Category: Food science

How to hard boil eggs

How to hard boil eggs

Hard boiled (actually hard-cooked) sometimes baffle people who want eggs that are easy to peel. There is so much misinformation out there that making good eggs becomes a huge worry. It’s not.

  • It doesn’t matter whether the eggs are fresh or old.
  • You don’t need to prick the end of the shell.
  • You don’t have to chill them much to make them peel. Just run them under cold water until they aren’t hot any more.

The key trick to making easy-peel eggs is that you start them in or above hot water. We tried all three in this longer article last year. They all work great.

Vegetable steamer

eggs in steamer

For us, the simplest way is to put a vegetable steamer in a pan, and add water till it is just below the bottom of the steamer. Bring the water to a slow boil, and quickly lower the eggs onto the steamer using a slotted spoon.  Cover and cook for 10 minutes.

Then run cold water into the pan, drain it and run cold water in again. Then, refrigerate them until you want to dye them, devil them or eat them.

Instant Pot

eggs in IPYou can make one or two dozen hard cooked eggs at once if you have an Instant Pot or other counter top pressure cooker. Just place a cup of water in the pot, and put your eggs on top of the trivet above the water.  Seal the pot and pressure-cook for 8 minutes.  Do not allow any cool-down time after the 8 minutes as the eggs will continue to cook. Release the pressure immediately, lift out the inner pot and run cold water into it. Rinse and run cold water on them again. They are then ready as above.

Boiling water

You can do this same trick in a pan of slowly boiling water. Bring the water to a boil and then quickly lower the eggs into the water and cook for about 10 minutes. Drain and cool as above.

3 cut open

This photo shows eggs cooked in the vegetable steamer, in a pan and in the Instant Pot 

How to fail

boil failYou can fail and get unpeelable eggs by starting them in cold water whether in a pan or on a trivet. You will also find them slightly harder to peel if you overcook them beyond 10 minutes. The yolks will become quite hard, and the eggs will be less flexible when you try to peel them.

Remember: start with boiling water!

That’s it!  Enjoy your holidays!

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Sweet potatoes were naturally made using GMO techniques

sweet-potato-fries-with-sea-56276If you look at the packaging for Alexia Sweet Potato Fries (which are actually very good) you will see “Non-GMO” and that annoying GMO Free butterfly label.  This is called fear-based marketing. We don’t use that scary GMO stuff (whatever that is) in our potatoes. But in the case of sweet potatoes, nature beat them to the punch.

Farmers breed plants all the time to get new, stronger and tastier varieties by crossing them. This is tricky because you usually then have to “back-cross” your new variety with its parents to make it more like its parent. And this can result in exchanging of over 10,000 genes! This was the way the pioneering plant biologist Norman Borlaug bred the wheat that saved Mexico and later India. For this he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Another way farmers and breeders have used is irradiation of seeds. This is kind of a crude technique, called mutation breeding, but it is how we got the current Ruby Red Grapefruit. You just have to plant the seeds and see what comes up. Then you save the good ones.  You can also perturb the seed using mutagenic chemicals (such as colchicine) to cause it to mutate. This is just as uncertain, but we have gotten a lot of nice flowers and a few vegetables that way.

The last way is using biotechnology to insert just the gene we want for the trait we want. This is the most precise method, but not everyone (except most scientists) is convinced that there aren’t some sort of unknown side effects. They usually use a bacterium called “agro” (for agrobacterium tumefaciens) which is a sort of a ring of DNA called a plasmid. This bacterium can insert genes into plants, and that is where the bulges come from you see on oak trees, called oak galls.

Now if biologists make that ring of DNA longer by including the genes they want in the plant they can persuade agro to do their insertions for them and this is the way most genetically modified crops are made today.

Here’s the news. This wasn’t our idea! That intellectual property belongs to a sweet potato! Virologist Jan Kreuze of the University of Washington in Seattle reported that they examined the genes of some 291 varieties of sweet potatoes from around the world, and found in all of them foreign genes from bacteria. Further, they found genetic sequences analogous to those in agro. And while they found these in sweet potatoes, they did not find them in close relatives.

Now, sweet potatoes are just the swollen parts of the plant’s roots and the authors theorize that this modification is what gives sweet potato plants this bulge; both are lacking from the close relatives. So sweet potatoes did their own “genetic engineering” some 8000 years ago, and farmers selected the plants with the best “bulge” to plant each year. And clearly after 8000 years we can be pretty sure there are no ill effects from eating them.

This is a pretty good indication that such genetic modification is perfectly safe, and every major scientific organization world wide agrees that this is true. You can find declarations from the AAAS, the AMA, and the EFSA.  Every major scientific society and national scientific organization has indicated that GMO foods pose no harm of any kind. Here is a good review in Scientific American by Pamela Ronald. And the position of the American Association for the Advancement of Science is very clear in stating that GMO crops pose no harm.

So, ignore those meaningless “non-GMO” marketing labels, and avoid products making those specious claims when you can. You may actually save money, too.

 

 

The Times, detoxing and other pseudo-science

The Times, detoxing and other pseudo-science

In last Sunday’s NY Times “T” section, an article by Kari Molvar asked “creative people to share their homemade recipes they count on to detox, cleanse – and refresh.” This should have been a very short article indeed, because there is no such thing as a detox or cleanse. Your liver is all you need to “cleanse” your system. And it does it very well! (See our article Medical Science says that Cleanses are Bogus.)

In this article, they interview artist Ana Kras about her recipe for a cleansing drink. How about another article on the kinds of sculptures scientists make?

At least that would be based on facts! This one, not so much.  Kras is known for her “modernist furniture, abstract drawings and photography.” But not for her knowledge of science, apparently.

She claims that her recipe (from California friend) is not only tasty but can have “medicinal properties.” NO proof, of course.

Her recipe consists of vegan, organic masala chai spice and ground vanilla powder. Well, both “vegan” and “organic” are more ritualistic concepts than ingredients, and “chai spice” is just a mixture of common household spice like cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cardamom, as shown above.

Where she goes off the rails is in adding a mixture of weird, unpronounceable “adaptogenic” spices like “ashwagandha, cordyceps, mucuna pruriens and reishi.” None of these ingredients have been found to be safe and effective for any purpose, and some can be dangerous in quantity.

Adaptogenic” is a pseudo-scientific term implying that the herbs may adapt to your body’s needs. This has never been shown to be true.

Kras claims in the article that this spiked tea drink may improve immunity and mental clarity. Of course, none of those crackpot ingredients do anything of the sort, and same may be dangerous, because they are pretty much unregulated.

Kras serves her chai with cashew cream (with a crushed date) or almond milk. Probably tasty, but of no particular benefit. It looks like she is trying to avoid dairy (for no good reason) but adding cream instead would be easier and cheaper, and still taste very good. Make your chai tea and enjoy it. Leave out the wacko spices, and tell the Times they are full of malarkey!

Antioxidants: another scam?

blueberriesWe know that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables are generally more healthy than those who don’t and people have hypothesized that the antioxidants in those fruits are the reason. According to this hypothesis, free radicals in the body can do damage to cells and genes and even cause cancer. And antioxidants can vacuum up free radicals by combining with them.

This theory keeps being repeated by cooking writer who somehow have taken this as gospel, particularly those exposed to the unaccredited Institute for Integrative Nutrition, who scams hundreds of students each year. They push the idea of colorful fruits and veggies being more healthful.

The trouble is, we really don’t have any idea what those free radicals are there for and whether they really should be Hoovered up. This discussion comes from one I found in Ben Goldacre’s delightful book “Bad Science.”

You can buy all kinds of antioxidants in pharmacies and health food stores, pretty much unregulated, and to hear the pill peddler talk, they might do some good and can’t do any harm, but we don’t know for sure.

Actually we do know. There have been a number of very good studies on these issues and the results are not encouraging.

In a 1996 Finnish study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a group of 29,133 male smokers were randomly assigned to receive the antioxidants alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene, both or a placebo for 5-8 years. The study followed incidence of lung cancer in the subjects, and it was found that

No overall effect was observed for lung cancer from α-tocopherol supplementation, and

β-carotene supplementation was associated with increased lung cancer risk.

 

In another trial called CARET for Carotene and Retinol Efficiency Trial, the results were worse. They followed 18,314 smokers, former smokers and workers exposed to asbestos, giving them a combination of beta-carotene and retinol (Vitamin A) daily, or a placebo. They found that the risk of death from lung cancer was 1.46 times greater in the active treatment group than in the placebo group, and the trial was stopped 21 months early.

The Cochrane Database is a collection of reviews of papers on hundreds of medical topics, and is a major destination for scientists seeking to review the work in any medical area. The review Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases was published this March and finds similar conclusions:

The current evidence does not support the use of antioxidant supplements in the general population or in patients with various diseases.

So, it would seem that eating your fruits and veggies is still a great idea, but antioxidant supplements are useless or even worse.

 

Should you buy an Instant Pot for Christmas?

Should you buy an Instant Pot for Christmas?

dsc_0004The Instant Pot is as much a cultural as a culinary phenomenon that was successfully marketed using social media as well as through Amazon.  If you followed the online comments and the various Facebook groups (which come and go regularly), you would think that this is the cooking appliance of a lifetime which not only prepares delicious meals in a single pot, but can also walk your dog and pay your mortgage.

It’s a handy appliance, but the hype easily gets out of hand. Basically the Instant Pot is a counter top electric pressure cooker: easier to use and possibly safer than the clunky old stovetop pressure cookers but that is its main function. However, they call it a “multicooker,” because you can also use it as a rice cooker (which it does very well), a slow cooker (which it does, but not so well) and a sauté pot, which is silly because you can do that on the stove without getting out and washing that big pot.

As the Instant Pot Internet fad grew, people were trying to make all sorts of recipes in their new gadget: some terrific and some not much better than the usual way. Like any other tool, you just need to ask whether you save any time, when allowing for dragging the pot out of the cupboard, and washing it all afterwards. The 6 quart pot is deep enough that your dishwasher may not get it completely clean.

In fact, there were at one time, quite a number of Facebook groups sharing Instant Pot recipes. Many seemed to have been sponsored by the Instant Pot company, and while they generated a lot of early enthusiasm, most have been shut down, partly because they were full of recipes that really weren’t very good.

So here are the things the Instant Pot does really well:

Stews

Anything you can make as a beef or chicken stew will come out faster and better in an Instant Pot. For example: Beef Bourguignon,  Beef Stew, Coq au Vin and any similar dish. If your stew  recipe includes wine or brandy, cut back on it as the alcohol won’t evaporate during cooking, and the steam may be flammable.

steaming-stew

Ribs

DSC_0007

You can make really good pork ribs (or beef ribs) in the Instant Pot, cooking them with a couple of cups o

f liquid (like apple cider) for about 30 minutes. But then, to get the browned flavor, you need to spread them with sauce and brown them under the broiler or on a gas or charcoal grill.

Stocks

dsc_0002

You can take the bones from a roast chicken or a turkey and turn them into several quarts of delicious stock. This works for beef stock too.  I add some veggies and a leek to the liquid along with the bones. You can freeze the resulting stock for some months. If you want to call it “bone broth,” cook it a little longer.

Tomato Sauce

Filled pot

If you are into canning fresh tomatoes to make tomato sauce, you can save a lot of time by using the Instant Pot to cook down the fresh tomatoes.

Rice

Yes, absolutely. Not only does the rice cook perfectly, the pot keeps it warm for a long time afterwards. We often make the rice, take it out and cover it and keep it warm and use the Instant Pot to make the main dish. It really doesn’t matter if the rice cools a bit if you are covering it with hot stew anyway.

Eggs

Hard-boiled eggs

3 cut open

The main advantage of the Instant Pot is that you can make hard boiled eggs that peel perfectly. But, if you are making one or two eggs for garnish, you can cook them more quickly in a vegetable steamer. But for Easter, or for making a dozen or two for deviled eggs, the Instant Pot is your friend. We recommend cooking them for 5 minutes and letting the pot cool for 3 more before opening it. The timing is the same no matter how many eggs you cook: the pot just takes longer to heat up.

Scrambled Eggs

plated

Just for fun, we decided to try scrambled eggs in the Instant Pot. They take about 7 minutes, but you can do them just as fast or faster in a pan. The only real advantage is that you don’t have to keep stirring them while they cook.

Poached Eggs

Some people have tried to make poached eggs in the Instant Pot, but since you have to put each egg into its own cup, you can’t make very many at once, and getting the eggs out of the cups without burning yourself is difficult. Further, it is much quicker to just poach them in boiling water as we show here.

Desserts

Cheesecake

sliced2

Once of the best dishes you can make in the Instant Pot is Cheesecake. It cooks at about the same rate as in the oven, but because of the steam, it never cracks and is much smoother. The only disadvantage is that you are limited to a 6.5 to 7 inch pan that will fit inside the pot.

Steamed puddings

You can also make quite a good Indian Pudding in the Instant Pot as well as a good Christmas Plum Pudding.

Things that don’t work very well

The place where the Instant Pot falls down is in recipes where browning of the food is integral. You want the browning so the Maillard reaction add flavor, and unless you can brown after cooking, like with the pork ribs, most other recipes aren’t improved by the IP. Be very suspicious of any recipe that only take 3-5 minutes. You probably don’t need to get your pot dirty for it.

Fish and Seafood

This is really not a useful idea, since you can cook fish in 5 minutes or so. Why haul out the pot, when you can do it in any pan more quickly?

Macaroni and Cheese

Like a lot of other things that aren’t that good, macaroni and cheese really needs to be backed and browned. There’s no way to do that in the Instant Pot. It just gets another dish dirty.

Steel cut oats

This was one of the big recipes early on, but since it is just oatmeal, people have decided that there is very little different than other packaged oats recipes you cook in a pan. Even the Instant Pot recipe only takes 3 minutes.

Chinese Stir Fry Recipes

Chinese cooking involves browning, and just doesn’t work in an Instant Pot.

Clam Chowder

Even the Recipe in the Instant Pot recipe book only takes 5 minutes. You don’t need the pot for this one.

Mashed Potatoes

At  first we thought cooking the potatoes in the Instant Pot was an improvement, but after several trials, we decided we could do just as well in a saucepan on the stove.

Veal recipes

Veal scallops are sautéed quickly.  The Instant Pot won’t help you here.

Vegetables

For the most part, vegetables cook too quickly for the IP to be much use. But you can quickly cook dried beans in your Instant Pot, and there are some decent recipes for squash soups.

Casseroles

Need to brown. Not much reason for the IP.

Fruits

Probably the same as vegetables: not much use for the pot. Making jams and marmalades requires cooking the fruit down slowly, and this is not possible in a closed pot.

In closing

The Instant Pot is a valuable kitchen tool for shortening long cooking recipes and for making rice and maybe for hard cooked eggs. But don’t be over sold and throw away your pots and pans and cookbooks!

 

‘The Nation” spreads farming misinformation like a manure spreader

DSC_0006The Nation is a venerable  magazine, having been founded in 1865, and for over 150 years has been providing political commentary, mostly on US administrations and events. While it writers skew to the left, this is not entirely the case and major writers have included Henry James, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Frederick Law Olmsted, W.E.B. Dubois, E.M. Forster, Emma Goldman, Sinclair Lewis, Willa Cather, H.L. Mencken, Upton Sinclair, Margaret Mead, Mark van Doren, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Bertrand Russell, Pearl S. Buck, Albert Einstein, I.F. Stone, Eleanor Roosevelt, Hannah Arendt, Jean-Paul Sartre, Harold Clurman, Edmund Wilson, W.H. Auden, Anne Sexton, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gore Vidal, and Toni Morrison.

With that cast of literary luminaries, you would think they could handle an issue on The Future of Food, focusing primarily on agriculture.  Unfortunately, the left tends to be agriculturally and scientifically illiterate, and much of what the contributors to this issue say is just plain nonsense.

Danny Meyer

Starting with an interview with noted restaurateur, Danny Meyer, written by food extremist Anna Lappe, we learn that in creating Shake Shack,

Our meat is free of antibiotics and artificial growth hormones; the eggs and chickens we use are cage free; the French fries are non-GMO.

How much could go wrong in one sentence?

  • All meat must be free of hormones and antibiotics by the time it is sold. Small amounts of growth hormones may be used in beef, but it must have washed out of the animal’s system before it can be sold. And you would find 1000 times more estrogen in 8 oz of cabbage than in 8 oz of beef. Hormones cannot be used in dairy cattle, veal calves, pigs or poultry.
  • All neat chickens are always cage free. And while chicken used for eggs can be raised free range or in various kinds of cages, a serious study in the Journal of Poultry Science has shown that the birds do best in conventional cages.
  • And what exactly does non-GMO potatoes mean? “GMO” is a breeding process, not an ingredient. The slogan is just fear marketing,  since thousands of peer-reviewed papers have shown that GM foods pose no harm. The JR Simplot company has developed the Innate Potato which is resistant to late potato blight and  produces lower amounts of acrylamide when fried. Why wouldn’t this be the more healthy offering?  Fear-based marketing based on organic industry sloganeering.

Zoe Carpenter

Zoe Carpenter’s lead in column asks (twice) whether consolidation in the agricultural sector will mean that farmers will pay more for inputs like seeds and earn less. The seed business is not a monopoly. There are any number of suppliers farms can choose from and if they choose a more expensive seed, it is because if performs better for them.

Raj Patel on Fair Trade

We have already written extensively on Fair Trade, which, no matter how well intentioned, has not turned out to be more profitable for farmers. This is because farmers are guaranteed a floor price, and they will sell their lowest quality crops into the fair trade market, and sell their best quality crops on the open market. It also has no effect on how temporary workers are treated. And the idea that organic bananas are produced without pesticides is a fantasy spread by the organic industry. Organic farmers just use organic approved pesticides. And, of course, as Bruce Ames showed years ago, plants generate 10,000 times more pesticides themselves than are ever detected from spray residues.

John Boyd on Small Scale Farming

Boyd echoes the canard that farmers who buy genetically modified seeds can no long replant them the next year. But as Amanda Zalukyj points out, farmers really don’t want to save seeds. It’s a huge effort to clean and save seeds, and this practice “went out the window” with the advent of hybrid seeds in the 1930s. These varieties don’t breed true in the next generation anyway.

Dana Perls on GMOs

Perls echoes disproven claims about GMO crops requiring “massive increases in the use of toxic herbicides.” Much of this claim comes from a discredited paper by Benbrook which failed to take account of the relative toxicity of newer herbicides like glyphosate. However, noted weed scientist Andrew Kniss has studied this issue in some detail.

In summary, this analysis suggests that GMOs have had a positive effect (or at the very least neutral or non-negative effect) with respect to herbicide use intensity and mammalian toxicity…

Perls also makes very unscientific claims that vanillin produced using genetically engineered yeast is not “natural,” because “synthetic biology” is involved. She also claims it drives out 200,000 rain forest farmers. Which do you think is better overall for the environment?

Hacking the Grain- Madeline Ostrander

This genuinely fascinating article about attempts to create perennial grains to replace wheat is well worth reading. However, it starts with the mistaken assumption that large fields of s single crop (which they call a “monoculture”) are somehow bad. Andrew Kniss debunks this in some detail, noting that Pollan and his followers never explain why this is so bad. He admits that all of Ireland was growing the exact same potato, reproduced vegetatively so that there was just a single genetically identical potato grown throughout the country. That is why the Phytophor infestans blight wiped potatoes out so completely.

This is not a problem in grain farming, however, because while there may be many thousands of acres of corn or wheat, they are not all genetically identical.

It is important to recognize that you do not need perennial wheat or corn to avoid tilling the fields, which releases a lot of carbon into the atmosphere, and upsets the delicate layering that good soil should have.  No-till farming is regularly done using low impact herbicides like Roundup (glyphosate) to reduce annual weeds and then plant using a seed drill instead of a plow. You can use glyphosate-resistant seed or not as you wish. I actually use this technique in my home vegetable garden.

The rest of Ostrander’s article is a fascinating description of the development and breeding of a perennial grass, they call “Kernza,” which has the potential to be milled and baked much like wheat flour.  The lead scientist on Kernza domestication, Lee DeHaan is profiles on the Land Institute page, and you can read more about his research here.

“Mass Exposure” by Rene Ebersole

In the worst article in the magazine Rene Ebersole recycles all the discredited canards about Roundup (glyphosate) being dangerous. Ebersole starts with the assertion that an “international scientific committee” ruled that glyphosate is a probably human carcinogen. She is referring to the IARC, a small French group that took refuge under the umbrella of the WHO when their funding ran out.

Unfortunately, the group’s credibility fell, when it was realized that they ruled that compounds were “probably” carcinogenic” without considering any dosage issues. As we noted, they ignored decades of government studies, cherry picking just a few that seemed to fit their agenda. Further, it became known that activist Christopher Portier, who was still working with the Environmental Defense Fund, inserted himself into the deliberations and went about telling European governments of these false findings.

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR)  disputed these findings. There are dozens of studies and reviews showing no finding of genotoxicity or carcinogenicity.  And as James Gurney reported, the papers they cherry-picked were full of scientific weasel words like “induced a positive trend,” and the statistical test “often gives incorrect results.”

And, responding to the IARC report, the European Food Safety Association(EFSA) reviewed studies including those from the BfR and concluded:

“…glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential according to Regulation.”

More to the point, the IARC report has recently been further discredited, when it was discovered that the conclusions were edited or changed, as summarized by Ridley, and that Portier had received $160,000 from law firms involved in suing Monsanto.  And just yesterday, Hank Campbell reported that the US Congress is so disgusted with these irregularities that it may be considering “pulling the  plug” in future IARC funding.

Ebersole goes on to claim that Monsanto is being sued because Roundup “Caused them to develop non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL).” They have no actual evidence, and Derek Lowe, writing in Science explains the difference between hazard and risk,  and concludes that there is little evidence linking glyphosate and NHL.

Finally, Ebersole quotes Carey Gillam who describes herself as “research director for US Right to Know.” Gillam is not a scientist. She was once a journalist working for Reuters, but after producing a steady stream on attacks on Monsanto, she was dismissed and now works for US Right to Know, a propaganda organization supported by the organic food industry. Further, Gillam has just published Whatewash: The Story of a Weedkiller. This book has not been well received among actual scientists, however, who consider it just more of or propaganda.

Ebersole seems to have overlooked the actual science regarding the safety of glyphosate, and also neglected to point out (as Ridley does) that lawsuits against Roundup are becoming a profitable industry for some law firms hoping to extract money from Monsanto. Bad luck, though, that Roundup has been off patent since 2000, and most of it is made offshore.

In conclusion, this is one of the worst issues of The Nation in years, where fact checking has simply gone home for the week, allowing the spread of bad information and bad science.

 

 

Easy peel hard-boiled eggs

Easy peel hard-boiled eggs

Some people get frustrated when they can’t get the shell of their hard boiled eggs and we’ve done the experiments to tell you what actually works to make them peel easily.

A lot has been written about how to hard boil (actually hard cook) eggs, and much of it is wrong. Bittman suggests that you should put a pinhole in each end of the egg before boiling, but McGee says that studies have shown that this is ineffective. McGee gets two other points wrong though about  fresh eggs and boiling temperature, though, so we tried all these things for you.

Chilling the cooked egg is helpful but less significant. And as for fresh versus older eggs, wait and see!

farmers cowIn this article we used Extra Large eggs from The Farmers Cow cooperative, with a Julian packing date of 238 (August 26) which means they were 3-4 weeks away from the hens when we bought them at Stop and Shop.

Our favorite way to cook 2-4 eggs is to put them in a vegetable steamer over boiling water. This is way easier and safer than putting the eggs right into the boiling water.

  1. Put the steamer in a pan, and add water until just below the surface of the steamer, and bring the water to a boil. Using a big, slotted spoon or a set of tongs, lower the eggs into the steamer basket. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle boil, and cover the pan for 10 minutes.
  2. Then, remove the pan from the heat and run cold water into it. Dump the water (which is now luke-warm) and add more cold water to chill the eggs. This isn’t supposed to be a big deal, it is just to get the eggs down to a temperature where you can hold and peel them.
  3. Peel each egg under running water. This will wash away any eggshell shards and help separate the egg from the shell. The shells should come right off without sticking.

pan boilAnother simple way is to simply use boiling water without the steamer. Bring the water in a pan to a gentle boil and quickly slip the eggs into the water. Let them cook, covered for 10 minutes as above and cool them the same way. The advantage of this method is that you can get more eggs into the pan. The disadvantage is that it is hard to get a lot of eggs into the pan quickly so they all cook for the same length of time, and if there are too many, they may bump together and crack.

Using the Instant Pot

eggs in IPA third way that works really well is using an Instant Pot or any other counter-top electric pressure cooker.  It’s very simple, but most of the on-line recipes get it wrong, resulting it overcooking or tough eggs. You put the trivet in the Instant Pot (or use a vegetable steamer) and add one cup of water. Then add all the eggs you want (you could do a dozen or more) and close the pot. Use the Steam setting (high pressure) rather than the Manual setting, which will result in higher pressure and tough eggs.

Nearly all of these cookers have a “rest” or “cool down” setting. This is intended for cooking meats and allows them to draw the juices back into the meat before you depressurize and open the pot. For eggs, however, this is silly. A typical recipe suggestion is 5-5-5, meaning 5 minutes cooking, 5 minutes cooldown and 5 minutes in ice water. This is way too long: the eggs will be overcooked. If you play the recipe writer’s game, you should cook using the High Pressure Steam setting, and then let the eggs cool for at most 3 minutes.

To cool the eggs, just lift the whole stainless steel pan out of the pot and remove it to the sink. Then run cold water into the pot, drain and run cold water again. When the eggs feel cool enough to handle peel them under running water. We tried 5+5, found that they were overcooked, and settled on 5+3. A half of each is shown in the right hand bowl below.

It’s interesting to note that the 5+5 (10 minute) egg was just a little more difficult to peel, because the egg was harder and less flexible. Slightly less done eggs are easier to peel!

3 boiled


3 cut openThis photo shows eggs cooked in the vegetable steamer, in a pan and in the Instant Pot for 5+3 and 5+5.

A simpler way to use the Instant Pot, is to forget the cooling period and just cook the eggs for, say, 8 minutes, release the pressure and cool them in running water as above. To see what different times do, see the photo below, which shows cooking times of 7, 8, 9 and 10 minutes.

What about fresh eggs?

fresh wggA pervasive legend, perpetuated by McGee is that really fresh eggs are more likely to stick to their shells than older eggs. We decided to test this out by getting a dozen fresh eggs from a neighbor who raises chickens, and cooking two on a vegetable steamer.  These eggs were probably laid within the past 3-4 days and are about as fresh as we could get.

They cooked perfectly. There was no difference whatever!

Do you really have to use boiling water?

Since everything worked perfectly, we decided to see what it would take to produce an egg that peeled terribly. All we had to do was to start the eggs in cold water and then cook them for 10 minutes from the boil. We chilled them as usual by running cold water into the pan until the egg was cool to the touch. Trying to peel this egg was a disaster. Everything went wrong, just as we predicted.

boil fail

What about the chilled water?


chill failDo we really have to chill the eggs after cooking? Well, that’s easy to try as well. We cooked one egg in the veggie steamer for 10 minute as usual, and left it on the counter for an hour to cool. The result was an egg that peeled pretty well, but was not as perfect as the ones that were chilled right away. Obviously the quick chilling causes the white to draw away from the shell a bit, making peeling easier.

You don’t have to chill the eggs for 5-6 minutes. Just get them to room temperature so you can peel them. This takes a minute or less.

Conclusions

  1. Always start your eggs in boiling water.
  2. Always chill the eggs in cold tap water or ice water after cooking. You only need about a minute of chilling.
  3. Always peel the eggs under cold, running water.
  4. Slightly less done eggs peel more easily.
  5. Farm fresh eggs are no more difficult to peel than older eggs.
  6. Don’t bother with pinholes in the eggs. They don’t do anything.
Non-GMO oyster crackers: they are really in the soup

Non-GMO oyster crackers: they are really in the soup

We had some delicious clam chowder at one of our favorite restaurants this weekend. Even the oyster crackers were good: until I noticed the label. There was the stupid Non-GMO Project Verified logo with the even less credible butterfly alongside. Look Westminster Bakers, you make a great product, so why sully it with scare tactic marketing?

The funny thing is that Westminster must have just recently added this scary butterfly logo to their packages, because a search for their crackers brings up a lot of pictures without the anti-GMO label. You only find it on their actual company site.

So what does that mean for oyster crackers that only contain 7 ingredients: unbleached wheat flour, water, canola oil, cane sugar, salt, yeast and baking soda? Let’s stipulate upfront that “GMO” is a breeding process for making plants with particular traits. “GMO” is not an ingredient.

The plants: corn, soy, sugar beets, some squash, papaya, alfalfa, and sorghum have traits that allow farmers to grow them more economically and with fewer pesticides. Non-browning apples and potatoes have also been developed. Every major scientific organization worldwide has concluded that these genetic modifications pose no harm. These organizations include the National Academy of Sciences, the AAAS, the World Health Organization, the European Food Safety Association and hundreds of others, that check for people health in every country, they can improve with the help of diet and supplements as kratom powder.

Let’s take a look at the ingredients in these excellent crackers:

  • Wheat – there is no GMO wheat on the market.
  • Salt – Nope
  • Water – Nope
  • Baking soda – Nope
  • Yeast – Nope (there are some genetically modified brewers yeasts, but none used by bakers)

Sugar comes from either sugar cane or sugar beets. Much of the sugar beet crops grown in the northern US are bred to resist herbicides like glyphosate, to reduce the need for plowing and weeding. Further this also reduced the amount of herbicide actually used to less than a soda can full per acre.

 

GMO sugar  ———–  Non-GMO sugar

But sugar is a simply crystalline compound that is easily purified. Above are drawings of conventional sugar and genetically modified sugar. Can’t tell the difference? That’s because there isn’t any. Sugar doesn’t contain any proteins or any DNA to modify: it is just a simple organic compound that can be extracted from cane or beets. Whether the plant was bred to resist one or more herbicides doesn’t matter: the sugar is exactly the same. The idea that there is such a thing as “GMO sugar” is silly. Either way, it is just sugar. The label “GMO sugar” is what we call an anti-marketing label. It is used to scare you away, when there is just nothing there to be scared of. Fear-based marketing is fundamentally dishonest; this is a prime example of anti-GMO hooey!

Canola oil is another funny story. Rapeseed was grown for many years for its oil, used mostly for lubrication. This was particularly valuable in the UK during World War II. However, rapeseed oil had a bitter taste from a series of mustardy compounds called glucosinolates, which may be tasty in brassicas, but not desirable in cooking oils. In the 1970s, Downey and Steffanson of the Saskatoon Research Laboratory laboriously separated the oil part of rapeseeds from the embryo section, and analyzed the oils by gas chromatography, selecting the seeds with the lowest glucosinolate and erucic acid concentration. They planted and crossed these seeds to produce a new plant that produced Canada Oil, or canola for short.

Soon herbicide resistant versions of canola plants were developed by mutation breeding and natural selection. This was very important, because you didn’t want to include the old rapeseed plants in your oil and if they could be killed while keeping the canola plants unharmed it would make growing canola much more economical.

Later glyphosate and glufosinate resistant plants were developed by the usual biotech means, and were made available. The funny part is that canola plants are absolutely promiscuous, and the pollen can blow for miles. This means that there is a good chance that every canola plant in North America may be resistant to these herbicides and thus, by the lights of the idiotic Non GMO Project, a “GMO plant.” So basically all canola oil in North America is GM. And who cares? There is no protein, no DNA in canola oil so it doesn’t matter.

 It’s just another anti-marketing label. 

Now, there is some canola oil available in the Netherlands that is carefully produced to assure its “non-GMO-ness,” but who cares? Does Westminster buy this? Who knows? Or cares?

Westminster Bakery is almost 200 years old and is justifiably proud of their history and traditions. They claim to be using “the same basic, wholesome ingredients” as their Master Baker devised 200 years ago. Call this marketing hyperbole, though, since canola oil is only about 43 years old.

Lime Posset: a cool refreshing dessert

Lime Posset: a cool refreshing dessert

This easy recipe makes a cool lime custard in ten minutes work plus 4 hours chilling time, and is just made from limes, sugar and cream. No eggs, no flour. So why does it thicken? It’s the lime juice that coagulates the milk proteins. This recipe was suggested by one in Bon Appetit. Possets go way back to the 16th century and are mentioned in Shakespeare as well as by other writers of the time. In British Food History, Neil Cooks Grigson writes that most mentions of possets in the 18th and 19th century were to a warm drink made with curdled milk, sugar and alcohol, but there is one 1769 article that pretty much describes what 20th and 21st century cooks are making. You can make possets using any acidic fruit juice: orange and lemon possets are also common. In each case, the acid of the fruit coagulates the cream, but because of its high fat content, it makes a smooth custardy texture.

  • 2 limes, peeled into strips
  • Juice of the same 2 limes
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Pinch of Kosher salt
  • 4 ramekins
  • 1 peach
  • ½ cup cream
  • 1 Tb sugar
  • 4 mint leaves
  1. Put the cream, sugar and salt in saucepan and add the strips of lime peel. Boil gently for 5 minutes to reduce and thicken the cream.
  1. Strain the cream and return it to the saucepan. Add the lime juice and stir.
  2. Allow the cream to cool a bit and begin to thicken and pour into four ramekins.
  3. Chill for 4 or more hours.
  1. Peel the peach by submerging it in boiling water for a minute and cooling it in cold water. Pull off the peel, using a vegetable peeler if it is stubborn.
  2. Cut the peach into slices, place into a bowl and sugar them with about 1 Tb sugar.
  3. When ready to serve, add the sugar to the ½ cup of cream and whip it. Place a peach slice on each ramekin, add a dollop of cream, and decorate with a mint leaf.
Organic Consumers Assoc: ‘worst organization in the world’

Organic Consumers Assoc: ‘worst organization in the world’

I received this telemarketing call Friday evening. It came from an 818 number that seemed to be from Pomona, California, and the caller ID said “Organics Fund.” This appears to be the Organic Consumers Fund, a fund-raising arm of the Organic Consumer’s Association. They apparently called to lie to me some more about GMOs.

Alex: “Hello, this is Alex, and I’m calling from the Organic Consumers Fund.  We’d like to thank you for your support [I never gave them a dime].

“We now have a national GMO labeling bill, but it just isn’t enough. Manufacturers only have to put a QR code on the package. We think the information should be spelled out.”

Me: “You mean you want to scare people with some misleading label?”

Alex:  “We think that consumers have a right to know what is in their food.”

Me: “You do know the ‘GMO’ is a breeding process, not an ingredient, don’t you?”

Alex: “Yes, and people deserve to know that this was used on their food.”

Me: “And do you realize that there are thousands of technical papers concluding the GM food poses no harm?”

Alex: “We think people should be able to decide for themselves.”

Me: “So you want to use these labels to scare people into buying overpriced organic foods?”

Alex: “We want people to be able to make up their minds.”

Me: “And decide to spend money on expensive foods? What else have you got?”

Alex: “We also have a campaign to save the declining bee population.”

Me: “You do realize that the bee population has been growing for the last seven years, don’t you?”

Alex: “Well, thanks anyway.”

The Organic Consumer’s Association

This group, led by crackpot food-scare activist Ronnie Cummins has been spreading misinformation about biotechnology for years, and sends wildly inaccurate newsletters almost weekly making unjustified claims about the dangers of GM foods and scary nonsense about Roundup. You would not be surprised to discover that the preponderance of their budget comes from contributions from organic food companies such as Stonyfield Farms, Horizon Organic, and Organic Valley. Their sole purpose is to promote organic food sales by slandering biotechnology and anything else not organic.

While the OCA continues to hammer away about the “dangers of GMOs,” the overall scientific consensus is that they pose no harm. That is the position of every major scientific organization in the world, including the WHO, the AMA, and the EFSA. And for more on who funds GMO denialism, read Michelle Miller’s excellent piece here.

On honeybees

They OCA does have a crazy 2014 position paper claiming that “GMOs are killing birds, bees and butterflies,” but it is complete nonsense. Colony collapse disorder peaked in 2006, but as this Washington Post article explains, bee populations have risen each year since then. The article conflates GM seeds with neonicotinoid seed coatings, and while neonicotinoid insecticides can harm bees, they are not a significant contributor to bee deaths, according to the USDA. The major causes of bee deaths are parasites like varroa mites, pathogens like nosema and European foulbrood, and poor nutrition when bees are moved from one monocrop area to another. Data showed no consistent relations between pesticides and CCD-affected colonies.

The worst organization in the world

In addition, the OCA has taken a consistent and utterly unscientific position toward vaccination, it is an accomplice in persuading immigrants to avoid vaccination.

As reported in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, a cluster of Somali immigrants near Minneapolis became concerned about the apparent incidence of autism in their population. Some asked discredited (and disbarred former doctor) Andrew Wakefield to speak to the Somalis about his entirely debunked idea that vaccines could cause autism. This theory was thoroughly debunked in a 2004 report by the National Academies of Medicine and by the Center for Disease Control.

However, a weekend misinformation session attacking vaccines including speakers from the Organic Consumers Association who have absolutely no qualifications to speak on this topic, but are very good at scare tactics.

Statistically, it turned out that the autism rate among Somali children was no different than anywhere else in the world, but because of these scare tactics, nearly 60% of Somali 2-year olds have not had their MMR vaccine, and so far 68 cases of measles have been reported in Minnesota, (58 of them in Hennepin County). Measles is one of the most contagious childhood diseases, and about 1 in 20 children with measles get pneumonia and this can lead to death.

Any organization that spews this antivaccine nonsense to a vulnerable population with less access to good medical facts, deserves the epithet of “Worst Organization in the World.”

And an organization that consistently lies about food safety is no better.