Sunday, 7 April 2013

In Transition

We will be taking a break and will return on 1st May!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Rice Cooker Risotto

Mention chicken breasts and the last thing you would probably picture would be chicken breasts with skin on them. So you could imagine my surprise when I saw that Sainsbury's have expanded their line yet again to include, amongst other things, skin-on chicken fillets. I was trying to look for ways to get rid of my bottle of Sainsbury's Basics White Wine as well as what is left of my rice before my household leaves my current flat. A risotto with chicken, courgette and some sort of salted meat for flavour sounded promising, so I decided to pick this up along with several other groceries.

While I was at it, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could make a risotto using the rice cooker, but nonetheless still opted to brown the chicken first for better flavour.

Heat the Basics pepperoni in a pan. Once enough oil has been extracted from the pepperoni add the chicken breasts to the pan, skin-side down, and brown.

Dice the chicken breasts while deglazing the pan with Sainsbury's Basics White Wine.

Wash the rice once. Crumble the now crispy pepperoni into the rice, and add the chicken breasts after dicing, along with diced Basics courgettes. Add the deglazing from the pan, and a generous amount of Basics Hard Cheese.

Fill with Sainsbury's Basics White Wine, such that the water level above the rice and other ingredients is one joint of your index finger. Top up with water if necessary. Cook in rice cooker until done.

The wine dominated the flavour of the rice, so perhaps I should have made up for it by adding more cheese and perhaps other herbs as well. Overall however I am satisfied with how this has turned out and would consider exploring more combinations I could put into the rice cooker.

British Chicken Fillet Portions (skin on): £8.33/kg, approx. 300g
+£0.90 for fillets with no skin

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Bolognaise and Toast

In the days when the Pizza Hut back home still had unlimited pizza buffet available, my father would often help himself to the bolognaise sauce and have it with the thin garlic toast, saying that it was probably the best way of getting maximum value out of the buffet. He had a point: by avoiding the deep pan pizzas which filled you quickly with heavy dough and cheap smoked meat (like ham or pepperoni), you get to the highest value ingredient in the buffet other than salad, namely, the minced beef.

I have one last serving of Basics frozen mince to get through, after which I am once again left to my own devices. The idea for making a pasta sauce came about as I noticed that I have not reviewed the Basics Tomato Soup on this blog, and was curious as to how effective it was as a substitute for the Basics chopped tomatoes, which is about 7p more expensive. Knowing how well it can substitute may also be useful to know when caught in a pinch.

I do not recall ever having tinned soup for my meals, though I would imagine it has kept many a university student in the UK alive. The most I remember is my friend having tomato soup and roll in a pub when I visited her.

The smell of browning Basics frozen mince in the kitchen is starting to take its toll on me and my flatmates, so I was rather grateful to learn from a friend of mine at church this morning that using wine in cooking would help reduce strong smells from cooking.

Once the mince has been browned and Basics white wine has been added, add the Basics tomato soup and herb mix. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Skim off all the fat while waiting for the whole thing to reduce by about half its volume.

Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle Basics Grated Hard Cheese and serve with toasted Basics Sliced White Bread.

This turned out surprisingly well, and would serve as an excellent example of rustling up a pasta sauce without actually having any pasta sauce or canned tomatoes available. The tartness of the tomato soup can still be felt, but with clever use of herbs and other seasoning it shold be easily masked.

Creamed Tomato Soup: £0.24, 1 serving
+£0.35 for More variety, Be Good To Yourself

Sunday, 10 March 2013


When studying in university, swedish meatballs featured regularly in my lunches and dinners, amongst other similar mince or otherwise processed meats. I believe the first time I was introduced to them was when a good friend of mine and his household was moving out of his old place. He gave away his flatmate's half-finished bag of frozen meatballs to me amongst other things, which I gladly accepted. 

Over time I developed a taste for these things and so was glad that Sainsbury's offered packs of Swedish meatballs at a discount on a regular basis. They're still more expensive than the Ikea ones though, so whenever my flatmates bought new furniture for the new flat we were moving into, we would take the opportunity to buy and share bags of frozen Ikea meatballs to take home and share.

There is a recipe in my discount copy of Everything Meals on a Budget cookbook for meatballs that I thought would fit in nicely if I ever were to buy a bag of Basics frozen mince. At the time I was unfazed about rustling up all the other ingredients (which include amongst other things tomato paste, breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese), but of late work and other pressures have put me off doing it.

My kitchen now has most of the ingredients available now though, other than the tomato paste and breadcrumbs, so I no longer have much of an excuse not to do it. With the recent scare over horsemeat in Ikea meatballs, I thought this would be an interesting opportunity to explore making my own and remember yet another part of my university life.

I have never understood the need to add breadcrumbs to meatballs. I was aware though that breadcrumbs are absorbent, so they can retain any moisture that would otherwise be lost to cooking. A quick search on StackExchange's cooking page confirms this. 

So start by defrosting the frozen mince in a microwave. While that is going, dry a slice of Basics bread to make breadcrumbs, while beating an egg to use as a binder for the meatballs.

Combine egg and defrosted mince with Basics Grated Hard Cheese and Herb Mix.

Shape into meatballs and bake in the oven near 200 degrees celsius for about 12-15 minutes.

While the meatballs themselves bear a vague resemblance to the ones I am familiar with, having them together with Basics spaghetti dressed with herb mix and cheese certainly brought back memories. The meatballs would become dry if baked for too long, with the fats spilling onto the foil or baking pan, so time the time it takes to bake carefully.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Roti John Redux

Regular readers would know by now that I have been striving to finish the big bag of Basics Mince that I have in my freezer. Since we are due to move out of our current flat soon I have also been reluctant to buy groceries, and have been trying to get by with whatever little is left in our kitchen.

My most recent find is a Sainsbury's Basics part-baked baguette that I had left forgotten. The first idea that came to mind that involved both this and mince was Roti John, which I covered some time ago. In the interest of variety though, I decided to take a different approach, baking the baguette sliced in half, topped with the already cooked mince drenched in egg.

This turned out well, and probably is slightly healthier than if I were to fry it. The idea could perhaps be taken even further and done on a barbecue, although I only have vague memories of seeing the hawkers back home doing this at their stalls.

Saturday, 23 February 2013


Popcorn happens to be very cheap to procure - All that is needed are the right variety of maize, hot oil or an air popper, and desired flavourings. It is thus no surprise that Sainsbury's carries a Basics popcorn that comes in a large 160g bag. At £1.10 it is certainly cheaper than the popcorn sold at cinemas and no doubt people would be tempted to sneak this in their bags into the theatres. In fact, I bought it for a movie date but never got round to eating it during the show as my companion does not eat popcorn and was unwilling to share.

There has been a recent trend towards having gourmet popcorn, that is, popcorn flavoured with exciting flavours, like jalapeno and cheese. I suspect that this started or at least took off when Pret A Manger began to offer popcorn alongside crisps and other snacks at their stores. In the face of this, it would be interesting to see how the Basics popcorn, a representative of the cinema popcorn we're so familiar with, would hold up  against its more upmarket counterparts.

The popcorn itself was okay, if a little simple. Ingredients listed were maize, soya oil, sugar and soya lecithin as an emulsifier, hardly as sophisticated as the popcorn you might get at Pret A Manger or EAT. With the advent of gourmet popcorn throughout the UK and given the large bag that the Basics Popcorn comes in, it is hard to imagine what use this would be for, other than movie marathons and similar protracted evenings of entertainment. I cannot recommend this even if you like popcorn and snack on from time to time as you would need a sealed container to store all the popcorn once the bag is opened.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Cinema Sweet Popcorn£1.10160g+£0.40 for 150gNot known. Other exotic varieties available at +£0.40 for 75g(!)

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Pork and Beef Burgers

The hectic pace of work recently, a desire to find solitude in the evenings, and a general reluctance to cook have led to me eating out almost every other weekday. This in turn has led to me developing an especially strong penchant for burgers. At its peak, I found myself browsing websites in the States dedicated to the sandwich, since, in all honesty, they are probably more familiar and more comfortable with it than the British are.

Truth be told though, I have always loved burgers. From the McDonald's cheeseburgers I grew up with, to becoming acquainted with Gourmet Burger Kitchen in the UK, to being told stories of the burgers in Shake Shack in New York City, there was something rather alluring to a juicy patty of prime minced beef with a slice of cheese in a sesame seed bun.

Eating out tends to be a rather expensive affair however, and with a bag of frozen Basics mince yet to be finished, it would almost be criminal if I did not try my hand at making my own burgers. After all, the idea seems simple enough - roll the mince into a ball, flatten to a patty, and grill. Alter the patty composition if desired, and serve with whatever makes a burger tasty.

Defrosting the mince in a microwave proved to be a little tricky. I found that it is best to microwave in small batches to avoid uneven heating. 1.5-2.5 minutes on defrost should suffice.

Form balls to be flattened to patties later on.

Those who might want to make fun of the photo above might be surprised that this is a result of a valid technique - smashing - and is popular though not without controversy across the Atlantic.

Serve in sesame seed bun with Basics iceberg lettuce and other condiments of choice.

The burgers turned out really well, largely thanks to the crust the patty developed through the Mallard reaction. As these were burgers, I ate with my hands, leaving no cutlery to wash up, always a nice bonus. One main problem would be controlling the defrosting of the mince in the microwave so that it is defrosted and not cooked, and forming up patties that do not fall apart. Off the top of my head you could either use binders like egg white, or freeze the patties overnight between baking sheets.
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