Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Pepperoni Pizza

I am a bit tired of cooking today, so I decided to just pick something up from Sainsbury's to pop into the oven or microwave. Something compelled me however to do a mini-post on the Basics Pepperoni Pizza that you can find in the fresh pizza counter at Sainsbury's.

These have been around for about a year or so now, but I've never really thought of reviewing this; when it was first introduced, the amount of pepperoni and cheese was measly, at best. It appears that things have gotten slightly better now, but still not enough to justify the £1.59 price tag. For £2.30 I can buy the 12" Basics pizza for £1 and Basics pepperoni for £1.29, and last for two meals.

It seems however that today's Basics pizzas were reduced to clear, so I happily bought one, dressed it up with what remained of my Basics Brie and some Basics herb mix, and popped the lot into the oven.

The pizza was left a little too long in the oven unfortunately, which would explain why it looks so dark in the picture. The pepperoni tastes exactly like the Basics Pepperoni you would find at the Deli meat aisle, and the cheese is somewhat like the Basics Grated Hard Cheese mentioned elsewhere in this blog. The base was alright, reminding me of the base found in deep pan frozen pizzas, without the thickness. Overall, not unpleasant to eat, but not value-for-money unless marked down for clearance.

Price per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Pepperoni Pizza£1.591+£0.80Bigger pizza, choice of crust, bigger and more pepperoni.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Chicken-Fried Steak Parmigiana

Back in my days at university I remembered that I shared quite a few grocery items with my roommate. One of these was a 250g plastic can of Sainsbury's Grated Hard Cheese, that we would use to sprinkle liberally on anything remotely Italian: Bolognese, Carbonara, even Swedish Meatballs from Ikea. Still, given our love for cheese and our inability to afford the more authentic Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano and Grana Padano, it kept our spirits high, at least at mealtimes, while we worked out way through university.

Sainsbury's recently reorganised their cheese section, and added a few new items across the range. I originally intended to use this blog post to investigate the new Basics Italian Hard Cheese, made with both buffalo and cow's milk, in contrast to the sole use of cow's milk for the three Italian hard cheese mentioned above. However, I don't currently have a cheese grater in my kitchen, and doubt that I can finish a wedge of hard cheese in 2 months, especially given the lack of Basics cashew nuts at my local to combine with to make pesto. It was around that time that I discovered that, horrors of horrors, the Grated Hard Cheese has been demoted to the Basics range.

I suppose that with the apparent upturn in the economy, Sainsbury's thinks that it can afford to target the more upmarket consumers and rearrange their product line in a bid to encourage them to buy the more expensive items. Given the circumstances then, I will have to put off the review of the Basics Italian Hard Cheese to later. Perhaps a shoot-out between that and its other equivalents in the Basics and other ranges is in order.

Let's focus on today though. I have one more Basics frying steak left, and given that similar cuts of beef are commonly used in the southern parts of the United States to make chicken-fried steak (effectively steak, battered and deep-fried like chicken), it might be fun to try to do this. Topping it with cheese and tomato sauce before baking the whole thing would then make it a Parmigiana of sorts.

So start first by preparing some flour mixed with pepper, and a mixture of milk and egg (approximately 1:1 and beaten together, unlike the 2:1 unbeaten mixture shown in the photo). Dredge the steak in the flour first, then the milk-egg mixture, and then the flour again, so that the steak looks like below.

Deep fry the steak, or if you're feeling healthy, fill a shallow pan with enough oil to cover the bottom surface, and then fry both sides.

Put into baking tray and top with Basics pasta sauce and the Basics Grated Hard Cheese. If you want you could also supplement it with a soft cheese. I had some Basics Brie still hanging around in my fridge so I used that.

Put the steak into the oven at 180-200 degrees Celsius. Ideally, the batter of the steak will still remain crisp, without the cheese burning out. Meanwhile, cook some Basics spaghetti. Skim off the oil in the pan used to fry the steak, leaving just a little behind. Use this to fry the spaghetti with herb mix after it is done. If you still have some of the milk-egg mixture remaining you can add this to the mix to make a primitive carbonara.

This recipe can be time consuming, but curiosity can get the better of you and help you see it through to the finish. The ingredients involved all seem to be very mild in flavour so feel free to be a bit more liberal with the seasonings, eg the pepper and Basics herb mix. Just like other items found in Southern States cuisine, this can be a very hearty meal to keep you warm over the winter, or freak summer weather spells like the one we've seen recently.

Price per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Grated Hard Cheese£2.50250gN/AN/A; no direct alternative

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Brie Rice Bisque

With a significant block of Basics Brie cheese to go, I had to start looking of ways to get rid of it. Taking the opportunity to try to run down other items in my inventory, I searched for recipes on Google, using the items I have on hand as keywords. Unfortunately, looking for "Brie Rice recipe" only turned up this particular page. I slowly warmed to the idea, deciding to substitute the chicken and leeks that the recipe called for with other ingredients. That the recipe came from USA Rice Federation gave me some amusement; after all, Sainsbury's Basics Long Grain Rice is usually American in origin.

For today I would be adding seafood sticks and broccoli florets to Brie and rice to make some sort of Brie rice bisque, a form of poor man's baked rice. The seafood sticks were recently reintroduced, as far as I can tell, to the Basics range, so I was quite keen to get my hands on some. The broccoli florets were actually a mistake, please avoid buying this and just buy loose broccoli if you want to save on money and can afford the extra time.

So we start by frying the broccoli and chopped crabsticks on medium heat. Add the rice to the pan and season with black pepper and Basics herb mix.

Make some chicken stock from half a stock cube and some water. Add to pan, and let simmer under cover for about 10 minutes. Stir and add hot water when necessary.

Break the brie up into pieces and add to the pan. Let it melt for a while before stirring it completely in. Add some milk, turn up the heat, and cover for about 2-3 minutes.

The Brie actually mingled well with the rice, and the resultant texture was quite pleasant. This made for quite a filling meal with plenty of bulk coming from the rice and seafood sticks, which also balanced out the potential stodginess of the cheese. Given that the sticks cost only 50p and can last for four meals, this is probably quite cheap to procure, more so when you substitute the Brie with a cheaper cheese like the Basics mild grated cheese featured some time ago.

Price per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
French Mild Brie£0.95200g+£0.84 for 300gBetter-tasting Brie, choice between French Mild, French ripening or Somerset (prices may differ)
Broccoli Florets£0.79300g+£0.31Half portions of cauliflower and broccoli, more regular shapes. Skip both and get loose broccoli instead.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Strawberry and Brie Baguette

To be honest, I bought the Basics Brie not only because I wanted to make cheesesteak, but also because I came across an interesting article on my RSS news reader about somebody who tried making a Raspberry and Brie panini. Long story short, it convinced her to buy a panini maker.

By my books, if a recipe can persuade a person to buy expensive kitchen equipment, it has got to be pretty good, or even one step away from life-changing (after all, that eqiupment is going to affect the person's kitchen habits one way or another). The problem though is that I had to make do with the Sainsbury's Basics Strawberry Jam since their range is so limited. On the other hand, strawberries are nothing like raspberries, for a start, the latter tend to be quite tart. If memory serves, the writer of the panini article was waxing lyrical about how the smoothness of the brie contrasted perfectly with the raspberry.

Given how sweet the Basics jam is however, I don't really see this happening. The fruit content is pretty low too, so it might feel as if I'm just eating melted sugar jelly. Yet at the same time, I was really curious as to how the combination would turn out, so without much hesitation, I put bits of Brie on one side of the other baguette half, spread jam on the other, and grilled for a while.

The sandwich was actually quite pleasant, almost like a cross between a Victoria Sponge and a strawberry cheesecake all wrapped in crusty coating. It might be a welcome lunch alternative, especially to those who have a sweet tooth.

Price per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
French Mild Brie£0.95200g+£0.84 for 300gBetter-tasting Brie, choice between French Mild, French ripening or Somerset (prices may differ)
Strawberry Jam£0.38454g+£0.60Higher fruit content, reduced sugar option

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Brie Cheesesteak

It seems that the leftover Basics groceries I've accumulated over the past few weeks or so would lend themselves to making a cheesesteak. Since childhood, I have been fond of food combining beef and cheese together, including cheeseburgers, pizza, bolognese and lasagna. I have never tried a Philly Cheesesteak however, and having spent some time in the States walking their streets and sampling their fare, I'm curious about it, and hope that if I were ever to go on a culinary roadtrip through America with like-minded friends, Philadelphia would be one of the stopovers.

In the meantime though, I will have to make do with the groceries I have, and a little bit of applied creativity. The problem however is that I do not have cheese, and one would assume that cheese makes up half the cheesesteak. Of the common cheeses listed in Wikipedia that go into a cheesesteak, Provolone and Cheese Whiz are not easily obtainable in the UK, the former only available at Harrod's and specialist cheese shops, and the latter being almost impossible to find. I could use mozzarella or processed cheese singles too, but I have already covered both in earlier blog posts. 

The next mild cheese I had in mind was the Basics Brie. I remember having come across this variety of cheese in various places, including articles on the Web using it as an ingredient, dinners in ski resorts and at various receptions held by companies to recruit university students. The labelling describes it as a soft mild cheese, which I felt would make it a viable candidate as a cheesesteak cheese. Sad to say then, that the Sainsbury's Basics Brie could be described in three words: "I've had better." Really, you would have thought that the French would have more pride than to make products like this.

So start by slicing up your beef and whatever garnish you wish to add to your cheesesteak. Mix together and season with liberal amounts of black pepper.

Bake a Sainsbury's Basics Part-Baked Baguette in the top rack of the oven, with the prepared beef and garnish at the bottom rack.

Once both are ready, split baguette in half. Put beef on one side and slices of brie on the other. You might find it useful to use a very sharp knife when cutting the brie. A blunt knife would force you to use more pressure, ruining the form of the brie in the process.

Press baguette halves firmly together, wrap in foil, and put in oven at 200 degrees Celsius for about 5 minutes.

It's a shame that I was working with Basics cheese, as I think its regular counterpart would have had more flavour, and lend itself better to the cheesesteak. Overall however, the cheese probably made the sandwich quite filling, despite the reduced amount of beef I had used.

Now, what I actually did with the other half of the baguette would be made known in my next post.

Price per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Frying Steaks£6.77/kg3-4 steaks+£2.14/kgMore regularly shaped steaks, better cuts of beef?
French Mild Brie£0.95200g+£0.84 for 300gBetter-tasting Brie, choice between French Mild, French ripening or Somerset (prices may differ)

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Steak Fajita Pasta

A colleague of mine got wind of the large pack of Basics frying steaks that I have acquired in my excitement. Knowing that I might have some trouble finishing it up before the expiry date, and given where he's based, he suggested that I try making fajitas. On this occasion however, I got lazy. Since I wasn't keen on getting the Basics pitta bread to substitute for tortillas, and wanting to run down my inventory of Basics items, I decided to add pasta for my staple.

Fajitas are usually done using skirt steak or flank steak, both taken from the front of the cow. These are considered to be one of the most flavourful cuts, but can be difficult to cook because they tend to get tough very easily, since they're near the respiratory system and hence consist of very lean well-exercised muscle. There are generally two approaches to cope with this; acid-based marinades would soften the muscle fibres through hydrolysis, while searing quickly would seal the insides of the meat, keeping it juicy, so long as no further heat is applied. Unfortunately, I am still unable to identify the exact cut of beef which the Basics frying steaks are taken from.

So, the night before, prepare the steak by cutting it into bite-size pieces. Marinate overnight with lime juice, pepper and Basics herb mix.

The next day, mince some garlic, and slice some onions and peppers into slivers.

Heat up some oil in a pan, and bring some water to the boil for the pasta. Mix the garlic into the marinating beef.

Begin cooking the pasta. Fry the onions first, then add the beef to the pan. Sear for about 20-30 seconds.

Turn off the heat and add the peppers, letting the whole thing cook off the residual heat from the electric coil. If using a gas stove, just lower to lowest possible setting.

Add the pasta when ready, coat it in the gravy, and serve. The Mexican food purists amongst you would do best to skip the next photo.

Thanks to the quick-cooking nature of the steak, this didn't take too long to produce. Probably not something that you would want to serve your friends for dinner due to the controversy of fusing two distinctly different cuisines together, but it might be fun to cook this for yourself.

Now I have to watch my back; if the mafia don't get me for bringing shame to their country, an angry mariachi mob will for bringing shame to theirs.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Steak and Mushrooms

Many of my compatriots from home enjoy a good steak, and since most of us come from relatively well-to-do families, do get to have it fairly easily. Once on their own studying here in London however, they tend to cut back on expenses as living costs are high. Even so, thanks to Sainsbury's Basics, they can still get to eat steak occasionally.

So you could imagine my disappointment when I learnt that Sainsbury's discontinued the Basics Frying Steaks a few months ago. A member of staff told me that they are a seasonal item for summer barbecues, but I remembered eating these in the dead of winter. Perhaps she was mistaken.

You could also imagine my elation when I discovered that these were available once again in more recent times. This time round, I told myself, I will not miss the opportunity to document this, lest it goes away again. Since I was not very hungry I just decided to have a couple of large mushrooms to go with the steak. It is common in cheap British cafe restaurants, or "greasy spoons", to further supplement this with a fried egg, a grilled tomato, and chips.

Cooking is simple and shall only be described in pictures. Take care not to cook the steak for too long, as it gets done very quickly.

A nice thing about frying steaks is that if you do not mind having to clean up the kitchen afterwards, as noted above, they cook very quickly, and so they can be a very quick convenient meal for busy people. The steak comes from a cut of beef that doesn't appear exceptionally tender or flavourful, but for steak, it is very affordable.

Price per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Frying Steaks£6.77/kg3-4 steaks+£2.14/kgMore regularly shaped steaks, better cuts of beef?

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Burger Salad Pasty

I still had some leftover dough from the last post. I figured that I could attempt to make a pasty of some sort, using the one remaining Basics burger patty in my freezer and some vegetables.

I still remember being introduced to the pasty when I was much younger, seeing it on the lunch menu and thinking that the word "pasty" was probably a typo. The person serving me wasn't particularly happy that I asked for "cornish pastry" however, and got me to repeat the correct word twice and explained to me what it really was before giving me what I wanted.

Since I was using burger patty as pasty filling, I thought it might be a good idea to also use common burger condiments for seasoning. To this end, I chose mustard and French dressing, the latter a key component in the Big Mac special sauce, according to Top Secret Recipes and other sources. In addition, while getting vegetables for today's lunch, I noticed that the Sainsbury's Basics mushrooms were now quite interesting. The supermarket chain has been offering 2-3 large flat white mushrooms for 50p for some time now, and it seems that some of the large mushrooms that don't make the cut find their way into the Basics range. I mean, look at the size of these!

So start by chopping up the ingredients you want in your pasty. I used the mushroom, a Sainsbury's Basics burger patty for meat, and 2 cloves of garlic for flavour.

Fry the ingredients, meat first, then garlic, then vegetables. Add half a teaspoon of Basics mustard and Basics French dressing to season.

Throw in a few spinach leaves picked from the Sainsbury's Basics Young Leaf Salad to add to the wok. prepare the pasty casing by taking the dough from the Murtabak recipe and pressing it into a flat sheet on some aluminium foil. Place the filling into the centre, and wrap into a pasty. Or at least some semblance of it.

Bake for 200 degree Celsius in the oven until golden brown.

This is a hearty alternative to your regular burgers, and a nice way to use up leftovers. Given its similarity to curry puffs, and the availability of Basics canned chicken curry, I might want to look into making some, once I get over having to deep-fry stuff and cleaning up after that.
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