Posts with «author_name|nicole lee» label

Amazon made Disney a 'Hey, Disney!' voice assistant

Amazon and Disney has just announced a new voice assistant called "Hey, Disney!". Built on Amazon's Alexa technology, this new Disney assistant will be available in your home Echo as well as in Echo devices located in Walt Disney World Resort hotel rooms. You can use it to interact with characters from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and more. It is the first time an Alexa custom assistant will be available on Echo devices.

According to Amazon, this voice assistant will give you access to interactive storytelling experiences and entertainment featuring Disney characters. You can also play games and access jokes set in the Disney world. You can also use the "Hey, Disney!" assistant to set timers and alarms, or check the weather.

In Disney's hotel rooms, the voice assistant can be used to make your stay more pleasant. It can answer questions, fulfill special requests (like if you want more towels for example) and more. It's part of a new Alexa for Hospitality program that allows hotels to deploy Amazon Echo products at scale and feature customized screens as well. 

Amazon

The "Hey, Disney!" assistant will be available for purchase in the Alexa SKills Store in the US starting in 2022. At the same time, Amazon also introduced a new Disney edition of OtterBox Den Series stand for the Echo Show 5 that has Mickey ears. It's available for pre-order for $24.99.

Follow all of the news from Amazon’s fall hardware event right here!

Amazon's $250 Echo Show 15 is a giant smart display for your wall

Amazon has already released updated versions of the 5, 8 and 10-inch Echo Shows earlier this year, but it’s not done with smart displays just yet. Today, at its annual fall event, the company announced the Echo Show 15, its largest one to-date. With a 15.6-inch 1080p display, the Echo Show 15 almost looks like a large picture frame. It can be wall-mounted or placed on a stand, in either portrait or landscape orientation. The Echo Show 15 will retail for $249.99.

Since it has such a large display, Amazon has introduced a redesigned home screen to go along with the Echo Show 15. You can configure it so that part of the screen has the usual rotating array of ambient content like headlines and weather updates (those who already have an Echo Show will be familiar with this), while the rest of it can be customized with various Alexa widgets. Think of the whole thing as a multifunctional family bulletin board.

Those widgets include useful applications like a family calendar, a shared shopping list, sticky notes, to-do lists, reminders, recipe recommendations from sources like Allrecipes and Epicurious, restaurant delivery options and more. There’s a Blue Apron widget that helps you order meal kits and shows you step-by-step recipe instructions. A connected home widget helps you view and control your favorite smart home devices. You can also enable picture-in-picture live camera viewing so you can keep an eye on your kids while you’re cooking dinner. There’s also a widget to help you track package deliveries.

Amazon

According to Amazon, these Alexa widgets will also be available on the other Echo Shows, but you’ll have to swipe the screen to see them. On the Echo Show 15, however, they can be arranged to appear on the home screen, which can’t be done on smaller-screened Echo Shows. In the event you have guests over and don’t want them to see all of your calendars and personal information, you can enable a picture frame mode on the Echo Show 15 so that it only shows photos or art work.

Additionally, the Echo Show 15 has a new visual ID feature that’s able to recognize your face, which will prompt it to show you personalized information such as your calendar appointments, reminders and notes. This is potentially useful in a multi-person household, as you can show sticky notes meant only for specific members of the family, for example. Additionally, if you enroll your child in visual ID, the device will show them age-appropriate content.

Amazon

For those who have privacy concerns, visual ID is entirely optional, plus all of the computer vision information remains on the device, with nothing going to the cloud. The microphone and camera have power toggles, and there’s a built-in camera shutter. Plus, you can always view and delete your voice recordings.

Much like the other Alexa-powered smart displays, the Echo Show 15 has a bevy of entertainment options that include Prime Video, Netflix, Hulu and more. All Echo Shows will soon support TikTok and Sling TV streaming as well.

The Echo Show 15 is powered by Amazon’s AZ2 Neural Edge processor, which powers a lot of the device’s on-board machine learning and computer vision capabilities. It enables the aforementioned visual ID feature, and it also lets you teach Alexa your personal preferences. For example, you can tell Alexa you’re a vegetarian, and the next time you ask Alexa for recipes, it’ll remember that and only show you vegetarian recipes.

One particularly intriguing new feature is that you can also teach Alexa to recognize sounds. So for example, if your refrigerator beeps when it’s open for too long, you can teach Alexa to recognize that sound, and then notify you that you need to close your fridge door. You can teach it to recognize the doorbell, the microwave ding, the washing machine tune and various other household alerts. This sounds potentially very helpful, especially for those who are hard of hearing.

Amazon says that the Echo Show 15 will be available later this year. Countertop stands and under-cabinet mount accessories will be sold separately at a yet-to-be-determined price.

Follow all of the news from Amazon’s fall hardware event right here!

Facebook introduces portable Portal Go for $199

Facebook’s Portal devices have proven surprisingly popular over the past year, largely due to the pandemic and our dependence on video calls. It’s no surprise, then, that the company is doubling down on the concept. Today, Facebook is announcing two new Portals: an updated Portal+ for $349, plus a brand new $199 Portal Go that is also the company’s first-ever portable smart display.

Yes, in brief, that means the Go can actually be taken out of its charging dock and toted around. There’s also an integrated handle on the back for easy carrying. Despite the handle, it has a relatively compact form factor, with a 10-inch, 1,280 x 800 display housed inside a soft fabric-wrapped enclosure. 

The idea behind this portable Portal, according to Facebook, is that you can keep the device in, say, a kitchen or an office, and it can then be moved around the house if the family is congregating in a different room. Of course, since it’s portable, it can also be brought outdoors as long as you have a relatively strong WiFi signal. Since it can stream music from sources like Spotify, you can also use the Go as a portable speaker.

Facebook

As for battery life, Facebook says that you will likely get up to five hours of one-on-one Messenger calling on a single charge and up to 14 hours of music playback if the screen is off.

In addition, the company unveiled a new Portal+, which hasn’t been updated since the original debuted in 2018. While we thought the first-gen model was a bit of an eyesore, the new Portal+ brings a much-improved design. With a 14-inch, 2,140 x 1,440 display, it still has the largest screen out of all the Portals, but its footprint is much smaller than before. The Portal+ display can also be tilted up and down to accommodate different heights.

Both the new Portals have a 12-megapixel camera with an ultra-wide field of view. Like the other Portals, these make use of Facebook's so-named Smart Camera technology, which uses AI to follow you around the room, panning and zooming to keep you in frame the entire time. There’s also a smart sound tech that allows you speak at a normal volume, regardless of the distance between you and the device, and still have your callers hear you clearly. 

Of course, with any Facebook product, privacy and security are obvious concerns. To help allay those fears, both the new Portals have built-in camera lens covers, and there are buttons at the top that disconnects the camera and the microphone. The smart camera AI technology mentioned earlier runs locally on the device and not on Facebook’s servers. WhatsApp calls are end-to-end encrypted by default. On Messenger, however, you’ll have to specify the contacts and groups you want to enable the end-to-end encryption (and even this feature is still in the roll-out phase).

Aside from new hardware, Facebook also detailed some incoming software updates. One of them is Household Mode, which essentially lets you share the Portal with the whole family. In Household Mode, you can allow access to a selection of shared apps and contacts, while keeping the rest personal. For example, then, you can let the whole family use apps like Messenger and WhatsApp, and allow them to call grandma and grandpa, but they won’t be able to contact anyone else unless you let them. You can set up a screen lock passcode to control access to the device as well.

Facebook

The Portal home screen has also been redesigned to be more personalized, with a top row of favorite contacts, and a card interface similar to the one on other smart displays. There’s a card for Messenger Rooms, one for Spotify playlist shortcuts, another for most used apps, and more. As for Portal TV, the company will soon be updating it so that you can see calling notifications like a pending Rooms invitation or a missed video call.

Additionally, Facebook has updated the Watch Together experience on Portal so it can be used not just on Portal-to-Portal calls, but also with Messenger pals on the phone, laptop or tablet. On top of that, the company says it’s bringing WhatsApp multi-device support to Portal in the next few months. This lets you use WhatsApp on your phone as well as four non-phone devices at the same time.

Facebook is aware that Portals can be used not just in the home context, but also for business purposes. That’s why it will be adding support for Microsoft Teams for all Portal devices starting this December. (It added support for Zoom, WebEx, BlueJeans and GotoMeeting last year.) There will also be a new Calendar app, which lets you view your Outlook or Google calendar on Portal. The beauty of this is that you could then jump in on your next meeting with a single tap on the screen.

Facebook

In addition, Facebook is introducing Portal for Business specifically for small businesses to deploy and manage Portal devices. They can create and manage Facebook Work Accounts which lets employees use company email addresses to set up the Portal. IT admins can use a Portal Device Manager to manage the devices remotely.

According to Facebook, the 8-inch Portal Mini will be discontinued, but the Portal TV and the 2019 10-inch Portal that requires a power cord will still be available. 

Pre-orders for both the Portal Go and the new Portal+ start today. They will begin shipping October 19th.

Apple updates the entry-level iPad with a new A13 Bionic chip

Apple introduced a brand new iPad today, and one of its biggest features is that it ships with an A13 Bionic chip. Apple promises that it has a 20 percent faster performance than the previous iPad, from the CPU, GPU and the Neural Engine. The company also claims that the new iPad is three times faster than the top-selling Chromebook and six times faster than the top-selling Android tablet. 

The new iPad also features a new front-facing 12-megapixel Ultra Wide camera that is especially useful for video calls. It has a 122-degree field-of-view and comes with Center Stage, a tech that we've already seen in Apple's iPad Pro. Similar to the tech on Facebook's Portal devices, Center Stage automatically detects people and dynamically adjusts the frame as you move around, or as more people join the call. The tech works in both portrait and landscape mode. 

This Center Stage feature works not just on Facetime but in other video apps too, like Zoom, Bluejeans and WebEx. Plus, the tech isn't just for video calls. Users can also utilize the tech to record, stream and publish videos to apps like DoubleTake, Explain Everything and TikTok. 

It will have a 10.2-inch Retina display with True Tone, which adjusts the screen content to the color temperature of your surroundings. 

The iPad will support existing accessories like Apple's Smart Keyboard and the first-generation Apple Pencil. 

Developing...

Follow all of the news from Apple’s iPhone event right here.

How to make the most of that Instant Pot you just bought

Few kitchen appliances have reached the same cult status as the Instant Pot. With 1.9 million members on the official Instant Pot Facebook group, more than 100 fan-created online groups, around 30,000 reviews on Amazon and accolades from the likes of TheNew York Times, it's no question that this kitchen marvel is a hit.

It's a winner with the Engadget staff, too; not only have a few of us bought it for ourselves, we've recommended it in past gift guides. Sure, it's not a tech gadget per se (although there is a "smart" edition with an app and Google Assistant), but it does have a lot of crossover appeal thanks to its promise of all-in-one efficiency.

But what do you do when you get one? With so many recipes on the internet and so many different things you can do with it, where do you even start? In this guide, I'll attempt to give you a primer on the first steps you should take when you get one, some tips and tricks on how to use it and a few favorite recipes and source links. A lot of this comes from personal experience; I've been an Instant Pot owner for a few years. I'll also note that the listed recipes lean toward my own taste, but hopefully this guide will provide a good start for your own culinary adventures.

How Instant Pots work

If you're reading this, you probably already know what an Instant Pot is, but just in case you don't, here's a brief introduction. The Instant Pot is an "all-in-one" kitchen gadget that promises to replace a rice cooker, a yogurt maker and a slow cooker; it also lets you sauté and steam foods. But the real reason the Instant Pot has risen to fame is that it's also a very good electric pressure cooker. This lets you cook food at an accelerated rate; imagine pulled pork in an hour instead of five or a chicken curry done in 10 minutes. And because it's electric, you just press a few buttons and walk away. Unlike a stovetop pressure cooker, there's no need to keep a constant eye on it.

There are a bunch of Instant Pot models to choose from. Some of the lower-end ones lack the yogurt-maker, and a couple of the higher-end models have extra features like sous-vide cooking and canning, but all have the electric pressure cooker function, so much of this guide will focus on that. The Instant Pot comes in 3-, 6- and 8-quart sizes. Unless you're only cooking for yourself or you have a large family, I think the 6-quart model should work for most people.

Buy Instant Pot Duo at Amazon - $89

A brief word on other Instant Pot models: 

  • The Duo Plus (starting at $100) is an upgraded version of the Duo Series. It has two additional functions: sous vide (for temperature-controlled cooking) and sterilizer (a steam shortcut for sterilizing items like baby bottles). There’s also a cooking progress status bar plus an anti-spin design that keeps the inner pot in place when you’re sauteing.

  • The Pro (starting at $115) is designed for the serious cooking enthusiast, with plenty of upgrades over existing Instant Pots. The inner pot has an extra thick bottom that can go on the stove, plus it has handles so it’s easier to lift. It comes with 28 customizable programs for different foods, and there are five favorites buttons that you can assign to frequently cooked meals. The steam release switch has been upgraded to reduce noise and splatter, and there are even steam release reminder alerts with 5- and 10-minute pre-sets. The Pro is also one of a few Instant Pots compatible with an optional QuickCool lid that helps you release pressure faster.

  • The Duo Crisp + Air Fryer ($180) is basically an Instant Pot that comes with an additional Air Fryer Lid, which adds dry-heat cooking methods like baking, broiling, dehydrating and of course air-frying. There’s also a Pro version of this Instant Pot ($200) that pairs the air fryer lid with the Pro model mentioned above.

  • The Star Wars Instant Pots ($100) are a great choice for the Star Wars enthusiast or just anyone who wants a fun and unique kitchen appliance. They’re really just rebranded versions of the Duo, with the same exact functionalities and features. They come in five iterations: Little Bounty, Darth Vader, Stormtrooper, BB-8, and R2-D2.

Which Instant Pot model is right for you?

  • The 6-quart Instant Pot is ideal for most people, but if you’re a singleton or a student, then the 3-quart model is best. For large families, or simply those who like to make a lot of food, then the 8-quart model is a good choice.

  • If you’re interested in diving into sous vide but don’t want to make an investment in a separate machine just for that, then the Instant Pot Smart WiFi, Ultra, Duo Crisp or the Duo Plus are good choices.

  • If you’re really into pressure-canning and preserving foods, then the Instant Pot Max is the one for you. It’s the only one that’s capable of reaching 15 PSI, which is needed for pressure-canning.

  • Making yogurt with the Instant Pot is really easy because it can maintain the same temperature for hours. Models that have this feature include the Duo, Duo Nova, Smart WiFi, Ultra and Duo Plus.


Getting started

With any appliance, I would suggest reading the instructions to get a full idea of how to use it, but here's a brief primer.

The Instant Pot has three parts: the housing with the cooking element at the bottom; the stainless steel inner pot; and the lid, which comes with a sealing ring plus a steam-release valve. Setup is as easy as putting the inner pot inside the housing and plugging it in. You'll also want to attach a tiny condensation collector on the back if the instructions call for it.

The first thing to do is a "water test," which not only helps familiarize you with the basic pressure-cooker features but will confirm your appliance is in proper working order.

To do a water test, put three cups of water in the pot, twist the lid on — it'll make a sound when it's locked in place — and set the pressure cooker on high for two minutes. The way to do this varies from model to model; on the Duo machines, you'll have to press Manual, select High, then dial down the time to two minutes. On something like the Ultra, you just need to go to the Pressure Cooker menu, dial it to two minutes and select High.

Then make sure your valve is set to "Sealing" so that the Instant Pot can build pressure. On the Duo machines, this means rotating it so the arrow points up, while on the Ultra, the valve will automatically be set to Sealing.

Then press "Start." From there, the Instant Pot will build up that pressure to High, maintain it for the set two minutes, and then stop. In some cases, you'll hear hissing and see steam coming out of the Instant Pot. This is totally normal. You'll know the Instant Pot is under pressure when the float valve pops up and the hissing quiets down.

The lid cannot be opened when the Instant Pot is under pressure. You must depressurize it first. Once the cooking is done, you can let the pot naturally depressurize (also known as "Natural Release"), which simply means leaving it alone for 20 or so minutes until the float valve comes down.

Or you can do a manual release (also known as "Quick Release") by switching that aforementioned valve to "Venting." To do that on the Duo models, you rotate the valve, while on the Ultra, you'll press a steam release button on the top. This method will release a lot of steam, so I suggest doing this under a range hood if you have one. Again, once the float valve comes back down, you'll know the Instant Pot has been depressurized.

Doing the water test teaches you the basics of sealing the Instant Pot, setting it and depressurizing it. Plus, if anything goes wrong along the way — especially if it doesn't seal the pressure — you can call the retailer or manufacturer to troubleshoot or ask about a return or exchange. It's a step that many people skip, but I recommend it, especially if you're a beginner.

Instant Pot accessories

The Instant Pot is ready to use right out of the box, but if you want to get even more functionality out of it, then you might want to consider some accessories. The following are just a few suggestions that we think will elevate your Instant Pot experience.

Tempered glass lid

The main reason to get an Instant Pot is to use it as a pressure cooker, but it has other functions too. If you want to use it as a slow cooker or you simply want to keep your food warm, then you’ll want to invest in a tempered glass lid. This lid will also keep your food covered if you want to transfer the inner pot to the table or the fridge. 

Buy glass lid at Amazon - $15

Steamers/PIP

Steaming food in the Instant Pot is quick and easy, but you’ll want specific equipment to get the job done right. Instant Pot makes two styles of silicone steamers; one is a stacking model that you can use for dumplings or fish, and another is a collapsible one that is ideal for batch-cooking vegetables. If you need even more capacity, we recommend this Hatrigo mesh steamer basket

Along your Instant Pot discovery journey, you might come across a phrase called “PIP cooking.” This stands for Pot-in-Pot and involves putting another vessel inside the Instant Pot. This method is great if you’re cooking foods that don’t contain liquid (such as cheesecake) or you simply want to cook in smaller quantities. One of our favorite accessories for this is the Aozita Stackable Steamer, which not only acts as a steamer, but also contains tiered containers so that you could cook multiple foods at once. 

Buy stackable steamer basket at Amazon - $10Buy steamer basket at Amazon - $15Buy Hatrigo steamer basket at Amazon - $18Buy Aozita stackable steamers at Amazon - $30

Sealing ring

If you use your Instant Pot for both savory and sweet applications, then we suggest getting extra sealing rings so that the odor of one doesn’t affect the other. You don’t really want your cheesecake to smell like pulled pork or vice versa. 

Buy sealing rings at Amazon - $12

Air fryer lid

As the name suggests, the Instant Pot Air Fryer Lid essentially turns your Instant Pot into an air fryer. It’s a good option if you don’t want two appliances taking up space on your kitchen counter, and this add-on does a decent job of “air frying” foods

Yet, after using it for a few months, I don’t quite recommend it if you plan on cooking a lot of meals this way. The non-stick coating on the fry basket can flake off if placed in the dishwasher, and as I’ve discovered, it accumulates a sticky film that is almost impossible to wash off. Plus, as I said in an earlier hands-on, the Lid really only works for small batches as well as smaller pieces of food. Even a hot dog is too large to fit inside the air fryer basket. 

If you’re going to use the air-fryer lid to add roasting and broiling capabilities to the Instant Pot — so you can brown a roast chicken or melt the cheese on a lasagna, for example — then it’s not a bad option. But as far as air-frying goes, I’d probably save up and invest in an actual convection toaster oven rather than settle for the lid.

Tips and tricks

Let's go over a few tips and tricks on how to best use the Instant Pot. This is not an exhaustive list, as different people might have different takeaways from their usage of the Instant Pot, but these insights are what I found works best for me.

Don't worry about all the buttons

When you first get the Instant Pot, you might be overwhelmed by all of the different buttons on the front of it. There are ones that say "Meat/Stew," "Chili/Beans," "Multigrain," "Egg" and even "Cake." With the exception of a few, most of these are simply shortcuts that Instant Pot programmed ahead of time. You might never need to use them.

The most important buttons to know are "Sauté," which (as you might expect) lets you sauté things in the pot, and the aforementioned "Manual" or "Pressure Cooker" function. The rest are pretty superfluous, with the exception of "Keep Warm," "Cancel" and non-pressure cooker functions like the "Slow Cooker" or "Yogurt" (which helps maintain the cultured milk at a specific temperature).

Add at least half a cup of liquid, and don't go over the maximum

One of the things you'll learn about pressure cooking is that you don't need to add as much liquid like you would in regular recipes. But you'll still need to add some liquid because the pressure cooker requires some moisture to build that pressure. Otherwise, the Instant Pot could overheat and show an "OvHT" error on the display. On the other hand, you shouldn't fill it up beyond two-thirds capacity, which is handily marked on the inside of the inner pot. The Instant Pot probably won't explode on you — it has a lot of safety features to prevent that — but you probably shouldn't test its boundaries.

Cooking times aren't always accurate

Setting the pressure cooker timer for two minutes doesn't mean the entire cooking time is two minutes. You have to take into account the amount of time the Instant Pot needs to come to pressure and the time it'll need to depressurize. The more stuff you have in the pot (and the colder it is), the longer it'll take. Because of that, a "five-minute" chicken curry could really be more like 10 or 15 minutes from start to finish.

Clean it carefully and frequently

The inner pot is dishwasher safe, which is great, but the rest has to be cleaned by hand. Also, don't make the same mistake I did and accidentally spill something hot directly on the cooking element. The outer shell is hard to clean because you can't put it in the sink — electricity and water don't mix, after all — and you risk damaging the appliance. As for the lid, hand wash it after every use. You'll also notice after a while that the sealing ring — the rubber/silicone gasket on the inside of the lid — might develop an odd smell as it absorbs the scent of the food you're cooking. I recommend soaking it in a vinegar solution, or you could also put it on the top rack of your dishwasher for a couple of cycles.

Consider a separate sealing ring

If you find yourself cooking desserts in addition to savory meals — it's great for making cheesecakes and puddings — I recommend a separate sealing ring just for that. You probably don't want your cheesecake to smell like pulled pork, unless you're into that sort of thing.

You can't cook everything with it

Sure, you can cook everything from dog food to jam in the Instant Pot, but it's not a miracle worker. You can't deep fry in it. You can't bake a pie in it. Don't be ridiculous.

Recipes and guides

Now you're all ready to cook, and you're probably dying to know what to make in your newfangled machine. Due to the popularity of the Instant Pot, you'll find no shortage of cookbooks and recipe tutorials online. That aforementioned Facebook group is a good place to start, and there are numerous YouTube videos that are helpful as well. Here are just a few of my favorites:

Pressure Cook Recipes

Amy and Jacky are part of the OG Instant Pot community, and their site is great for beginners. Not only will you get the low-down on the aforementioned water test, but you'll also get great recipes for bone broth, "fail-proof" rice, yogurt, cheesecake and more.

Nom Nom Paleo

Whether or not you're into the "paleo" lifestyle, you'll like Michelle Tam's list of Instant Pot recipes. Pressure cookers are great for shortening the amount of time for cooking braised meats, and she has a lot of recipes that cater to your inner carnivore. Her Instant Pot pulled pork recipe is still my go-to, and the short ribs are great as well.

Serious Eats

My personal favorite site for pressure-cooker recipes is probably Serious Eats. All of these recipes are fantastic. I've tried the chicken stock, the mushroom risotto, the chicken pho, the chicken and chickpea masala, and they've all been outstanding.

The New York Times

Another personal favorite is The New York Times cooking section, which has a list of wonderful pressure-cooker-friendly recipes. My favorites are from Melissa Clark, who has written two Instant Pot cookbooks: Dinner In an Instant and Comfort in an Instant. There's a recipe in Comfort in an Instant for spaghetti and meatballs that I was hugely skeptical of but turned out to be one of the most amazing things I've ever made. I also love the recipes for chicken korma and shrimp biryani.

Tiller & Hatch

If you’re at a complete loss with what to do with your Instant Pot, then we recommend trying out products from Tiller & Hatch, a company that specializes in pressure cooker-ready frozen meals. Simply unload the contents of a bag into your Instant Pot, follow the instructions and you’ll have dinner in minutes. Some of the meals are better than others — I prefer the minestrone soup over the gnocchi — but on the whole I think they’re a pretty good value. Each bag costs around $16 and has four servings each. You can sign up for a subscription plan on the website, or pick up individual meals from select Wal-Mart and Target locations.

Other sources

Here are a few other guides that I found very useful in my own Instant Pot journey, and they contain links to many more recipes and sites than I have space for here:

With all of this information in your arsenal, you should have no fear in picking up an Instant Pot. Thankfully, not only is the base model pretty affordable at less than $100, Amazon frequently puts it on sale either on Prime Day or on Black Friday. So if you haven't bought one just yet, it's not a bad idea to wait until one of those times of year to get one at a deep discount. And when you do, come on back here, read through the guide once more and venture off on your own pressure-filled culinary adventures.

Images: Detroit Free Press via Getty Images (First Instapot); Portland Press Herald via Getty Images (Instapot / chopping board); Boogich via Getty Images (cooking)

Impossible's plant-based nuggets are now available in select restaurants

Though it was teased earlier this year, Impossible Foods officially launched its plant-based “chicken” nuggets today. Mostly made out of soy protein and sunflower oil, the “Impossible Chicken Nuggets” will initially be available in select restaurants across the country, and then sold in grocery stores in the frozen aisle later this month.

Some of the restaurants that will be serving the Impossible Nuggets include David Chang’s Fuku in New York City, Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster in Harlem and Miami, Sean Brock’s Joyland in Nashville, Tal Ronnen’s Crossroads Kitchen in Los Angeles and Traci Des Jardins’ El Alto Jr., a new pop-up at State Street Market in Los Altos, California. Regional chains such as LA-based Fatburger and Bay Area-based Gott’s Roadside will also add the nuggets to their menus this week.

I tried out the nuggets a few days ago at the Gott’s Roadside located in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. They were absolutely delicious, with a crispy well-seasoned breading and a juicy, moist interior. Fresh out of the fryer, they definitely tasted better than the “chik’n” nuggets from the likes of Gardein or Boca Burgers. They didn’t taste exactly like chicken either, but they were close enough that I didn’t mind. In fact, when dipped in various sauces (Gott’s serves them with ranch, ketchup and honey mustard), they were indistinguishable from the real deal.

Engadget

According to Impossible, the nuggets have 40 percent less saturated fat and 25 percent less sodium than animal-based chicken nuggets. “Our technology platform allows us to recreate animal products across protein categories that outperform the animal versions in every way,” said President of Impossible Foods Dennis Woodside in a statement.

An Impossible spokesperson said that the nuggets are made from a combination of protein, fats and nutrients: “We use soy protein as our base to give the nuggets the right bite and to provide high quality protein that is important for our diet. After that, we use sunflower oil to create the fatty and juicy mouthfeel, simple nutrients such as amino acids and sugars that react during cooking to create our savory chicken flavor, and vitamins for nutrition. We also use common culinary ingredients such as starch and methylcellulose to hold the product together and retain moisture, which have the added benefit of more fiber compared to animal meat.”

Impossible certainly isn’t the first company to come out with faux chicken nuggets. Its main rival, Beyond, debuted a line of “chicken” tenders a few months ago, and of course, companies like the aforementioned Gardein and Boca have been making faux nuggets for years. But seeing as chicken is a hugely popular protein source, having more companies produce plant-based alternatives for it is not a bad idea.

According to Impossible, the nuggets you get in the restaurant aren’t very different from the ones you’ll get in the grocery store. The primary difference is in the breading; the foodservice version is designed to be prepared in a commercial deep fryer, while the grocery store ones can be made in the oven, microwave or air fryer. The nuggets are already pre-cooked.

Speaking of the grocery store, the nuggets will be available in the frozen aisle of retailers such as Walmart, Albertsons, Kroger, Gelsons, Safeway, Shoprite and Giant locations across the country later this month. They’re priced at $7.99 (MSRP) for around 20 pieces (13.5 ounces), and come in a resealable freezer bag.

A power surge shut down half of NYC's subways for five hours

Late Sunday evening, half of New York City’s subway system shut down for five hours due to a power surge, stranding hundreds of passengers in the process. New York Governor Kathy Hochul called it an “unprecedented system breakdown” of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

The Washington Post reports that the problems began when a power line went down. This triggered a voltage dip across the city, and two power plants and generators also went offline, forcing backup systems to come online. When trying to restore service, a power surge occurred. When this happened, the subway command center lost communications with 83 trains. The public address system also went down. Five trains with more than 550 people were stranded.

Part of the problem was the passengers themselves. While emergency personnel did evacuate as many people as they could, riders on two trains decided to leave cars on their own, a very dangerous act because tracks could be re-energized if a train was coming. Firefighters had to search the tracks to make sure there were no more remaining passengers before the subway could fully restore power.

After a phased “rolling restoration,” the system was finally back online at 1:30AM Monday morning.

Hochul has since ordered a deeper investigation into what exactly caused the surge as well as the other problems. So far, investigators have said there is no suspicion of terrorism or malicious actions.

Peloton's newer, safer Tread will be available to buy on August 30th

Last year, Peloton introduced its new lower-cost Peloton Tread to the market, which is around $1,800 cheaper than the original Tread+ ($4,295). It was then sold for a short period of time in the UK, Canada and the US (where it had only a limited invitation-only release). Then, however, the company had to halt sales of the Tread and recall both its connected treadmills after reports of several injuries and one fatality. The Tread in particular had to be recalled because its touchscreen console could detach and fall. The issues have since been fixed, but the incident obviously delayed the broader sale of the Tread.

Now, the company is ready for a redo of sorts with a much wider release. Peloton announced today that the newer, safer Tread will be available in the US, Canada and the UK on August 30th, while those in Germany will have to wait until later this fall. The Peloton Tread is priced at $2,495 USD ($3,295 CAD / £2,295 GBP / €2495 EUR).

As a reminder, the Tread has many of the same features of the Tread+, albeit in a more affordable package. It has a 23.8-inch HD touchscreen instead of the 32-inch on the Tread+, and it has a traditional running belt instead of a shock-absorbing slat belt. The Tread also has a slightly smaller footprint; it’s 68 by 33-inch rather than 72.5 by 36.5-inch.

Peloton also emphasized software and hardware safety features in the new Tread, which helps address the recall concerns. One of them is Tread Lock, which is a four-digit digital passcode that is required of each authorized user. Tread Lock will be available for both All-Access members as well as those without. There’s also a physical safety key that can help a runner quickly stop during a class when pulled.

On top of that, Peloton said that all Treads from here on out will have installed the fix that resulted in the recall. That means that the touchscreen console is now securely attached to the Tread at all times according to the company. As was announced previously, existing Tread users can have this repair done for free.

Google Maps will show you the nearest available Spin e-bike or scooter

Starting today, Google Maps users will be able to find the closest available Spin electric bike or scooter in real-time. The app will also show how long it will take to walk to the vehicle in question, its battery range and when you can expect to arrive at your destination when riding it.

The scooters will appear in both the bicycle and the public transportation tab when looking up directions. Though users will be able to find the nearest Spin e-vehicle with Google Maps, they’ll be directed to the Spin app in order to pay for the vehicle and unlock it.

“With this integration, Spin is making it easier for millions of Google Maps users to easily incorporate shared bikes and scooters into their daily trips,” said Spin CEO Ben Bear in a press release.

Spin is not the only e-scooter company to collaborate with Google. Back in 2019, Google Maps integrated with Lime, the other big brand in this space. Google has worked with ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to include those transportation options in its app too. Spin, for its part, is already integrated on other platforms like Citymapper and Moovit. 

Ford, which owns Spin, says this feature will be available in 84 towns, cities and campuses in the US, Canada, Germany and Spain.

Turns out, I like cooking food from scratch... in a microwave

I’m a sucker for newfangled kitchen appliances. I bought into the Instant Pot hype a few years ago and tried out an air fryer as well. (I ended up getting the Breville Smart Oven Air, a toaster oven with an air-frying setting.) I also own a host of other contraptions cluttering up my kitchen cabinets: a juicer, food processor, ice cream maker and two sous vide machines.

Yet, the appliance I use the most is the humble microwave. Like many of you, I use it mainly for reheating leftovers or warming up frozen dinners. I’ve never really considered using it for actual cooking, except for the occasional “microwave mug cake” recipe I’ve seen go viral on social media. Oh, I’ve heard of cookbooks from the ‘70s and ‘80s that tried to sell the public on the wonders of microwave cooking — I’m sure my mom even bought a few back in my youth — but those have largely turned out to be full of culinary deception. (A roast beef dinner via microwave? I don’t think so.)

But a few months ago I saw an Instagram ad for a new line of cookware that was designed to be used specifically with the microwave. It’s called Anyday, and it was co-founded by renowned chef David Chang of Momofuku and Ugly Delicious fame. The ad showed luscious photos of mashed potatoes, mapo tofu, mac and cheese, and a chicken and pea dish that all looked really delicious. Could all of this really be made with just the microwave? Perhaps the best kitchen appliance was under my nose all along? Needless to say, I was intrigued.

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According to Anyday, the main thing differentiating its cookware from regular microwave-safe containers is its glass lid. It has a silicone gasket that blocks splatters and keeps moisture in, as well as a knob at the top that can be pulled out for steam to escape through air vents. The knob can also be pushed down to create an airtight leakproof seal, at which point the containers are also stackable. In contrast, my existing set of Pyrex containers just have regular plastic lids, which even the manufacturer recommends shouldn’t be used in the microwave since they can warp.

I should note here that the Anyday lids do have stainless steel rims, which you might think is a little dangerous to put in the microwave. But they’re actually safe on account of their smooth, curved shape, which prevents arcing. The company does warn against heating up two dishes at once, however, as the combination of two stainless steel lids might result in sparks flying.

Also, the Anyday dishes themselves are made of a frosted borosilicate glass which can withstand large temperature fluctuations without cracking. This last part is important, as certain ceramics and glass aren’t completely microwave safe. For example, I tried heating up a potato once on a plate I bought from IKEA, and it ended up splitting in two. The plate, that is, not the potato.

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Still, I was a little skeptical. So I went ahead and purchased a full set of Anyday cookware just to try everything out. That’s four dishes total — shallow and deep in medium and large sizes — which is admittedly quite expensive at $120. Alternatively, you can get the medium set of two dishes for $55 or the large set for $75. You can also opt to buy each dish separately; the two medium ones go for $30 a piece while the large options are $40 a piece. That definitely makes this pretty pricey compared to an average set of microwave-safe containers — a full 18-piece Snapware Pyrex set, for example, is just $30.

The Anyday set comes with several recipe cards, which are very handy to start out with, but the best place to find recipes is on the Anyday website. You’ll find everything from one-ingredient recipes (e.g., you just want to steam some rice) to full recipes such as black bean soup and squash curry. On each recipe page, you can select your desired serving size as well as the wattage of your specific microwave oven, which will determine variables such as dish size, cook time and what power level you should use.

I’ve used the Anyday cookware for several weeks now, and I’ve actually been mostly impressed with the results. The first recipe I tried was a chicken and rice meal with peas and marinara sauce. I was nervous about whether it would work, but it turned out to be delicious, with the chicken cooked through to the bone and the rice tender and fluffy. The Thai pineapple chicken recipe also worked out well. I think I would’ve preferred it if the onions were browned and caramelized like they would be on the stove, but for microwave cooking, it was completely satisfactory.

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One dish in particular was a revelation for me: Silky Chinese steamed egg. This is a recipe that can be quite tricky to master on the stove, as you need to steam it slowly over a gentle heat. But in the microwave, it’s a matter of heating the custard solution at a lower power level for just four to five minutes, depending on your microwave wattage. (The company's site recommends Power Level 4.) I’ve never really fiddled around with my microwave’s power settings before, but now that I see it can result in a smooth custard, I will definitely be using it more often.

Another killer application, at least for me, is poached eggs. I usually find poaching eggs to be a bit of a chore; you have to heat up a pot of water, carefully drop in the egg and hope you’re able to rescue it when it’s done just right. It’s especially challenging when it’s six in the morning and I haven’t had my coffee just yet. But with the Anyday and the microwave, all I have to do is fill up a shallow dish with cold water straight from the tap, crack an egg into it, cover it, nuke it for two minutes and it’s done. The yolk is cooked just enough so that it’s a little runny, which is how I like it. I almost couldn’t believe it.

The experience wasn’t perfect, however. For example, I tried using the Anyday to cook white rice, and even though I followed the recipe exactly, the water in the dish boiled over, pushing the lid up and spilling out into the microwave. As a result, the rice wasn’t cooked correctly, and I had to add the water back in and cook it further. I tried cooking the rice in a much larger dish later on and it worked out better, but I wish the site had suggested that instead of me finding out on my own.

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Speaking of the recipes, I should note that not all microwave ovens are the same, even among those with the same wattage. My microwave, for example, is apparently more powerful than normal, and it took way less time for me to steam broccoli than the site recommended. I also found that not all microwave ovens' power levels are the same either. My Power Level 4 could be your Power Level 3. I definitely had to play around with different variables in order to get certain foods to cook properly.

Plus, there are certain kinds of cooking that the microwave just cannot do. You’re just not going to get the same kind of browning that you can get on the stove or in the oven. You can’t use it to deep fry or roast or bake. What you’re basically doing is steaming food, albeit in a more controlled way. The microwave won’t replace your stove or your oven or your Instant Pot completely.

But, for all its flaws, I still think the Anyday cookware is great. It’s made me realize that the microwave has a lot more uses than just reheating leftovers. It’s opened up a whole new world of culinary possibilities that I had not realized existed before. Sure, the mac and cheese I made in the microwave won’t be as amazing as the one baked in the oven, but the former can be done in under 10 minutes, and it still tastes creamy and cheesy. I’ve also made instant ramen in the Anyday and the microwave to great success.

It might not make the best food you’ve ever tasted, but for college students and time-pressed parents and professionals, the microwave might just be the most versatile appliance in the kitchen. As long as you have the right cookware for it anyway.