Month: August 2016

Fusaro’s on Nantucket: a family Italian restaurant

Fusaro’s has been around for four years now and have really hit their stride. The food and service are excellent and it is wildly popular: witness the packed interior on a Tuesday night. Fortunately, the patio was still available and fairly quiet. The parking lot fills up sometimes, but there is additional parking behind. You turn left out of the restaurant and take the first left to the additional lots. Fusaro’s does not take reservations, but they are quick and accommodating, and you probably won’t wait long.

Their menu is classic red sauce Italian, but exceptionally well prepared. It includes 10 antipasti, 5 salads, 9 pasta dishes, 6 “favorites” like Bolognese,  7 entrees like Veal Marsala, and Fisherman’s Stew, and a few side dishes like spiral cut zucchini. Among those antipasti is their favorite: Nana Jean’s Meatballs, with pomodoro sauce and herbed ricotta, which we recommend highly.


Most of the dinner entrees come with a small side salad, and you can “upgrade it to Caesar” for just $2. This amounts to adding focaccia croutons and shaved pecorino to the salad. This is a really nice touch.

On this visit, we tried their Veal Parmigiana ($23), a large slice of fork-tender, flavorful veal served on pasta and topped with parmesan and mozzarella. It may have been one of the best examples of this simple dish we have ever been served.

We also tried their amazing Lasagna ($19), which they describe as “five layers of ricotta, parmigiana, mozzarella, pork and beef ragu.” It was simply outstanding, and more than we could finish.

Desserts at Fusaro’s are fairly standard, (tiramisu, cannoli, gelato, brownie supreme and cheesecake,  but we were too full to indulge. Even with 2 glasses of $14 wine, the bill (with tax and before tip)was only $82.  It’s no wonder Fusaro’s is so popular, especially with families.

Fusaro’s is at 17 Old South Rd, and it is easy to drive right past it.Look for the flags.

diners

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The New York Times endorses acupuncture?

acupunctureThe New York Times today had an editorial “by the editorial board,” asserting correctly that overuse of opioids for pain relief is a serious problem. They say that Doctors Will Play a Critical Role in the Opioid Epidemic.  They cite Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy’s web site Turn the Tide and suggest that doctors need to look for pain relief without so much emphasis on opioids.

So far, so good. But the Times goes on to say that for back pain and surgical pain doctors have many other options, including, “physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, acupuncture, exercise and so on.”

They even note that “A further problem is that some insurance plans do not cover alternative treatments like physical therapy and acupuncture…” That’s why so many people use services as Insurance Partnership to find the best insurance that cover all their needs.

Well these are not the same thing at all. Physical therapy is well recognized by the medical profession as a significant contributor to patient’s well-being.

Acupuncture is the one that is “alternative.” And guess what”

Alternative medicine is made up of things we don’t know work and things we know don’t work.

Acupuncture is not an accepted medical treatment because there is no freaking evidence that it works! Mark Crislip has written about the failures of acupuncture studies in detail. And so has David Gorski.

They note that there is no evidence that acupuncture releases endorphins in a large number of cited studies, suggesting that it is essentially a placebo effect, or “the same as beer goggles.”

The explanation of acupuncture and its “meridians” has nothing to do with science based medicine and the New York Times editorial board or some of their writers must surely know this!

And the Australian group ScienceInMedicine asks the rhetorical question “Is there any place for acupuncture in 21st century medicine?”

Following Betteridge’s Law for headlines, here is their conclusion after an extensive research review:

“Acupuncture has been studied for decades and the evidence that it can provide clinical benefits continues to be weak and inconsistent. There is no longer any justification for more studies. There is already enough evidence to confidently conclude that acupuncture doesn’t work. It is merely a theatrical placebo based on pre-scientific myths.”

The Proprietors: delightful and imaginative

The Proprietors: delightful and imaginative

In New England history, the Proprietors were the original governing bodies of new towns, parceling out the land to settlers for farming, before real governments took hold. The Proprietors restaurant on Nantucket is named for these historic visages and was founded by Chef Michael  LaScola and Orla LaScola. (The other original partner and chef Tom Barry tells us he is now in Boston where he will “support younger, talented chefs in the role of Culinary Director at Yvonne’s and  Lolita.”)

The menu at The Proprietors is a mixture of appetizers and small plates along with a few larger entrée portions.  While the original menus designated these as “half shares” and “full shares,” these labels are gone, but you can figure out pretty easily the size by the price and position in the menu (the smaller ones are listed first).

There are five full-sized entrees: short ribs, scallops, suckling pig confit, buttermilk brined chicken and fluke, all priced in the $30 range. The remainder are priced from $14 to $18, and clearly are smaller portions. We are coveting the beet salad, Quail “Tikka Masala,” Roast Bone Marrow, Crispy Thai style broccoli, and Rock Shrimp for  another visit.

You can make a nice meal out of several small plates or one and an entrée. We were so happy to see the fantastic House Made Charcuterie Plate ($29.50) on the menu like that LaScola made while chef at American Seasons, that we ordered it despite the waiter’s warning that it probably could serve four! I probably does, especially if you want another course, but we arranged to take home some of the remaining sausages for sandwiches.

charcuterie

The platter consists of two homemade mustards, smoked duck, chicken terrine, several types of pork sausages, chicken liver pate and slices of Serrano ham along with pickled cucumbers and melba toast slices. Only the ham was not made in the Proprietor’s kitchen. Every bit was delicious and we only finished half of it.

We both ordered the same entrée, Kim Chee Pancakes with pork belly and pickled shiitake mushrooms. Kim Chee, of course, is Korean pickled cabbage, usually somewhat spicy, although the kim chee embedded in the pancakes was pretty mild. The pork belly was meltingly tender and flavorful and the overall dish a big success.

kimchi

Again, we are delighted with the Proprietors and will be going back. Maybe even as soon as next week!

Table setting

Millie’s: Now a Madaket tradition

Millie’s: Now a Madaket tradition

We have been writing enthusiastically about Millie’s ever since it opened in 2010 at the West End of Nantucket in Madaket. This is an informal place for the entire family that has been wildly popular for the start. Serving primarily variations of fish tacos, quesadillas, po’ boys, sandwiches and salads, Millie’s has been and remains a standout restaurant on Nantucket.

diners

Millie’s is named for Madaket Millie, a legendary but strong recluse who time and again saved sailors off the end of the island. She was eventually inducted into the Coast Guard for her service.

The restaurant Millie’s serves nearly 3 dozen dishes, all named for Nantucket locations, and all delicious. While many are seafood, there are plenty of chicken and a few beef entrees as well.

chowderWhile the basic menu hasn’t changed much, there are regular additions such as the fantastic sweet corn and clam chowder ($8.95) they featured yesterday. Served with abundant clams and potatoes, it is decorated with crunchy tortilla strips, and is so filling it’s almost the whole meal.

But for our main courses we opted for Tom Nevers ($17), a delicious quesadilla made with marinated chicken and cheese, and a Muskeget Po Boy ($25), essentially a lobster roll on a toasted, buttered brioche roll.

Millies has an ample selection of beers, wines and cocktails, including Margaritas served in mason jars. We opted for the Cisco Whale’s Tale Ale.

One of the great advantages of Millies is the views of the West End sunset every night. It’s nearly always lovely, so make sure you get seated on the second floor where you can appreciate it.

Nantucket: The Island Kitchen

Nantucket: The Island Kitchen

We first visited “The Island Kitchen” when it opened in 2013. Chef Patrick Ridge and his hard working staff have turned this into a marvelous and wildly popular breakfast place, as well as serving lunch and dinner. Sundays, when we visited are limited to brunch service, ending at 2 pm, but they serve breakfast daily 7 am – 2 pm, lunch from 11 am to 2 pm and dinner from 5:30 pm to 9 pm.

The menu is organized around some creative turns on the standard breakfast fare, the lunch menu includes “fried clucker,” which is a fried chicken breast sandwich with Franks Red Hot sauce and blue cheese dressing. The dinner menu has the convention steak and burgers, but has the very interesting Grilled Asparagus and Brie sandwich.

But we want to rave about the breakfasts! A recent newspaper survey rated the Island Kitchen as having Nantucket’s best breakfasts, and we can see why, just from two orders.

omeletOur asparagus, mushroom and cheese omelet ($12.50) was outstanding, with the eggs properly cooked but in no way tough or dry. And the asparagus had just the right amount of crunch. We rarely get an omelet that good anywhere.

And finally, their breakfast special called “Animal” ($14.50) was a culinary tour de force. It was “two panko crusted eggs, sausage, bacon and hollandaise on a brioche bun.” In fact, it looked like the cooked poached egg was rolled in the panko breadcrumbs and then quickly deep fried to hold the crust on the eggs, which were still perfectly cooked. While filling, this is an amazing breakfast offering if you are that hungry.

animal open

The Island Kitchen is at 1 Chin’s way, essentially across Pleasant Street from Stop and Shop, and somewhat recessed. There is ample parking and you are sure to have a great meal. They serve both indoors and outdoors in warm weather, and while they are likely to be busy, they are very accommodating.  Currently, they are reworking the roof over the outdoor dining and the sign is missing. Just follow the crowd.

Outdoor dining

 

5 Reasons High Fructose Corn Syrup Will Kill You

corn syrup
Corn syrup

 

An article by Mark Hyman, MD with the above title has been broadly distributed across the Internet: you can easily find dozens of copies. If I go down to my local Stop and Shop and buy, say, Coca-Cola, with HFCS in it, am I killing myself? Nonsense! Hyman’s article is full of basic scientific errors as well as substantial errors of fact. What he has written is sensational, but utterly wrong.

While Hyman is indeed a physician, he is not a research scientist, and he has gone deeply into something called “functional medicine,” which is the sort of woo you find on alternative medicine sites like imaginewellnesscentre.com.

Alternative medicine is a collection of things we don’t know work and things we know don’t work.

Functional medicine is not science-based medicine. Further, Hyman’s web site is a vehicle for him to peddle pills, books and supplements; he is certainly not the sort of physician we would recommend anyone consult, since many of his ideas are nonsense.

Hyman’s shrill article accusing the Corn Manufacturer’s Association of “deception,” a “misinformation campaign,” and “twisted sweet lies.” Not exactly a sober scientific report! In fact, it contains only two scientific references, one of them discredited and the other retracted.

Hyman starts out in his preamble claiming that HFCS is a major cause of heart disease, obesity, cancer, dementia, liver failure, tooth decay, “and more.” The only links are to other articles of his, none of which even mention HFCS.

Major errors

Here are some of the errors in the major points in his article:

  • He claims that HFCS is an industrial food product extracted from corn by a process so secret that ADM and Cargill (which he misspells) would not allow author Michael Pollan to observe. Rubbish! The details of HFCS production have been known for years, and are readily available, even on Wikipedia. The details of a specific industrial process may indeed be secret, but this is true throughout the consumer products industry.
  • He calls the result a chemically and biologically novel compound, when as he admits one paragraph later, it is just of mixture of glucose and fructose. It is not a compound and hardly novel.
  • HFCS contains contaminants including mercury. This is based on a discredited undergraduate paper we’ve discussed before. They did find traces of mercury in HFCS: but only the traces you’d expect to occur naturally.
  • When HFCS is run through a chemical analyzer (a what?) or gas chromatographstrange chemical peaks” show up that are not glucose or fructose. Maybe the technician that did this work didn’t know what these peaks were, but nowadays gas chromatographs are routinely coupled with mass spectrometers, and identification of each peak is not difficult. We have no idea what a “chemical analyzer is,” (nor does Hyman) but reporting that someone cannot identify a peak from a gc is simply silly.
  • He credits Barry Popkin for suggesting that metabolism of glucose and fructose differ and this may contribute to obesity. In fact, Popkin did not say that. In an interview in the NY Times, he said this was an hypothesis “meant to spur on further research.” And in this same article, Prof Walter Willet, chairman of the nutrition department at Harvard made it clear that:

There’s no substantial evidence to support the idea that high-fructose corn syrup is somehow responsible for obesity.

  • HFCS is almost always a marker of poor-quality, nutrition-poor disease creating industrial food products. Poor quality foods, perhaps, but HFCS is used by bakers and candy makers who make high-quality products as well. And as far as “disease creating,” this is in no way established.
  • Shocking new evidence on how HFCS can trigger body wide inflammation and obesity. This statement is based on a lunch meeting with Dr Bruce Ames. Unfortunately, there are no papers published on this by Ames anyone at his research center. This seems to be pure hyperbole.

The idea that a solution of fructose and glucose is processed differently by the body than a solution of sucrose (table sugar) has had a lot of discussion, both by Hyman and others, but thus far there is no evidence for it. There is an interesting hypothesis begin generated in this area that we learned about in a phone conference with Dr Mark Shigenaga, who is in the same research group as Bruce Ames. Here is a recent paper on his work.However it is contradicted in a critical review by Stanhope.

The amount of heat any discussion of HFCS continues to generate is astonishing considering how little actual research there is in this area. Hyman’s scare article does nothing to improve the situation.

Related papers

  1. 5 Reasons HFCS Can Kill You (Hyman’s version)
  2. Science-based medicine : functional medicine
  3. HFCS, the myths continue
  4. A sweetener with a bad rap (NY Times)
  5. Consumption of HFCS may lead to obesity (Popkin and Bray)

Pork chops: Instant Pot versus oven

Experienced Instant Pot users often praise how well it cooks pork, but newer users are less complimentary, calling the result “tough and dry.” Finding pork chops on sale, we decided to run a side by side comparison. We cooked two chops in the oven, and one large extra one in the Instant Pot  using this recipe.

To add to the excitement, these were bargain pork chops, a “Manager’s Special” at $1.99 a pound. So each package of 2 chops was only about $3.

For the oven baked chops, we salted and peppered them, browned them briefly in a pan, and baked them for 20 minutes at 400° F. Figure that with the browning, this took about 25 minutes total.

For the Instant Pot recipe, we added a Tb of oil to the pot and browned the large chop using the Saute setting. Then we made up this sauce mixture from the recipe:

  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 Tb Dijon mustard
  • ½ Tb maple syrup (we admit we used Log Cabin)
  • 1 Tb minced ginger
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cloves (we ground a couple in a mortar and pestle)
  • ¼ tsp black pepper

We mixed all this together and poured it over the chop. Then we set the Instant Pot to 15 minutes on Manual, and then opened it using Quick Release.

The result? Despite the fact that this was cheap pork, the Instant Pot chop was tender and flavorful, and the gravy was delicious!

And the oven chop was frankly overcooked, with a central temperature of about 177° F, when 141° F would have been enough. It was tough! But even if it hadn’t been over cooked, it couldn’t have matched the chop in the pot. This recipe is a real keeper!

This recipe has a strong, spicy smell, and you will need to wash the rubber sealing ring in your dishwasher, and wash the lid carefully afterwards.

How much flour is in a cup of flour?

weigh flourConsider the measuring cup. As you know, a cup is a convenient way to measure liquids like water or milk or wine. But it is not so convenient for solids like beans, cranberries or flour. And yet in the U.S. most recipes call for flour measured in cups.

The reason for this are historical and somewhat political according to Bee Wilson in her delightful book Consider the Fork. After the French set out in 1793 on an expedition to measure the length of the Earth’s median, they took one 10 millionth of that measure to be the length of one meter. (It turned out it was just slightly off, but very good for the time.) The standard meter was agreed upon in 1889.

Obviously the British and Americans wanted their own non-French measures, and the British adopted, for a time, the Imperial system of measures, including pints, pounds and gallons. Not to be outdone, the Americans chose an even older gallon/quart/pint/cup measure as their standard.

Today the metric system has been adopted by nearly every country in the world other than the U.S., Myanmar and Liberia.

But what about that cup? It is a volume measure, and flour varies a lot in volume depending on how it’s packed.

We took out our inexpensive Ozeri kitchen scale (it cost $15.95) and decided to weigh the flour in a cup of flour. But how to measure it?

When Fanny Merritt Farmer wrote her original Boston Cooking School cookbook, she emphasized that you scoop out the flour and then level off the cup with a knife to make a level cup measure.

That’s one way, but what about sifted flour? Lots of baking recipes call for sifted flour, and while it is intended to remove lumps, it also aerates the flour significantly, and a cup of sifted flour weighs quite a bit less than a cup of flour scooped from the canister.

And finally, some cookbooks suggest that after sifting the flour, you should spoon it into the cup to avoid recompressing it. Here is what we found:

  • 1 cup scooped flour – 5.05 oz (143 g)
  • 1 cup sifted flour – 4.45 oz (126 g)
  • 1 cup spooned, sifted flour 4.13 oz (117 g)

As you can see, a cup of sifted flour weighs almost 12% less than a cup of scooped flour, and the spooned, sifted flour about 18% less. This is a huge difference in a baking recipe!

We tried these same measurements on a more expensive Weight Watchers kitchen scale. It’s more durably made (and costs 3-4 times as much). It also allows you to convert food weights to Points Plus values, but it gets exactly the same results.

So what do you do?

First, you need to recognize that there is a huge difference in the amount of flour you use depending on whether it is sifted or not when you cooking.

But should you use a scale in the kitchen? It is surely easier to use if you are adapting recipes from other countries. And the recipes in Modernist Cuisine are all in grams. But for American recipes couched in cups, you really have no idea how many grams of flour they mean.

It’s also way easier than sifting the flour to get the right amount. Just weigh out 126 g and you’re done! This is the way we do it now. It’s so much faster.

Mostly, it is important that you are consistent in your techniques and regard the measuring cup as an aliquot rather than an absolute measure. If you repeat the recipes the same way every time, it really doesn’t matter how many grams of flour you are using. Just remember that “sifted” flour means “less” flour.

Why add lemon juice when canning tomato sauce?

Why add lemon juice when canning tomato sauce?

When I published my article on making tomato sauce with the assistance of the Instant Pot, a number of people commented that I had left out the lemon juice. They referred me to this slightly misinformed warning article.  More to the point, the USDA recommends adding 1 Tb of lemon juice per pint of sauce.

In fact, the USDA, on a site hosted by the University of Georgia, explains that the pH of canned tomato sauce must be at or below 4.6 to prevent the growth of botulism. This sounds like really good advice, but we have been canning tomato sauce for over 30 years without adding lemon juice, and no one has had any ill effects.

The pH value is a measure of the acidity of a solution, here of tomato juice, and the lower the pH the higher the acidity. Thus foods having a pH of 4 are more acidic than those with a pH of 5. This Is a logarithmic scale, so foods with a pH of 4 are ten times as acidic as those with a pH of 5.

So we decided to look into this a little further. It turns out that we aren’t the first. The University of North Dakota Ag Extension in 2007 looked into the pH of a number of popular tomato varieties that you might use in making salsa. They measured the pH of the tomatoes, of the salsa and of the salsa with lemon juice, and found that only the salsas with added lemon juice had a pH below 4.6.  These were grown in Williston, ND and probably in a greenhouse, so the pH values might differ from the garden and in warmer states.

More recently, in 2010 Heflebower and Washburn at Utah State measured the acidity of juice from a number of popular varieties, including Celebrity and Rutgers, finding that the pH varied from 3.92 to 4.32. Clearly sauce from these varieties need not be further acidified. They also found that pH didn’t vary much based on maturity of the fruit, nor on whether a new or an heirloom variety was tested. However, since tomato sauce may vary with the mixture of fruits you use as well as the weather conditions, they suggest that it would not be unwise to continue to add lemon juice.

However, since 2010, there have been a number of tomato varieties bred especially for flavor, and we decided to test the pH of the 8 varieties growing in our garden. We used a THZY portable pH meter, calibrated with the supplied buffer solution. We squeezed juice out of part of each tomato and filtered it through a coffee filter into a freshly washed glass, rinsed with distilled water.

Here are our pH readings

Opalka * 4.62
Lemon Boy 4.45
Garden Gem ** 4.30
Amish Paste * 4.14
Fourth of July 4.14
Better Boy 4.11
Cloudy Day 4.11
Garden Treasure ** 3.91

* Heirloom
** Recently developed

The Opalka variety has been a reliable paste tomato for years, but obviously if you use it, you must add lemon juice to your sauce. If it is only one of many, you may not need to. Note that Lemon Boy, a mild yellow tomato is the only other one even close to a pH of 4.6.

Professor Klee at the University of Florida developed the Garden Gem and Garden Treasure varieties (**) with significantly a improved taste, and we recommend them highly.

What about the sauce?

The pH of the final sauce will be influenced by the ingredients you add: in our case onions and spices. We tested the pH of sauce from 2015 and from last week. They were 4.18 and 4.33 respectively, and thus perfectly safe. Interestingly, it was the 2015 sauce that used Opalkas. This year they haven’t done well and none was in last week’s batch.

canned

Conclusions

You would probably be safe without adding lemon juice, but a tablespoon of lemon juice will make a substantial change in the pH and in your safety. We found that adding a tablespoon of lemon juice to a pint of distilled water reduced its pH from 5.86 to 2.96. Thr scientists at the University of North Dakota found that the lemon juice reduced the pH of salsa by only 0.3 pH units. And don’t worry about the possible sourness: one or two teaspoons of sugar will easily cancel it out. In the batch we made yesterday, we added 1 Tb of lemon juice and 1 tsp of sugar to the bottom of each pint jat.


What is pH? [a sidebar]

The concentration of acid, or specifically of hydrogen ions (H+) in a water solution can vary from 100 (or 1.0) to 10-14. Since this is hard to write down, we usually refer to the concentration by the exponent of 10 or 0 to -14. And, in order to make this more convenient we remove the minus sign, so pH values run from 0 to 14. Neutral pH (neither acidic nor basic) is pH 7, where the concentration of hydrogen ions and hydroxyl ions (OH) are equal.

So if we want to write down the acid concentration equivalent to a ph of 4.6, that means 10-4.6 and that is the same as.00002512.

And what are the units of this concentration? It is moles per liter, where a mole is the molecular weight of an element in grams. A gram of hydrogen ions (or of hydrogen itself for that matter) is one mole. It turns out that a mole of any element or compound has the same number of particles (ion, atoms or molecules) and that number is called Avogadro’s number. While Avogadro proposed it, it was first calculated by Loschmidt to be 6.02 x 1023 particles.

 

Blueberry breakfast cake – from King Arthur

Blueberry breakfast cake – from King Arthur

This is a report on making the Blueberry Breakfast Cake recipe sent around recently by King Arthur Flour. It’s a simple one bowl recipe, but you have to bake it in a fairly deep 8” or 9” cake pan, since it comes out somewhere between a soufflé and a cheesecake. And while it isn’t really quick since the baking time is 50 minutes and the cooling time at least 15, it is really delicious.

Here are their ingredients:

  • 3 large eggs
  • heaping 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 cup part-skim ricotta
  • 1 cup sour cream (low-fat is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cupKing Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • cinnamon-sugar mixture, for topping

All you do is mix the eggs and sugar and add the butter, and then mix in the ricotta, sour cream and vanilla extract.

Then you mix in the flour, salt, and baking powder and pour into the baking pan.

Ideally you would like an 8 or 9” spring form pan so you can get the cake out easily, but lacking that we used a 3” deep 9” cake pan lined with parchment paper all up the sides so we could grab the corners to lift the cake out.

You sprinkle the blueberries over the top and bake for 50 minutes at 350° F.

Then you take the cake out, sprinkle it with the cinnamon-sugar mixture,  and let it cool a bit. When it is very hot it is pretty fragile and would be hard to cut. After 15 minutes we peeled off the sides of the baking parchment and sliced it into wedges. It was still warm and delicious.

Our only suggestion is that since the blueberries were pretty sour, and we’d probably increase the sugar next time.

The idea that this serves 8-10 is a canard. Two of us were hungry after waiting for it that long and devoured half of it.

King Arthur also suggests small curd cottage cheese as a substitute for the ricotta. That seemed a little weird, and we bought a small container of ricotta when we bought the blueberries.

This is a great recipe and we’ll surely be making it again. But not for a big crowd!