recent piece condemning NPR for implying the acupuncture and alternative medicine have any measurable effect.

Nonetheless, Advani held forth for the better part of any hour, claiming that she cured patients of their ills, which included sinus infections and more serious ailments by removing “GMOs” from their diets, combined with meditation and acupuncture.

She quickly made it clear that she only recently even heard of genetically modified crops and concluded that since nearly all soy and corn in the US is genetically modified, she recommended her patients adopt alternative diets to eliminate these GMOs. She did not even mention any cause and effect relationship, nor did she seem to know that the overwhelming scientific consensus is that GM foods are no more dangerous than conventional crops.

It is probable that Advani is a really nice woman in person, with a lot of charm, but on the video, her halting valley-girl style of speech made her less than credible, even as she was advocating meditation, acupuncture, detox (which doesn’t do anything either), and removal of “GMOs” from your diet.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

Zen: Tell us a little bit more about your patients recuperating.

Priya: So basically things like that with a lot of allergies, a lot of chronic sinus issues. I’ve had patients with, you know, diabetes, cholesterol, basically things like that. It was interesting, I had a patient, who was a new patient who came just to do a detox, and when I sat down with her, I spent an hour and a half for consultation, sat down with her and talked about GMOs versus organic; she’d never heard of GMOs before, she actually was on board with changing out her food…she heard what I had to say about it and she did her own research and she was again shocked…

But after this word salad, Honeycutt kept pressing for details of her treatments and patient reactions, and Advani kept skating across the surface, avoiding answering directly. You could see that this really wasn’t a productive interview.

Advani did claim that on an organic diet, you don’t need to eat as much because it is “the chemicals that make you hungry,” again a claim without any actual scientific basis. She also mentioned Samsel and Seneff’s publications in 3rd rate pay-to-play journals that claim that Roundup causes dozens of diseases, but not mentioning that that paper contained no research data to support its claims and has been pretty thoroughly discredited.

She also claimed that glyphosate is a chelator (it is but not a very effective one) that robs food of its nutrition (again never shown) and even of its Vitamin D. But there is no science to support her fantasies. It’s just made up!

Overall, Advani is not a doctor, barely understands science, and should not be treating patients. She is a practitioner of alternative medicine and the definition of alternative medicine remains “things we don’t know work and things we know don’t work.”  Detox is quackery, acupuncture is quackery and herbology is quackery. She does seem like a nice person, though.

Grilled spatchcocked chicken

Grilled spatchcocked chicken

One of the simplest ways to make a roast chicken is by splitting the whole chicken along the backbone and flattening it out. This makes it cook more uniformly, and the breast and dark meat finish at the same time.

Rosemary and garlic
Rosemary and garlic
Mortar with garlic and rosemary and olive oil
Mortar with garlic and rosemary and olive oil

For our grilled spatchcocked chicken, we picked a spring of rosemary and two garlic cloves, and mashed them together in a little olive oil, using a mortar and pestle.

Cutting the backbone out
Cutting the backbone out

Then we cut the chicken along the backbone using ordinary kitchen shears or durable scissors, and then cut along the other side of the backbone to remove it completely.

brushed with spices
brushed with spices

Turning it over, we flattened it out by pressing down on then breastbone, and then brushed the entire top of the chicken with the garlic and rosemary olive oil.

On grill
On grill

To grill it, we heated the outer two burners of our gas grill, leaving the center area unheated, and placed the chicken skin side up in the center, so it would cook by indirect heat.

Grilled chicken completed
Grilled chicken completed

That’s really all there is to this. Just cook the chicken until an instant read thermometer shows 165° F in the thigh. The breast meat will probably be about 10 degrees cooler, but still completely cooked.

Put the cooked bird on a platter, let it rest a few minutes and carve it to serve. If you have a lot of diners, you may need several birds, but as you see this is really a low labor meal!

Carved and served
Carved and served

McCormick plans to scam consumers with ‘organic’ spices

McCromick organic spices
McCromick organic spices

McCormick has announced plans to “significantly increase the number of organic and non-GMO offerings in 2016.” And, based on the spices already on the shelves, this will be at a significant price increase. We looked at a few McCormick spices and found that organic oregano was $5.19 and regular was $3.29. And organic basil was $5.99, while conventional was $3.39 for an even bigger bottle.

And what are consumers getting for all this money? Scammed! Both organic and conventional crops are sprayed regularly: just with different sprays, and the organic plants are usually sprayed more often, because the organic-approved insecticides are much less effective.

And, as Bruce Ames pointed out in a classic PNAS paper, most plants make their own carcinogenic insecticides, and they are present at a level 10,000 times that of any applied insecticide.  Further, since spices come from all over the world, it is barely credible that the baroque organic rules can be enforced uniformly.

Finally, McCormick also is making a big deal of their spices being “non-GMO,” even though there is not a shred of evidence that GM crops pose any sort of harm despite being in use for nearly 20 years. But what does this mean? There are no GMO version of any spice plant!

vanillin
Vanillin

It seems that this all comes down to vanilla. Not vanilla extracted from vanilla beans, but vanillin, the synthetic version of the principal component of vanilla flavoring. Vanillin can be synthesized in a number of ways, and one us through the use of synthetic biology, in which yeast are bred or designed to create vanillin by fermentation. The process was developed by the Swiss company Evolva, in partnership with International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF).

Now, if the bacteria Evolva/IFF use are genetically modified, some paranoid consumers might think that the pure vanillin the bugs produced is somehow “genetically modified.” This is chemical nonsense, of course, vanillin is a simple 8-carbon compound and easily purified such that its precursors do not matter. While the GMO Compass organization believes that vanillin so produced would not have to be labeled because it is the same, pure compound, Food Navigator reports that it would not qualify for the “non-gmo” stamp. This seems to be more of a theological than a scientific dispute.

The Motley Fool has a good summary of the business considerations in making vanillin using biotechnology.

Meanwhile, McCormick, ever ready to trash science in the name of gouging consumers decided to use vanillin in the artificial vanilla products that was not produced using biotechnology.

Just yesterday we learned of a hedge fund weasel, Martin Shkreli who bought up rights to the 62-year old drug Daraprim, and raised its price from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill for no good reason except to line his pockets. This, frankly, is little different than what McCormick is doing, trading on consumer ignorance and the fictional organic halo created by lobbyists, recognizing that fear sells.

The Boarding House: Nantucket comfort food

The Boarding House: Nantucket comfort food

Tglass rackhe Boarding House is Seth and Angela Raynor’s popular mid range restaurant on Federal St. The menu can best be described as “comfort food,” with entrees ranging from $27 to $37 and appetizers from $14 to $18. The service is always fast and informal, but you will definitely need a reservation: they are very popular.

fried chickenWhile there certainly are seafood entrees on the menu, this is one restaurant where you can get away from Nantucket’s pescatarian culture.

We visited The Boarding House last Friday with their crispy fried chicken in mind ($27). It’s served with a biscuit and a dish of a jam that changes from day to day. Ours was apple butter. It also comes with a very interesting collard green slaw and pickled cucumbers. The chicken was crispy, with the batter slightly sweetish, and the pieces cooked to perfection without being at all dried out.

caesarFor an appetizer, we tried their Caesar salad: Baby Kale and Romaine Caesar with garlic bread croutons (14), white boquerones (that means anchovies) and copious amounts of grated Parmesan cheese. This salad was excellent, almost big enough for two to share.

riccotta toastWe also tried their Homemade Riccotta toast ($16) served with black mission figs, local fennel pollen (really!), sea salt and sorghum. With the figs and all this was more substantial than it sounds and made quite an excellent appetizer as well.

There were really only a few choices for dessert: Dark Chocolate Cremeux, Raspberry Pavlova (apparently you drool when you read about it) BoHo cookies and milk, ice creams and cheeses. We decided to forgo them, although we know their cookies are outstanding.

Our bill, with 3 glasses of wine was $136, including tax. We go back every year.

The Ships Inn: elegant and understated

The Ships Inn: elegant and understated

dining roomThe Ship’s Inn at 13 Fair St is an elegant, understate and creative restaurant you shouldn’t miss. The restaurant is on the lower level of the inn itself, and has its own entrance at right rear. Or you can go into the inn and down the stairs. Fair Street is one way inbound towards Main and you have to drive out and back in to get to the restaurant. On street parking is limited and you may have to park some distance away or somewhere downtown.

MottThe inn itself is quite elegant and has a comfortable and old-fashioned quality, and claims to be on the site of the birthplace of Lucretia Mott, the first abolitionist and women’s suffrage pioneer.

Chef Mark Gottwald’s menu is creative and priced on the high end of moderate, with only three of the 12 entrees above $40. The appetizers are priced from $12 to $20. The service is elegant and attentive, and quite rapid.

House salad
House salad

We started with two excellent salads, a House Salad ($12) of field greens, feta cheese and a lemon thyme vinaigrette, and a classic Caesar salad ($14) with romaine, parmesan and croutons. Both salads were ample, and the Caesar so

Caesar salad
Caesar salad

rich we could hardly finish it.

For our main course, we ordered Boneless Beef Short Ribs ($36) with horse radish spatzle. The beef was amazingly tender and richly flavored and the spatzle small and elegant. It was so huge we were able to take some home for lunch the next day.

short ribs
Short ribs

Our other entrée was Grilled Shrimp ($35) served with English peas, chorizo and baby clams (shown in the dish on the left, and saffron and tomato rice shown on the right. The huge shrimp plus the chorizo and clams made an enormous but satisfying meal and one we’d enthusiastically recommend to anyone.

Grilled Shrimp
Grilled Shrimp

We decided there wasn’t room for dessert, but we certainly will return to try some more dishes on this excellent menu.

Galley Beach: excellent but pricey

Galley Beach: excellent but pricey

tablesGalley Beach offers picturesque dining on Cliffside Beach, with a view of the ocean and sunset. Under the (returning) Chef W Scott Osif, the menu is again highly imaginative and very tasty. It is also almost unreasonably pricey, topping out with a jaw-dropping $58 veal chop entrée and a $59 lobster entrée. The complete set of entrée prices are almost all over $40: 42,45,40,59,39,58,54. The appetizers are somewhat more reasonable, running from$16 to $25. Portion sizes are again good-sized, unlike under the prior chef’s reign.  It is perfectly possible to make a meal out of two appetizers and feel completely satisfied.

There is no doubt that you will enjoy your meal and excellent service at Galley Beach, and some of the dishes are definitely worth sampling.

veggiesWe begin our evening with an appetizer Summer Vegetable Tasting ($19), made up of tomatoes, radishes, broccolini, melon,sunchoke and greens. Thoughtfully composed, this light appetizer was a welcome relief from Nantucket overkill.

chowderOur other appetizer was a truly excellent clam chowder ($16), made with Yukon gold potatoes and applewood smoked bacon. It was thick and bursting with clams and potatoes. Surely the best clam chowder on the island.

crab cakeFor one entrée, we chose the crab cake ($27), served with cucumber and tomato mint salad and a champagne beurre blanc. While this was nominally an appetizer, it was large and so filling it made an excellent dinner.

Our other entrée was Sea Scallops ($44) served with kale, pickled apple, celery root and a lemon coriander dressing.  Tscallopshe four large scallops were almost more than we could eat, but the accompaniments were fascinating and went well with the scallops.

Finally, we succumbed to a dessert, splitting an excellent Crème Brulee ($15) served with two huge blackberries. The crust was crispy and more important, the underlying custard was warm and not just pulled from the fridge and torched.creme brulee

Overall we had an excellent meal, which with two glasses of $22 chardonnay set us back $187 including tax but before tip. Galley Beach has set itself up with price points as a special occasion venue, or for the wealthy and this is too bad, because everyone would enjoy eating there. The view and service are excellent, and if you bring plenty of money, it is a terrific experience.

Incidentally, it appears that they have dropped the $15 valet parking of the past two years, which was really just annoying.

Cage free eggs are like GMO free popcorn

Cage free eggs are like GMO free popcorn

Eggs
Eggs

Yesterday’s announcement that McDonald’s plans to switch to cage-free eggs over the forthcoming decade has generated a lot of discussion about the advantages of various egg farming techniques and trade-offs between systems. Clearly there are some advantages to each system but there didn’t seem to be a definitive answer as to whether cage-free was a superior technique.

Fortunately, thanks to Lara Ginsburg Durban (the Communications Director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association), we’ve learned of an extensive research project carried out to measure all these factors, resulting in eight papers published in the journal Poultry Science. The research was carried out at a commercial Midwestern farm by researchers from UC Davis, Michigan State, Iowa State and the USDA.

The researchers evaluated three systems: Conventional Cage (CC) where there are 6 hens per cage, and 80 square inches per hen, and Enhanced Colony Housing system (EC) where there are 160 hens per cage, with 116 square inches per hen, and a Cage Free Aviary system (AV), where the hens could move about freely in a defined space on the floor and on multiple levels, with 144 square inches per bird. Detailed plans for each caging system are shown in this paper.

The researchers carried out parallel studies of the three systems using one flock, divided into the three systems, and repeated then entire experiment with a second flock. Overall, the study and data collection took 3 years.

The final Research Results Report is linked near the top of this summary page, and is a very clear summary of the entire project, in a 42-page downloadable pdf.

So what did they find? To our surprise, chickens did best in conventional cages and worst in the Aviary system on most measurements, although there were some cases were the AV system was best for the birds.  Here’s a summary from the housing system paper.

The aviary pullets cost about $1.85 more per bird than the birds entering the conventional and enriched cage houses. Furthermore, the aviary birds produce about 5% fewer eggs per pullet than the birds in the conventional system. The aviary system begins with the same number of eggs per hen in the initial weeks, but egg production falls much more steeply for the aviary (not shown in the table). Hen mortality is higher in the aviary. By the end of the cycle, the flocks in the aviary system lost 13.3% of the original pullets placed in the barn, compared with 5.2% mortality in the enriched cage system and 4.8% in the conventional system. Also by the end of the cycle, eggs per pullet for the aviary fell to about 10% below the average in the conventional house and 15% below the average in the enriched house.

On the other hand, the hens in the aviary were found to have stronger bones and thus less broken bones than the CC and EC hens, and showed more hen-like behaviors.

There is a really nice interactive chart here, where you can look at the results of the three caging systems on food safety, animal health and well-being, environment, worker health and safety, and food affordability.  AV and EC hens cost a great deal more than CC hens did, AV was worse for worker health and safety, and AV was worse for emissions, and EC the best for ammonia emissions.

Conclusions

McDonald’s decision to require cage-free eggs is certainly a marketing effort based on perceived consumer preference rather than on the extensive published research. And in fact, it will probably drive smaller farmers out of the egg market because of the enormous conversion cost, and higher production cost. Further, farm investments are cyclical, and McDonalds window is probably too small to accommodate the change in caging systems that might take place as old ones need replacement.

In other words, “cage-free” sounds a lot better than it is. Mortality is double that of conventional caging and the cost of egg gathering increases substantially. But, again, it depends on what criteria you choose, as AV hens tend to be stronger and have the opportunity for dust bathing and use of perches.

And what about that popcorn?

popcorn bag1The choice to go to cage-free eggs is a marketing decision, much like the more or less meaningless “GMO Free” labels when there has never been any evidence of harm from transgenic crops. Moreover, there is no such thing as “GMO popcorn”: it simply doesn’t exist. There are really good popcorn poppers to make sure one gets the best popcorn made. But labeling popcorn as non-bag2GMO is catering the food fears of poorly informed consumers rather than being supported by any sort of science. It makes about as much sense as non-GMO salt.

Brotherhood of Thieves: a popular family restaurant

Brotherhood of Thieves: a popular family restaurant

Sign outside
Sign outside

The Brotherhood of Thieves has been a fixture on Nantucket since 1972, providing families a convenient place to eat relatively inexpensively. It was damaged by fire in 1999, but was reopened in 2004 thanks to restaurateurs EJ Harvey and Larry Wheldon. In 2011, Chef Christopher Hinds was appointed Chef de Cuisine, and oversees all operations.

In fact, it was Hinds work that brought back the quality the Brotherhood was known for and their menu now emphasizes burgers and specialty sandwiches, along with a few entrées and shared plates. They have 9 different craft beers on tap, and of course feature a children’s menu as well.

The restaurant is exceptionally popular in high season as visitors and day trippers look for a quick, but decent place to take their children for lunch or dinner.

We dropped by the Brotherhood last Tuesday, and found it much the same. The lower level remains as it was, rather like an old whaling bar. The upper levels are more light and airy.

reubenWe ordered an excellent Reuben sandwich ($18) and the Brotherhood Burger with cheddar ($15). Both come with curly fries. The Reuben was juicy and flavorful, and so substantial that we save part for the next day’s lunch.

burgerThe burger was pretty good, but neither as juicy or as flavorful as you can get right across the street at Le Languedoc for only about $3 more. The fries likewise were fairly good, but not in the class of Le Languedoc’s.

Overall, The Brotherhood is a really decent family restaurant, but for burgers only, go across the street.

Fog Island Café: best breakfasts on the island

signEvery time we have breakfast at Fog Island, on South Water Street, we wonder why we’d go anywhere else.  The food and service are terrific, as evidenced by the crowds it attracts. We went a little later after a morning hike and had the place almost to ourselves. The breakfast menu features pancakes, French toast, breakfast sandwiches, omelets, fruits, cereal, basic egg dishes, and several styles of Eggs Benedict.

sausage biscuitWe ordered their wildly popular Sausage Biscuit ($11.95) : scrambled eggs and sausage and cheddar cheese on a homemade buttermilk biscuit. It is so good it can bring tears to your  eyes!

frtench toastAnd, we ordered their classic French toast: thick cut cinnamon bread, dipped in cinnamon batter ($10.95). It was beautiful to behold as well as to eat.

Fog Island Café serves breakfast and lunch and is open from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm (1:00 pm on Sundays). You are sure to be delighted.

Incidentally, their website doesn’t display the menus correctly using Chrome, but it works fine using Firefox, but this does not take away from the excellent food.