A Driving Instructor's Blog

Food

I covered dry roasted peanuts in that last article, noting how expensive they can be. Cashews have always been a hundred times worse – with peanuts, at least you get a few handfuls. A typical bag of cashews is likely to contain less than 20 nuts and cost at least twice the price of the peanuts!Homemade Dry Roasted Cashews

You can buy raw cashews for as little as £1.15 per 100g from Real Foods. All you need after that is salt (again, use sea salt because it has no additives).

In a saucepan, place ½ tbsp salt and about 100-150 mls of water. Bring to the boil and let the salt dissolve. Then add 500g of raw cashews. Stir to make sure that all the cashews are coated with the salt water, and keep stirring carefully until the water is absorbed/evaporates. Remove from the heat and turn out on to baking parchment laid in a baking tray.

Place in a pre-heated oven (gas mark 4, 180°C, 350°F) for exactly 20 minutes. After 10 minutes, use a spatula to turn the cashews, or simply tip them into the baking tray. Don’t exceed 20 minutes, as they burn easily.

Take the tray out of the oven and allow the nuts to cool to room temperature. Store in airtight containers or bags. They will – or should, if you didn’t over-cook them – look like those in the photo above.

If you think they’re too salty, use half the amount of salt next time.

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I recently started hankering after dry roasted peanuts as a result of buying a packet for snacking purposes one sunny afternoon. The immediate and most obvious drawback to this ever becoming a regular snack item was the price – nearly £2 for small bag (roasted cashews are even more expensive – more on that in this article). Even the most heavily discounted KP nuts (the best ones) work out at nearly 70p per 100g.Homemade Dry Roasted Peanuts

That got me going on one of my make-your-own projects, and this recipe is what I came up with.

You can buy raw, blanched, skinless peanuts from Healthy Supplies for less than £4.75 per kg (that’s 47.5p per 100g). Real Foods sells them for as little as 33p per 100g if you buy 6kg (or even less if you go for un-skinned ones). All you need after that is a jar of Marmite (from any large grocery store), onion powder (also from most large grocers in small jars, or in various pack sizes online from BuyWholeFoodsOnline), garlic powder (ditto), honey, and sea salt (no additives, so don’t use table salt).

All you need to do is place the following in a saucepan (with a lid available):

  • ½ tbsp salt
  • ½ tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tbsp Marmite
  • ½ tbsp honey
  • 4-6 tbsp (approx) water

Gently bring it to the boil while stirring continuously using a small whisk to break up any lumps, then simmer while still stirring for a minute or so. Remove from the heat, add 500g of raw peanuts, and put the lid on the saucepan. Toss the nuts until they’re all completely coated with the sticky brown syrup (invert the pan several times to make sure).

Turn out the coated nuts on to baking parchment laid inside a baking tray of some sort and spread them out into a single layer. Roast gently in a pre-heated oven (gas mark 4, 180°C, 350°F) for 20 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn the nuts using a spatula, or simply tip them off the parchment on to the baking tray. They will over-cook extremely easily, so stick to exactly 20 minutes (maybe even less if you have a fan-assisted oven).

Take the tray out of the oven and allow the nuts to cool to room temperature. Store in airtight containers or bags. They will – or should, if you didn’t over-cook them – look like those in the photo above.

If you think they’re too salty when you taste them, next time try using half the amount of salt (Marmite is already salty, of course).

Are dry roasted peanuts healthy?

If raw peanuts are classed as “healthy”, the only thing in this recipe that makes them any less so is the sodium (salt) content. You have to face the fact that for many things to taste good, you need salt to act as a flavour enhancer.

Having said that, the amount of salt in an entire batch of these nuts is less than the recommended maximum daily amount of around 2.5g. So unless you scoffed 500g all in one go there would be no issue – and quite honestly, unless you have high blood pressure, exceeding 2.5g now and again isn’t going to hurt you. I’m not saying you should, just that you’re not going to die on the spot if you do.

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Sitting in the car all day can be bad for your health. Apart from the more obvious risks like lack of exercise, the matter of dehydration is easily overlooked.Dehydration image

Although I never had anything like it as a child, these days I get early season hay fever symptoms (it’s the tree blossom). Nothing too serious, but itchy eyes and a tickly throat – the latter of which always seems to be worse when the air is dry, and which I can also trigger if I have the aircon on for too long. To try and do something about it I recently started drinking water during the day. Now anyone who does a job like this will know that you normally try to avoid drinking too much of anything so that you don’t end up having to take a leak every five minutes, and that was me to a “T”. I would often start work at 10am and finish at 8pm, sneaking in a couple of McDonalds’ white coffees along the way, and apart from the inevitable need to offload these at some point, I’d wait until I got home before drinking a load of tea.

It seems fairly obvious looking back, but when you’re only drinking things that make you wee even more, and especially in the warmer weather, dehydration is likely to be an issue. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to hear that my tickly throat cleared up completely almost immediately I began drinking water. It should come as even less of a surprise to hear me point out that after the first half litre water is boring.

A quick Google revealed myriad rehydration drinks. What I was after was a make-your-own flavouring I could buy in bulk, and since I was expelling minerals as well as fluids every time I took a whiz, replacing them using isotonic drinks made sense. What didn’t make sense were the prices – the typical cost of 500g of isotonic powder (ten servings) is around £10 – and although I found one particular brand at about a quarter of the price (and with 20% extra for free), it turned out this was a special offer. With every Spandex Boy in the country on to the case, they’d sold out when I tried to get some more.

So, long story short, I decided to make my own. After some research (and trial and error), here’s a recipe for an isotonic rehydration drink (it makes 400g, one 40g serving is dissolved in 500mls of water):

Maltodextrin 80g
Glucose 199g
Fructose 100g
Citric Acid 5g
Malic Acid 1.5g
Sodium Citrate 2g
Sodium Chloride 5.36g
Potassium Chloride 1.15g
Flavouring 6g

Making it is simple: just put all the ingredients in a food processor and make sure it is fully mixed. Then store it in an airtight jar and use as required. I also add a pinch of food colouring powder during mixing, but the amount used is too small to quantify.

Based on the prices I paid for all the ingredients, this mixture costs £4 per kg (25 servings). Compare that to at least £15 per kg (unless you can get it on short-lived special offer) for commercial mixes.

I bought the sugars from Bulk Powders (you need to buy the 5kg pack to get the lowest price).

I obtained Citric Acid, Malic Acid, Sodium Citrate, and Potassium Chloride from various sellers on eBay and Amazon (make sure you get food grade material). I’ve got tons of fine sea salt (sodium chloride) at home, but you can get that from just about anywhere. And the concentrated flavourings (by far the most expensive ingredient in terms of contribution to overall cost) can also be had from various online sellers. Remember that the larger pack size you choose, the lower the cost.

Ordinary kitchen scales (measuring to 1g) are fine for weighing out the sugars, but you may want to get a more accurate balance for the other ingredients. You can get small scales which weigh up to 500g with 0.1g resolution on eBay for about £15 (they look like CD jewel cases), and they’re accurate enough. Don’t even think about the tiny ones which supposedly weigh to 0.01g and cost a few pounds, because they are crap.

I buy 12 x 500ml packs of spring water from Asda for about £2.00 and add my powder to those. At 17p a bottle, each finished drink works out at around 33p. It’s worth noting that if you didn’t flavour the blend, it would only cost about £2.80 per kg, and each completed drink would cost about 28p (this is the base price). With commercial powders, each drink comes in at around £1.20!

You can adjust the recipe if you want longer term energy supply by cutting down the glucose and fructose (keep the ratio at 2:1), and increasing the maltodextrin. It’ll be less sweet, since maltodextrin isn’t sweet, but your body has to break this down into glucose by itself. You could also replace it with sucrose (cane sugar), which is sweet. And you may want to increase or decrease the amount of flavour slightly depending on what strength you buy. Just make sure everything adds up to 400g. Each 40g serving delivers 258mg of sodium and 60mg of Potassium.

It tastes rather good. I had a few fun issues to start with. First of all, it tastes very bland without any acidification, and – as I discovered – the level of Citric Acid doesn’t need to be as high as it is in the fresh fruit (my first try had eight times more acid and it gave me wicked indigestion). The acid has to be buffered using Citrate. And Malic Acid rounds off the flavour dramatically. Once I researched the formulation of soft drinks and built in the ingredients listed on several commercial packs, everything came together perfectly.

On a final note, the acids and the citrate have E numbers associated with them. You will find lots of nonsense on the internet about how that is bad. It isn’t. Citric Acid is made from natural ingredients, and sodium citrate is made from it. Malic Acid occurs naturally, although the manufacture of it commercially is via a synthetic process.

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I get quite a few hits on this exact search term. I’ve said in my own recipes that you can’t make a decent curry (or Chinese, for that matter) without oil and salt – so if you’re looking for a low-calorie, low-sodium meal without either of those you’re going to have to get used to it tasting a fair bit different to one that’s made the proper way if you start leaving these ingredients out.Curry, chips, and cooking oil

Oil (or fat) has a number of functions depending on what it is that you’re cooking. Simple pan frying, for example, uses oil as a lubricant and you can get away with – say – frying an egg without oil (or with the tiniest amount) if you use a good non-stick pan. It will taste slightly different, but passable. Bacon and sausages contain their own fat and so the cooked taste isn’t affected as much if you “dry” fry them (though they might be a bit dry).

When deep-frying, though – and I’ll get to the curry question later – it is the fact that oil boils at a high temperature which is the really important factor. Consider making chips (or French fries). Your potatoes are cut up and ready to go. If you drop them in boiling water (which boils at 100°C), 10 minutes or so later you simply end up with boiled potatoes – still edible, but nothing like chips or fries. However, oils like Sunflower and Rapeseed Oil (Canola) can be heated to close to 200°C, which is almost at their smoke point. The smoke point is when the oil begins to (obviously) smoke and alter its chemical structure (i.e. to break down), and this influences the taste of whatever it is you’re cooking. It’s also why you can’t use the same oil too many times, as it degrades and begins to taste bad (it can also become toxic, as unsaturated fats break down into saturated ones and other chemicals are produced).

When you drop your chipped potatoes into the hot oil, the water in them starts to boil and escape as steam – this is why the pan appears to “boil”, even though it is just very hot. However, the high oil temperature also seals the outside of the chips so that the steam can’t easily escape, and this has the effect of cooking them from within. It also keeps them moist. Furthermore, the high temperature  caramelises (or browns) the outside, and this gives the tasty golden brown colour you associate with chips and fries.

To cook chips or fries properly at home, the best technique is to double fry them – first, at about 140°C for about 5-6 minutes until the chips are nearly cooked (just before they start to brown – squeeze one to make sure it’s not hard), then remove them and heat the oil to about 180-190°C and fry them again until they are golden and crisp. A deep-fat fryer is best for this process so you can control the temperature more easily, but a pan and thermometer will work. Alternatively, instead of the first frying step, you can place the chips in boiling water for 6 minutes, drain them, plunge in cold water, drain, and then fry them at 180-190°C.

If you try to cook chips at a single temperature they either turn out soggy (lower temperatures) or burn on the outside but remain undercooked inside (higher temperatures).

But what has all this got to do with the curry question? Well, with curry, high temperatures are vital in order to develop the correct flavours. Curry is not supposed to be a boiled dish, and the only way to get the high temperature for the cooking process is with oil. If you just heat the dry pan and then add water-based ingredients like onions and tomatoes they will cook at around 100°C (and stick easily). Oil helps with lubrication and cooks them at close to 200°C – which is very different, and contributes dramatically to the all-important curry taste.

Furthermore, the essential oils in the spices which give the dish its flavour are soluble in the oil, but not always in water. So as well as allowing the “cooked” taste of the spices to develop, the oil allows those flavours to become properly dispersed for when they land on your tongue. I’m sure I once read that oil-based flavours interact with your taste buds differently to water-based ones, but it is certainly a fact that the mouth feel of oil alone has a very specific effect on your brain. A wet, water-based curry doesn’t feel right when compared with an oil-based one like you get from the takeaway.

Remember that you can drain off excess oil from a curry quite easily, and in any case you don’t have to eat it if it’s formed a pool on your plate. All you do is allow the curry to stand for a few minutes until the oil begins to separate, and either pour it off or use a large spoon to ladle it out (push the spoon down gently and collect the oil as it runs into the bowl). However, remember that curry is supposed to have oil in it, so leave some in.

How can I eliminate oil in my curry?

If you mean not use any at all, you cannot. An oil-free curry it isn’t a curry anymore, just something you might try to call “a curry”. The high temperature you can heat oil to, and the simple fact it is an oil in the first place, is what makes a curry taste the way it does. Watery curry doesn’t taste right, doesn’t look right, and doesn’t smell right.

Too much oil can simply be poured or spooned off, as I explained above.

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I’ve written before about how certain idiots in this country – many of them supposed medical experts – have ruined everything we eat by forcing Sugarcubesmanufacturers to either remove or reduce the salt content. This is in spite of research which shows salt isn’t as bad for you as the Consensus Action on Salt and Health (Cash) radical sect would have us believe.

Now, the same people have formed a new group – Action on Sugar – with the avowed intention of screwing up sweet stuff for us, too. This is based almost entirely on the fact that some people (and their parents) are too bloody stupid to be allowed out unsupervised, and who subsequently suffer from obesity and other health problems as result of drinking 6 litres of Coca Cola a day, and who eat nothing but chocolate and biscuits.

This newly-named bunch of activist idiots goes on to name a range of products and the amount of sugar contained in them. It’s worth reproducing it here to help us do a reality check:

    • Starbucks caramel frappuccino with whipped cream with skimmed milk (tall): 273kcal; 11 teaspoons of sugar
    • Coca Cola Original (330ml): 139kcal; 9 teaspoons of sugar
    • Muller Crunch Corner Strawberry Shortcake Yogurt (135g): 212kcal; 6 teaspoons of sugar
    • Yeo Valley Family Farm 0% Fat Vanilla Yogurt (150g): 120kcal; 5 teaspoons of sugar
    • Kellogg’s Frosties with semi-skimmed milk (30g): 4 teaspoons of sugar
    • Glaceau Vitamin Water, Defence (500ml): 4 teaspoons of sugar
    • Heinz Classic Tomato Soup (300g): 171kcals; 4 teaspoons of sugar
    • Ragu Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce (200g): 80kcals; 3 teaspoons of sugar
    • Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Crunchy Oat Granola Cinnamon Bars (40g): 186kcal; 2 teaspoons of sugar
    • Heinz Tomato Ketchup (15ml): 18kcal; 1 teaspoon of sugar

Out of that list, I would only ever eat or drink Coke (perhaps a small bottle or two on hot summer days), Ragu (once in a blue moon, though I’d choose Dolmio given the choice because it tastes better), and Heinz Ketchup (a tablespoon a couple of times a week). So, not every day, and not to excess. That’s because I’m not a prat who needs nannying. However, if I was one of those people who ate everything on that list every day, to excess, and who also fed it to my children, then I’d deserve to have them taken away from me and put into care.

The BBC story quotes a doctor (also a member of Action on Sugar):

Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist and science director of Action on Sugar, said: “Added sugar has no nutritional value whatsoever and causes no feeling of satiety.

I may be missing something here, but I think Dr Malhotra is deliberately trying to mislead. You see, herbs and spices have no nutritional value either, but they are essential in making food taste nice. Dr Malhotra might also want to take a close look at the food his or her countrymen have been eating for centuries. Salt has been in use since before recorded history; oil has been used for almost as long; and likewise with sugar. Is he/she suggesting they stop?

The bottom line is that not one of those listed processed foods will do anyone any harm at all as long as they don’t stuff themselves with it all day, every day. The problem isn’t that foods contain sugar. The problem is that some people are complete morons.

And that doesn’t appear to be a bar to entering the medical profession.

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Well, that’s what the Daily Mail appears to be saying, anyway. I saw their headline yesterday and couldn’t believe that even the Mail could be so stupid. SteakBasically, after all the crap they’ve been publishing about fast food and pre-cooked meals being bad for you (the Mail has a food section which goes to town over this several times a week, comparing the poor health implications of each product), they are now warning people off fresh meat – and not for any health-based reason, but because in Britain we are apparently riding the razor’s edge, with food shortages.forever only a hair’s breadth away.

Of course, blame is laid at the feet of MPs, though it is done in such a way that the reader doesn’t have a bloody clue what was actually said and has to rely on The Mail’s interpretation. The story meanders through the comments made by various farmers’ associations and unions, apparently in response to The Mail’s headline, and proceeds as though somewhere, someone had actually spoken the exact words of that headline. And yet nothing in the bulk of the report confirms that this is what was said, and reading between the lines you can detect some cack-handed political machinations, suitably mangled by The Mail’s hacks in their typical amateurish way.

Can you even begin to imagine how or why any politician would want to make such ill-informed comments about an industry which is already suffering due to the economy and the recent weather?

…Sir Malcolm Bruce, the Lib Dem chairman of the Commons committee, said: ‘With the UK never more than a few days away from a significant food shortage, UK consumers should also be encouraged over time to reduce how often they eat meat…

Actually, that has always been the case, and it isn’t – as The Mail’s creative cut seems to imply – a new development. Britain is a small island with a high population density vying with what cultivable land it possesses, and it relies heavily on imports. It has to, and has had to for a very long time now. In the Glorious Imperial Age (that the UKIP would see us return to in its dreams), we just took what we wanted and shot anyone who argued. When that approach was no longer viable – and we’re talking more than a century ago now – we had to start buying it in. And that’s where we stand right now here in the 21st Century.

We couldn’t just “pull up the drawbridge”, as many of those who are leaning towards the UKIP from the LibCons would have us believe.

The farmers are right to be worried. If some idiot politician stops people from buying a certain food – even a few of them – then farmers will have to stop producing so much of it. That will then send prices sky-high (and meat isn’t cheap even now), which will cut demand still further. Farmers will turn over even more land (if they can – the land used to raise meat often can’t be used for crops) to things like Oil Seed Rape, and the nation will get ever more unhealthy on poor quality ready meals, most of which are imported, or use imported meat products.

A cynic might see a purpose in any government involvement in such stupid advice. Oil Seed Rape has a high value – and making more money would fuel economical growth in the (very) short term. Of course, it is also used in the production of bio-diesel, and any country which produces a lot of it might win whatever “green” badges are up for grabs at any given moment.

But any economic benefit would undoubtedly be short-lived. High prices can only be commanded when there is a demand, and the bottom could fall out of the Rape market overnight. All it takes is another European country to start getting decent crops (by foolishly getting rid of the ones people actually need) and we’ll be having pointless “buy British Rapeseed Oil” campaigns before you could sneeze. Mind you, that’d suit UKIP down to the ground.

However, longer term the loss of a meat industry (and all the other things that are “unhealthy”, like eggs) would cause massive and irreversible damage to the economy.

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How on earth did this get by Health & Safety? (the link was to Quooker, who market the thing – but it now redirects with a virus warning so I have removed it) It’s an accident waiting to happen.

Joe Pesci - Head on FirePart of me says it’s a great idea, but when I saw it on TV just now the other part of me said bloody hell, that looks lethal.

What it is is a worktop mounted tap which produces instant boiling water. We’re not just talking about hot water – this is the full 100°C stuff. Real boiling water.

The one in the video has no sink under it, so I’m trying not to think of what would happen if you accidentally turned it on and hot water was blasted onto the surface and splashed down your front and legs. Or if a child – fascinated by the noise – climbed up to turn it on.

The Quooker website calls it “ultra-safe”, but I can’t see any signs (or data on the site) which indicate any kind of fail-safe mechanism being fitted. I could be wrong, but it is just a tap which provides boiling water under pressure.

I wonder what they’ll think of next. Above door heater curtains like you get in big stores (like in the photo here)?

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I’ve written before about how I hate waiting in any restaurant or fast food joint at the best of times. So, another establishment has been added to my mental list of places I will never go in again.

A few weeks ago I had a late lesson and I was hungry, so I decided to nip into a chip shop and get some chips. The place I chose was The Tandoori Star in Sneinton because of its “fish and chips” sign outside.

As I walked in I realised it wasn’t a traditional chippie and fully expected to get those frozen fries that a lot of these newer cheap-and-cheerful curry and pizza places often do. I also wasn’t surprised by the apparent indifference with which the one person serving (out of about six in the shop) dealt with me and charged me £1 in advance – only to tell me the chips would be “about 4-5 minutes”.

If I’d have known that before, I would have changed my mind there and then. I was in a hurry… but 4-5 minutes would still give me more than 15 minutes to drive a quarter of a mile to my next pupil, so I said “OK”.

It took “4-5 minutes” for the guy serving to even go and fetch a bag of chips from the freezer, and at least another two for him to put four handfuls into the fryer. Then it took a good six minutes to cook them, a further four for him to scoop them out and put them in the warming compartment. It was like watching paint dry.

During all this time he was assembling kebabs for the small handful of people who came in. But the last straw came when the little kid who’d been shouting and talking with all the staff turned out to be a customer and the serving guy said to him “do you want vinegar on these?”

I’d been standing there for nearly 20 minutes at this point. I just turned round and walked out.

So, my advice to anyone in the area is do not use the Tandoori Star in Sneinton. Life’s too short to even consider putting up with such crap service..

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Scotch Bonnet Chillies

Note to self:

Don’t pick nose or scratch anywhere sensitive immediately after chopping Scotch Bonnet chillies.

200,000 Scoville units up the hooter certainly wakes you up – and keeps you that way.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t know what happens when you forget..

And I still went ahead and did it.

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Bacon and egg rollAbout 10 years ago, sandwich shops started multiplying like… a lot of multiplying things! They were everywhere, taking over any empty retail outlet that came on the market.

Many of these places are real fly-by-night affairs. They’re be there one day, and gone the next. The problem is similar to that which affects many would-be instructors, where imagined success doesn’t quite match up with the realities of running a business. In the case of the cob shops, it seems that any middle-aged woman who knows how to make a ham sandwich suddenly gets the idea she can make a living out of it. At one stage a few years ago, these places were opening up next door to each other.

Most of them take little interest in their outward appearance, and simply begin trading with the shop in the same state as it was when they took out the lease. At best, they might give the decrepit façade a coat of paint, and nail up a homemade sign, but that’s about it. Inside, they will usually have bought in some second-hand counters and chillers, and maybe a couple of plastic patio tables and chairs.Run-down storefront

Location is simply a function of availability and price – a run-down, almost derelict shop, in a row of buildings earmarked for demolition sometime in the not-too-distant future, and with absolutely no parking anywhere near (unless you’re a van driver, in which case there are plenty of suitable yellow lines for that purpose). They have colloquial working-class names like “Barb’s Baps” or “Stuff Yer Face Cafe”, and are run by people who seem just a little crazy.

Occasionally, someone will spend a little more on the shop and give it a name like “Chilly’s Deli’”, with bright professional frontage, though it will still have limited parking and be situated in an area completely out of keeping with its bright and fresh appearance.

However they did it, they were all built around a small grill unit – sometimes just a domestic hob cooker – and served coffee made with granules in polystyrene cups. Skimmed milk, obviously. And tonnes of commercial-grade bacon and eggs, and commercial-grade sandwich fillings from the cash & carry. In other words, no different to what you could get from one of those roadside caravans.

When it comes to running a business, any food which doesn’t have a Michelin star to its name is not high margin. Shop rent – even if the building is falling down – is not cheap, especially if it’s close to the city centre. To succeed, you need to shift a lot of stuff, so you’d think that having a good business model would be important, closely followed by a well-run operation. You’re in competition with thousands of others and you need to build a good reputation. The instant you start providing poor service then you’re on the road to ruin.

When I choose to go into any of these places I expect two things as the bare minimum:

  • decent food
  • reasonably quickly

So, absolutely the last thing I want when I fancy a simple bacon and egg roll before one of my early morning lessons is to be ignored. And this is where you encounter the first problem. Being run by one – perhaps two – people means that the person who takes the Burgers cooking on hotplateorder also cooks it. Things get a whole lot worse when you then realise they’re also in the middle of fulfilling some idiotic telephone order for 30 bacon butties, 22 teas, and 8 coffees for the building site down the road, and 12 custom baguettes for the local firm that’s got a Team Meeting and is providing “outside catering” for its staff. People coming in off the street are treated as an annoyance rather than an important source of revenue.

The owners of these shops forget very quickly why they went into the business in the first place. Selling bacon and egg rolls requires a completely different business model to outside catering. If you want to do both, you must have the staff to handle both. The subsequent telephone orders – which they encourage at the outset with “telephone orders welcome” signs – are way outside the bounds of the business model required to shift breakfast baps in a manner which ensures your continuing profitability.

The typical owner of the newly opened sandwich shop will just about wet themselves when that first telephone order for 50 bacon butties comes through. But they fail to appreciate that the building site it came from won’t be there in 3 months time, whereas I will be. Except… I won’t! Because if I go in just once and they can’t serve me quickly, I will never go in again. Ever. So that’s my money they’ll never see – and I’m sure others must similarly avoid these places if they get poor service.

The same applies to providing sandwiches for local firms. The hapless butty shop owner doesn’t twig that they’re being taken for a ride. The only reason the skinflint local firm is coming to them is that they’re cheap (I know: I’ve authorised outside catering for countless meetings in my time). The local firm is forcing the sandwich sEggs over easyhop into bankruptcy in order to cut its own costs, and that’s because the sandwich shop owners haven’t got a clue!

But then there’s the quality of the food. To start with, it would seem that me, my parents, and that bloke who runs that great burger bar just outside Lechlade-on-Thames are the only people on the planet capable of cooking an egg properly!

Quite simply, the white should be solid and most of the yolk runny. Any runny white and it isn’t cooked.

None of this sunny side up crap you get at restaurants, either. If you’re frying it in a pan then the egg should be splashed gently during cooking with a little oil (or you can put a cover over it). If you’re using a hotplate with very little oil then the egg should be flipped part way through cooking (the Americans call it “over easy”). Whichever method, the heat needs to get at the egg during cooking from both sides.

An example: recently I visited a place I’d been impressed with before. It calls itself a “delicatessen”, and the interior is filled with exotic beers, wines, chutneys, cheeses, and so on, all on solid dark wooden shelves. I’ve never seen anyone buy anything other than sandwiches, although the serving counter for this is tiny compared with the space taken up by everything else. On this occasion there were four women all frantically buttering and filling baguettes and flinging the finished wrapped product into large carrying hampers (at least four stood stacked on the floor). I also noticed carefully crafted wicker baskets of Undercooked eggfinger sandwiches and fruit piled on top of the cheese in the deli cooling cabinet. It was obvious that this was outside catering orders they were working on.

Anyway, the owner took my order for a sausage, bacon, and egg baguette (I had a baguette last time) as if I was an unwelcome distraction, which I suppose I was from her perspective. She then persuaded me to have a roll instead of a baguette (I’m fairly certain that “it’ll be better on a roll” translates as “we need the baguettes for our telephone order”). The bacon and sausage came out of a glass fronted heating box, and both appeared bone-dry. I had to wait for the egg – and I could have cooked 10 properly in the time it took for this one. When it eventually arrived I carried the roll away in a bag, got in the car, and drove for 10 minutes to a place where I could stop and eat it.

Bear in mind the “cooked” egg had had a further 10 minutes to cook in its own heat. I would have expected the yolk to be almost completely solid by now.

I bit into it and was immediately covered in raw egg – not just the yolk, but gooey clear/white gunk as well. And the bacon and sausage were like cardboard. I will not be going back. Ever.

In my list of expectations I didn’t mention hygiene (or perceiCouncil Waste Binved hygiene). I suppose that on the one hand, a certain level of basic food hygiene has to be assumed, whereas that is traded off against the general appearance of the place you go into. After all, if it looks like they keep chickens and other livestock on the premises, you shouldn’t be too surprised if it turns out that they do! But I draw the line at smoking.

It will take a lot to get me into any place where I see the staff smoking – at any time – and where they are smoking matters even more. Just outside the back door is a no-no, for example.

Another example: One place on Woodborough Road where I’ve been ignored at before is run by two middle-aged women. Almost every time I go past they’re outside smoking. To make matters worse, one of them is usually leaning with both elbows on a council waste bin – the ones where the top is for stubbing out cigarettes – and her apron is dragging against the letterbox openings where the locals throw their half-eaten kebabs and dog poop! I doubt that when she goes back inside to cook she washes her arms up to her armpits or changes her apron. And yet on the walls they’ll be proudly displaying their Food Hygiene Certificates.

And another example: I was walking through Ruddington just the other day and the two middle-aged female proprietors were sitting at the table outside (these places are never big enough for more than one or two tables at best) chain-smoking. The door was wide Food Hygiene Certificate open, so no prizes for guessing where the smoke was going. They were dressed in their food clothes and hats, and they were using a saucer – undoubtedly one they normally use to serve tea and coffee to those who ate inside – as an ashtray. Another place I’ll never go in. Ever.

The service and quality issues are exacerbated by the type of person who frequents certain of these places. The ones which attract people who drive lorries and vans are to be avoided, though this is obviously a very personal view. They’re usually smokers themselves, and regard standing in the doorway to stay out of the rain as being sufficiently “outside” to allow them to smoke, and the owners don’t give a damn about it. They’re also likely to be placing an order for several people, so you’re guaranteed a long wait.

The large chains aren’t much better, though. I’ve mentioned McDonalds before, but I’ll mention them again. If ever you go in and order something that isn’t ready and which has to be prepared – their breakfast wraps are a prime example – watch carefully to make sure you aren’t being shafted by poor service. They often ask me to take a seat and they’ll bring my order over when it’s ready – but I always decline. Here’s why.

The drive-thru is given absolute priority over those waiting inside. It isn’t a stated or written rule – not that I’m aware of, anyway – but the manager or manageress will enforce it rigidly to avoid cars backing up outside. They will even send junior people waiting for your order away from the stacking shelf so they can snatch the next wraps or McMuffins that come down. Trust me, they do this, and you have to stand by and make sure they don’t get away with it. I’ve demanded my money back on more than one occasion when I’ve seen them do it, and I make it clear when I’m watching that I know what they’re up to.

I’ve seen cars drive into the car park while I’m waiting for my order, go through the drive-thru, and drive off with food… and I’m still waiting.

If you don’t make a fuss, a 3 minute wait can turn into a 10 minute one, and I find that unacceptable in a place which allegedly sells fast food. Basford McDonalds on the ring road is easily the worst for this. It’s bad enough they never have enough breakfast food prepared to start with, but they’re not going to screw me even further if I’ve decided I’m hungry enough to tolerate the initial wait!

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