Sunday, 26 December 2010


Just a quick post to assure readers that I'm still around. I'm currently entertaining family and friends over the Christmas and New Year holiday season, and will try to resume blogging again once life returns to normal. Don't worry, I have a few recipes planned and am quite keen to tackle them.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Cold Brew Coffee

In between endless sessions of playing Alien Swarm, my outsourcee has been asking me for more products to sample and review. I have come across the Sainsbury's Basics Ground Coffee a few months ago and have thought of trying to do Tiramisu with it, as my former roommate made it on a regular basis and I wanted to have a go. Having been unable to find Basics alternatives to the other ingredients that made it up though, a number of my friends have suggested that the outsourcee could try his hand at making cold brew coffee.

The premise is simple - put a tablespoon of coffee and a cup of water together, and leave in the fridge for at least 8 hours. What you should have as the end result is a cold and refreshing alternative to one of the most common forms of caffeine intake. In practice, the outsourcee found that the drink did not even remotely resemble coffee (which I suppose was kind of the point, it's not meant to be coffee). It did however taste somewhat like coffee, and did keep him quite awake through the day, perhaps even more so than his usual order from the coffee shops.

And this is perhaps why: the Basics coffee is made from 100% Robusta beans. Those who are more familiar with their coffee would know that this has higher caffeine content than Arabica beans, which are more commonly found in most blends of coffee. They also happen to be cheaper, which makes it even more attractive as a cost-effective solution if one needed regular caffeine intake over a given period of time, like preparing for examinations or meeting a project deadline.

The outsourcee has yet to try this in a regular cup of coffee, as the effect of the caffeine currently coursing through his veins has yet to wear off, but he is happy to let you know how it is like, perhaps in a pre-Christmas footnote. I anticipate however that this is probably not so much for the coffee connoisseurs as it is for the caffeine junkies.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Ground Coffee£1.29227g+£variableBetter tasting coffee, maybe

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Shampoo and Conditioner

When I was at university, there were certain products that I tried to avoid from the Basics range, largely due to my suspicions of obvious inferior quality, and my expectations of how much they can get away with. Toiletries in general were a class of products that fell into this area, as it's not too difficult coming up with a shampoo that cleans and does nothing much else for cheap, and so, for my entire time in the UK I avoided such things.

Until my colleague, a regular reader, gave me the Basics shampoo and conditioner on my birthday to try. Now, other than my apprehension already described, there is also a hitherto unspoken policy I had when running this blog, and that is that I will try not to run reviews of non-food items, since it is difficult to demonstrate how to combine them with other items in the Sainsbury's Basics range to get something practical in everyday life (like you would when you put ingredients together to form dinner).

However, as I'm away on holiday, I need to outsource some of my evaluations of Sainsbury's Basics products to somewhere in Asia. As this is the first time I'm perusing their services, I've started them off with a simple review, with no cooking or food preparation involved, and the shampoo and conditioner were sent to them for evaluation, as it presented an excellent test case to see how well they would fare.

The outsourced reviewer was not as thrilled as my colleague was after trying the products. He told me that the shampoo was thin and left his hair dry and brittle after washing. The conditioner fared little better, although he did note that it did take away some of the dry feeling he felt. He hence recommends that the Sainsbury's Basics hair products should be avoided at all cost, and if they must be used, that the shampoo and conditioner be used together, to minimise the impact to hair.

In the meantime I am encouraged by the output from the outsourcee and have promised him that I will send more interesting products and an assignment that will involve making something soon.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Tuna Avocado Pasta

I have never really had to cook with avocados, largely because I'm not too keen on them. I would happily eat guacamole, and would tolerate them in salads, but other than that, I would not go out of my way to have them. It is only because my flatmate had some Basics avocados that were near their Best Before date that I decided to have a play with them, so that you might be acquainted with them.

Usually coming in bags of four, each Basics avocado tends to be slightly smaller than the standard ones, and are not as ripe. Given that most recipes call for the avocados being peeled and chopped up though, this shouldn't make much difference. I would imagine that they would also keep for longer, although they are probably not best used immediately.

As I had a can of Basics tuna around and some cream cheese, I decided to make the pasta equivalent of a tuna and avocado salad. So, once you peel the avocado and remove the stone, dice it. Heat oil in a pan and fry the avocado together with about a can of Basics tuna. Include the tuna water, to prevent the avocado from burning.

Season generously with black pepper and Basics herb mix. Add Basics cheese spread and cooked Basics penne to the pan and turn off the heat, mixing thoroughly.


The mild fragrance of the avocado complimented the savoury tuna, contributing to an enjoyable meal that can serve well both in the colder months of winter as well as over the summer. The cheese spread however completely disappeared into the tuna, nowhere to be found. I suppose omitting the cheese and compensating by adding more pepper would allow for a lighter dish while still maintaining the overall flavour.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Avocados£1.394+£0.40 for 2Bigger size, riper avocados

Monday, 15 November 2010

Instant Bak Chor Mee

Over the weekend, I had to run a few tasks in addition to my regular routine, and so had less time than usual for meals. As a result, I had to resort to preparing something quick. Given that I had a fair bit of cooked turkey mince left over from the previous post, it wasn't long before I decided to resort to cooking instant noodles and microwaving the mince to go with it.

While I was at it though, a thought came to mind that I could prepare the instant noodles without the soup. I will still use the soup base to cook the noodles, but then I would remove them from the soup and add a few additional seasonings to it, namely Basics vinegar and some sesame oil. I would have added soya sauce as well, but figured that the noodles will already be slightly salty from the soup base.

The result is a weak analogue to the bak chor mee that I enjoy back home. If I had greater flexibility about the number of non-Basics ingredients I could add to a recipe, it would probably come quite close. Still, it's worth knowing that the Basics turkey mince can indeed be used in this way, and that the Basics instant noodles are just as good when they are served dry as when they are served in soup.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Turkey Zha Jiang Mian

Zha jiang mian, or fried sauce noodles, is commonly found in China, consisting of wheat noodles served with a pork sauce made by frying pork mince with fermented soya bean paste. Over here in the UK, my flatmates have made variations of stir-fried noodles by frying spaghetti with a variety of ingredients and condiments. I chanced upon Sainsbury's Basics turkey mince while shopping at my local, and thought that because it has been a while since I have managed to describe something my acquaintances or I cooked while at university that I have not covered yet, this would be suitable for review.

I still have not gotten round to taking a look at the Parmesan substitute they have put on the shelf, and yet it seems that Sainsbury's is introducing more products to the Basics range than I can keep up with. The number of turkey products - both in the Basics range and in general - seems to have a sudden increase, perhaps in line with the supermarket chain preparing for the Christmas season, since roast turkey is always served on that day. We now have Basics turkey mince, and although it is more expensive than the Basics beef mince, it is certainly a lot lower in fat. Probably suitable as a cheap alternative to lean steak mince.

So, in a wok, brown the turkey mince with one clove of garlic. Season with black pepper, Sainsbury's Basics herb mix, and if desired, some vinegar. Once browned, add half a can of Basics sweetcorn.

After adding the sweetcorn, add some black bean chilli sauce. You can find this at most grocery shops in Chinatown.

Cook Sainsbury's Basics spaghetti according to instructions. Drain and add to the wok, stirring until noodles are coated with the sauce. Serve.

The turkey mince, when cooked, has a significant but not strong taste reminiscent of pork, but still absorbs other flavours. The texture is rather fine and powdery, which would actually make it suitable for use in bak chor mee, or minced pork noodles; in fact, if not for the complexity involved in making the noodle sauce, I would have probably featured that recipe instead of this one.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Turkey Mince£2.00550g-£0.01 for 500gBetter tasting cheese spread. Skip both and go for cream cheese.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Fish Finger Sandwich

This is yet another new product in the Sainsbury's Basics range. I don't ever remember Sainsbury's ever including a cheese spread in any of their lines, although in my times at university I remembered using Primula ham and cheese spread to go with bread for breakfast. It was a reminder of the Kerrygold Ham and Cheese spread that I was so fond of when I was growing up.

Had this been around when I was studying, I would most certainly foregone any benefits in taste and bought this. At 42p I could easily buy three of these and my total spend would still be lower than if I were to buy one tube of Dairylea.

For the fish finger sandwich that I will have for lunch today, I decided to make an analogue to tartar sauce by combining the cheese spread with some Basics French dressing, with some interesting results.

The assembly of the rest of the sandwich is pretty straightforward: one slice of bread, some Basics cheddar cheese, 3 fish fingers and then the tartar sauce.

It might be a good idea to bake the 3 fish fingers in a way such that as little of the fingers are in contact with the baking tray. The fingers have a tendency to stick to the foil owing to the oil that seeps out during cooking.

The sandwich was enjoyable, even without the tang of tartar: any excuse to replace an ingredient with cheese would after all be welcome. While the cheese spread was not that strong tasting as promised by the packaging, it would serve as a good substitute for the mayonnaise in mayo-based sauces.
DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Cheese Spread£0.42150g+£0.63 for DairyleaBetter tasting cheese spread. Skip both and go for cream cheese.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Beef in a Bag

So it appears that another item in the Sainsbury's range has been demoted from the regular in-house range to Sainsbury's Basics. After the Grated Hard Cheese, the other product I have spotted to have had the chop is the pitted olives (both black and green). When the recession hit hardest, Sainsbury's actually reported a spike in sales of its Basics range, so one could speculate that they are rebranding several of their own-brand products in a bid to get customers who identify with Sainsbury's Basics to purchase them.

For today, I decided to grab the olives and some Basics Diced Beef. I would then add some mushrooms to the mix, and then use a method I learnt from Jamie Oliver to cook it in the oven. It basically involves making a foil bag to put the ingredients in, before popping the lot in the oven. It also makes for convenient meals as well as the bags can be prepared in advance and frozen for future meals.

So we start by slicing up some garlic, the olives and mushrooms.

On a 30cm by 30cm sheet of foil, place the ingredients in the centre and season with black pepper. Fold the sheet in half, and then fold each side twice towards the centre, creating a bag. See the second picture down from this sentence to have a rough idea of how it should be done.

Pop into the oven and bake at 225 degrees Celsius until done.

This was a very effective way of cooking the Basics Diced Beef, well known for its toughness and hence the need to resort to slow cooking methods. The mushrooms also provided the liquid which could be used to further stew the beef. I suppose I am now looking forward to baking the second bag of beef that I also prepared in the same session, some time in the future.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Black Pitted Olives in Oil£0.9990g+£1.20 for 180gDifferent methods of dressing and styles.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Cheddar and Bell Pepper Strata

While it seems that bread and butter pudding never really caught on in the United States, a savoury version of this did. I came across the idea of a strata while searching for recipes to use up the remainder of the cheddar cheese from previous posts. Somewhere between a bread pudding and a quiche, the dish calls for the layering of buttered bread slices with other ingredients to form strata, with the assembly flooded with milk and eggs.

The recipe I have decided to use today came from Epicurious, and allowed me to conveniently use not just my cheese, but the rest of my milk and the Basics mustard that has been living in my fridge for months. I also realise that I have not really paid attention to any vegetarians amongst my readers, so consider this my olive branch to you.

This time round I used Basics pitta bread over white sliced bread, the former having fewer pittas than the sliced loaf has slices. This is good as I am not planning to be home over the next week, and Basics bread products usually spoil very quickly.

Butter the bread, slice up a Basics bell pepper and an onion, and grate or cut some cheese into thin slices.

Start layering the strata. Begin with half of the buttered bread, followed by a layer of cheese.

Fry the onions and peppers. Use this as a third layer for the strata. Repeat the layering process with the rest of the ingredients, layered in the same order.

Prepare the egg and milk mixture. Beat an egg into about 3/4 cups of milk, and add a teaspoon of Basics mustard. Season with pepper and herb mix, and then pour into

Bake in the oven at 175 degrees Celsius for about 30-45 minutes. You want to see the strata set at the centre and lightly browned on top.

The comments on the Epicurious recipe generally recommend leaving the strata to rest for at least 6 hours before baking. While it might help, I don't think it is absolutely necessary. Overall however, this was good, filling, and cheap. Most of the ingredients are readily available in a student's larder, with the possible exception of the bell peppers and mustard.

I realise that I have been focussing quite a bit on American dishes of late. Hopefully the next post would see me return to my familiar pattern of looking at the UK or my hometown.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Beer Cheese Soup

If there is anything I have learnt while spending four years studying at an university in the UK, it is that there are two items that are vital to the kitchen of any student, and they are cheese and beer. Cheese can be bought cheaply, lasts long, and is filling. Beer largely has the same attributes, is an integral part of British culture, and also has the added advantage of providing some form of relaxation or distraction from the more annoying aspects of student life, notably, studying.

So I find it surprising that up till now, nobody I know has tried to incorporate the two together in food. A recent discovery while reading through the Everything Meals on a Budget Cookbook turned up an interesting idea: Beer Cheese Soup. Further searches on Google revealed that this is actually quite popular in Wisconsin, the biggest producer of cheddar cheese in the United States. There is also a Youtube video which shows food journalist Anthony Bourdain sampling the fare at a local restaurant and discussing the dish.

Unlike the premium ingredients used in the video however, we are going to use humbler and more affordable ingredients. Previous posts on this blog have already introduced the Sainsbury's Basics full-flavour cheddar cheese and middle bacon, so today's new ingredient is, for better or worse, Sainsbury's Basics Lager. Surprisingly, I do not know any student who actually has had to resort to drinking this. I suppose it is a matter of priorities; students would prefer to scrimp on their food budgets so that they can afford better quality beer. A taste test by my flatmate and I quickly revealed why, and it seems that a BeerAdvocate user agrees with our observations, the beer striking us most as coloured water.

The recipe on which I based my post on can be found here. I have deviated a bit from it, mostly to conserve on the amount of fat used and to compensate for the lack of ingredients in my kitchen. Start by frying the bacon until crisp, and then using the drippings from the bacon to fry some chopped celery and carrot. If you become uncomfortable about the amount of fat that is coming from the bacon, feel free to remove them from the wok and use the oven to take care of the rest of the cooking.

Add flour to the vegetables to make a roux. Pour in half of the beer from the can, and add a chicken stock cube.

Add some milk, and slowly stir in the cheese until the soup is thick and smooth. Add the beer and stir for a while. Serve with bacon for garnish.

Anthony Bourdain was told that Beer Cheese Soup found its way into Wisconsin cuisine since it provided nourishment to the people coping with the cold harsh winters common to the region, and I could not agree more. This would provide some comfort at meal times as the weather in the UK starts to take a turn for the worse. As it is, the soup is cheap to procure, but if you want to further reduce costs, you can substitute the middle bacon with Sainsbury's Basics Cooking Bacon and the cheddar with the Basics Grated Mild Hard Cheese, both of which have a significantly lower cost per unit quantity than the ingredients they replace.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Bacon Cheese Pizza

Sainsbury's recently lowered the price of their Basics mozzarella cheese balls to 30p, just in time for the start of the academic year. I had made a batch of bread dough earlier on in the week for bread to supplement my dinner, so I took the opportunity to make a pizza with the remainder of my dough, the leftover Basics pasta sauce I have, and the now-cheaper mozzarella cheese ball.

In recent times I have started craving for bacon, and while surfing the Net for related articles I suddenly recall the streaky bacon that I am so used to back home but have forgotten, having gotten used to back bacon being the norm here in the UK. The closest thing that the Basics range have are the middle bacon rashers, and not having tried these before and being informed by Wikipedia that these are a cross between streaky and back bacon, I thought I would give these a try.

As you can tell from the picture on the right, the rasher is made of two parts, the medallion hanging off which is usually part of the back bacon, and the rest of it, which you would usually find in streaky bacon. The only problem that I have with this is that they are expensive, at £1.99 for a 450g pack. By comparison, although not exactly the same class of product, a 670g pack of Basics cooking bacon will go for £1.52, although in exchange for a lower price you would end up with part rashers and a variety of other loose cuts of either streaky, back or middle bacon.

I'm hungry, so let's proceed. Take out your bread dough and lay it flat on a sheet of foil, which has been dusted with floor or spread with some oil, so that the dough will not stick while baking. Leave for 25 mins.
Add the toppings. Start with the pasta sauce, then the cheese, then whatever you wish to add to the pizza. Finish with Basics herb mix.

Cook in the oven at 225 degrees Celsius for about 30 minutes.

The only problem with this pizza was the pasta sauce, which we know all along to be rather inadequate. It also might have been a good idea to bake the base first partially before laying on the ingredients. Overall however, the fundamentals of this recipe are sound, and merit another attempt in future.

Price per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Middle Bacon£1.99450g+£0.01 for 225gStreaky bacon instead of middle bacon
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