Category: Food science

The Misen Nonstick pan

The Misen Nonstick pan

Our last nonstick pan wore out years ago, and we didn’t bother replacing it because they are hard to care for: the coating flakes off and isn’t edible, of course.

But we decided that we really wanted to make better fried eggs, and a nonstick pan really makes a difference. The Misen Nonstick Pan, which has been heavily advertised on the Internet and FB seemed a possible candidate. It looked better made than those cheap pans that come from the As Seen on TV conglomerate and we thought we’d give it a try.

both pans

The 10” Misen pan compares favorably with our Allclad 10” pan. It’s heavy and well-made, weighing 42 oz. The Allclad weights 37 oz, probably because it lacks the same sort of handle. The coating is PFOA free and is described as a three layer DuPont platinm coating.

 

 

To illustrate the problem we wanted to solve, we fried a couple of strips of bacon in the Allclad and 5 more in the Misen pan and compare the residue. The Allclad pan had streaks where the sugar in the bacon caramelized on the pan, while the Misen had some floating debris that did not stick to the pan or to the eggs.

 

 

We were easily able to fry 4 eggs at once in the Misen pan, and they didn’t stick at all while cooking. It was pretty easy to baste the eggs with a little bacon fat while they cooked, although they did move easily so we couldn’t tip the pan too much while spooning.

frying eggs

With any nonstick pan, you are supposed to use a non-metal spatula. We have one that see Melmac on it. Others might be wood, silicone or nylon, and in any case, you can slip the eggs onto the plate two at a time without breaking the yolks.

2 eggs fried

In terms of egg cooking, we are completely sold: the Misen is a great pan.  We were disappointed to learn that the instruction sheet says that we shouldn’t have put it in the dishwasher, but since it washes so easily, that isn’t a huge problem.

The Misen instructions say cook only at medium heat, and never above 450˚ F. You shouldn’t scrub with pan with metal or abrasive sponges, but thus looks like it would be unnecessary. And you shouldn’t shock the hot pan by pouring cold water in it. You also shouldn’t stack other pans on top of it (without padding). We paid $45 for our pan plus $5 for shipping and it arrived in about 4 days. It’s a really nice pan and we hope it lasts a long time.

American Seasons: very disappointing

American Seasons: very disappointing

American Seasons has been helmed by chef/owner Neil Ferguson since 2015 and they had been doing quite well. But last night was simply an embarrassment. Maybe Ferguson was away and maybe the B team was in the kitchen, but we came away really disappointed and downright annoyed.

menu

The diminutive menu was delivered on one side of a single 8 ½ x 11” sheet, somewhat rumpled and stained. It has only 7 entrees and 7 appetizers, and last night it was hard to pick one we really wanted to have: none of them sounded very good. And they weren’t.

To be fair, the hot dinner rolls they served with butter were very good and one of the appetizers was quite good, but it went downhill from there.

parfait

That really good appetizer was the Chicken Liver Foie Gras Parfait with House Made Vegetable Pickles, and Toasted Brioche ($19). In Paté speak, a parfait is a smoothly ground mixture of meats. And it succeeded: it was silky smooth and delicious. We probably could have used more brioche to finish it off, but we held back to save room for our entrée. Bad decision.

beet salad

The other appetizer was a fairly ordinary beet salad ($18). Nothing special about it.

fluke

But my entrée, the Pan Roasted Local Fluke Brown Butter Vinaigrette, Capers, and Island Grown Salad ($45) was a horror. It was smothered in capers, the vinaigrette was very sour, and the fluke was tough and dry. We left it unfinished.

chicken

And the other entrée, Crisp Skinned Giannone Chicken ($39) with Fondant Potato, Carrot Purée, Honey Roast Carrot, and Sherry Vinegar Jus, was tough and dry. All of the chicken was chicken breast and it was just overcooked. Now the Giannone chicken procedure involves brining the chicken overnight and then air drying it to produce tender meat and crisp skin. Neither was in evidence.

We’ve written about American Seasons here, here, and here, and in all cases the result was better than this disappointing evening. It doesn’t seem that the kitchen was trying very hard especially considering the prices. Our bill with 3 glasses of wine, including tax was $186.18.

 

The best way to cook corn on the cob!

The best way to cook corn on the cob!

Boiling, microwave, Instant Pot. Which is best?

There isn’t much to cooking corn on the cob: you just shuck each ear, maybe cut off some of the stem, peel off the corn silks and drop them into boiling, salted water, and cook for 5 minutes. That’s it. The water should be salted enough that it smells like the ocean, and it is easiest to use kosher salt to achieve this. Serve with butter and salt on the side.

boiling

What’s wrong with this? Nothing except you might need a big pot for a large crowd. And, of course, you are steaming up your kitchen.

But some people rave about using the microwave or the Instant Pot for cooking corn, so we compared all three methods.

Microwaved corn

Some people claim that the microwave does the best job and you don’t have to heat up the kitchen with a pot of boiling water, so we tried this.

We cut the base off an ear of corn, but left the husk on, and using our best Internet research, microwaved the corn for 4 minutes. Taking a hot ear of corn out of the microwave requires hot pads and some care, and removing the hot, steaming husks is a challenge. And, all the silks come off smoothly, unlike the other methods.

The disadvantage again, is one of scale: you can only microwave a few ears at a time and removing the steaming hot husks from a bunch of them is best done with gloves or oven mitts. And, frankly, the corn tastes awful! (more below)

In the Instant Pot

2 in IP

Lots of people are enthusiastic about corn on the cob cooked in an Instant Pot. You have to shuck the corn as usual and pull of most of the silks by hand, but you can probably get 4-6 or more ears in an Instant Pot at once. We recommend putting the ears on the little trivet so they don’t stick to the pot. Add a cup of water and cook the ears for 3 minutes. Of course, by the time the water in the pot comes to a boil, this actually takes at least as long as boiling the water on the stove would, but you can cook a lot of ears quickly, and you don’t have to deal with scalding yourself on the husks.

How do they compare?

group

  • Cooking the ears in a pot of water tastes the best.
  • Ears cooked for 4 minutes in an 1100 watt microwave are hot and hard to handle, because the cobs are very hot, too. Further the corn takes on a bitter, cobby taste from the cob being heated. Actually they are really terrible.
  • We repeated the experiment, cooking the corn for only 3 minutes and this removed some (but not all) of the bitter aftertaste.
  • Our best corn came from cooking for 4 minutes at 50% power, where the bitterness is least apparent.

Surprisingly the corn cooked in the Instant Pot was little better.

  • Pressure cooking the corn for 3 minutes also cooks the cob, and some of that bitter aftertaste was present in the Instant Pot corn.
  • So, we repeated the corn cooking at low pressure instead of high pressure, which removed nearly all of that bitterness. But 3 minutes was  not nearly enough. Six minutes at low pressure seems better. Quick Release either way.

Best results

  • 5 minutes in boiling, salted water
  • 4 minutes at 50% power in an 1100 watt microwave
  • 6 minutes at low pressure in an Instant Pot

Some recipes suggest adding sugar and butter to the water in the Instant Pot. This probably doesn’t do much, because the water doesn’t touch the corn, and sugar is not volatile.

We found that spreading solid butter on the hot corn gives the bets flavor. Butter is an emulsion and melted butter usually leaves out the aqueous part.

stalks

 

‘GMOs Decoded’ –Krimsky’s latest screed

‘GMOs Decoded’ –Krimsky’s latest screed

GMOs Decoded is Tufts Professor Sheldon Krimsky’s latest skeptical discussion on the virtues of plant biotechnology. Unlike his previous book, The GMO Deception, Krimsky here appears at first to take a more nuanced approach, by taking about eight of his fourteen chapters to explain the details of various biotechnology issues.

The book opens with a Foreword by nutritionist Marion Nestle, which you can read here in her column. Nestle has never been a fan of biotechnology so her comments are fairly anodyne.

Then, in the Introduction, gives away the game by noting that “there is a strong scientific consensus among elites over GMOs.” He goes on to say that “Although some scientists have declared the debate…over,” referencing Jon Entine’s Forbes article which references von Eenennaam and Young’s trillion animal feed study, This major study in the Journal of Animal Science studies feed records for over 100 billion animals fed either GE or non-GE foods, and found no unfavorable effects on the animals.

Then Krimsky notes that “other scientists declare with equal confidence that there is no scientific consensus on GMO safety.” His reference is to a paper in the trivial non-journal Environmental Sciences Europe, by prominent GMO disinformationists: Nicholas DeFarge, Michael Antoniou from Seralini’s group, and Indian pseudo-science mystic Vandana Shiva, among others. The paper presents no research but merely a report on a petition signed by “300 scientists worldwide.” (I have that list and most of the signatories are not scientists.)

The Seralini problem

Critiques of biotechnology, or colloquially “GMOs,” really was heightened by Giles-Eric Seralini’s 2012 paper in Food and Chemical Toxicology featuring tumor-laden Sprague-Dawley rats: Long-term toxicity of Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically-modified maize.” Even the title made the objective confusing.  Wayne Parrott’s criticism describes the paper’s problems clearly.

The paper had so many problems from animal husbandry to poor experimental design that protests and a re-review caused the journal to withdraw the paper. It was eventually reprinted (without review) in Environmental Sciences Europe where you can find it now.

Seralini’s group has continued to publish papers critical of biotechnology, all of questionable validity, and many very difficult to follow. His co-workers and colleagues have been publishing these papers ever since, and Brazeau has dubbed them the “Seralini pseudo-science syndicate.” And none of his lab’s papers have been replicated be others.

The footnotes

You can learn a great deal about a book’s approach by scanning the footnotes, which occupy pages 156-181 in Krimsky’s book. It doesn’t take long to discover that the footnotes are larded with 15 references to Seralini’s disinformation machine.

Charles Benbrook who was for a few years at Washington State University, but whose salary was paid by the Organic Center and has close ties anti-GMO activists, appears in 5 footnotes, and his paper (published in a predatory pay-to-play journal) claiming negative impacts of GM crops has been roundly debunked by Brookes, Carpenter and McHughen.

Jonathan Latham, publisher and author of the anti-biotech Independent Science News appears twice arguing that transgenic plants can sometimes mutate dangerously. He has been severely criticized by Katiree.

There are, however, many footnotes to well-regarded sources such as Brown and Federoff’s Mendel in the Kitchen and papers by legitimate scientists like Wayne Parrott and Alessandro Nicolia, for example.

The chapters

The book starts out soberly as an outline of various genetic breeding techniques: traditional, molecular and their differences. Chapter 4 details difficulty in producing the Flavr-Savr tomato and FrostBan  bacteria. Chapter 5 covers herbicide resistant  crops and brings up no-till farming, which can improve soil health. However, it suggests that herbicide resistant weeds may require tilling. However, this has obvious solutions in crop rotation. The chapter also brings up Benbrook’s discredited paper claiming increases in herbicide use that are significantly overstated. This chapter also brings up the IARCs discredited claim that glyphosate can cause cancer.

Chapter 6 fairly and accurately covers disease resistant crops, but in Chapter 7 covering insect resistant crops, Krimsky goes afield in his summary of Starlink Corn, spending  several pages scaring us, only to finally report that there was no evidence that Starlink corn caused any illnesses. Krimsky then cites Antoniou and Robinson from Seralini’s stable to claim GM-fed rats suffered liver and kidney damage in a 3-generation study that you can safely ignore.

Chapter 8 on GMO Risk Assessment makes claims that “scientists differ,” but suffers from a dearth of supporting footnotes on who and what these differences are. There is a lot of “some groups” but “other groups” but little supporting explanation.

Chapter 9 on Contested Viewpoints argues that trans-genes may be placed differently and could result in plants having different properties, including varying toxicity, but cites Latham twice and actual scientists in Kuiper et. al. You have to actually check the papers to see that there is little to be concerned about here. He also raises the question of whether pre-market testing is actually done, as if this is not a requirement for approval. Krimsky also gets “substantial equivalence” wrong, but Kuiper explains it clearly.

  • Substantial Equivalence is a starting point for a safety assessment
  • Make a comparison between the GM organism and its closes traditional counterpart.
  • Identify intended or unintended difference on which further safety assessment should be focused.

By contrast, Krimsky says that a transgenic crop and its conventional counterpart about which toxicology information is known are compared. “When extensively analyzed, if the transgenic crop exhibits no changes …compared to its parent strain it can be treated as substantially equivalent to that strain. After that determination is made, further safety or nutritional concerns are expected to be insignificant.”

This is just not the same idea at all!

The chapter also mentions a 13-week pilot study on the effect of Roundup on the gut microbiome of rats in a study performed by the Ramazzini institute in Italy. While they did claim to find some changes in the microbiome, the Ramazzini institute seems to have a spotty reputation, having been criticized for poor reliability in another recent study on aspartame, and in the glyphosate case, Brazeau criticizes them for finding “results that match their priors but not anyone else’s research.” (They also did a questionable report on cell phone radiation.)

Much of the rest of the chapter deals with worries that have never been found to be an actual problem.

Chapter 10 rehashes all the arguments for labeling GMOs and some of the issues various states have encountered, closing with the fact that Congress passed a “labeling law” that amounts to a QR code you can scan with your phone, and is thus pretty harmless.

Chapter 11 deals with the 2016 National Academies Study on Genetically Engineered Crops. Krimsky admits that the evidence of the report reinforces the fact that GM crops are safe to eat and do not pose any risks. However he carefully picks advantageous quotes to suggest that biotechnology does not improve yields. One would wonder why famers are then willing to pay more for them. If you read through the report or its summary you will find a number of carefully written conclusions suggesting that it is mostly difficult to measure the effects of yield because it is difficult to find identical cropland to compare GM and non-GM crops, and whether the GM and non-GM varieties were true isolines to be comparable. The report also discusses the strategy for preventing evolution of herbicide reisistant weeds and Bt resistant insects.

In fact, the report suggests that in the U.S. and in China, insect-pest populations “are reduced regionally and that this benefits both adopters and nonadopters of Bt crops.” And it is important to note that Bt brinjal (eggplant, or aubergine) has significantly improved farmers’ lives in both Bangladesh and India.

Krimsky also spends 3 pages defending Seralini’s disgraced paper, claiming that was “not a carcinogenicity study” to defend the small number of rats used. In fact, critics have said that Seralini’s paper had no particular objective in advance and he let the S-D rats grow until they naturally developed tumors and published their pictures.

Finally, Krimsky attacks the integrity of the NASEM panel itself, pointing to a reference that claims 6 out of 20 members had conflicting financial interests. Of course that paper is by Krimksy himself.

Chapter 12 discusses the development of Golden Rice, which the author calls a “promise unfulfilled.” It has now been approved by the US FDA, however.

Chapter 13 discusses conflict among scientists regarding GMOs as if it actually existed. The overwhelming worldwide consensus, including every major national scientific association, is that GM crops pose no harm. He mentions “uncertain risks,” and the “GMO divide” which he himself has tried to manufacture. He recycles the canard that “farmers do no own their own seeds” as if hybrid seeds had never before existed, and of course mentions international crackpot Vandana Shiva who questions  patenting living organisms. Oh, and don’t forget “corporate hegemonic control.”

Chapter 14 presents Krimsky’s completely expected, but erroneous summation. He attacks the values of science and “trans-scientific concepts,” (whatever they are!). He suggests that “it’s an evolving story in India,” despite the overwhelming success of Bt brinjal, and questions whether yields actually improve. Of course he trots out Robin Mesnage, one of Seralini’s henchmen to argue that corn (maize) sprayed with Roundup produces different metabolites, and claims farmers have untold economic losses because of unexpected GM contamination.

Conclusion

Krimsky starts out soberly enough trying to explain the various techniques that have been developed and some of their successes. But he can’t help himself, and by Chapter 5 he is back beating the same poor old horse, and gradually slipping more misinformation into each succeeding chapter. Nothing really new here, unfortunately.

 

Sheldon Krimsky publishes more anti-GMO malarkey

Sheldon Krimsky publishes more anti-GMO malarkey

This 2015 review is being republished in advance of my forthcoming review of Krimsky’s latest book.

Sheldon Krimsky, Professor of Humanities & Social Sciences at Tufts University has published another in a series of articles and books attacking the safety of genetically modified plants (GMOs). Professor Krimsky’s appointment is in the Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning, but he holds and adjunct appointment in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine. Krimsky holds a masters in physics, but his PhD is in philosophy. Thus, many of his arguments have already been rejected by biologists.

Last year Krimsky published The GMO Deception at Skyhorse publishing (who also published RFK jr’s anti-vax book). While the book’s anti-science point of view is obvious from the title, it received a devastating review at Biofortified , who pointed that the book is nothing but a repackaging of old, discredited articles from GeneWatch archives. That site is hosted by the Council of Responsible Genetics, where Krimsky is the chairman.

Getting to Krimsky’s latest publication “An Illusory Consensus behind GMO Health Assessment,” it too brings up a number of discredited articles and workers.

The thesis of Krimsky’s article is that there is not a scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, because he has uncovered about 26 articles attacking them. Krimsky’s paper is published in the journal Science, Technology and Human Values, where Krimsky is on the editorial board.

In discussing articles on biotechnology, it is useful to remember  The Seralini Rule, published in the Skeptico blog, which states that

If you favorably cite the 2012 Séralini rats fed on Roundup ready maize study, you just lost the argument.

That Skeptico article summarizes all the problems with that discredited and withdrawn paper, noting that if you cite this paper as serious science you haven’t taken the trouble to consider all of its scientific weaknesses.

Unfortunately, Professor Krimsky’s paper fails this test, citing 5 papers by this discredited scientist.

Krimsky’s  article is divided into three parts. In the first part, he summarizes eight recent review articles on GMOs finding some very critical and some much less critical. We read several of the more critical ones to see if we could understand his point.

He first cites “Genetically Modified Foods and Social Concerns,” by Maghari and Ardekani, published in the Iranian journal Avicenna Journal of Medical Biotechnology. This paper is basically a summary of potential concerns, none of which are supported by actual science. Suggesting that transgenic DNA might break up and reintegrate into the genome (which has never been observed), he cites two non-peer-reviewed reports by Mae Wan Ho, who has been criticized for embracing pseudoscience. Even more risible is Maghari’s assertion that GMOs may be responsible for “food-borne diseases” such as the “epidemic of Morgellon’s disease in the U.S.” In fact, Morgellon’s disease is a delusion that one’s skin is crawling when no cause can be found, and is considered a psychiatric ailment, not one caused by diet.

The second paper we read from his list was a literature review by Domingo and Bordonaba, which also violates the Seralini rule, and asserts without proof that studies showing the safety of GMOs have been performed by biotechnology companies. This is in fact contrary to the findings of Biofortified’s GENERA database of papers, which found that more than half of the studies were performed by independent researchers.

The third paper he cites, by Dona and Arvanitouannis also violates the Seralini rule, and completely misstates the doctrine of “substantial equivalence.” The correct statement of this principle is that if a GM and a conventional crop have similar origins, then their “substantial equivalence” can be the starting point for testing of the GM version to see if it has different properties that might make it dangerous to the consumer. It does not mean that no further testing is required. It also erroneously suggests that the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus, which is found on all cauliflower, is dangerous if used in biotechnology. This is, of course, rubbish, since we eat it every day on most brassicae.

In checking these papers, we quickly wander down a “rabbit hole” of papers referring to other papers and to each other, but all seeming to cite the same erroneous information. After citing some inconclusive studies, Krimsky quotes the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, which is listed on QuackWatch, and is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. It has been criticized by Science Based Medicine, and is considered a dubious certifying board.

Arpad Pusztai and Giles-Eric Seralini

In the second part of his paper Krimsky focuses on the poorly regarded work of Pusztai and of Seralini, carefully omitting some of the more damning details about their work.

Pusztai was asked to evaluate some experimental genetically modified potatoes, and reported that they damaged the stomach lining of rats. After an investigation by his employer, the Rowett Institute, found that his data did not support his conclusions, he was fired. However, Krimsky does not note what Chassy and Tribe have pointed out: the potatoes Pusztai used were an experimental and unapproved variety, and that the rats were fed uncooked potatoes, which are always harmful to rats. Moreover, two expert panels concluded that no scientific conclusions could be drawn from his work. Pusztai has become an anti-GMO activist, travelling the world giving scary talks, but has not carried out any further science.

Professor Giles-Eric Seralini has published a number of papers critical of GMOs, and their confusing style and lack of rigor have been criticized long before his rat tumor paper. However, when Seralini published his 2012 paper, scientists immediately began criticizing its small sample size, lack of double blinding, animal mistreatment, and unsupported conclusions: Sprague-Dawley rats develop tumors anyway, which is why they are suitable for 90 day experiments but not 2-year experiments.

Krimsky notes that Seralini revealed his association with CRIIGEN, a French anti-GMO organization he headed, but did not mention that Seralini’s work was sponsored by Carrefour grocery chain and the Auchan retail group who wanted to promote their new line of organic (non-GMO) products.

When many, many scientists protested to Food and Chemical Toxicology that this paper did not represent good science, the journal editor, A. Wallace Hayes, convened a new group of referees to review the paper. After nearly a year, the review panel concluded that the paper should be withdrawn because of its scientific flaws, and it was. Krimsky fails to mention the panel, but suggests the editor did this unilaterally.

Krimsky also cites an article which suggests that a “new assistant editor” joined the board of Food and Chemical Toxicology who had previously worked for Monsanto. This old conspiracy theory is easily laid to rest: biologist Richard Goodman worked for Monsanto from 1997-2004 and then joined the faculty of the University of Nebraska, long before Seralini’s paper came to light. He was an assistant editor during the Seralini controversy, but Hayes specifically excluded him from the review panel at Seralini’s request.

Author’s Conclusions

Professor Krimsky’s conclusions rely on the fact that he claims to have found 26 animal studies that found “adverse effects or uncertainties of GMOs fed to animals.” We didn’t read all of them, but we have already read some which are discredited and/or published in very low-level journals.

  1. Ewen and Pusztai, “Effects of Diets Containing Genetically Modified Potatoes,’ Discussed above.
  2. Ermakova, “Genetically Modified Soy Leads to the Decrease of Weight and High Mortality of Rat Pups.” Not published in any journal.
  3. Seralini, Cellier and Vendomois, “New Analysis of Rate Feeding Study with GM Maize Reveals Signs of Hyporenal Toxicity.’ The EFSA has debunked this paper.
  4. Aris and LeBlanc, “Maternal and Fetal Exposure to Pesticdes Associated tp GM Foods in Eastern Township of Quebec, CA.” Critiqued by Anastasia Bodnar.
  5. Carman, Vlieger,Ver Steeg, Sneller, Robinson al., A Long-Term Toxicology Study on Pigs Fed a Combined GMO Soy and Maize Diet.” Published on a non-peer-reviewed journal. Bozianu’s work rebutted this paper. Rebutted by Mark Lynas  and  by David Gorski.
  6. Seralini al. “Long Term Toxicity of a Roundup herbicide…” Discussed above, and debunked by Skeptico and by Wayne Parrott.
  7. De Vendomois, Spiroux and Seralini, “A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health” Reviewed and debunked here.

 

Conclusions

Professor Krimsky has recycled old, discredited papers and arguments as if they were new to try to imply that there is a serious doubt about the safety of GM crops. He neglects the thousands of papers that make up the scientific consensus over the few weak ones he has dredged up to make his point. And Professor van Eenennaam’s billion animal study simply closes the door on this discussion.

German chocolate cake you’ll love

German chocolate cake you’ll love

This fairly easy recipe is a simplification of the one on the Bakers German Chocolate bar. We show you a few shortcuts. Some people make this light cake and just decorate it with the coconut-pecan topping. We do that but ice the sides with chocolate buttercream icing to hold it all together.

  • 4 egg whites
  • 4 oz German Sweet Chocolate
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 8 oz) softened unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 280 g cake flour (2 ½ cups sifted)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 3 lined 8” cake pans
  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F
  2. Beat the egg whites in your mixer until stiff. Remove to another bowl until needed.

3. Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer

4. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition.

5. Put the chocolate in a bowl with the water and heat in a microwave for about 90 seconds until melted. Stir until uniform.

6. Add the vanilla to the sugar-butter mixture and beat in the chocolate.

7. You don’t really need to sift and measure the flour, as we described in this article. One cup of sifted cake flour weights 112g, so just weigh 280 grams (which is 2 1/2  cups sifted) into a bowl and add the soda and salt. Stir briefly to mix.

8. Add the flour mixture alternately with the buttermilk.

9. Fold in the egg whites by mixing in ¼ of them and then folding the rest in using a rubber spatula, dipping a turning the blade to mix in the whites without deflating them.

10. Line the 3 cake pans with parchment using the technique we described here. Butter the pans and the parchment.

11. You now need to separate the batter into 3 equal parts. We do this by weight. The stand mixer bowl and contents weighed 3606g, and we know the empty bowl weights 1014g, so the contents weighed 1578g. Thus, we need to put 526g of batter in each of the 3 cake pans. We put each cake pan on the scale, press the tare button to zero it, and add 526g of batter. The third pan is always a little short because some batter sticks to the sides and to the spatula. So we steal a little from each of the other two pans to make them about even. It is still easier than eyeballing it!

12. Bake the cake in the pans for 30-35 minutes, until the cake starts to pull away from the edge, and a toothpick comes out clean.

3 baked

13. Let the cakes cool on a cooling rack, and then take the cakes out of the pans and let them cool completely.

Cake Filling

  • 8 oz evaporated milk (This is 1 1/3 6 oz cans)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 beaten egg yolks
  • ½ cup butter (1 stick) cut up
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/3 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  1. Combine the evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolks, butter and vanilla in a saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened. Stir constantly to avoid burning.
  2. Allow the liquid to come to a slow boil but keep stirring to avoid sticking.
  3. Remove from heat and add the coconut and pecans.
  4. Chill in the refrigerator until cool enough to spread.

Buttercream frosting

  • 2 lb confectioners sugar
  • 2 sticks (8 oz) butter, cut up
  • ¼ cup milk (approximately)
  • 3 oz baking chocolate
  1. Combine the sugar and butter in a food processor and pulse until mixed.
  2. Add the milk until spreadable
  3. Melt the chocolate in the microwave for about 1.5 minutes at 50% power. Stir until uniform and then add to the buttercream mixture and pulse until uniform. This will make more frosting than you need, but you will use about ¾ of it.

Assembling the cake

It is easiest to ice the cake on a little rotating cake platform, but if you do, be sure to start with a cake cardboard under cake, as the layers are delicate and won’t pick up easily to move to a cake cover later.

  1. Place one solid layer on the bottom and carefully ice it with the filling. If the filling is too cold to spread, warm it for 15 sec on the microwave.
  2. Place a second layer on top and ice it either with the chocolate buttercream frosting or with the filling. You will have plenty of both. Place the third layer on top and ice the top with the filling.
  3. If any of the sides protrude, trim them off so the sides are relatively uniform. Ice the sides with the chocolate buttercream, using a spatula dipped in milk to smooth the outside of the cake. Let it dry for half an hour before serving.

sliced

 

 

A quick way to line cake pans

A quick way to line cake pans

Most cake recipes suggest you line the bottom of your cake pans with waxed paper (old school) or baking parchment (new school). Well tracing and cutting out those circles for 2 or 3 cake pans is a lot of trouble. Here’s an easier way.

pan and parchment

Cut a square of baking parchment, a bit bigger than you cake pan. For 8” cakes, cut a 9” or 10”  square. It doesn’t have to be very accurate or even square: a rectangle will do just fine. We’ll cut off the excess as we go along.

Fold the square diagonally so that the left edge meets the top edge.  This establishes that square. Any left on the bottom will be cut off.

Fold that triangle in half down the middle.

Then, keep folding down the middle until you have a little pointed triangle.

Lay that triangle on the bottom of the cake pan with the point at the center, and cut off the triangle at the edge of the pan.

Then, unfold it. It should be a circle that will just fit in your cake pan. If it is a little big, just refold it and cut off a little more.

lined pan

Then, butter the pan, lay the liner inside, and butter it, too.  That’s really easy. I did all 3 cake pans in about a minute! See the top picture for all three!

Delicious southern buttermilk biscuits

Delicious southern buttermilk biscuits

Our recipe for biscuits is really very simple, with flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, unsalted butter and buttermilk. And it took a leap into high quality when we decided to fold and roll the biscuit dough, like you do when making croissants. Otherwise, it is much like hundreds of other recipes.

If you add salt, why do you use unsalted butter? Because unsalted butter has much less water in it than salted butter and works much better for pastry.

There have been a spate of articles in the past few months about why Northerners can’t make biscuits as good as Southerners do (and here we mean the Southern and Northern United States.)  See also “Why Most of America is Terrible at Making Biscuits.

flour-bleached-self-risingOne such article “Here’s why Southern Biscuits are Better” explains that southern cooks use a soft wheat flour like White Lily which has a much lower protein (and gluten) content, about 8-9 %, while an all purpose flour like King Arthur can be 11.7%. King Arthur All Purpose flour is close to bread flour which is 12.7%, while White Lily has the texture of cake flour, which is 6.9% to 7.1% for various brands.

 

 

Well, the authors of the two articles above point out that Southern biscuit makers use the low protein White Lily Flour, which is only available in the southern U.S., despite being distributed by Smuckers. You can, of course, buy it on line for a premium price and we did, to see what the difference really is.

[If you want to create a substitute for White Lily flour, you can mix ½ cake flour (7%) with ½ Gold Medal All Purpose (10.5%), which gives you a flour that is 8.75 % protein.]

Our Northern Recipe

We made our biscuits using our normal recipe:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Unsalted butter, 1/3 cup or 2/3 stick or 76 g
  • About 1 cup of buttermilk

In our recipe, we mix all the dry ingredients, and then cut in the butter using a pastry blender (or two forks).  Then, we add the buttermilk and mix it in with a fork and roll out the dough. We recently found that we had a pastry marble, which helps keep the butter cold, and we rolled out the dough on the marble. Then, and this is significant, we folded the dough into thirds and rolled it out again. We repeated that twice more, thus making more buttery layers within the biscuits. The resulting biscuits are excellent.

Southern Biscuits

White Lily Flour is commonly sold as Self-Rising, which means that every cup of flour has 1 ½ tsp baking powder and ½ tsp salt already added. White Lily is also bleached, which weakens the gluten a bit more, so this could also change the biscuit characteristics. (You can buy the non-leavened version as well.)

The recipes we looked at simply vary in the quantity of flour and shortenings. This one is pretty typical.

  • 2 ½ cups self-rising flour
  • 4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen
  • 1 cup chilled buttermilk.

The one difference is that the butter is frozen and you shred it in a box grater or a food processor. We found that it took so much kinetic energy to shred the butter in the box grater, that the it began to soften, so we switched to the food processor instead.

foldedAs before, we mixed the butter in with the pastry blender and added the buttermilk. One cup is a bit stingy, and we added a bit more buttermilk to make a workable dough. We rolled out the dough as before, (on our pastry marble) and folded it into thirds and rolled it out 3 times as before. Some recipe writers claim that you should cut out the biscuits without twisting your biscuit cutter, so we did that too for both batches. This may be just an old custom without a lot of science behind it, though.

 

We baked both biscuits for 10 minutes at 450˚ F. The White Lily ones were a bit taller since there was more flour in the dough recipe and thus the dough was a bit thicker when rolled out on the marble. So we baked these Southern biscuits a bit longer until they began to brown.

both baked

How are the biscuits different?

The King Arthur biscuits are a little darker and the White Lily a little lighter, because the White Lily flour is bleached. But the taste and texture of the two are very similar. Since we had to cook the taller White Lily biscuits a bit longer, the bottoms were a bit thicker and crunchier than those from King Arthur flour. However, see below on this point.

both split

The crumb and texture of the two biscuits are very similar and both quite tasty. (See the picture at the top of the article, as well.) We just didn’t find much difference. The secret seems to be the layers of butter from folding and rolling, and both biscuits have that nice buttery flavor.

crisco butterWe also tried making the White Lily biscuits using the recipe on the flour package, which commenters on the existing recipes said worked perfectly. It differs only in that the butter is replaced by Crisco. The biscuits are very pretty,  but pretty tasteless. The recipe suggests that you brush the biscuits with melted butter as shown. It doesn’t improve them much.

2 cups white lilyTo reduce the number of biscuits to the number we could roll out, we made the recipe again using just 2 cups of White Lily flour and 2/3 stick of shredded frozen butter. These were very good, but, frankly, no better than the King Arthur flour recipe.

cold butterFinally, we made the White Lily biscuits using cold, but not frozen butter, much as we made the King Arthur biscuits. These biscuits were not as tall or “layery.” Apparently the lower gluten flour affects this layering and you need frozen butter to achieve this effect with White Lily.

Our conclusion is, if you live in the South where you can buy White Lily Flour for about $2.50 for 5 pounds, go for it. But in the rest of the country, use All Purpose Flour and unsalted butter, and you will be very happy with the results.

both with eggs

 

 

Sous-vide cooking with our new Anova Cooker

Sous-vide cooking with our new Anova Cooker

Sous-vide cooking amounts to putting your food in a sealed plastic bag and immersing it in a temperature controlled water bath for an hour or so. Until recently, sous-vide cookers had cost several hundred dollars, but the latest models are about $100 and suitable for Christmas presents. Our new Anova Nano Precision cooker is just such a device, and we report here on our first experiences with it.

The essence of sous-vide cookery is immersing your food (meat, fish or some vegetables)  in a water bath at just the temperature you want the food to reach. For example, if you want a steak to have an internal temperature of 130˚ F, you put your steak in a vacuum sealed bag in a temperature-controlled water bath at 130˚ F for about an hour. The entire steak will have an internal temperature of 130˚ rather than just the middle. You finish the steak with a quick browning in a pan to give you the outer crust you’d expect.

The Anova cooker is a well-made, compact appliance that you clamp to the side of any fairly deep pot. It comes with minimal documentation (a tiny 5-page leaflet) directing you to download the Anova app for your smart phone.

This app immediately connects to the Anova via Bluetooth, allowing you to manage the settings from your phone. Use of the app is not entirely transparent: you would think that you could adjust the temperature and time from the app, bit you can actually only select times and temperatures associated with various recipes within the app: Beef Poultry, Eggs, Fish and seafood, Lamb, Port and Vegetables (Carrots and Corn only).

Steak

We bought some on-sale prime sirloin steak for our first experiment, placing the seasoned steak into a gallon zip lock bag with some seasonings.

We set the Anova for 130˚ using the app. This took a little fiddling, as it was not obvious at first ow to switch from Rare to Medium Rare. You just swipe right to move to the next temperature setting, but there was no indication on the screen that it was swipe-able. You should bring the water to temperature before putting the meat in. Since you can get tap water at 130˚, this is not too difficult. For high temperatures, you need to use your stove to heat the water, as the Anova takes quite a while to get to higher temperatures.

You slowly lower the bag into the water, letting the water pressure force out the air, and then seal the bag. It should sink in the water if you got most of the air out. We started the cooker, and an hour later had cooked, steak but with a gray exterior. We browned it in a cast-iron pan and then served it.  It was as good as the steak, which in this case was modest, but the cooker worked like a charm.

Chicken Breasts

We also followed the recipe provided with the cooker for chicken breasts.

Nearly all of these are by noted food writer Kenji Lopez-Alt. In those case, we put each of two breast halves in a separate 1 quart zip lock bag with a little oil and a sprig of rosemary and cooked them at 150˚ F for one hour. Then, we browned the chicken skin on a fry pan and deboned the breast easily. We sliced each breast up for serving and ate it with gusto. The breast was perfectly cooked and juicy, unlike nearly all other chicken breast recipes and an simple evening meal. It was great.

sliced

Carrots

carrot bag

To cook carrots, you cut them into 1-2 inch pieces, bag them and add a bit of sugar and butter, and seal them for immersion. We simply were not able to get all the air out of the bag because of the irregularity of the carrot pieces. We tried weight the bag by clamping a spoon to it, but the bag leaked and the carrots were not fully cooked. You also have to raise the water bath to 183˚ and this is beat done on the stove. You probably need to invest in a vacuum sealer to do carrots, but since we have a number of recipes for carrots already, this is not that urgent.

It’s not clear how often we’ll use our cooker, but it is very easy to use with the smartphone app and the results are really impressive. We have it in our stove drawer now for easy access.

Why homeopathy is hokum

Why homeopathy is hokum

There are lots of faux drugs on the shelves of many shameless drugstore chains that are labeled “homeopathic.” These are useless nostrums marketed to the gullible.  Usually they are labelled as something like “200C.” This is not a temperature, but the number of dilutions of the original substance.

The completely unsubstantiated hypothesis behind homeopathy is that “like cures like,” and that a very small diluted amount of some “natural substances,” such as plant extracts can stimulate the body to repair itself. There is no evidence that this 18th century idea actually works.

The way homeopaths work is that they select some substance or substances they believe might be helpful and dilute them with shaking, which they call potentization. The word has no actual meaning. Then after many dilutions and shakings, they sell some to you for treatment.

Well now, how much is “some”?

Let’s assume that table salt is a substance that can be used for treatment. It has a molecular weight of (23 + 35.5) of 58.5. We know, from the work of Loschmidt and Avogadro that if you weigh out the molecular weight of any substance in grams (in this case 58.5 g) it contains one  mole of particles, or 6.02 x 1023 molecules.

1 mole saltSo let’s dissolve that mole of salt on one liter of water. Now we have a one molar solution containing those 1023 molecules.  And now, lets dilute 10 ml of that liter by 100, to again make one liter.  This new liter will have 1/100 as many molecules in it, or 1021 molecules.

Well the “C” in that “200C” designation means that has been diluted by 100. And the 200 means that this has been repeated 200 times!

So lets see what happens after each dilution:

  1. 1021 molecules
  2. 1019 molecules
  3. 1017 molecules

…..

  1. 105 molecules
  2. 103 molecules
  3. 101 molecules

 

After 11 dilutions, you have only 10 molecules of salt left in your solution.  What happens when you dilute it 100:1 another time? If you take 100 10 ml samples of that last liter, 10 of them could have one molecule of salt!

And after that, the chances of there being even one molecule of our “medicine” are vanishingly small. All of the salt (or any other substance) is lost in the dilution process! There isn’t any left after 12 or so dilutions. And by 200 there is absolutely no chance you’ll encounter even one molecule!  It’s gone down the drain, just as the entire homeopathic hypothesis has. There are no active ingredients at all!

Taking homeopathic preparations can act as a placebo, or if they dilute the substance in alcohol instead of water, a quick drunk, but there just can’t be any benefits in the absence of any medicine.

Unfortunately homeopathic preparations are poorly regulated, and some dangerous substances may remain in significant quantities. In some cases, heavy metals have been found.

513minrbq9l._ac_us436_fmwebp_ql65_Studies of the famous quack medicine oscillococcimnum have shown no significant effect. And studies of some 68 treatments have found that they have no effect either.

These are quack medicines that improve the bottom line of unethical pharmacies, but can’t do you any good. Any they may do some harm.