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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Russia's $165,000 per night space hotel

Russia's planned Commercial Space Station hotel may be a steal at $165,000 per night, but you may want to consider the $410,000 travel costs.

Russia's planned Commercial Space Station hotel may be a steal at $165,000 per night, but you may want to consider the $410,000 travel costs. Photo: Orbital Technologies SEE ALL 78 PHOTOS

Best Opinion: Nation, Business Insider

The image: Russian company Orbital Technologies wants to take luxury hotels to new hights — orbiting 217 miles above the Earth — by 2016. The proposed Commercial Space Station (CSS) would house seven guests in four cabins, including such space luxuries as precooked gourmet meals, sealed showers, and spectacular views of the home planet (see images below). Though the accommodations are more likely to evoke a high-tech dentist's office more than a chic Miami getaway, the space hotel will be "far more comfortable" than the even more spartan International Space Station, says Orbital chief executive Sergei Kostenko.

The reaction: "Russia may have lost the first space race to America," but it's dead set on winning the space-hotel race, says M.O. in Pakistan's The Nation. If you're lucky enough to make the trip, though, be aware that "aside from the spectacular view, there’s not much else to do, so you'd be wise to take a good book." Lucky, indeed, say Linette Lopez and Dina Spector in Business Insider. At about $165,000 per person for a five-night stay, and $410,000 for the trip up there on a Russian Soyuz rocket, "experiencing the final frontier from your bedroom window... won't be cheap."

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Eat Like a Foodie at Home, Without Breaking Your Budget

Just because you enjoy great food doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of money dining out or buying upscale foods for delicious meals at home. With the advice of some noted chefs and food writers, you can elevate the level of your home-cooked meals even while working with a tight grocery budget, producing feasts that wow for just a few dollars per serving.

We'll show you where to shop and what to stock in your pantry to maximize your dollars-to-enjoyment ratio. We'll also show you how to save more on buying meat (often the most expensive part of the meal) and techniques and recipes for cooking up some exquisite dishes. Note: you don't have to consider yourself a "foodie" to use these suggestions—all you need to bring is a desire for great food.

Learn Techniques to Make the Most Out of Your Meals

Some cooking techniques like braising and slow cooking are very cost-effective and simple, producing flavorful meals; you can tenderize extremely tough—and inexpensive—cuts of meat with these techniques.

Make the Most Out of Cheap Proteins

The biggest cost savings you find may be on proteins, especially with today's rising meat prices. If you're not a vegetarian, the meat portion of the meal could very well make up the majority of your grocery budget (thus, it also follows that you can make the most out of your food budget by switching to a flexitarian diet or just eating a meat-less meal every once in a while).

Learning a few cooking techniques to enhance even cheap cuts of meat can help you turn a $5 steak into a $50 steak, so to speak:

Slow cooking: Even if you don't decide to hack your slow cooker into an off-the-charts sous vide cooker, a slow cooker can make even the toughest of meats tender and tastier. (Apparently you can also hack a beer cooler into a sous vide cooker.) Plus, the hands-off approach of using a slow cooker also means you can get flavor-packed meals without a lot of effort. You don't want just an everyday slow cooker meal though: foodie recipe search engine Punchfork can help you find more advanced slow cooker meals to make at home, like this carnitas recipe from TheKitchn that uses an inexpensive cut of pork: place a 6-8 pound pork butt (a.k.a., pork shoulder) in the slow cooker with some spices and tomato and orange juice and 8 hours later, you've got tender meat that falls off the bone.

Braising: Deb Perelman of the beautiful Smitten Kitchen food blog suggests we embrace braising. Cooked low and slow, ribs, briskets, pork shoulders, and so on "make incredible flavor-packed, stewy meals that can easily be spooned into tacos/served over rice or egg noodles and stretched to feed you for a week." Want recipes? Try Deb's knee-weakening braised beef short ribs or other braised recipes. Don't know what braising is? Previously mentioned cooking video library Cookblast has some videos and recipes for this slow cooking technique.

Salting: That $5 steak that tastes like it came from the very expensive steakhouse? It's all about salt. Basically, salt your steak like crazy at least 40 minutes before cooking (wash the salt off before) for the juiciest steak you've every made. You can intensify the flavor of all of your meats with wet and dry brining techniques—basically using salt to enhance the flavor of your meats by immersing them in a salty solution or just applying a dry salt rub directly.

How to Save on Proteins

With the techniques above you can make cheaper cuts of meat, like pork shoulder, taste extraordinary, but here's how to save even more:

Process your meat yourself: For the most savings, buy your meat (and other foods) minimally processed. Serious Eats' James Kenji Lopez-Alt (who forever transformed my steak-cooking technique and subsequent lifelong enjoyment) says that his biggest tip is:

Buy your meat in the least processed form possible and learn how to do some very minimal butchering yourself. So don't buy boneless skinless chicken breasts. If you want them, buy a whole chicken, which ends up costing about the same price as you'd pay for its breasts alone, but then you end up with chicken leg meat for a whole extra meal, as well as a carcass with which you can make stock. Three meals for the price of one, and all you've got to do is learn how to break down a chicken.

Buying and learning how to cook cheaper cuts of meat is very useful as well. Pork shoulder, for example, to me tastes a hundred times better than a pork chop. You just have to be willing to cook it a little longer. It takes well to methods like braising, slow roasting, or grinding into mince.

He also recommends buying a meat grinder, because not only will it give you the freshest tasting burgers, it lets you use up leftover scraps of meat you'd normally throw out. (Ready to take the plunge? Serious Eats shows you how to buy, use, and care for a meat grinder and what to do once you've got one.)

Cheaper cuts: Katerina, who writes the Daily Unadventures in Cooking blog says that:

One of the well kept secrets of foodies is that the cheaper the cut of meat, the harder to cook but the more the flavour. Lamb shanks and neck? Pork belly? Octopus? Short ribs? As proteins, they all represent a cheap way to impress guests at home if you are willing to take the time to properly cook them.

For example, if you have some cheap pork shoulder, TheKitchn managing editor Faith Durand says you can really maximize the flavor of it by grilling before braising.

Clay Dunn, who writes the popular and informative Bitten Word blog with partner Zach Patton, generously offered these two preparation techniques:

One of the best, most versatile and most affordable cuts of meat you can find is a skirt steak. You can often grab it for about $2 per serving. Another plus: It's also one of the easiest cuts of meat to cook. Amp up the flavor by rubbing the steak with instant espresso powder and some cayenne pepper. Then just sear it in a stovetop pan over high heat for a couple minutes per side, let it rest for several minutes, and slice it against the grain. You can stretch your protein dollar even further by incorporating the skirt steak into a steak salad: It's fantastic tossed with fresh dark lettuces, green beans and a sweet vinaigrette.

Another favorite inexpensive protein of ours is chicken thighs. They're tasty and succulent — way more flavorful than white-meat breasts. And you can frequently find chicken thighs for about a dollar per serving. We always by these instead of chicken breasts. Sear them on all sides in hot oil, toss some chopped onions and fresh tomato into the pan, and throw the whole thing in a 375-degree oven for 16-18 minutes to roast. Delicious! Maximize the flavor — and your budget — even more by stirring in a few fresh basil leaves, chopped, right before you serve.

Buy from a farm directly: Brian Lee, who runs the EatDrinkMadison dining guide says you can save a lot of money by purchasing a side or ¼ beef (100 lbs.) from a farm. You'll need a separate freezer, most likely, or someone to share with you, but you can get quality, ethically-raised beef for between $3.50-$5.50 per pound from the farm versus three times that much or more from Whole Foods.

How to Save on Fresh Produce

Speaking of Whole Foods, you don't really need to shop there for any or all of your choice foods. Farmer's markets, or greenmarkets, offer fresh-from-the-farm foods, and as mentioned here at Lifehacker previously, shopping later in the day at a farmer's market can save you some extra cash. (Dunn said you can find some really great deals at farmer's markets if you buy the fruits and vegetables at the peak of the season—you could get a pint of berries for a third of what it would cost you at the grocery store.)

Joining a CSA (community supported agriculture) group may likewise be a worthwhile investment where you get a load of in-season veggies and/or fruits (or even eggs and flowers) for about $20-$50 a month.

Canning, freezing, and even layering in salt can extend your food's life as well.

Perelman also reminds us that good looks don't always matter when it comes to your fruits and veggies:

Don't be afraid of ugly produce (in fact, be more suspicious of the overly pretty stuff and what has to be added to the soil to get blemish free beauties); ugly tomatoes make great sauce

To get the most bang for your organic buck, you can also focus your spending on just those organic foods most prone to pesticide (e.g., with this organic food buying cheat sheet). If your main reason for buying organic is to avoid pesticides, foods like avocado and bananas, which have thick peels that aren't eaten, can be bought safely non-organic. Peppers, celery, peaches, apples, strawberries and other fruits and vegetables with thin or edible skins are better organic options.

Of course, you can also save a lot of money by starting your own vegetable garden, if you have the space. Cheap Vegetable Gardener has a chart of the most profitable vegetables/herbs to grow yourself. (Previously mentioned tools like Smart Gardener can help you set this up and grow your own food successfully even if you don't have a green thumb.)

Where to Buy Other Quality Food for Cheap

Beyond fresh produce and meats, you can save a whole lot more by shopping in unconventional places.

Look to ethnic grocery stores for better deals on spices, for example, or just the international aisle of your main grocery store, Dunn advises.

Online shops let you find specialty foods that you couldn't find in brick-and-mortar stores. International food market places like Foodzie, Zingerman's and Import Food offer specialty ingredients that can elevate your dish. As CNN reports, most foodmakers will also ship direct to you, for even more savings:

A pound of Humboldt Fog goat's-milk cheese, ordered off Zingerman's, will run you $35; the same amount from the cheesemaker, Cypress Grove, is $20.

How to Stock Your Gourmet Pantry/What to Buy

Sometimes, all it takes is that one key ingredient—a unique sauce or a condiment—to make your meal extraordinary. Investing your food money wisely lets you scrimp on some expensive items (like meats) while still getting a lot of flavor from your meal.

Stephanie Trahd at artisan foods marketpace Fooducopia says "It's much more affordable to take a cheaper cut of meat and dress it with a gourmet steak wash, than it is to buy a filet and only be able to afford a parsley garnish!"

Likewise, Chef Mark Estee, owner of Moddy's Bistro and Lounge and Burger Me in Truckee, CA, reminds us that having great staples in your pantry is important because "bad quality in, bad quality out." The staples he suggest you invest in: extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salts, chutneys, and mustards.

Durand adds to the list nut oils like hazelnut and roasted walnut oil for delicious salads, and really likes this smoked olive oil featured on TheKitchn. (When cooking, stick to cheap olive oil to save cash, but for salads or drizzling over food, you may actually taste the difference in a higher-quality oil.)

Keeping basics in stock will also help you avoid the dine-out/take-out bug. Lopez-Alt says he always has on hand a collection of Chinese, Japanese, and South East Asian condiments and sauces ready to go, so all he has to do for a quick and savory meal is pick up a protein and boil some rice.

I'm with Perelman on splurging on milk, eggs, produce and meat; it's worth the extra cost to us to buy ethically raised and cleanly produced foods. But even then, you can still save even on organic produce, grass-fed beef, free-range eggs and the like using some of the shopping tips above.

Favorite Versatile, Inexpensive Meals

When asked what their most delicious yet cheap meals were, our food sources had so many great suggestions:

How to Get More Value Out of Your Wines

If you agree with the old Andre Simon quote that "Food without wine is a corpse; wine without food is a ghost," you'll probably want some good vino with your home-cooked meal. For many people, a wine store filled with bottles upon bottles of wines of varying prices can be overwhelming.

Jsaon Mancebo, who writes the 20 Dollar Wine Blog, said the best strategy is to develop a relationship with a wine monger at a smaller wine shop, so he/she can get to know your style, palate, and price ranges. Regionally speaking:

The usual suspects for bargains in the past 10 years or so are Australia, Chile and Argentina, but recent economics make Spain, Portugal and even Italy VERY attractive now. Great Rioja, Alentejo and Barolo are certainly within reach! If you're normally only a red wine fan, try some rose' from Provence or white from the Langhe. There's lots to explore and great stuff to pair with the dishes you create!

Though you can find good wines at $10 or below, they're not as easy (i.e., super-easy) to find at $20. The sweet spot, Mancebo says, may be about $15-17.

I also like Lopez-Alt's answer: "It's the summer. I like having inexpensive, easy-to-drink wines, like a nice cold vinho verde."

"Foodie" Meals at Home: In a Nutshell

To sum up, you can save more but still get a lot of value and tastiness out of the foods you buy and make at home. The basic guidelines:

  • Buy from less conventional/mass marketplaces. Explore ethnic markets, farmer's markets, and grow your own if you can
  • Buy as much as you can whole and unprocessed
  • Learn how to preserve your foods (e.g., how to store food properly in the freezer and fridge or food preservation techniques)
  • Use all parts of the food if possible. Use chicken bones to make stock, toast pumpkin seeds, etc.
  • Splurge on items that will enhance the rest of the meal and where a little will go a long way. Or focus on one quality ingredient in each dish.

Doing this may increase the quality of your meals at home to the point where you might even prefer dining in rather than out. Bon appetit!

Got your own tips for increasing the foodieness of your homecooked meals (on a budget)? We're all ears in the comments.
Photo by benicce / Shutterstock.

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Over career, most doctors in US will face lawsuit

By Chelsea Conaboy

Most doctors in America will be sued at some point during their career, a Harvard study released yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine has found. Physicians who perform high-risk procedures, including neurosurgeons and obstetricians, face a near certainty of being named in a malpractice case before they reach age 65.

Yet a relatively small number of claims, about 22 percent, result in payments to patients or their families.

Authors of the study, which examined 15 years of data, said it highlights the need for changes in malpractice law so that doctors and patients can resolve disputes before they resort to litigation, which often costs both parties money and heartache.

“Doctors get sued far more frequently than anyone would have thought, and in some specialties, it’s extremely high,’’ said Amitabh Chandra, an economist and professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and an author of the study. “In some sense, the payment is the least important part, because you can insure against it, but you can’t insure against the hassle cost.’’

The study looked at claims data for nearly 41,000 physicians from 1991 to 2005. The researchers found that 7.4 percent of physicians had a malpractice claim against them each year and that 1.6 percent had a claim that led to a payment each year.

The likelihood and outcome of lawsuits varied considerably across specialties. But the fact that even doctors in low-risk areas of practice, such as family medicine, had a 75 percent chance of being sued during their career is cause for concern, Chandra said.

Every time doctors are sued they face lost income from the time they spend out of the office fighting the case, said Dr. Alan Woodward, a retired emergency physician who is chairman of the Massachusetts Medical Society’s committee on professional liability. The threat to their reputation is a cause of major stress, and the anxiety can compromise the care they provide to other patients, he said.

Fear of lawsuits drives many physicians to practice defensive medicine - ordering more diagnostic tests than necessary, for example - or to retire early, Woodward said. And when doctors fear legal retribution, they are less likely to share information, with patients or internally.

“It creates a culture of secrecy and fear,’’ he said.

The small number of successful malpractice cases does not mean most are frivolous, said Chandra. It can be difficult to prove that an injury resulted from an avoidable error in patient care, he said.

“Many of us are coming to the conclusion that litigation is not the answer,’’ Chandra said.

Woodward met with Chandra yesterday and discussed the study, which included researchers from Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, the Rand Institute, and the University of Southern California. Woodward said it provides more evidence that government regulations should encourage doctors to talk openly with patients, apologize when warranted, and offer compensation when appropriate.

Some advocates, including the consumer group Health Care for All, have been trying for at least four years to get a law passed in Massachusetts making such apologies inadmissible in court; such laws exist in many other states. The hope is that doctors will feel more secure in talking about a patient’s care and even admitting an error. The patient could still pursue a case based on the medical evidence.

Previous studies have shown that patients are less likely to sue when they receive an apology and explanation from their doctor.

Brian Rosman, research director of Health Care for All, said everyone will benefit if patient-doctor communication is divorced from legal proceedings. That would allow doctors and hospitals to deal more directly with the root cause of an error.

“Fixing this problem can also improve the quality of care,’’ he said.

The medical society has been working with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, using a $273,782 federal grant, to design a plan for a system that would encourage apologies and compensation, when justified, in Massachusetts. The plan is set to be released this fall.

The group has interviewed dozens of people representing patients, hospitals, the legal community, and doctors.

Woodward said that nearly universal support exists for a system that encourages doctors to apologize.

Woodward said the medical society, along with the hospital and other partners, have applied for a three-year grant of about $3 million to create pilot projects at Baystate Health in Western Massachusetts and Beth Israel Deaconess and to launch a statewide campaign educating patients and doctors.

He is also working with lawmakers to draft legislation requiring malpractice cases to go through a six-month vetting period in which the physicians would share all pertinent medical records with the patient and analyze whether an avoidable error occurred.

Litigation plays an important role in exposing errors and getting patients the help they need, said medical malpractice lawyer Jeffrey Catalano, vice president of the Massachusetts Bar Association. But, he said, it is often inefficient.

He supports what is referred to as the apology law.

“The devil’s in the details, but it has a lot of promise,’’ said Catalano, who represents patients.

Catalano said out-of-court reviews should be overseen by a third-party attorney and that patients’ lawyers should be allowed to participate to ensure their clients’ rights are protected.

Chandra and his coauthor, Dr. Anupam B. Jena of Mass. General, said they hope their study will dispel the fear that many doctors have of big payouts. Their study found just 66 claims that resulted in payments exceeding $1 million. Average claims by specialty ranged from $117,832 in dermatology to $520,923 in pediatrics.

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