I got an email tonight from the Food Standards Agency (I’m signed up to alerts). It’s amazing how many recalls are issued each week – they’re mostly for bits of plastic or salmonella contamination, though many are labelling issues where something in them isn’t declared on the label.
The one I received tonight was of the latter type. The Co-op is recalling something called a “Veg Taster”.
Because of “undeclared fish”!
I can’t find out what a “Veg Taster” is, and I’m certainly not going out to buy one. But the name suggests that it is suitable for vegetarians. They do “Fish Tasters” as well, and the undeclared fish in the FSA alert involves salmon, so you can sort of half guess how it happened.
Joking aside, though. It could be a problem for anyone with a fish allergy.
My love affair with mango lassi started some years ago, after I’d been to a concert in Leeds. I was driving my mate home, and we decided to stop off for a curry.
Now, usually when we go for a curry, we end up drinking large quantities of beer (when he comes to Nottingham, I get a taxi and he stops over). But I don’t drink when I’m driving, which I do when I go to Leeds, and in any case many of the restaurants in Leeds are not licensed. The one we chose at random (mainly because it was there, and open), wasn’t. So I ordered a mango lassi, which was served in a large jug. And it was bloody gorgeous.
As is my wont, I then decided I would make it at home. It’s actually very easy, and there’s no secret or technique. All you do is pour a 450g pot of plain yoghurt into a liquidiser, about the same amount of mango, about half that amount of milk, a tablespoon or so of honey, and a handful of ice cubes, then blitz it.
The only real issue in the UK is the mangoes. The ones you buy year round at the supermarket are mainly the green-red ones – I think they’re called “Alice” mangoes – and they’re usually not ripe so as to extend their shelf life. You can speed up the ripening by putting them in a paper bag with a banana, but that’s a pain in the arse because it can take a while. They still make a decent lassi, though. Alternatively, if you have a good local Indian or Pakistani supermarket, they usually have seasonal mangoes in stock, and they’re a darned sight cheaper than supermarket ones. The drawback here is in the word “seasonal” – decent mango varieties are only in season for a few months each year.
Recently, one of the online stores I buy stuff from sent out an email announcing that the new season’s mango harvest was in. So I duly ordered a couple of cases. I chose the best mango variety there is – the Alphonso.
The Alphonso is a smallish mango (compared to the Alice variety), with a yellow skin. When it is ripe, you can massage it carefully, which breaks up the flesh inside, then break off the stalk and suck the liquidised flesh out, which is apparently how they’re often eaten. The same technique makes extracting the pulp quite straightforward – you just squeeze it into a bowl and that’s it. Well, almost. Mangoes have a bloody big stone (seed, or pit) inside, and those stones are noted for the fact that it is almost impossible to hold one since they’re so slippery. The main issue for me is that some (quite a lot, actually) of the flesh is still attached to them, and you don’t want to waste it.
So anyway, after a lot of swearing as I tried to get all that extra pulp off the first two stones, I decided there must be a better way – especially since I had a couple of dozen to get through. I thought about it for a bit, then surmised that some sort of gentle friction would clean the stones of pulp, so I turned to my trusty Kenwood Chef. I put all the pulpy stones in the bowl, fitted the dough hook (I said dough hook – keep reading), and left it running on slow speed for about 30 minutes. It worked like a charm, and got all the pulp off.
Whatever you do, don’t use the K-blade. I’ve already tried that for you – you’re welcome, though you probably don’t realise it. I thought it would be quicker. However, whereas the dough hook doesn’t get anywhere near the sides of the bowl, the K-blade does, and due to the aforementioned slipperiness of the pulp-coated stones, if (or, when) one gets trapped between the bowl wall and the K-blade with a powerful motor behind it… well, let’s just say that it is messy, involves at least two T-shirts, and you don’t really want to go there. As I said, you’re welcome. The dough hook, though, just keeps hitting the stones and doesn’t trap them, and if you leave it long enough this removes all of the pulp.
I was planning to freeze the pulp in portions, but I don’t think it will last long enough to make that worthwhile now I’m on a lassi roll.
Is it just me, or does every Australian cookery programme revolve around barbecuing 2-foot long shrimps and an octopus in front of Sydney Harbour?
I’m watching the cookery channel and they’ve got an Australian Day. Every bloody programme it’s the giant shrimps and cephalopods. And Sydney Harbour.
If you want even one shrimp that size over here you need to re-mortgage your house.
Well, well, well. I just did a bit of delving to find out why someone had found the blog on the search term “why is UK productivity so low”, which had thrown up an article I’d pretty much forgotten I’d written. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I mentioned Asda in that.
Then, browsing the BBC website, I found this article which says Asda is considering cutting up to 2,500 jobs.
Asda has two problems: 1) too many chiefs, and 2) most of them are incompetent.
I shop in Asda regularly, though I am increasingly having to complete my shop elsewhere because of the stock levels. My branch is open 24 hours, but its shelf stock does not match that detail in any way, shape, or form. Asda stocks up in the middle of the night and early morning, then that’s pretty much it until the next night. On top of that, they keep running “Rollback” offers on things, and haven’t cottoned on to the fact that this encourages the owners of corner shops to come in and buy everything up so they can resell it at the RRP in their own store. By 10am, the shelves are empty of those items. I’m also pretty sure some people buy some things on Rollback to sell on Ebay at the normal price.
That’s the thing about large retailers. They can buy at much better prices than smaller sellers can, and even their normal retail prices are better than you can find in the cash & carries. Beer is a prime example – Asda’s normal prices for a case of 12 bottles are £3 – £4 cheaper than the cash & carry offers, but when they put it on Rollback, it can be as much as £10 cheaper! When that happens, even pub owners go in and buy up stock. This Rollback discount problem also applies to many items in grocery, snacks, and confectionery.
Asda also has a problem with stock control. The amount of shelf space it gives to various products is fixed for long periods of time. So it doesn’t matter if they repeatedly sell out of one particular item (even a chimp would realise that’s because people want it), they will still maintain row after row of slower selling items, and maintain the 2 sq. ft. they allow for the item that is selling. Then, when they run out of warehouse stock, they will make no attempt to get anymore of that product until the next scheduled delivery – often weeks later. Management cannot see that if they held stock of things that sell, they would sell more of it.
Then there’s the Dairy items. I don’t piss about with low-fat stuff – if it’s got 50% less fat, it’s also got 50% less taste – yet they have shelf after shelf of that, whilst the normal-fat stuff sells out completely every day, and the shelves stay empty until the next midnight re-stock.
It’s no wonder that they’re struggling. And they’ll keep struggling until they start taking on managers who have a clue.
Every year, like all big corporations, Heinz will take on a bunch of new graduates and let them loose with flipcharts, Lego bricks, Play-doh, finger paints, and all the other things that pass for good Team Meeting props these days (I’ve worked for a big company, so I know that’s what happens). Also like all big corporations, every 5 years or so, Heinz decides that it needs to do Something Big – whether it needs doing or not – and duly assigns the current crop of graduates to come up with something (I know THAT happens, too). In Heinz’s case, this typically seems to boil down to removing the flavour from one of its existing successful products, changing the texture of one so that instead of being able to stick to vertical surfaces, it’ll run even on a flat one, or renaming one so that it appeals to people who listen to rap music and watch the Teletubbies. Sometimes, Heinz will do all three of these things at the same time to just one product.
Unlike the company that I used to work for, where the products were medicines, and so pissing about with the formulations and presentations was a no-no, Heinz makes food products, and these have no such protection. Consequently, if he or she is lucky and arrives at just the right time, the average new graduate can really carve out their future career by having a field day changing things using such tried and tested methods as removing salt, sugar, fat (and therefore any taste or familiar texture), and putting less of it in a pack and selling it at a higher price.
The current flavour of the month is Salad Cream, which Heinz owns, and which appears to be on some sort of hit list. To anyone who doesn’t know, salad cream is a thinned down mayonnaise-like dressing with a tangy flavour. It goes great with salads, whether they’re on a plate or between two slice of bread. It also works with plain ham, tuna, even cheese sandwiches – with or without salad items included. A drizzle before adding the top slice of bread brings the sandwich alive. But the thing is, it’s called “salad cream” because it’s always been called that.
Heinz has tried to rename it at least once in the recent past, and I also seem to recall some historical issues over recipe tweaking. They’re on the case again, and the upshot seems to have been that someone somewhere decided that since not everyone who uses Salad Cream pours a nice round dollop (see the photo above) on a plate alongside two lettuce leaves, two spring onions, and half a tomato, the name “salad cream” is grossly misleading and must be changed forthwith. As an aside, you’d have a job putting a “dollop” of Salad Cream on a plate these days thanks to the aforementioned recipe tweaks. It’d be more of a “squirt”. But that’s a different story.
I’m pretty sure that students – who, after all, are the immediate precursor to graduates – might be involved here, since they’re likely to put it on anything from Mars Bars to crisps (potato chips, for American readers). If they’re short of money, they’d probably eat it neat, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that they also used it as a lubricant when they’re having sex. As a result of all that – and, I mean, it’s obvious when you think about it – it should immediately be rebranded as “sandwich cream” (and I just realised there’s a double entendre there, which is purely accidental).
Fortunately, Heinz has seen sense (until the next time) and bowed to public pressure to leave it alone. Bearing in mind that Heinz had decided to go ahead with the change until the public found out, and had probably had the label artwork at least partly produced, they could have saved themselves a lot of money by just asking me first.
Digressing slightly, I remember an episode years ago at a squash club I was a member of. The young (17 year old) son of one of the members was in the bar one night, and he ordered a pint of orange juice and Coca Cola, mixed. It was apparently the “in drink” at University. It looked like diarrhoea, and to make matters worse, he had just crunched his way through a whole pack of Polo Mints – and we all know what anything tastes like after you’ve eaten mints. I just thought he was a berk, and that orange juice and Coca Cola would happily survive as separate drinks into the future (and I was right). The kind of people who run companies like Heinz would immediately see it as an opportunity to get rid of both orange juice and Coca Cola because they “don’t appeal to younger drinkers”.
I’ve mentioned many times that I like cooking when I have the time. If I see something on TV I like, I’ll look it up and make it for myself, or sometimes just look things up to get some ideas for myself.
Something I find really amusing is the reviews people leave for recipes, though. Last night I was after simple breaded chicken ideas, so I looked through several to get the gist of what I ought/ought not to try. Breaded chicken is extremely simple. It’s basically chicken dipped in flour, beaten eggs, and then seasoned breadcrumbs. After I’d got what I was after – ideas for seasonings – I thought I’d have a laugh at some of the reviews for the last recipe I’d scanned through.
It doesn’t matter what the recipe is, the people who review them seem dumber than my neighbour’s cat. Even a recipe for pouring a glass of water would be too difficult for some of them, and the review would typically go something along the lines of:
Brilliant recipe. I tried it last night, but I didn’t have any water, so I substituted some liquid I had under the sink in a bottle labelled “drain cleaner” that looked a bit like water, and I added some cabbage which I had lying around, and a piece of tree bark. It was lovely.
How the f&%k is it the same recipe if you change it?
This last chicken recipe – which I was not going to try in a million years, because it was so wrong – was no exception. It amounted to dipping a chicken breast into a garlic/oil mixture (bad idea), then into seasoned breadcrumbs (Basil and Parmesan), then baking it in the oven for 30 minutes. I knew what I’d find, but even I was surprised both by how quickly and how many reviewers had left Earth. The very first review went:
FANTASTIC! This was a great baked chicken. I changed some things to make it even more flavorful for us. For the breadcrumb mixture I substituted “pepperidge farm herb stuffing” instead of plain bread crumbs and also added 1 tsp oregano along with the basil. I used 4 large chicken breasts and used 4 tbsp olive oil and 2 cloves garlic. I also sprinkled a little salt and pepper on the chicken breasts before dipping them into the oil/garlic mixture…. I did have a little bit of each leftover (oil and breadcrumb), so I first drizzled what was left of the oil on the prepared chicken breasts in the pan, and then sprinkled what was left of the breadcrumb mixture over this. Then I sprinkled all of this with some garlic powder. It took about 40 minutes for the chicken to be done.
That is NOT the same recipe. Using stuffing instead of breadcrumbs is a good idea (I’ve done it before), but that would change the flavour completely. And seasoning the chicken alone is enough to turn an abject failure into a major success. So you have not reviewed the recipe at all – just your own.
The next review goes:
With my modifications, it came out perfect..! Was out of italian breadcrumbs so used chicken flavored stove top stuffing crushed well…
Another one who has changed the recipe completely, then reviewed it in the name of the original. Then the next one:
This is a great recipe. Here’s what I did with it…
Another change to a completely different recipe. Nearly all of them said something along similar lines. Only one reviewer I noted was still on Planet Earth:
I thought this was mediocre despite all the superlative reviews. I wish people would actually review the recipe as written, not their revisions. It makes the ratings very misleading. In any case, when actually following the recipe as written, the bread crumb coating was soggy and bland and there was not enough olive to dip six breasts in. I would not recommend this.
My thoughts exactly.
There was one more review that almost choked me when I read it. Bear in mind that this recipe is chicken dipped in oil and then coated in breadcrumbs mixed with Parmesan Cheese. The calorie count would be off the scale compared with what it could (and perhaps should) be:
Really great, pretty healthy, chicken dish…
As an aside, all I wanted was some cooked chicken I could slice up and put in a tortilla wrap with some vegetables, then eat in the car without grease dripping out of it. Plain chicken used like this is bland, and I wanted something along the lines of what you get in a McDonalds wrap but minus the calories.
Back to the bottom line: don’t trust online reviews.
Well, I’m on a voyage of discovery, just lately. It might have something to do with getting older and worrying more about my health. On the other hand, it might just be that I simply have too much time on my hands, sometimes.
I recently wrote about how cashew nuts can turn your poop almost white if you do what I did and eat a bucket of them all in one go. That post has been remarkably popular.
My latest discovery concerns black grapes, and how they can turn your poop green.
If you want to research it yourself, start out like I did, and proceed on the assumption that you’re not suffering from cancer, failing organs, scrofula, rickets, mange, abduction by aliens, and so on. Instead, assume that it might be due to something you ate – especially if you ate about half a kilo of it just before you went to bed.
Eating a lot of anything which is purple, blue, or green can give your poop a green tinge, just like a whole punnet of Sable black grapes last night did to me this morning. Blueberries can do it, too.
Incidentally, you can also get green poop if you have diarrhoea and stuff passes through you too quickly. You can also have it if you have an underlying illness that needs treating, so if it persists for more than a day, see your GP just to be on the safe side.
Also incidentally, if you suffer from hypochondria, don’t look at your poop if you ate a lot of beetroot.
Every year now, I make a concerted effort to fill my diary up to the rafters in the weeks running up to and during Christmas. I do this because I know from past experience that – without fail – as soon as Christmas starts to bite, people are going to start cancelling due to “illness”.
I don’t mind so much if they’re honest with me, but in the vast majority of cases any “illness” is simply a front for wanting to go Christmas shopping, do overtime, get pissed, recover from being pissed the night before, or to save money at this expensive time of year. Over-filling my diary means I still have a relatively decent amount of work remaining. This year has been better than most so far, but in the last two weeks I’ve had at least half a dozen last-minute cancellations and two no-shows (followed by profuse apologies, and claims of mortal illness).
Unfortunately, it is a sign of the times. With every year that passes, the trend is for people to get lazier and more dishonest. Which is probably why companies like Wagamama have strict working policies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally against zero-hours contracts (they cost me a small fortune over a typical year if I have teenage pupils who work at McDonalds), and Wagamama’s apparent rule that you have to get someone to cover for you if you can’t get in stinks to high heaven. But I guess it is one way of managing lazy, lying scumbags you’re unfortunate enough to have working for you.
But it is this message to staff at one London branch which has upset the union. The Christmas week rota has the following attached:
No calling in sick! may I remind you that if you are unable to come for your shift it is your responsibility to find somebody to cover your shift (as per contract and handbook). Calling in sick during the next 2 weeks will result in disciplinary action being
Naturally. Wagamama’s head office as distanced itself from the message. The Unite Hospitality union, of course, has more to say:
To threaten workers with disciplinary action for being sick is not just morally reprehensible, it may be unlawful under the Health and Safety Act and Equality Act as it discriminates against those with long-term physical or mental health conditions.
The irony in the fact that the message targets lazy liars, whereas the union supports them, is lost on Unite Hospitality.
The raw (and probably some of the in-store cooked) chicken sold at stores like Marks & Spencer, Aldi, Lidl, The Co-op, Tesco, and Sainsbury’s is supplied by a company called 2 Sisters Food Group, based in Birmingham. It was founded in 1993 and has an annual revenue of over £3 billion. It has numerous subsidiaries, including Fox’s Biscuits.
Following an undercover operation involving ITV and The Guardian, it was revealed this week that workers at the West Bromwich plant had been changing the slaughter dates of chicken processed there. The company was also taking food back from supermarkets and repackaging and redistributing it. They are currently being investigated by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as a result.
Back in 2013, 2 Sisters was fined £100,000 by FSA for shelf life date offences. In 2014, chicken which had been dropped on the factory floor at the Scunthorpe site was seen to be put back on the production line during an investigation into high levels of campylobacter in the UK food chain. 2 Sisters admitted to breaches of the rules, but was not fined.
In an update to the current issue, 2 Sisters has “suspended operations”. It isn’t explicitly stated that this suspension applies to just the West Bromwich plant, but I assume that’s what it means. But this is the part that sends shivers up my spine:
The 2 Sisters Food Group said staff at its site in the West Midlands will need to be “appropriately retrained” before it starts resupplying customers…
…the company said an internal investigation had shown “some isolated instances of non-compliance” at its plant in West Bromwich.
“We have therefore decided to temporarily suspend operations at the site to allow us the time to retrain all colleagues, including management, in all food safety and quality management systems.”
All staff will remain on full pay and take part in training on site, it added.
The thing that is clear is that someone somewhere was openly committing a crime – quite probably documented on film, one would assume, if ITV was involved. Even if those people were acting independently, they were still guilty, but it is more realistic to suppose that they were following orders, which widens the net both outwards and upwards.
So it makes you wonder how “retraining” of “colleagues” addresses this fairly obvious conclusion, and how being paid a full salary in the meantime goes anywhere near dealing with it appropriately.
This is an Australian story, but it reports that McDonald’s over there is about to take “one of the biggest risks in the company’s history” by introducing fresh beef patties to its menu. Apparently, ordering one adds about a minute to your waiting time, since the fresh beef patties are prepared to order, whereas the normal type are made ahead of time and kept warm until required.
I had to do a bit of a double-take when I read that, because in the UK it seems to be standard practice for McDonald’s restaurants not to prepare anything ahead of time, and to cook everything to order. At the drive-thru, a simple order of a cheeseburger can get you a ten-minute wait in one of the bays. I have gone inside to demand my money back on more than one occasion, and I’ve complained to head office at least twice. To be fair, most branches have improved, but I absolutely refuse to say anything positive about motorway branches, because late at night they have to cook everything. There is nothing ready. But I digress: a whole minute is nothing in the UK compared to what is “normal” over here.
They already do these fresh beef patties in America:
A customer in Dallas named Tracy Moore told Reuters that she’s going to stop patronizing the fast-food chain, which she currently visits every day, if the wait time doesn’t improve.
“If it’s going to be that long every time, I won’t order it. I’d go elsewhere,” she said, after ordering the new fresh-beef Quarter Pounder at a McDonald’s drive thru and being told to pull into a parking spot to wait several minutes until it was ready.
She doesn’t know she’s born! Oh, what I wouldn’t give to only have to wait “several minutes”. Sorry, digressing again.
The article adds:
Improving service has been a primary goal of McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook over the last couple years. He has cut dozens of items from the fast-food chain’s menu to try and simplify and speed up kitchen operations.
I think he’s barking up the wrong tree, though he may be doing it deliberately, and attacking a secondary issue to protect the primary one.
In the UK, absolutely the only reason there is a delay to service is that there is nothing ready and they have to prepare it. They might have a few bits ready, but the days when the rack behind the counter would be stacked with carton after carton of Big Macs and other burgers are long gone. If it’s busy, they run out and you have to wait, and if it’s quiet there’s nothing ready anyway and you have to wait. The franchise holder – McDonald’s restaurants are all franchised – does it to reduce waste. No wait, let me rephrase that – he does it to save money.
Three key words in McDonald’s business are: SERVICE, WASTE, COST.
Once upon a time, service was far and away the most important aspect at McDonalds. As time has gone by it has passed through waste, and now sits firmly entrenched in cost. But what Steve Easterbrook seems to have forgotten (I know he hasn’t, really, even if it looks like he has) is that fast food is low margin. You make money by shifting tonnes of the stuff, not by glamming it up, and you can’t shift any of it if there isn’t any to shift.
It’s funny when you consider that for each Big Mac costing £2.99, about £0.75 of that is gross profit to the restaurant, about £0.80 covers the materials, and the rest is down to labour costs. It’s even funnier when you consider that if a McDonald’s branch pisses me off, I won’t go in again for months (in the case of Clifton, years) just on principle. The manager’s decision not to risk having to throw away just over £2 guarantees he will lose £2.99 from me, and that woman in Dallas suggests I may not be the only one.
On a slightly different topic, a couple of the Facebook posts below the article made me smile.
This character is a vegan and he makes the assertion that eating meat and dairy gives you cancer. Someone challenges him, and he then goes on to declare that vegans do not need to take supplements as a result of not eating meat and dairy.
Actually, Mr Phillips, most vegan-friendly nutritionists and doctors – many of whom are vegans themselves – point out that Vitamin B12 supplements are pretty much essential for vegans, since this cannot be obtained reliably outside meat and dairy.
Organisations like The Vegan Society don’t make such a big deal out of things if they’re not important or significant.
This dietitian at Vegan R.D. goes further and suggests that as well as B12 supplements being important for all vegans, most should also take Vitamin D and Iodine supplements, and some should also consider Calcium and Iron.