Friday, 18 December 2009

Chocolate Chip Muffins

Lucky you. The morning I left for Heathrow I decided to grab a bit of breakfast. I so happened to grab the Sainsbury's Basics chocolate chip muffins some time ago, and I had enough spare time to take a few photos of what I was about to eat. I then took the photos with me on my flight, and now, with my jet lag keeping me up in the wee hours of the morning, I am taking the trouble to write this post for my friends back in the UK.

I only have vague recollections of the regular Sainsbury's muffins, but if those recollections are any indication, the Basics muffins are smaller, and don't taste as sweet or as rich. Which would probably be a good thing for Asian tastebuds, who have a more subtle palate. Another problem would be the lack of chocolate chips (9% versus 17% for the regular muffins) Aside from this, you are greeted with dense muffin goodness, with a chocolate chip making the experience more pleasurable every now and then.

A brief glance at the ingredient lists and nutritional information for both Basics and regular muffins suggests that other than the proportion of chocolate chips the muffin mix is essentially the same, meaning that you only pay for size and chocolate chips. Doing a bit of calculation based on nutritional information found on mySupermarket, you get about 250g of Basics muffin against 300g of regular muffin per pack, ie. paying 50% more (see below) only gets you about 20% more muffin.
Bear in mind however that the Basics muffins are only available in Choc Chip. A bit of a letdown, if you ask me really: I would imagine coming up with a Sainsbury's Basics Blueberry Muffin, which would satisfy those who either don't like chocolate (yes, they are out there), or those looking for a slightly healthier offering.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Chocolate Chip Muffins£0.854+£0.44Bigger muffins, more variety (Blueberry and Double Choc Chip), more chocolate chips

I had tried in vain to make a Christmas pudding using only Basics ingredients to rival Sainsbury's own Basics offering after looking at the mind-boggling amount of environment-destroying, heart-killing palm oil they put in the latter, but was unable to due to time and other constraints. Maybe next year, if the blog is still around. In the meantime though, have a meaningful Christmas everyone, from the people who bring you this blog.

Thursday, 10 December 2009


I'll be taking a break over the Christmas season, as I prepare to return to my home country for the holidays. I'll be returning first week of January.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Chicken Burgers

While I was at Finchley Road to get the Chicken Kievs used in my previous posts, I also came across some Basics breaded chicken burgers. Remembering that I have not encountered anything like this before, I thought it would be interesting if I bought this and feature it in a post. Given the buns and cheese singles that I had at my disposal, I could relive a memory I had prior to coming to the UK.

I studied for my GCE 'A'-Level examinations at what we called Junior College and what the rest of the world called the final two years of high school. One of the most popular stalls in the college canteen was the 'western food' stall, selling food originating from European and American culture. My most regular order from there was two chicken burgers with cheese, being unable to afford the more expensive things on their menu. The circumstances are now that I have the means to create a lookalike of the burgers I had back when I was a teenager.

Be forewarned, the chicken core is 62% of the burger, and out of this core, only half of it is chicken thigh. If you do your math, only 31% of the burger consists of real chicken.

Preparation is simple, and shall only be expressed in photos.

This was arguably one of the worse items I have tried so far. The breaded chicken burgers were airy, and had no meaty texture, giving one the impression of deep-fried tofu. It has actually piqued my curiosity enough to try the Bird's Eye Chicken Burgers separately.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Breaded Chicken Burgers£1.008+£1.99 (Bird's Eye)Breast meat instead of thigh, no textured wheat protein

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Kiev Katsu Kurry Spaghetti with Cheese

A while ago my friend saw my Kiev Katsu Kurry Don post, and recommended that the next time I try something similar that I add cheese. Finding that a little odd, I asked her where she got the idea from, and it turns out that she actually had Katsu Curry Udon with Cheese at a Japanese restaurant back home. I also remembered that the last time I was back I came across a dozen or so Japanese pasta restaurants, which feature interesting things on spaghetti or penne like cod with teriyaki, prawn tempura with a tomato sauce, miso-based beef stew and even deep-fried calamari with curry sauce. These two findings sufficiently piqued my interest to want to try this at home.
I have already covered mild cheddar cheese however, and I'm not keen on buying another block of it, or even a block of a different type of cheese, like mature cheddar or double gloucester, since being rather similar in the sense that they are all proper cheese it would probably not make for a very interesting article. What I'm going to use instead though are these cheese singles. I've seen my former flatmate use this as a cheap alternative to cheese, but have never tried this myself. More commonly known as processed cheese, this is probably more familiar to people coming from my home country, having grown up with the likes of Kraft Singles and Chesdale.

This was probably the worst cheese single I have come across. The slices are thin, and the smell is a bit on the artificial side. It also does not help when the actual cheese content is at 11%, which probably explains why this is not labelled as cheese singles. When one considers that the next more expensive option - the Sainsbury's Reduced Fat Cheese singles, contains 500% more cheese (60% of total ingredient makeup) at a less than 50% increase in price, you wonder if these cheese slices are worth the hassle. The regular Cheese singles don't contain palm oil as well, so for 25p more you avoid a potential health hazard.

For such a strong smell that the cheese single has, its taste is very faint, and its texture is almost non-existent, dissolving rapidly as one presses tongue against single.

Anyway, on to the recipe. Preparation is similar to the Kiev Katsu Kurry Don, except that a cheese single and herb mix is added to the sauce during preparation.

The cheese had no effect on the curry sauce at all. Personally, having tried this, I feel that Katsu Kurry would probably be better served with rice, as at least the rice can absorb the sauce.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
(Cheese) Singles£0.5810+£0.25Higher cheese content, bigger singles. Recommended.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Poor Man's Bouillabaisse

A couple of months back I spent a weekend in Whitstable, Kent, with a few friends. The place had remarkable seafood; even the Fish Bar (ie, the Fish & Chip shop) had a few unusual (and unusually fresh!) entries, like Rock. Aside from this, and amidst the town's quaint high street, the pebble beaches and the sight of kite surfers with a wind farm in the background, I found a rather interesting Victorian book that is now reproduced and published by a company based there.

A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes was written by Charles Elme Francatelli, maitre'd to Queen Victoria, and as its title suggests, targetted those who were not so well off. Practically Edible notes that the book was sponsored by Brown and Polson, in return for product placement in recipes and a 2-page advertisement at the back of the book.

While many of the recipes would not be particularly acceptable today, such as sheep-head broth and a pudding made of small birds, there was one which I feel would fit in both with my visit to a seaside town and the overarching theme of this blog. Recipe no. 125 of the book features a very simple Bouillabaisse which takes about half an hour to cook. The recipe itself can be found on Google Books, starting at the bottom of the page (Those with ebook readers can download the entire thing from Project Gutenberg).

For today's blog post, I'll be using the frozen white fish fillets from Sainsbury's. £1.94 gives you a packet of 4 fish fillets of varying sizes, typically 1-2 servings per fillet depending on what else you have to go along with it. The fish is Alaska pollock, a relative of the cod, and used in McDonald's Filet-O-Fish and other similar items in the fast food industry.

To drive costs down even further I have substituted fresh tomatoes for a can. I'll be serving for one, ie, myself. Some liberty will also be applied with regards to the order of ingredients added to the saucepan.
Start by defrosting the fish with warm water. Save the water for the soup later.

Chop some onions and garlic and brown.

Chop up your defrosted fish fillet, and then add it to brown.

Add vinegar, some herb mix and pepper.

Add the canned tomatoes to a saucepan. Add a can of the defrosting water and bring to the boil for 15 minutes.

Francatelli recommends serving this with toasted bread, as proper bouillabaisse is done. Handily, I've managed to pick up a packet of Basics white rolls.

Who would have thought vinegar could be used to liven up a tomato soup? This would be something worth remembering. The fish turned out to be okay; though it does tend to flake up really quickly, its taste is really mild, so much so that you could probably feed it to those who don't really like the taste of fish. Then again, this is the fish that goes into one of the most widely accepted fish burgers in the world. Also, because the rolls taste like any other buns that I have come across, and since you get 12 of them for 35p, I feel they represent excellent value for money. But the best part of it is that everything came together as a very pleasant meal despite each ingredient having humble beginnings.

Those of you doing costings should note that I used two rolls, one fillet and one can of tomatoes, so that works out to 6 + 50 + 35p = 91p. To that I've added an onion, garlic, vinegar, herb mix and pepper; all that should be covered by rounding up to £1. I actually managed to have enough for another meal, so take that into account as well.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Frozen White Fish Fillets£1.944 fillets, 520gN/AN/A - No exact equivalent
White Rolls£0.3512 buns+£0.30 for 6
Not known

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Kiev Katsu Kurry Don

Quite recently I caught an episode of Alex Riley's BBC programme on Britain's Really Disgusting Foods. It was on the meat products that we buy, and the various fillers that go into them. Chicken Kievs were covered in the programme, and it turns out that the EU and the FSA, for all their various regulations about food labelling, don't actually have any for Kievs.

This meant that there are no minimum requirements for the actual chicken content in a Chicken Kiev. The lowest they have found so far was the Tesco Value one at 30%. This piqued my curiosity, and given that both my former and current roommates are both fans of the breaded chicken dish, I thought that it would be a good idea to have a look at what the Sainsbury's Basics equivalent would consist of.

I'm glad to report that the chicken content is much higher than the Tesco Value one, at 50%. Unfortunately, the rest of it consists of textured wheat protein, chicken skin, and necessary items to bind it all together.

While the Kiev was baking in the oven, I was deliberating over what should go with it. I'm a big fan of Japanese Katsu Curry Don, which effectively is a breaded chicken or pork cutlet topped with Japanese curry sauce and served with rice. I realised that I have spent the last few blog posts covering mainly British items and there was now an opportunity to recreate items that my fellow countrymen may miss whilst studying or working here. In addition, I've been intrigued by the Basics curry sauce that people have been talking about on the MoneySavingExpert Sainsbury's Basics forum thread, and bought myself a bottle to try. Based on the above, I decided to create a variation of Katsu Curry, substituting a Chicken Kiev for the cutlet.

The Basics Curry Sauce's claim to fame was its initially ultra low price point of 4p. More recently however Sainsbury's has raised it to 9p, and then to 12p. This still makes it extremely cheap relative to the regular own brand curry sauces, which typically cost 86p.

This low price point does have its drawbacks. It is a very generic curry sauce, more akin to Japanese curry, and not even closely resembling one of the myriads of curries that are available, known and loved in this land. The sauce contains a few raisins, seemingly added there as an afterthought.

So while the Kiev is cooking, I cooked what was left of my Basics long grain rice and proceeded to prepare an improvised Japanese curry sauce. To four tablespoons of curry sauce, I added some Basics frozen mixed vegetables (yes I know, they have been featuring very heavily, I do want to get rid of it all), a tablespoon of water, and put it in the microwave on 800W for 2.5 minutes.

A couple of tips about cooking Basics rice. Firstly, rinse the rice with water. I'm aware that this is not usually common practice amongst the British, but it rids the rice of unnecessary starch. This should remedy some of the complaints that various people are having about the Basics rice coming out as one sticky glop. Secondly, use less water than usual. Common practice dictates that the water level should be one finger joint above the rice. For Basics rice however, you would want to have about four-fifths to three-quarters of a finger joint.

The Kiev leaked some garlic butter while it was cooking, which was disappointing, as I was hoping that it blending with the curry sauce would make for interesting results.

Place the Kiev on the rice, cut it open to inspect contents...

And then top with prepared curry sauce.

This adventure actually made for a very lovely lunch, and has given me an idea. The British supermarkets stock Chicken Kievs with a wide variety of fillings. Since the British love their curries, I would imagine that a curry-filled Chicken Kiev would be very popular. I'm aware that some people from Sainsbury's do read this blog, so it would be interesting to see if this follows through as a real product.

The Basics Chicken Kiev actually proved to be very pleasant to eat, if one forgets for a moment that it does not consist entirely of meat. Those of you who have trouble with that could try the regular ones (frozen or fresh), which typically contain 91%-100% chicken meat. The curry sauce was actually a good find as far as non-Indian curries are concerned. Given that Japanese curry sauce mixes are £2.50-£3 for 4-6 servings (working out to be about 40-75p per serving), the Basics curry sauce would actually make a pleasant and highly cost-effective substitute.

Finally, I would like to make another suggestion. The Sainsbury's that serves me also serves many students, some of whom are from my home country. Given that we are big fans of breaded chicken, I would imagine that stocking the Basics Chicken Kiev would prove to be very popular. It would also mean that I would not have to take the trouble to go to Finchley Road just to buy it.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Chicken Kiev£0.832, 250g+£0.40 - £2.46 for 4 at 568gHigher chicken meat content. Recommended.
Curry Sauce
£0.12440g+£0.74 for 500gMore authentic sauce, greater variety. Recommended.

Thanks to ExNicotineQueen of the MoneySavingExpert Forums for locating the Chicken Kiev.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Augmented Spaghetti Bolognese

Being a fan of pasta in general, Spaghetti Bolognese was the very first thing I actually learnt to cook while studying at university. Having spent the most time with it, I can safely say that I can cook this confidently for others. Incidentally, this also means that if I happen to have in my possession a packet of frozen spag bol deemed to be sub-par, I would be fully capable of bringing it up to acceptable standards.

Looking at the ingredient make up and the contents of the box, it's easy to realise why I decided to do something about it (other than an excuse to use up the beef mince left over in my freezer).
The spaghetti comes cut into small pieces, allowing for easier eating. There's not much sauce here, which is disappointing, and very little beef, even more disappointing.

Clockwise from right: frozen sauce packet, spice shakers, and frozen mince.

Right, so let's begin. Chop up three cloves of Basics garlic, not pictured. Meanwhile defrost the sauce and the mince in the microwave, then start browning the latter in your frying pan.

Throw in the garlic, pepper and herb mix into the beef. To add a bit of tanginess, add a splash of Basics vinegar. Before you raise your objections, I realised that a major component of Worcestershire sauce is actually malt vinegar. Given that it is widely-accepted as a marinade for red meat, I thought that vinegar would make things a little interesting in the spag bol. Turns out I was right, and this has given me some incentive to research making my own Lea & Perrin's using only Basics ingredients, given that such a Basics version doesn't exist right now.

Add the sauce, followed by the spaghetti.

Finally, to compensate for the high fat content that you're about to consume, add a generous helping of frozen mixed vegetables.

If you have a little bit more time on your hands and don't mind the extra washing up, I would recommend augmenting your ready-made bolognese this way. Otherwise, you're more likely to find yourself eating spaghetti pomodoro.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Spaghetti Bolognese (frozen)
£0.50340g+£0.50 for 400g3% more meat, more sauce, less spaghetti. Recommended.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...