A Driving Instructor's Blog

Food

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Doner Kebab meat being slicedI first wrote this in 2017, but it’s had a run of hits lately. And I’m just making another batch, so an update seemed in order.

I like cooking, and I especially like to be able to reproduce food that I would normally end up paying an arm and a leg for if I went out and bought it from a restaurant or takeaway. I can make curry that tastes almost identical to those you get from an Indian Takeaway, and I can make pizzas which are also identical to takeaway ones.

Doner Kebabs (or ‘gyros’ if you’re in the USA) were always on my ‘to do’ list, but my previous attempts weren’t successful. Membership of various local cash & carry outlets means that I have access to the kinds of things you wouldn’t find on supermarket shelves, and I’ve seriously considered buying a whole doner leg (that’s one of those big things that slowly turn around in front of the grill at the kebab shop). If I’d have been stupid enough to do it, God only knows what I’d have done with 10kg of cooked doner meat – and yes, even the thought of buying a proper doner grill passed through my mind more than once. But genuine satisfaction could only come from being able to make doner meat from scratch.

The few goes I had were a hell of a palaver. It was all about mincing lamb breast twice, forming patties, pushing them inside an empty tin can, cooking it, then using a blow torch whilst turning the mini-doner leg on a fork and slicing layers off. Even the pictures that accompanied one of the recipes I tried (and note that the flavour of this was very good, if you’re wanting to make your own seasoning mix) showed that the final slices of meat were coarser-textured and nothing like a proper slice of doner meat. That’s how it turned out for me – the taste was pretty much spot-on, but the cooked meat was crumbly and had no ‘bite’ to it (and frankly, I wan’t that interested in farting around with a mini-doner leg, I just wanted the meat) The worded version of that same recipe suggested that commercial preparations ‘probably’ use transglutaminase – or meat glue – to hold the texture. That sounded somewhat plausible and I’d planned on trying it, when out of the blue the answer came from… bacon.

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Why bacon, you ask? Well, I had started curing my own bacon and I needed some curing salt. Whilst searching, I came across Surfy’s Home Curing website as a source. While browsing Surfy’s site I noticed that he also sold Doner Kebab Seasoning, and with my previous failed attempts in mind, I asked a few questions about the texture problem I’d experienced. That’s where the key piece of information came from: temperature.

In a nutshell, the most critical part to getting the texture right when making doner kebab meat is the temperature you do the mixing at. It has to be very, very cold, almost freezing – but not quite.

I can vouch for Surfy’s Kebab Seasoning, but you can get other brands. Some of them are commercial mixes so they should be fine.

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Making Doner Kebab Meat

Surfy’s Kebab Seasoning, comes with a handy recipe for doner meat. The recipe is so simple that I couldn’t believe it was going to work, but I decided to give it a go exactly as it was written to see what happened.

I bought two 500g packs of lamb mince from Asda and stuck them in the freezer along with a bowl of water. When the water had just started to freeze (therefore acting as a crude thermometer), I threw the mince into my Kenwood Chef fitted with the K blade, added 50g of the kebab seasoning, and mixed on a medium-high speed until it became sticky and of a uniform texture (just like pink bread dough, in fact). Then I added 50g of the ice-water and mixed for a minute more, also on medium-high speed. Apart from the hour or so in the freezer beforehand, it took less than 10 minutes to produce the meat mixture in accordance with Surfy’s Recipe.

As I said above, I wasn’t in the least interested in producing a weird shape I’d have difficulty cooking and handling, so I packed the mixture firmly into a non-stick loaf tin by hand. Rather than just roast it, I decided to use a crude bain-marie, so I placed the loaf tin inside another tin and half filled that with boiling water and place it in a pre-heated oven at Gas Mark 4. Using my Meater probe (any thermometer will do), I let it cook until the inside temperature reached above 75°C. Once removed from the oven, I drained off the rendered fat and let it cool a little.Slab of cooked DIY kebab meat

As soon as I cut into it I could immediately tell that I’d cracked the texture problem. It was firm and held together perfectly. And when I tasted it, it was identical to shop-bought kebab meat in both taste, smell, and texture. Once it was completely cool, I used my bacon slicer to slice it up into strips. The cooked loaf was about 220mm x 110mm x 65mm (i.e. slices were about 2½ inches wide).Slices of cooked kebab meat ready for reheating or freezing

I rolled the strips between parchment paper so that I could remove as many as I needed, and froze the roll for future use.

Making The Actual Kebabs

Re-heating can be done under the grill, in a pan, or in the microwave. Just don’t do it for too long, otherwise the strips dry out (though you might prefer your doner meat that way). Personally, I like mine juicy, so 30 seconds or so in the microwave gives you perfect moist strips.

I’ve typically like my kebabs on Pitta Bread, but I always find it a bit hit-and-miss over whether a pitta will puff up or not. Recently, Asda has started selling Naan Wraps, and these are absolutely perfect. They’re now my preferred bread for kebabs (until Asda stops doing them, as is their wont).

One of my kebabs will therefore be a naan wrap, 3 or 4 slices of meat with my favourite sweet chilli sauce on top, then finely sliced red and white cabbage, onions, peppers (that’s my own addition), onions (red or white), tomatoes, cucumber, and Iceberg lettuce. You can put as many vegetables on it as you like. And that’s it.

Costing

I estimate that 1kg of lamb mince produces enough doner meat for up to ten kebabs – admittedly, perhaps not if you put the same amount of meat in you get from takeaways, but that’s probably a good thing because they are usually into pig-out territory anyway. At £8 per kg of mince, plus £0.60 for the seasoning, each serving of meat comes to about 85p. With all the other stuff, you’re looking at well under £1.50 per kebab – and it’s a full, healthy meal. You’d be looking at £5-£6 in a takeaway, and a lot more fat.

Nutrition

No one is ever quite sure what goes into commercial kebab meat. Even taking away concerns about the actual animal the meat in them comes from, they are loaded with additional fats (often trans fats) that have been added eat during manufacture. And since we’re looking at commercial production, chemical additives (sodium phosphate, in particular) are used, quite possibly along with synthetic flavourings in some cases. In short, you simply don’t know what you’re eating – just that you’re eating a lot of it (and you know you shouldn’t).

The only fat in this homemade meat comes from the lamb. The Asda lamb I bought contains less than 20% fat in the first place, and a lot of that is rendered out during cooking (which I pour away). It contains nothing except lamb and the seasoning.

I estimate that each homemade kebab weighs in at no more than 800 calories, even on a large naan (less on one of the Asda wraps I mentioned). On a pitta it’s closer to 500 calories. Indeed, the majority of the calories come from the bread and not the meat. It’s no more than a typical meal, and a lot healthier since it contains a lot of vegetables.

If you were on a 2,000 calorie diet, you could have up to three of these as your main meal without any worries. A shop-bought kebab, on the other hand, could contain the full 2,000 calories in one go.

Could you cook it over a grill like they do in the shops?

Yes, of course. As long as you made sure it was properly cooked as you sliced it, the raw mixture could be formed on a spit, and rotated over or in front of an open flame to cook it. I haven’t tried it and have no desire to, but if you packed it tightly and then chilled it I’m sure it would be firm enough to put on a spit. Come to think of it, that’s how a takeaway I used to use many years ago did it – I watched him one day taking handfuls of meat mix out of a bowl, forming them into discs, and then throwing them on to the skewer of the large spit as he formed the ‘elephant leg’ a layer at a time. If you really, really want to go for the poseur approach, you can buy devices to do it.

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I’m not quite crazy enough to go this far, though I am crazy enough to have been tempted. Sorely tempted, I assure you.

Can you freeze cooked doner meat?

The recipe given above is cooked from fresh ingredients. If it is frozen quickly afterwards it’s fine for freezing. Just don’t let it hang around too long before you slice and freeze it. And never re-freeze it once thawed.

Freezing doner meat you bought in a kebab from a shop is definitely out. It was probably frozen to begin with, and you have no idea what the hygiene standards were when you were sold it. You don’t need me to tell you what the insides of kebab shops are like, and eating fresh from them is OK, but leaving it around for too long is asking for trouble.

Is it possible to buy doner meat already made?

Yes. Some cash & carry outlets sell tubs of cooked meat frozen. You can buy it in some supermarkets in smaller packs. It tastes fine, but it is relatively expensive compared with DIY.

What gives doner kebab meat its texture?

It’s all in the preparation. The meat has to have about 20-25% fat and it has to be very cold – almost freezing – when you do the mixing so that it can emulsify (i.e. the meat and fat are no longer separate). When you press it down into a mould or tray and cook it as described above, the texture is just right – not at all crumbly, but firm with a definite bite to it.

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Cooked riceAt the moment, my newsfeed is filled with stories about ‘the best rice cooker’ – probably as a result of my browsing history, I admit.

They’re all-singing, all-dancing electric things that do far more than you actually need. Now, I know that a lot of Asian people swear by electric rice cookers, but they tend to be fairly simple machines. In the West, we try to incorporate functions that are useless – like being able to play Netflix movies while you’re controlling the central heating. Stuff like that.

I can tell you now as an absolute fact, the only rice cooker you will ever need – assuming you have a microwave oven – is the Sistema Rice Cooker. All you do is put one measure of rice in the pot, add one and three quarters (or two) measures of water, and a little salt, and microwave on high for 9-10 minutes. Give it a stir, let it stand for another 5 minutes, and you have perfect rice. Period.

And it’s about a tenth of the price of the fancy ones. Sistema make some good food storage containers, too.

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Wing: The Cornish FishmongerDuring the lockdown, some items were extremely difficult to get hold of – and still are, unless you’re prepared to go into shops and markets.

My dad likes crab meat, and in the past I’ve always bought it for him at Makro, where they have very good fish and meat counters. But right now there is no way I am going in those sorts of places. And then my dad decides he wants some crab meat!

I started looking around and came across Wing – The Cornish Fishmonger. They’re recommended by Rick Stein (among others), and that’s good enough for me. Better still, the fish is actually fresh and all recently landed (at the very least, freshly prepared). So I ordered some hand-picked fresh crab meat, a whole Cod fillet (as I suddenly got a hankering for some when I saw the website), and some kippers (my dad likes those, too).

Fresh CodItems are shipped in polystyrene chill box, and you pick the date you want – usually within 24 hours if you order in the morning. For example, I placed another order late today – Wednesday – and it’s coming on Friday. The quality of the first order was excellent – Cod fillet as long as my arm, crab meat sweet, and apparently the kippers (which I don’t like) were ‘just like the ones you used to get’ (they’re whole butterflied fish). You don’t have to order whole fish fillets, as you can specify portions and it is prepared for you, but you can also buy whole fish if that’s what you want – and all the funky kinds you’d never see in Asda or Tesco. The shellfish are supplied live. And they also sell genuine Cornish Pasties, though I haven’t tried those yet.

Wing points out that buyers are supporting the Cornish fishing industry, which is struggling right now with everything that’s going on. They also have a 5-star rating on Trustpilot.

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Drizzling OilRegular readers will know I do a bit of cooking when the fancy takes me. The kind of stuff I cook involves any, some, or all of Olive Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Peanut Oil, Sesame Oil, Rapeseed Oil, Sunflower Oil, light Soy Sauce, dark Soy Sauce, Worcestershire Sauce, and several others.

Recently, and to simplify my use of my ingredients, I bought a pack of those long-necked ‘oil’ dispensers with silicone ‘corks’. They fit in any bottle as long as it isn’t too wide at the neck, and they work like a charm. But with the lockdown and everything, my usual source of cooking ingredients has moved online, and that means usually getting smaller bottles than I’d buy at the cash & carry or the Asian supermarkets. Typically, I buy 1L bottles of Soy, for example, but online the brand I use is only half that.

You can buy oil dispenser bottles, of course, but these too are often very small, and they’re not made of strong glass in many cases. Others are opaque and made out of porcelain, so you can’t see how much is in there, and come is silly shapes for some reason. They also cost a small fortune – more than a pack of ten dispenser nozzles if you want a decent one.

Anyway, my dad finished off a bottle of his rum and I decided to use the bottle for one of my oils. I needed to get the labels off, so I soaked it in hot water for a couple of hours, then scraped off most of the paper. Then I soaked it for a few hours more and got the rest of the paper off. And I was left with every bit of glue that was originally on there stuck firmly on the bottle (along with the RFID chip). Nothing would get it off – even that Glue Gone stuff that is supposed to shift label glue. Even scraping it with a penknife just moved it around (though that’s how I got rid of the RFID, albeit in tiny pieces).

Then I had an idea. Sodium Bicarbonate is supposed to be a miracle cleaner, so I made a 50:50 paste of Sodium Bicarbonate (aka Baking Soda) and regular cooking oil, painted it all over the glue, and left it to stand for about an hour. The oil kept it in place. Then, using the scouring side of one of those foam kitchen sponges and a little bit of Fairy Liquid and warm tap water, it just scoured straight off!

So there you go. To get rid of stubborn label glue, you need to make a paste of equal parts of Sodium Bicarbonate and oil, paint or dab it over the glue, and let it stand for a while. With a little elbow grease after that, it should come right off.

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Roasted cashew nutsSince I wrote this half way through 2017, it has been viewed 40,000 times! For the last year, it has been the top post. Obviously, a lot of people like Cashew nuts!

Before I start, let me state clearly that I am not a doctor, and this is not a medical assessment of any kind. But I can state absolutely and categorically that eating too many Cashews CAN send your poop white – or at least very pale or clay-coloured. In fact, eating too much of almost anything – and especially nuts (any type) and pulses – is likely to affect your poop’s colour and consistency.

I found this out after I had a shock one day. I won’t go into graphic detail, but let’s just say after I’d been for a Number Two, I almost did another when I saw what colour my poop was!

The internet is a great thing, but it can be very misleading if you’re not careful. I mean, you get a pimple, you look it up… cancer. You get a toothache and you look that up… cancer again. A headache? Yep, cancer – or possibly a stroke, a heart attack, cirrhosis of the liver, or mange. And so it goes on. And social media is even worse for bad information. It’s people who are the problem.

You’ll get someone who had a headache, so they Google it. Some online doctor (or one of your 100,000 ‘followers’) says it means you have a brain tumour, even though it was the fact you were hit over the head with a baseball bat that afternoon which prompted you to look it up in the first place. If you’re even half as crazy as your followers, you’ll now believe the online stuff and be convinced you have a tumour. And you’ll spread it around like you’re an expert for other people to find and be worried about. The baseball bat obviously caused some damage – but not what you’re now thinking.

In my case, I had done something sufficiently different from normal – namely, I made some salted, roasted Cashews (which are easy to whip up, and way cheaper than buying them ready made) and ate some. By “some”, it was actually more like half a kilo of them over a fairly short period of time. I like Cashews, and since I hadn’t had any for a while I suddenly got a hankering for some. They were nice, and I didn’t give it much thought until my stomach started rumbling an hour or two later.

When I Googled “stool colour and cashew nuts” I was surprised at how many results came up – mostly dire warnings about cancer and scrofula. There were also a lot of cases of people questioning their poop colour after eating Cashews. So many, in fact, that there was absolutely no way that there couldn’t be a connection.

So rest assured that if there is otherwise nothing wrong with you – and there probably isn’t – the answer is most definitely yes: eating too many Cashew nuts can turn your poop very pale, or even white. And other nuts and pulses can do the same sort of thing. Mine cleared up after a few hours. And I recently made some more salted Cashews – not eating as many this time – and my poop went pale again next morning.

Incidentally, I have also discovered that eating a lot of black grapes can give your poop a green tinge.

However, pale poop can be a sign of an underlying medical condition that requires the involvement of your GP, so if it doesn’t clear up inside a day or so, make an appointment.

Can eating a lot of Cashews affect a child’s poop/stool colour?

Yes. And it wouldn’t need anywhere near as many nuts as it would for it to affect an adult.

Can eating a lot of Walnuts affect your poop/stool colour?

Yes. From what I have read, eating a lot of any nut, pulse, and some dark-coloured fruits and vegetables can make your poop change colour. Green, very pale, even reddish/orange have been mentioned in the various sources I checked.

You need to be careful with red (and black) just in case it is due to blood in your poop rather than merely a pigmentation effect. If you see blood, get checked out by your GP.

Do Blueberries affect your poop colour?

Yes, they can make your poop green, reddish, or dark depending on how many you eat (and whatever else you’ve eaten). Be careful if your poop is genuinely red or black/very dark as this can sometimes mean there is blood present, which is potentially a serious issue and nothing to do with what you ate. If it persists, see your GP.

I ate nuts and there are bits in my poop

It’s normal. Things like peanuts and sweetcorn – things high in fibre or with tough skins – might not get broken down completely and may make it all the way through, ready to scare the living daylights out of you when you see it.

Do Cashews give you diarrhoea?

Not directly – unless you are allergic to them. However, eating too much of any nut can lead to diarrhoea or very loose stools, and that includes Cashews. It’s because of the fats and fibre in them.

As with any problem, if it lasts for more than a day, see your GP. And if you get proper diarrhoea every time you eat a few nuts, you might want to get that checked out, too, because you could have an allergy – and nut allergies are potentially quite serious.

Do Cashews make you go to the toilet more?

Probably. They contain a lot of fibre, and eating that does loosen your stools, so going to the loo will be necessary. It’s why people who are constipated are advised to eat more fibre. There’s a difference between loose stools and diarrhoea, though.

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IMPORTANT: this article does not constitute medical advice, and should not be taken as such. If any problem lasts more than a day, go and see your GP. If you ate Cashews and your poop went pale, it should clear up in a day or so. If it doesn’t, see your GP. And never ignore blood in your stools.

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