Monday, 31 August 2009


A feature of BBC's Economy Gastronomy sees the featured family attempting to replicate something they would usually get from takeaways or eating out. The first episode had fried chicken, the second chocolate brownie biscuits, and the third, Indian curry. Typically, they save at least 50% of the money they would otherwise spend buying it ready-made.

We here at Ekonomi Gastronomi love crepes. There's an excellent creperie near where we study that has been visited by many a celebrity, and students with extra change. However, prices are expensive, anywhere between £3 to £8.50, so for today we shall demonstrate and attempt to make our own crepes.

The only problem was sourcing for ingredients. The team did not want to invest in 1.5kg of Basics flour that nobody would be using in future. So the 8p bag of pancake batter mix was a godsend. It consists of nothing more than plain flour, skimmed milk powder and a pinch of salt. All that had to be added was an egg, 250ml of water, and a tablespoon of oil, before whisking till smooth.

I decided on a savoury crepe and a sweet crepe. The sweet crepe would be honey and peanut butter, while the savoury one is ham and cheese, with added mixed herbs and black pepper.

The total cost for both crepes comes up to:
8p for the mix, 10p for 2 slices of ham, 10p for the cheese, 10p for an egg, and about 10p for both the honey and the peanut butter (although of course, the initial outlay for both jars would be much higher), bringing it to a total of 48p for the entire lunch. If memory serves, an equivalent sweet crepe costs £3.50-£4.00, while the ham and cheese crepe costs £6.50-£7.50. How's that for savings?

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Pancake Mix£0.08128g+£0.26Fewer calories. Make your own with flour, milk, salt, butter and egg.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Savoury Rice with Ham & Cheese Omelette

My flatmates have been introduced to Economy Gastronomy on BBC2 and they have been hooked on it ever since. A common feature on the show involves the presenter chefs, Paul and Allegra, working together with the family whose food budget they're helping to reduce, to produce a fancy three-course meal for the family's friends or relatives within three hours using nothing but £10 and whatever they can find in the kitchen at that point in time.

Inspired by their success, I am starting a parody series, Ekonomi Gastronomi, which will consist of a few blog posts mimicking certain parts of the show, in this case, the one I just described. However, since I'm not a celebrity chef, and I did not plan a budget, for this blog I will produce a fancy one-course meal for myself using £1 and whatever I happened to have leftover from previous posts. So the meal for today is riz aux legumes with jambon and mild cheddar in an egg casing, or put simply, mixed vegetable savoury rice and ham & cheese omelette.

This was a chance find. Have never used this before, but can imagine that this could be a nice alternative to the plain rice that we are all used to. It turned out pretty okay.. perhaps a little salty, but it was still acceptable.

The British love their sandwiches, and in most supermarkets you would find an aisle dedicated to cooked meats and other sandwich fillings. There is a fairly comprehensive range of Basics ones, including cooked chicken tikka masala, but the one that most of us coming from overseas will be familiar with is ham. This comes in two varieties, cooked ham slices, as shown below, and wafer-thin ham, which is, as its name suggests, thinner than usual, and (for me at least) gives an excuse to put more of it into your sandwich. Of the latter, there is an interesting story to tell. Its predecessor to this was the Sainsbury's Basics Wafer-thin Pork Shoulder. I bought this in my second year at university, and regretted doing so. It tasted sweet, almost sickly sweet. I don't actually remember the honey-roasted wafer-thin ham being this sweet at all. I don't remember when they took it off their shelves, but was certainly disappointed to see it gone, because it would have otherwise made for a more entertaining post.

Sadly, all we have for today is the sliced ham. I didn't really want to have 400g of ham that nobody in the house wanted to eat, and those of you living in university dorms might not have a big enough fridge to hold so many items. This ham tastes pretty alright, but does leave a slightly overwhelming aftertaste. Possibly best served with as much bread as possible to compensate said aftertaste. Try not to feed your friends with this.

Alright. prepare the savoury rice by following the instructions on the back of the bag. While it's cooking, cut up the ham and cheese into little pieces.

Heat oil in a pan. While waiting, crack two eggs, and add milk and pepper. Beat with a fork, trying to get as much air into the mixture as possible. The more air, the fluffier the omelette.

Pour the egg mixture into the pan, and wait for it to set slightly. Add the ham and cheese, and attempt to fold over. Check the rice is done, put together, and serve.

So on to the costings, just like they do it on Economy Gastronomy. I used 2 slices of ham, which works out to be 10p. Add to this the savoury rice, which is 28p, the minute amount of cheese (10p?), the two eggs (20p), and the splash of milk, and the total cost comes up to just under 70p. Hopefully this doesn't come round to bite me in the future in terms of increased medical bills.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Cooked Ham£0.5210 slices+£0.48Higher meat content, better tasting ham, choice between smoked or honey roast
Savoury Rice£0.281+£0.18More variety, higher quality. Recommended.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Fruit & Fibre Cereal

Cereal is highly convenient for breakfast. The Basics range has three items to cater to the budget conscious, namely cornflakes, muesli - served in 1.5kg bags, and their latest entry, Fruit & Fibre. Originally I contemplated reviewing the muesli, since I had it when I was in my third year, but the thought of having to go through 1.5kg of mush put me off.

This cereal may be called Fruit & Fibre, but its fruit content is below 30%, so be forewarned, it might be a bit too bland for your liking. Also, due to settling of contents, your first bowl might be nothing but bran flakes. Since I had some honey leftover from the turkey article, I decided to use it to sweeten the cereal from time to time.

Adding yoghurt rather than milk might make for an interesting breakfast. The tartness of the yoghurt should contrast well against whatever sweetness the fruit in the cereal would provide, and ditto for texture between yoghurt and whole wheat flakes.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Fruit & Fibre cereal£0.64500g (£0.128 / 100g)+£0.85 for 750g (+£0.071 / 100g)Higher whole wheat and fruit content, lower fat and salt, no bran

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Bacon and Pea Risotto

I had to try to get rid of the cheese and bacon that has been slowly making themselves at home in my fridge. In some deep recess of my mind was this recipe which lo and behold, would use up the rest of the bacon and cheese. In the process of putting this together I've rediscovered one Basics item, and found two new ones.

The Commando Survival Manual states that herbs and spices are vital when living for extended periods of time outdoors, as they sustain morale by enlivening your rations or foraged food. Sad to say, the same can be said of living off cheaper food. And so, the Basics Herb Mix is a godsend. Never mind that it is mostly made of thyme, it still makes food taste just that little bit more bearable. I would have gotten this earlier, if not for lack of availability, and I still have fond memories of this seeing me through my third year of university.

This was a random photo I took of me using the herbs on some pasta just yesterday, to give you an idea of what the contents of the herbs look like.

Risotto usually calls for some sort of meat stock to boil the rice. The Basics range do not cover stock cubes, so I tried an alternative using chicken soup and the liquid from the processed peas can. What a terrible idea. This may have been the first time that I've encountered them, but the low chicken content in the soup should have set off warning bells.

Chicken soup contents. This will probably be the worst item I've had from the Basics range so far. At least the beef mince tasted good, if sinful, from its high fat content. This on the other hand tasted far too salty, and would turn out to be the item that single-handedly ruined the dish.

Once all ingredients are prepared, brown the onion, cook the bacon, and then fry the unwashed rice in the wok. Ensure the rice is well coated with oil, then season with pepper and herbs.

Add the peas, and then slowly add the microwaved chicken soup mixed with the water that comes in the canned peas. I used a tablespoon to add two spoonfuls at a time before a little stir. Eventually I got tired and poured the rest in and left it to boil.

After a while, add in shaved cheese to thicken the mixture, and stir. Turn off the stove and allow the entire thing to cook from the residual heat.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Herb Mix£0.23many+£0.51Wider range of flavours and smells. Recommended.
Creamed Chicken Soup£0.171+£0.27Better tasting soup. Recommended.
Processed Peas£0.12300g+£0.16None discernible

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Turkey LEGend

The last and only time I encountered the turkey drumstick was during my internship in the City. A flatmate who was staying with us thought it would be a good idea to buy this, debone it and use it in a stir-fry. Frankly speaking, it didn't go too badly, but that could be due to the oyster and soya sauce that she added.

This product is unique in the sense that there isn't any regular equivalent in Sainsbury's. Tesco carries this too in their value line, and again, there isn't any regular equivalent either. Hardly surprising, given that turkey seems to be good only when used as a beef mince or stir-fry replacement, and at Christmas dinners.

However, despite being notorious for its lack of taste and toughness when not done well, as you can see from the colour wheel, it is very low in fat. Given this, and its already-mentioned uniqueness, I thought I should do it some justice by revisiting and writing about it.

The problem was that I did not have much of an idea as to what I should be doing with it. My colleagues have suggested roasting, and there does not seem to be a better alternative. My flatmate's fiancee has worked wonders with roast chicken, using honey and balsamic vinegar for marinade. Given that I am restricting myself to using only Basics ingredients, I have decided to use these.

This will be the very first time I use them. First impressions of the clear honey are pretty good; side-by-side comparison with regular honey suggests that the make up is similar, if not identical, though as later noted in the data table, people have been suggesting that the clear honey is runnier. Still, it tastes sweet, so it must be doing alright for honey. The vinegar is thinner and slightly flatter than balsamic vinegar and even the vinegar they use at the fish and chip shop, but it still does the job.

Preparation is relatively straightforward; finely chop some garlic (Basics of course), lash on the honey and vinegar, and peel away some of the skin so that you can stuff some of the garlic between the skin and the meat. Let it marinate in the fridge for several hours before letting it roast in the oven at 200 deg Celcius.

In a moment of folly I failed to take a picture of the drumstick in its final state before cutting it up, but I do have a picture of the meat:

as well as what remained of the drumstick after cutting:
The end result is okay. The meat is not as tough as expected, and tasted somewhat like duck. The marinade... well the garlic comes out stronger in some parts, and the vinegar in others. Should have added more honey.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Turkey Drumstick£1.473N/ANot applicable; no other alternative
Vinegar£0.13568ml+£0.27Not known; writer usually uses balsamic vinegar, which is much better.
Clear Honey£0.68340g+£1.79 (for 454g)Not known; Google suggests standard honey is not as runny.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Salmon and Broccoli Baked Rice

Compared to the Jaffa Cakes mentioned in the previous article, baked rice is unheard of. They have something similar involving pasta, but it tends to have more sauce than baked rice. In any case, it's a nice way of trying to get rid of leftovers. For this article, I've decided to use two items that I've been familiar with since university, and a new one I just happened to chance across and take the opportunity to highlight a common thing that you might encounter while at Sainsbury's.

Notice that the Broccoli Florets have a reduced price. That's because I bought this exactly on its Display Until date, after which the staff are obligated to dispose of it. Note that this is not the Best Before date, and also note that some items would have both a display until date and best before date, while others will only have the latter, or a Use By date. Generally speaking, we've noted that items marked as reduced which are safe to buy are the vegetables and ready meals. My ex-roommate notes that because there are such high standards imposed on chicken it is generally very safe to buy them even if reduced. In addition, the beef also seems okay, but don't buy if completely discoloured (my ex-roommate and I disagree on this point).

This, by the way, is the only reason I bought the Broccoli Florets. I would have originally gotten the Frozen Vegetables, or a fresh broccoli head, but thought this would be a good excuse to write what I have just written.

Alright, on to the main points of interest. Cheese, if you were paying attention during your Health Education lessons in primary school, is a good source of protein and calcium. It's likely that you would be relying on this quite often in any sandwiches you pack for lunch. However, for a country where milk is rather cheap, cheese is actually pretty expensive. Then again, you get what you pay for, and the variety and quality is awesome; the regular cheddar comes in different maturities - the older the stronger tasting. And cheddar will not be the only type of cheese you'll come across at Sainsbury's.

The problem with Basics cheese is that while it is cheaper, up to half the price of regular cheddar, most of them are sold in blocks of about 625g. That will set you back about £3 for the mild cheese to £3.74 in the worst case, for full flavour cheddar. And given that the shelf life of these things are only about 3.5 weeks, it may not be very value for money, because you may not finish it all in time, unless you're a big cheese fan.

The only option of suitable size was the mild cheese, pictured above. But it tastes horribly bland. My two alternatives were: the full flavour cheddar, which, while good, is expensive; see above for pricing, and; the Basics Red Leicester cheese, which goes for around £3.20 for a ~625g block. While it has more flavour than the mild cheese, it's coloured a bright orange. I don't exactly want my cheese toast or my baked rice to look like Chernobyl. Both alternatives are sold only in 625g blocks, which presents problems already mentioned above.

There's more variety with salmon, although why anybody would be eating salmon while on a budget is anybody's guess. You can have either the smoked salmon trimmings, shown below, or the salmon fillets, which are £1.72 for about 215g in two fillets. The fillets were not around until towards the end of my university life, so most of the time my flatmates and I would be using the salmon trimmings for our cream pasta dishes.

Right. This item isn't too difficult to put together. Just fry onion and salmon together, add the garlic and broccoli, fry some more.

I've wanted at this point to wash the rice and add it to the mix, and then either transfer directly to the baking pan, or cook in the rice cooker and transfer. I didn't do either because at that point in time I was in a rush to get this done, so while I was preparing all the other ingredients, I just cooked the rice on its own.

The other thing I forgot to do was to make use of the Sainsbury's Basic chicken stock cubes on the rice. Maybe next time.

Lay the cheese on, toss into oven, and you're on your way.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Smoked Salmon£0.882 (120g)+£3.10 (2x60g)More complete segments of smoked salmon, as opposed to just trimmings
Mild Cheese£1.35 approx (£4.81 / kg)280g approx+£0.55 (+£3.13 / kg)Better tasting cheese. See blog post for further comments. Recommended.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Jaffa Cakes

Jaffa Cakes are a quintessentially British snack. They basically consist of a dry sponge cake base with orange jelly on the base at the centre (Jaffa is a type of orange, hence the name) and a chocolate shell to top it off. They are highly addictive - I am obliged to bring back a large number of these cakes for my family; my record is 4 boxes totalling 96 cakes. McVitie's - the company who first introduced them - even has a Jaffaholics Anonymous number set up, supposedly to deal with people who simply can't stop eating them.

Sad to say, the Sainsbury's Basics ones are a major disappointment. Compared to the original McVitie's Jaffa Cakes, the cake base is drier, and lose their moisture more quickly than the original when in the fridge. The orange jelly tastes sharper and a little more sour, and the chocolate coating can be quite thin.

Eating four of these things in one go actually gave me a slight burning in my stomach, something which I don't usually experience with the McVitie's ones.

Do yourselves a favour and get the original Jaffa Cakes from McVities'. Skip the house brands altogether.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Jaffa Cakes£0.5024 cakes+£0.50More moist cake, thicker chocolate top, sweeter orange filling. Recommended.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Poor Man's Carbonara

After Bolognese, Carbonara was the next item I learnt to cook while at university. It took a bit of experimentation to get right; some advice from Wikipedia and Jamie Oliver has helped. Amongst other things, the cream in Carbonara is actually an Americanism, it seems. In any case, I had cream left over from my post on truffles, and a whole hunk of cooking bacon that I'm going to have trouble clearing later, so Carbonara was ideal; I could clear the ingredients in my fridge, and revisit an university experience.

Eggs tend to be expensive here, with the exception of the low price eggs you get in the supermarkets, and perhaps the farmers markets too. Sainsbury's Basics eggs are actually quite okay - they taste perfectly fine, and the only problem you would encounter would be the inconsistent size from egg to egg.

Initially I wanted to use the spaghetti from this post, but it turns out that my flatmates had used it all with my blessings. This gave me the perfect opportunity to go get the other Basics pasta product they stock; the penne (price information in the link on this paragraph).

This penne, like the spaghetti, is a bit harder and starchier than its regular cousin. Unlike the spaghetti however, it doesn't take less time to cook relative to the regular penne. On the other hand, this would be excellent material if you're making a massive pasta bake for pot luck; I'm sure your friends would understand that you wouldn't want to spend too much on bulk cooking.

So we proceed as follows. We start off with another hunk from the packet of cooking bacon leftover from the poor man's bourguignon. I forgot to mention the last time by the way that I got lucky this time round, and the cooking bacon I have is very lean. Many of the other packets tend to have significantly more fat. The one in the picture is the fattiest.

Strip off the fat and dice the bacon, along with a few cloves of garlic.

Heat a wok up, and render the fat (you don't have to use all the fat), so that the wok is sufficiently greased. A healthier option would be to throw the fat away altogether and use olive oil. Or you could use Basic's Butter.

Fry the bacon. Meanwhile, beat the egg into the cream, season with pepper.

Cook the pasta and drain, but save some of the pasta water (about 4 tbsp per person). Add the garlic into the wok, but don't let it cook for too long or it would burn. Shortly after add the pasta and heat. Then and the pasta water, along with the egg-cream mixture.

Stir for a bit, then take it off heat and stir a bit more, letting the pasta cook the egg but not allowing it to coagulate. End result should look like this.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Eggs£1.85 (10.3p / Egg)18+15.9p / Egg (£2.39 for 15)More regular size, free-range

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