Friday, 30 December 2011

Chocolate Wafer Biscuits

While stocking up on snacks that I might want to have for my flight out of London for the holidays last month, I came across these Sainsbury's Basics Chocolate Wafer Biscuits. I bought myself a pack, thinking that I would be able to kill two birds with one stone, having something to eat and featuring it on this blog. Given that the length of this blog post will not amount to much though, I thought I might as well write about it while everybody is away on holiday, and save the meatier material for after the festive season.

For its price, the chocolate coating is decent and is light enough to not spoil your main meals even if you eat these close to dinner or lunch time. At the same time, have a couple of these and you would be able to last for a bit. As with the Bourbon Creams reviewed some time ago, these are really good so it's probably safe to assume that quality across the Basics biscuits range is on par with their regular own-brand counterparts.

 DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Milk Chocolate Coated Wafer Biscuits£0.426+£0.58 for 9Not known

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Mince Puffs and other Christmas sweets

Christmas is upon us, and with that comes the usual festive dinners and general eating. We are in the midst of a eurozone crisis however, as the states that make up continental Europe have put various austerity measures into effect. Since Europe is the UK's largest trading partner, it's no surprise that people here would feel it too, but nonetheless it was rather surprising to have come across so many more Christmas-themed items in the Sainsbury's Basics range than the Basics Christmas Pudding I spotted in 2010. Seeing that this is the run up to Christmas I thought I should interrupt my usual publishing to write this so that you may know what is currently available.

I can't buy them all though, since I didn't want to spend all of winter eating them myself, so I decided to make do with the Basics Mince Puffs. These particularly amuse me, as about 3 Christmases ago, Sainsbury's actually did a Basics version of Mince Pies, as reviewed on Terrific Horrific. I have failed to spot them last year though, and given that mince-related items come out around this time of year, I'm guessing this is the substitute.

The puffs contain 42% mince, and as you can tell from the pic below, they fail to take up the generous space offered by the pastry. While they are not unpleasant, and are pretty cheap, I believe they are relatively poor value, and are no substitute for proper mince pies that are one of the key things that make a Christmas dinner.

I will be taking a break from writing to commemorate Christmas, and I'm sure that you would be enjoying yourself over the next few weeks or so. Have a blessed Christmas and a fruitful New Year!

 DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Mince Puffs£0.638+£0.37 for 6Actual mince pies. Recommended.
Christmas Pudding£0.98454g+£1.52Higher fruit content, healthier
Iced Rich Fruit Cake£1.90400g+£0.25Higher fruit content, healthier

Thursday, 8 December 2011


EU regulations on food create a lot of waste - fruit and vegetables that are perfectly edible but oddly shaped cannot be sold in stores, as per the EU's Commission Regulation (EEC) No 1677/88 . Only vegetables and fruit that are considered as close in appearance and size to the European ideal are given the dubious honour of Class I, with those that are not, but not grotesquely misshapen enough to be discarded, designated Class II.

The same applies to grapes. When I came across these I suspected that these grapes failed to pass muster due to their colour, not being red enough for consumption. The labelling also seemed to suggest a problem with sizing as well. Either way I found them to be perfectly fine.

And in this case, they were seedless too. Given the regular grapes cost more than twice as much, I feel rather smug about finding this. I'm still not sure what exactly made these fail classification as Class I, but if there is an opportunity to engage in a consumer's version of what finance professionals call regulatory arbitrage, I will surely take it.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Grapes£1.00500g1.25Choice between white, red, or red and white.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Cod Fishcakes

I never understood the appeal of fishcakes. Wikipedia suggests that the fish cake, as the British know it, came about as a means for astute housewives to make the most of leftover fish and potatoes. So as I snubbed them for the umpteenth time at the company canteen in favour of the steak pie on Fish Friday, I wondered to myself as to why catering would offer them in the first place. Who would want to deliberately eat leftovers?

However, as I wandered through Sainsbury's later looking for something to pop into the oven while I showered, I came across the Basics Breaded Cod Fishcakes. I realised that I was getting bored of most of the other things that I usually have on weekdays, namely breaded chicken, fish fingers and pizzas, and so decided to give these a go.

The fishcakes are smaller than the ones offered in Sainsbury's own-brand fresh and frozen ranges; you would probably need 2-3 of these to make a meal. Don't be fooled by the labelling - 53% of 66% (that's the amount of cod that goes into the fishcake, ie. 53% of the fishcake that makes up 66% of the total) is somewhere around 34% which means that this is more carbohydrate than protein.

The fishcakes were pleasant, although the texture leaves much to be desired, with very few reminders of flaky fish and more of creamed potato. To be honest, I would rather have the fish fingers, which are cheaper, and yet have more fish per unit weight.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Cod Fishcakes£1.3910, 500g+£1.61 for 2, 300gIncludes bacon,slightly higher cod content

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Taste Test: Bourbon Creams

A while ago I had the chance to talk to two people who worked in the groceries sector. Through our conversations they got to know that I ran this blog and asked me certain queries about their own value line, specifically my attitude towards it, so that they could understand what their consumers want. I noted that while most people I know treated value lines as a way to reduce expenditure on frequently used essential items, I have noticed that there is another demographic distinct from this - that of university student societies and clubs.

Some memories came back of eating Sainsbury's Basics crisps and other such tidbits while attending various meetings held by the societies I participated in. A thought occurred to me if what they were doing was just a way to stretch out of extreme necessity the club's budget for as long as it can hold out, or if they were really on to something.

Where I work now, it is customary for a member of the team to bring something to snack on for our weekly team meetings. I thought that it would be the perfect opportunity for me to bring along two lines of Sainsbury's Bourbon Creams, one Basics, one own-brand, and arrange for a blind taste test. With that in mind, I got to the office early that morning, piled the biscuits into two separate plates and set them before my colleagues to sample from. Surprisingly it was difficult to tell them apart, as they tasted the same. That is, until somebody spotted a visual difference in the biscuits themselves.

The photograph you see below is a poor attempt at showing that difference. The Sainsbury's Basics Bourbon Cream on the left has less chocolate cream compared to the regular own-brand one on the right. To be honest, as noted above, none of us at the workplace could tell the difference, so considering the savings of almost 50%, if you are buying biscuits in bulk for the next gathering of any sort, do give the Bourbon Creams a try.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Bourbon Creams£0.45400g0.38Thicker chocolate filling.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Cashew-crusted Salmon

As I start to actively explore other areas of the Sainsbury's Basics range that I have not gotten round to reviewing, I noticed that there is a lack of coverage on fish. Given that my flatmate is fond of salmon, I decided that I should write up on the salmon fillets.

Unlike most of the other cheaper fish options available under Sainsbury's Basics, which are usually available as proper cuts, the Basics Scottish Salmon Fillets are off-cuts - in other words, whatever happens to be left of the fish after fillets have been cut from it for Sainsbury's own-brand range, or for that matter, other brands that the supplier happens to cater to. If you are lucky though, you might get a healthy sized steak - the pack shown in the photo above contains one small chunk, right, and a whole fillet, left and covered by the label. The sizes of the cuts I got in the pack can be seen later on.

As I am also clearing down my cupboard in preparation for my holiday out of town I searched on the Internet for recipes that use both cashew nuts and salmon. I've seen salmon prepared with almonds before, so I reasoned that cashews would not be too radical a departure from normal preparations. As it turns out, not only does the blogging community generally approve of my idea, the first page of hits on Google suggest a recipe which also uses Parmesan and Basil, ingredients I can easily substitute with Basics grated hard cheese and herb mix, which ties in nicely with clearing as much as I can.

The preparation appears straightforward enough. Blend in a food processor,or grind manually, the following things to make your crumb coating: Basics dried mixed herbs, cashew nuts, grated hard cheese, garlic cloves, and a bit of olive oil. Use the resulting mixture to coat the top of the salmon, placed skin down.

Bake at 210 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes.

Even though the coating looks fairly innocuous, it is packed with nutrition, containing cheese and nuts, both high in protein and fat. This might be a filling alternative to the usual breadcrumb mixture that you might use to coat oily fish, though use of this to coat other meats is as yet unproven. From experience I would not recommend using this to coat white fish given its lighter taste.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Scottish Salmon Fillets£10.98/kgby weight+£5.69/kg, +£2.06/kg for wild salmonGuaranteed boneless fish, more regular cuts.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Apple Juice

Commodity prices, especially those of agriculturals, have been increasing significantly over the past few months in the wake of speculation and poor harvest yields. Only a few weeks ago did I come across an article warning of the imminent increase in the price of peanut butter, at least in the United States. More recently, Sainsbury's also started increasing prices of their own-brand ranges of fruit juice. It now costs £3 for 3 1L cartons of juice from concentrate, a discount of only £0.10 per carton over individual pricing.

On the bright side however, the Basics range of juice is now available in new packaging. Given that I was inundated with work and real life over the past two weeks, I thought that putting up this little review of the apple juice would tide you, the reader, over, until I have more time to come up with more interesting things.

I find this to be generally palatable, albeit a bit on the sour side. I do remember though that when I bought the Basics orange juice, once it was opened, its quality rapidly deteriorated as we approached the best before date. Given that there seems to be no end to increasing prices though, this might be an attractive option, short of switching to UHT juice.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Apple Juice£0.741L+£0.36Longer lasting, better tasting juice

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Meat Shroom

When I was in university, I remembered a friend describing something they made for lunch while I was away from the flat. They took a bunch of portobello mushrooms, sliced out the stem, and stuffed the cap with pate before grilling. As the mushroom cooked, the pate absorbed the liquid exuded, enriching itself with mushroom flavour.

It was an idea that has lingered in the back of my mind even as my university friends graduated and left the country. When I came across a tray of Sainsbury's Basics mushrooms that were as large as their regular portobello mushrooms the memory came back and got me thinking about recreating this. The problem was that Sainsbury's did not have a Basics pate, although they used to. I was browsing mySupermarket in search of an alternative stuffing when I came across this.

This Basics meat paste contains 42% chicken and 26% beef and a whole bunch of miscellaneous fillers. From what I could see inside the bottle, its consistency is akin to that of pate. I saw a small range of other similar products at Sainsbury's while trying to get this from my local store, but am puzzled by what it could be used for. The first thing that crossed my mind was sandwich fillers, but the supermarket chain stocks a good range of sandwich fillers, deli meats, and yes, pate. What niche does this product fill? True, it has a very long shelf life, extending up to mid-2013, but once open it has to be consumed within 3 days, so longevity doesn't seem to be its appeal.The meat paste products are pretty cheap, costing 32p for Basics and 49p for regular own-brand, but only give you 3 servings per bottle. With modern refrigeration you might as well get proper pate.

If you are able to point out where in British cuisine this stands I would love to hear from you, so please put your thoughts in the comments.

Prepare the mushroom as shown above. Spread two teaspoons of the meat paste all over the inside of the mushroom before topping up with the stalk, chopped up, and sprinkling with Basics Grated Hard Cheese or whichever cheese you have available.

Bake or grill at 225 degrees for about 20 minutes.

The meat paste tasted exactly like pate, so it came in as a suitable substitute. Overall this was pretty enjoyable, and can make a good starter, or a light lunch. Also worth noting about this is that the meat paste only contains about 34 calories per tablespoon serving, and combined with the intrinsically low calorific nature of mushrooms, could be useful to those looking to cut down on their calorie intake.

The pescetarians amongst us might want to know that there is an equivalent Basics fish paste, though again, you might be better off buying pre-prepared tuna mayonnaise.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Meat Paste£0.3275g - about 3+£0.17Choice between chicken (pure chicken) and beef (37% beef and 33% chicken).

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Meatball Spaghetti

Every now and then at Sainsbury's I will pop by the canned food aisle, looking at the general availability of the Basics range in that area and coming up with ideas. After all, canned food is the epitome of cheap - in the aftermath of World War II it was canned food that most people subsisted on as they returned to economic normality. So far however, the only canned food that I could bother with is the Pork & Bacon Meatballs, being cheap at 38p per can and containing a fair amount of meat at that price. Having featured the Basics Tinned Tuna to death, curiosity got the better of me and so I bought myself a can.

Already the contents of the can do not look very encouraging, with the meatballs floating in a sauce of a rather familiar colour. So familiar in fact that I might just start terming it Sainsbury's Basics Tomato Red.

So for lunch, I chopped up a large mushroom and sauteed it with garlic, before throwing in the meatballs. After the spaghetti was done, I added that into the pan, before seasoning with Basics mixed herbs, black pepper and grated hard cheese.

The meatballs tasted as per expectations - somewhat like tinned sausages drenched in a sauce similar if not identical to Sainsbury's Basics pasta sauce. I find this very amusing. These will be very useful to have around, since they are cheap (38p for a can that can cater for two meals), and being canned they last for a long time. There has at to be a tastier alternative to stock your cupboards with though. On the other hand, if you are going on a short camping trip and don't mind the dent in your morale from eating mediocre food, then this is for you.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Pork and Bacon Meatballs£0.3816 - 392g+£0.38 for Fray BentosBetter tomato sauce.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Siu Yuk - Roast Belly Pork

If there is anything that the Cantonese and British have in common, it is an appreciation for a good roast. In particular, a good pork roast. Both groups would not say no to moist and succulent porcine flesh topped with crispy and light crackling from the skin of the pig. Where they might differ however is the cut of the animal to use. While the British favour the loin and to a lesser extent, the shoulder, mention roast pork to any Chinese who has barely heard of a roast dinner and the first cut that comes to mind is pork belly. Even as the likes of Jamie Oliver promote the use of the cut in the UK, both groups differ as to their preparation methods. The Cantonese have a more involved process which include blanching the pork skin, marinating in five-spice powder and poking as many little holes in the skin as they can (as opposed to the British approach to simply scoring it). Given that it is Sunday, a day for roasts, and I have two rashers left from my pack of Basics streaky rashers, I thought it would be appropriate to have a go at making siu yuk.

Chubby Hubby describes my sentiment very well - there are too many recipes on the Internet for roast belly pork, each one claiming to have the most excellent results. I guess this is to be expected - Just as the world likes their bacon (which, incidentally, comes from pork belly), they appear to like in almost equal measure their roast pork, and the crackling that comes with it. Given the many ways that people have done this, the supposed ease of execution, and the constraints of my own kitchen, I've come up with my own method, which I will try to document as much as I can below:

After using tweezers or some other mechanism to remove hairs from the skin of the belly pork, we start by blanching the skin of the pork belly in boiling water. Most of the recipes I've come across call for pouring hot water carefully down the skin. I opted for a quicker route and used a shallow pan of boiling water, placing the pork skin down. Try to make the water level as shallow as you can, so that we minimise the amount of pork flesh that gets cooked as collateral.

With the skins cooked, shake and/or pat dry with kitchen towels. Use a sharp object to poke little holes all over the skin (I used a toothpick). Rub five-spice powder all over the flesh, but not the skin, of the belly pork. Leave in fridge to marinate and dry up for as long as you can hold out for, preferably overnight.

Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Roast the pork, skin side up, for 15-20 minutes, before turning the heat down to 180 degrees for a further 40 minutes. Turn the oven up to 250 degrees for a final 15 minutes of roasting. At this stage, if you want, pour a small amount of rice wine over the pork skin for extra crispiness before the final roasting phase.

I took a few short cuts to bring this to you, including not drying the pork out completely before marinating, and in the case of Chubby Hubby's recipe, using a steam bath in the oven to evenly cook the pork. The result are most apparent in having a rather inconsistent and visually unappealing crackling that looks more like roast pork than siu yuk. It is still crispy and deeply satisfying though.

If you're like my flatmate, who is not very keen on eating Basics meat products, but you still want to try this recipe, you might want to consider the belly pork that is available in the butcher's section of Sainsbury's, or your local butcher. The regular pork streaky rashers do not have any skin to make crackling with.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Tau Yu Bak - Belly Pork Braised in Soy Sauce

A few friends who came to the UK around the same time I did have mused that there were several dishes from back home that they didn't like at all prior to making their way here, but have since changed their minds and miss it just as much as their favourites. As I grew up, I remembered not looking forward to dinner when I learnt that my mother had cooked tau yu bak, but have since acquired a taste for it and do miss it when in the UK.

To make the dish, whole slabs or bite-sized pieces of belly pork (the same cut used to make streaky bacon) are braised in soya sauce with Chinese mushrooms and an assortment of typical Chinese spices - cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel and ginger, though the concoction might vary - for about an hour. The meat is tender and has a small amount of fat that provides a flavourful punch. Typically this is served with rice.

Given that the preparation is relatively simple, it is surprising that while I was here none of the households I was in ever prepared it. I guess we were content with stir-fries for typical meals, reserving special occasions for the likes of laksa, chicken rice and chilli crab. When Sainsbury's introduced a Basics version of pork streaky rashers, belly pork in another guise, I thought I might as well give this a go for nostalgia. A quick Google search also showed that not everybody in the UK knew what to do with this, so this blog post might be of interest to curious British readers.

Since I was planning to cook for my flatmates as well I bought the regular rashers. The photo above shows a side-by-side comparison. The two rashers below are the Basics ones, while the two above are regular Sainsbury's.

To make this, I used the recipe taken from NoobCook, written by a fellow countrywoman. Due to ingredient scarcity, I left out the mushrooms and resorted to using ground versions of the spices she listed as well as granulated sugar. I also chopped the pork up to make it easier to manage when eating later. As this is a derivative of somebody else's recipe, my notes will be limited to discussing the things I did while cooking.

My experience with browning things is limited to using non-stick pans, so I browned the pork in a non-stick frying pan first. I sliced off the pork belly skins and rendered them for their fat, which would allow me to not only cook the pork without oil, but also add some flavour to the vegetables I'm stir-frying later.

Cooking in a separate pan means that I can get to place my stew ingredients in the pot ready to go though.

 This is a photo of the pot prior to simmering for one hour.

One hour later, the eggs are added in and left to simmer for a further ten minutes.

I have not had rice at home in a while, so to be able to sit down and enjoy a home-cooked dinner after a day at work was definitely welcomed. There was no almost no difference in taste between the Basics and regular pork, and if you can get over the smell when handling the rashers, the savings can be significant. A few of my colleagues at work have been eagerly anticipating this; perhaps I could make this for them if the opportunity ever presents itself.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Streaky Pork Rashers£4.27/kg4, typically+£0.72/kgLess smelly rashers, more regular sizes.
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