The first thing to make cooking easier is to move past recipes to cooking methods, and with the right tools and some appropriate methods, you can collapse your time in the kitchen dramatically. I do a lot of experimenting, but in the end what matters is boiling it down to repeatable routines that make it possible to be efficient in the kitchen. Tools and smart buying for your pantry are all part of the winning formula. What that looks like in your kitchen will vary depending on what types of food you like.
One of the things I do, is I do use commercial veggie broth, but I also save up a lot of cuttings from vegetables that are usable in making my own broth and every so often I will make my own veggie broth. I just freeze those cuttings that are useful for broth and when my bag in the freezer fills up, it’s time to make broth again. I will combine the cuttings with some fresh vegetables and roast them in the oven, and from there I will cook the broth. Very satisfying on a lot of levels.
In terms of tools there are the basics, such as good knives and a cutting board, then appliances like an immersion blender, some sort of a food processor, an Instant Pot, an air fryer, and in my experience having at least one induction cooktop can really help, especially if it has a timer function. A rice cooker for cooking grains can also be a great help.
If you don’t have a clue, here comes the HestanCue
This year, Santa brought a HestanCue cooking set, being a very nicely made IH-cooktop with a set of pans that have built-in sensors and allow you an unprecedented level of control. It is marketed with a collection of pre-programmed recipes, but from my viewpoint those are not the reason to buy this device, for they are mostly all SAD (Standard American Diet), albeit upscale versions of SAD – very protein-centric, and mostly animal proteins, which is good for the cardiologists, the kidney dialysis business, and the cancer business, but not how I like to eat. The reason to buy this device for me was in recipe development, and to be able to see what difference the better controls make. Eventually, I would hope that I or someone would work with the company to develop #WFPB recipes as well.
The Usability Test
From a usability standpoint, it will depend on your kitchen routines how this works for you. Evidently, if you did not already have an IH-cooktop, this is a wonderful expansion of your arsenal. In my case, I already had an IH cooktop, which had basic temperature settings, and a timer. In general, I would joke that I I cooked more on my IH-cooktop than on my 5 burner gas stove, certainly when I include my Instant Pot, Rice Cooker and Air Fryer in the count, I cook more off the stove than on it. I have a giant 11″ diameter pan with a steamer basket that is large enough to steam my daily bunch of kale. I had the routine down to knowing the water level, and 12 minutes on 275F got the water to the boiling point, and 15 mins steaming ( with a setting at 210F) was perfect. I could set the timer and walk away. But, without the temperature sensors, this really means that the temperature indicated is what the plate generates, and usually not very accurate (water boiling at 210F!) and certainly not what occurs in the pan.
HestanCue is a different world. The temperature settings work only if you use HestancCue cookware, which has built-in sensors. If you are using IH-capable cookware from other manufacturers, you can only use the power levels as controls (power lever + time). It pays to experiment with this, but you will quickly learn the difference with a simple task like boiling water. With a HestanCue pan, and controlled for temperature and time, it may run up to a higher power level first and then tune itself down as it approaches the target temperature. This is called control mode, where you set temp and time directly and works only with the HestanCue pans because they have the built-in sensors to report back the actual temperature to the base unit.
With generic IH-cookware, you can use power level and time, or you have to do it manually, via physical controls on the cooktop, where there is no timer, and therefore no automatic shutoff – you have to be in attendance. I have one large pan for steaming my kale, and nothing in the HestanCue line-up gives me a good steamer option, even with insets, which are always too small for the large bunches of kale I tend to buy. In short, I will improvise with the steamer routine via the power level with my old pan, but hopefully HestanCue could come up with a generously sized steamer for their chef’s pot. In other words here is the range of solutions:
- For now, the “Control Mode” works with non Hestan-enabled cookware only via power level, not with temperature. The loss of accuracy is survivable – we cooked that way for years, until now. It would help if they could automate this further, by allowing more than one power/time setting. In this case, this one simple routine would be bring the water to the boil, and then steam for x minutes. And that could be approximated with say level 7 on the burner for heating up the water, and level 5 for the steaming portion.
- If Hestan offered a 3″ deep steamer basket for their 5.5 Qt Chef’s Pot, that would solve the problem, and it could be controlled with temperature and time, and it should be possible to program a control to detect the level when water boils, so that you have a steamer function.
- Overall, I would favor also having a hardware timer, so that you can accommodate non-Hestan-enabled IH cookware the old fashioned way but still have a manual timer, or even generally for short tasks, a manual timer would make things easier, let alone if your internet goes out. I have quite a few very good IH pans from these last few years, and using your phone or a tablet as a control is just an extra hassle for simple routines. I continue to use my near 50-year old set of Demeyere Silvinox Venus series, but I have replaced one large Dutch Oven with a 8.5 Qt stock pot with a steamer basket from the newer IH-capable Atlantis series, also from Demeyere. While it lacks the Hestan sensors, construction wise, it is still a better pan, with its 7-ply bottom, which produces a more even heat than the Hestan cookware. In short, I’d want the Hestan to become more adept at working with non-Hestan cookware.
In general, I would say it was a bad idea not to implement the basic functions in hardware. The recent Google outage reminded us of that. Some folk were unable to control their smart appliances or even enter their homes or turn on the light. The same is with Tesla, with dropping the whole idea of an instrument panel for a tablet, and now many are starting to say it is unsafe to drive that way. At the very least it was inconvenient to insert that many extra steps between the driver and the controls. Hestan even has an ad where they call themselves the Tesla of cooking – not a good idea, given the level of lawsuits Tesla is already facing. So, my vote would go to a new and improved version of the cooktop to include at least a timer, so you can set it at a level, or a termperature for x minutes, and that way, it would at least equal existing cooktops and then using Hestan-enabled cookware would go with the program functions and a much higher level of control, as well as the pre-programmed dishes.
As to the cookware itself, it is very serviceable and nicely designed. I comes with a mirror finish, but it is only three-ply and therefore heats a bit unevenly compared to some top-of-the-heap cookware – like my 7-ply Demeyere Atlantis pans. Also the Stainless Steel is a bit soft. My big Chef Pan looks all scratched up already after using a whisk in there, although it retains it’s patina. By comparison my Demeyere Silvinox Atlantic 5.5 Qt Dutch Oven, which is my most used pan, after three years still looks as new. And some of my 50 year old Demeyere pans still look good also. No signs of scratches on the bottom, and with a heavy, seven-ply bottom (Atlantis series), the heat is much more even. Having said that, so far I seem to be doing well in terms of the non-stickiness of the HestanCue cookware. Amazingly, all stainless steels are not alike in that department.
As one minor gripe, there are no vent holes in the lids, and I ended up drilling 2 5/16″ holes in the lids to prevent them from ever vacuuming onto the pan as it cools off. E.g. with steam, enough liquid could collect under the rim that a vacuum could form. It happened to me aftter I steamed some broccoli rabe.
Another issue I do not like is the way you turn off the pans for storage. You are supposed to turn the tip of the handle, the battery housing, to the left 1/4 turn, to prevent battery drain by stopping the pan from transmitting to the base when it is not in use. That is a construction that ultimately is likely to result in leaks, very Rube Goldberg. Some better engineering is in order – this current thing strikes me more as a hack, a workaround, then a properly engineered feature. Tḧe whole battery compartment should be designed independently with a plug, so it can be replaced, as it is the most likely to wear out, but it should not have to be opened and closed constantly.
And now for the cooking
Control mode is the real thing from the standpoint of researching your cooking. Presumably this is to be further updated (via Internet) as we go along, and offer greater flexibility. For now, even my first few efforts have already convinced me that this is a worthwhile tool. In general, when you are writing recipes it is not possible to be accurate, for every stove, every kitchen is different. Given the settings on my previous IH-cooktop, I equated 425F with Medium/High and 275F with Medium, but I could keep water boiling with a setting of 200F, once it was boiling. So I knew it was not accurate. On a cooktop like that, the temperature really only means an indication of the heat the plate is putting out, not what is generated in the pan, as there is no feedback mechanism. Besides that, the setting could be inaccurate also, as seems to be the case on my old cooktop.
With HestanCue, I have a new level of control and accuracy, which is good for benchmarking as I develop recipes. My normal routine for caramelizing onions is to dry-roast them first and then to stir-fry them with water or veggie broth. On the old IH-cooktop that tended to be about 5 mins on 425F and another 5 mins at 425F while stirring in garlic, peppers, turmeric, and other seasonings, all the while gradually adding about a cup of water or veggie broth.
On the HestanCue, sofar my experience suggest that I get perfect browning around the edges and stop well short of burning the chopped onions with 5-7 mins at 350F, and this time, I know 350F means 350F and that is at least an objective measure, and depending on the cooking methods you use, you can then adapt that to your own equipment, but I now have a more objective way of describing the process. Not only that, once I have determined these settings, they become perfectly repeatable, although for general consumption, I would still have to rely on the description, since everyone’s cookware is different, e.g.: “Dry roast the onions until the edges begin to brown, and then stir-fry them while adding water or veggie broth for another 5 minutes, until the onions are soft.”
I made some great broccoli rabe this way, after caramelizing a chopped onion first, with some garlic, and then adding in the veggie, and steaming it on top of the bed of caramelized onions and garlic for about 7 mins at 230F. I squeezed about a half a lime in there also. However, do drill the vent holes in your lid first, before you try this – see above. I plan to have a field day with reviewing, and revising all of my recipes and cooking routines gradually based on what I can do with the HestanCue, I will hope the company will address the issues that concern me. Some day this is going to be a must have solution.