Thursday, 27 January 2011

Tuna, Pesto, Pasta

I came across Student Recipes, a website which caters to students and their unique requirements, such as providing recipes for one, as well as recipes for party food, snacks and quick meals. All contributors appear to be students. One recipe which caught my eye was for a tuna pesto pasta dish. Since I had some pesto already made from last time, I thought this would be an opportunity for me to use it. The recipe called for a pepper though, and since I was not keen on buying a whole bag of Basics peppers given that I am due to go skiing this weekend, I decided to buy this instead.

I believe this is a relatively new product, not having come across this before in my previous visits. It is pretty much similar to the Basics Olives in Sunflower Oil that I have reviewed earlier, but includes both green and black olives. I do not see any fresh alternatives to this, not even from the brand names. In my mind, tuna and olives really go well together, and mixing in the homemade pesto would give a nice mix of flavours; the slightly salty tuna, the fruity olives, and the general intensity of the pesto coming together.

Preparation was a simple matter of mixing in the can of tuna and packet of olives into the bowl of pesto that I had prepared in the previous post. The result was a cheap and nutritious base to which I can add pasta or rice, or use as a sandwich filling. The total estimated cost came up to about £2 to last for 3 meals, half of which can be attributed to the olives. Your initial outlay may be a bit high however, having to get the Italian Hard Cheese for £2 first.

When used with pasta, I got something that looked fairly fancy, which tasted good as well. I certainly would not mind doing this again in future, if only to save time preparing food when I come back from work.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Roasted Salted Cashews£1.32200g+£0.39 for 100gMore consistent sizes, whole nuts instead of halves.
Italian Hard Cheese£2.00200g+£0.50Actual proper Italian cheese, stronger taste.
Sliced Mixed Olives£1.0990g+£N/AN/A, no direct alternative.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Poor Man's Pesto

The Sainsbury's Basics Italian Hard Cheese was only introduced around 6 months ago, when the supermarket chain revamped their own-brand cheese product line. I have been meaning to try this out and compare it to the Parmaggio Reggiano and other true Italian hard cheeses that I have become familiar with while being here. I never had the opportunity to do so however, until during the December holidays when I was carefully planning what I should review so that everything flows nicely in sequence, and in keeping with festive occasions, like the cashew nut review for Chinese New Year. Speaking of which, cashew nuts happen to be a cheap substitute for pine nuts that supermarkets and other food manufacturers will use in pesto, since it tastes rather similar. With that in mind, and an open and half-used packet of cashew nuts, we are going to use the Basics cheese to make a poor man's pesto.

Unlike the likes of Parmaggiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano and Grana Padano, all of which are used to make what's commonly known as Parmesan, the Basics Italian Hard Cheese is made using both cow's and buffalo milk. I'm not certain as to why the latter is used, as it is known to be more valuable and hence more expensive than cow's milk. The Wikipedia article on Buffalo Mozzarella notes that buffalo milk yields more dairy product than cow's milk per unit litre, and I would imagine that any production of buffalo milk would immediately go into Mozzarella production, which is pretty high in demand.

In any case, the cheese tastes fairly lighter than the regular Italian hard cheeses, which might make it useful when introducing people to cheese tasting, I guess. Other than its unusual makeup, there is nothing low quality about this product, which might explain why it garnered the Gold Value Q award at the annual Quality Food Awards in 2010. The awards page has also revealed some of the suppliers of Basics products, which merits its own investigation at a later time. For now, it is enough to say that this product is manufactured by Rondanini UK, which I gather is a major player in the UK food industry, and founded by an Italian.

 Begin by finely crushing a clove of garlic and a small handful of cashew nuts, with the back of a heavy spoon on a chopping board or some other appropriate implement. Add these to a small mixing bowl.

Grate about 15 grammes of the Sainsbury's Basics Italian Hard Cheese into the bowl.

 Add one canister of Sainsbury's Basics Dried Mixed Herbs, or less. Pound together and mix well.

 Finally, add as much olive oil as your budget or conscience allows.

I will probably use this for dinner tomorrow, where I can take the time to introduce another Sainsbury's Basics product.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Roasted Salted Cashews£1.32200g+£0.39 for 100gMore consistent sizes, whole nuts instead of halves.
Italian Hard Cheese£2.00200g+£0.50Actual proper Italian cheese, stronger taste.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Cashew Nut Cookies

Chinese New Year, the first day in the new year of the lunar calendar, falls on the 3rd of February, and where I come from, that usually means extensive visiting of extended relatives for families, monetary gifts in red packets (angpow in the local language) for the children, and biscuits, sweets and all forms of confectionery for all. Over here in London however, scores of working professionals and students would either gather around a table and reminisce about home, hopefully with festive treats brought here. For those unfortunate to be without friends or treats however, the experience can often be one of isolation, even loneliness. I cannot do much about the former (other than to advise to get out more, especially for the events organised by the government back home), but I can certainly hope to take care of the latter by providing a relevantly-themed post, hopefully to encourage others to try baking Chinese New Year goodies to alleviate some of the homesickness my friends may be experiencing.

While searching for recipes, I came across this post, and have been struck by the thought that despite being separated by two continents and the Mediterranean Sea, I am able to mark the occasion in solidarity with fellow countrymen (or countrywomen as the case might be) through the blogosphere. I was hoping to participate in Aspiring Bakers #3: My Favorite CNY Cookie (Jan 2011), but unfortunately, the cookies did not turn out well. More on that later.

In keeping with the general theme of this blog however, and bearing in mind the general background of my readers, I will stick to using only Sainsbury's Basics ingredients where possible. Today's featured item in the Sainsbury's Basics range is their Roasted Cashew Nuts. I had to trek to the Sainsbury's hypermarket in Finchley Road in order to get one of these, having no luck finding them in my local one. I realise that being salted, they may not actually be suitable for use in baking cashew nut cookies, but I figured that I could probably get away with rinsing them briefly before use. These offer pretty good value, giving you 200g of cashew nuts for less than half the price per unit weight compared to the higher-priced option, but you will have to contend with varying sizes, and nut halves compared to say, the whole nuts you get in Sainsbury's Jumbo Cashews.

The recipe that I will be using for this post can be found at My Kitchen Snippets. For brevity's sake, I will not quote the recipe verbatim, sticking to posting photos, with additional commentary when appropriate. I have left out the vanilla essence in the recipe, and aside from the ingredients that I have taken in the photo above, I will be using regular caster sugar, baking powder and cornflour.

Unfortunately, most of the cookies other than the nine shown above completely crumbled on transfer to a surface to cool. This is all that's left. On the positive side though, they did taste like the cookies I remembered from home, so I guess it's a bittersweet conclusion to this post.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Roasted Salted Cashews£1.32200g+£0.39 for 100gMore consistent sizes, whole nuts instead of halves.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

White Chocolate and Strawberry Marble Cheesecake

About five months ago I bought this tube of Sainsbury's Basics Digestive Biscuits from a Sainsbury's Local. I needed to get cashback from the till as all the nearby ATMs were busy or nonfunctional, and the biscuits were very cheap at 23p. I figured that at some point in the future I will get round to using this to making a cheesecake, since this is perhaps the only kind of recipe I know that involves digestive biscuits. Now with less than a week to go on its expiry date, it was time to get cracking.

The biscuits themselves are smaller in size compared to say, McVitie's Digestives, and seem to crumble more easily. Probably would not make them suitable for dunking, quite contrary to what the label suggests. However, since they seem to taste quite similar to McVitie's, they would be great for making cheesecake bases with.

The recipe I have in mind for today is one found in Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Recipes, where he attempts to mimic the White Chocolate and Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory. In it, he dots the top of the cheesecake with slightly diluted raspberry preserve, before using a knife to create a beautiful raspberry swirl pattern. I could do something similar with my Sainsbury's Basics Strawberry Jam, and in so doing run down my Basics inventory.

Microwave 25-50g of butter until it liquefies. Add 100g of Sainsbury's Basics digestives (about a quarter of the packet) and smash everything up until you get a butter crumb mixture.

Press the butter-crumb mixture firmly into the base of a cake tin. Refrigerate until ready to use.

 While waiting for the base to set, combine 75g of caster sugar, one packet of Sainsbury's Basics cream cheese and an egg in a bowl.

Break up a bar of Sainsbury's Basics White Chocolate without opening the packet, using a hard object to further pulverise if necessary. Open the packet and dump contents into the cheese mixture before mixing thoroughly.

Now, take the butter-crumb base out of the fridge and pour the cheese mixture on top. In another bowl, add about 1 tsp of water (not 1.5 tbsp as I have inadvertently done) to about one tablespoon of Sainsbury's Basics Strawberry Jam and microwave on high for about 10 seconds. Stir into a thick sauce, and then drip a few dots onto the surface of the cheesecake. Use a knife or similar tool to 'connect the dots', resulting in the marble effect you partially see here.

Bake in oven at 170 degrees Celsius for about 30-35 minutes until the centre is just set and the edges are firm. Turn off oven and leave to cool in there for another 2 hours before transferring to the fridge to set overnight.

I will be taking this to my workplace tomorrow for my colleagues to have a sample, since they are always entertained by the work I do here. I will try to get them to comment on this post so that you will have an idea of how good (or bad!) it is.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Digestive Biscuits£0.23400g+£0.60 for 500g (McVities)The real deal. Recommended.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Jamie's Beef Stew with Herb Dumplings

On the 4th January 2010, Sainsbury's ran an ad on TV featuring Jamie Oliver using the Sainsbury's Basics Casserole Beef and promoting it to the general public, touting its price ("£2.50.. what you pay for a burger of chips", he said). On the eve of the ad's anniversary I decided to try to recreate it for dinner. I could do with a good stew to keep me warm, and the idea of herb dumplings for staple with stew was certainly enticing, or at least worth learning for future stew recipes.

One of the problems I came across while trying to prepare this though was the lack of availability of the Sainsbury's Basics Vegetable Selection, which consists of a parsnip, a carrot, a potato and an onion. I remembered seeing it on the racks of vegetables at my local Sainsbury's just before I left for my holiday, so I was surprised that I wasn't able to find it this time. To compensate, I decided to use the Basics Casserole Vegetables. Thought priced similarly (£1.00 for the selection vs 90p for the Casserole Vegetables), the packet contains a different range of vegetables (namely suede, carrot, leek and onion), and is about a third of the weight. On the upside however, I get to save time on chopping things up, though I have to use an onion from my own larder to complete the ingredient list.

The full recipe can be found here (those of you with an affinity to Facebook can find it here). Due to copyright concerns and to avoid duplicating unnecessary information I shall just stick to showing pictures of the meal preparation as I went along.

Since I didn't really want to get my fingers too dirty grating butter or rubbing it in the flour to form breadcrumbs, I used a knife to chip bits off the butter before using it to mix everything in.

I'm happy to verify that the casserole vegetables can be used to substitute the relevant ingredients in Jamie's recipe, and have settled down to a very enjoyable dinner tonight. However, since I didn't have a weighing scale, I didn't measure out enough flour for the dumplings, and so they turned out to be a gloopy mess sticking to the casserole contents. They were still edible however, and lent a nice bread-like fragrance.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Casserole Vegetables£0.90450g+£1.10 for 700gNot known, probably not much.

Those of you interested in seeing the ad can find it below. Enjoy.

[This post is dedicated to my brother and his coursemates who will be here in the UK for six months on exchange. Enjoy your time here guys.]
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