Saturday, 24 November 2012

Roasted Stir-Fry Vegetables

For only one pound, the Sainsbury's Basics Vegetable Stir-Fry offers incredible value for money, providing for about 4-5 healthy-sized servings of vegetables per pack. Stir-frying takes considerable time to execute and clean-up after however, so unless your meal features another item involving use of a wok or frying pan, alternative methods of cooking the stir-fry vegetables should be sought.

Looking for a way to have my one of my 5-a-day with my instant noodles lunch, I thought of roasting them. Dressing lightly with olive oil and Basics Herb Mix, I left it in the oven for about 10 minutes at 175 degrees Celsius.

The gist of the concept works. Care should be taken to leave it in the oven for too long as the vegetables will dry out. Within the Basics range however I would find it rather difficult to flavour this without expending too much effort; garlic would require mincing, and Basics vinegar would not work here. Perhaps Basics products found in the deli aisle might lend some taste to it.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Diced Bacon

My current job has seen me working longer hours than I used to do, which means that I now have less time to do weekday dinners. As a result, I now look out for things that can save me preparation time when at Sainsbury's. The Basics Diced Cooking Bacon you see above caught my eye on my last visit.

It seems that Sainsbury's have been introducing a few new Basics products in the meat section, although on close inspection many of them do not appear to be cheap, or at least, cheap enough to warrant the Basics branding. Some of them are even more expensive than say, cheaper cuts of own-brand pork. The Basics diced bacon stands out however, since till now, the cheapest form of diced bacon was the diced lardons, which go for a cool £1.99 for a 250g pack. By contrast, the Basics equivalent is 99p for 200g.

I decided to give these a try, pairing them with whatever leftover Basics vegetables I happened to have with the fridge. Comparing the photos above and below, you can tell that the bacon will shrink significantly, so perhaps this might not be so good if bacon is meant to serve as the protein in your meal.

Overlooking that however, the richness of the bacon goes pretty well with the clean-tasting vegetables.

On sampling, the Sainsbury's Basics diced bacon is certainly flavourful, and would probably be a very viable alternative to using lardons in recipes like beef bourguignon and coq au vin. The bacon shrinks significantly, but if you're using it merely to flavour your food I doubt this would be a major issue. Given also that the alternative would be to buy and dice the big chunky forms of Sainsbury's Basics bacon (also 99p, for 670g, but you would have to spend the next few days eating chunky bacon), you might give the already-diced form serious consideration.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Diced Cooking Bacon£0.99200g+£1.00 for 250gLess shrinkage, more regularly-shaped pieces

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Beef in Tea

During the house move I chanced upon this. It was a recipe book left behind by one of my flatmates, most likely from my homeland. I remember these rather fondly, seeing them in local bookstores, with rather interesting recipes with a distinct Asian slant.

Most of the recipes in the book describe rather unusual, if not outright weird, cooking techniques. One that caught my attention in particular was for cooking beef in a strong brew of tea. The idea sounded very strange, but given that the British are known for being regular tea drinkers, I thought I would give this a try, and proceeded to buy Sainsbury's Basics tea bags.

A quick search on Google reveals that Basics tea is actually one of the better products in the line, and certainly one of the most value-for-money. The next brand up costs more than twice as much for half the amount of tea.

The pleasant, slightly sweet fragrance of tea wafts out when the box is opened. I brewed a cup for myself to see if it was good as it smelled. Sad to say, the tea was rather weak, perhaps because I was using a larger mug. This is more or less in line with reports made by others on various Internet forums, but most were happy to just use two bags per cup, which still works out to be slightly cheaper than the regular Sainsbury's own-brand tea.

The recipe book called for beef stewed with tomatoes and radishes, but I decided to go with Sainsbury's Basics green beans instead. These are unlike the string beans featured earlier in the blog, perhaps of a different variety. They retail for 99p for 200g, which make it similar in price to the Basics string beans. On hindsight, using these beans in a long-cooking stew may not have been for the best, and it might have been better to go for hard root vegetables.

I decided to go with mushrooms as well, since the glutamates they contain can add to the umami or meaty flavour of the beef.

Marinate the beef beforehand if desired. Brown the beef with garlic and onion, adding the chopped vegetables once the surface of the beef is no longer raw. In the meantime brew one cup of tea using 3-5 bags of Sainsbury's Basics tea bags.

Brew 1-2 more cups of tea using the same bags. Cover and simmer for one hour.

The stew has a long turnaround time, mostly the one-hour spent simmering. The resulting stew was very pleasant however, if a little bitter from the tea, and with some tweaks I'm sure it would be very welcome especially with the cold winter approaching.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Tea Bags£0.2980/250g+£0.41 for 40/125g (!)Slightly stronger tea?

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Herring Roe on Toast

A recent trip to my local Sainsbury's turned up an interesting find: there seemed to be a new Basics item in the tinned fish aisle, near the Basics Tuna. At £1.19 for 125g though it certainly was not cheap, compared to the sardines it was next to, or even the Basics Tuna itself. This was Herring Roe though, and if memory serves, the next best thing was caviar, certainly out of reach for most people. Curiosity got the better of me and I bought a tin home.

Further research on the Internet revealed that the Basics Herring Roe was merely a rebrand from their own-brand range, similar to what they did with the Grated Hard Cheese some time ago, with a price drop of 20p. Herring roe was traditionally enjoyed amongst the working classes but fell out of fashion over the last several years. There has been a recent surge however in interest in cheap fish like pollock and mackeral, perhaps driven by the recent economic crisis, and as part of this trend, last year Waitrose reported healthy sales of fresh herring roe. One could infer that the Sainsbury's rebrand is to encourage people with lower budgets to try it as an occasional treat, in other words, a poor man's caviar.

I bought Basics Part-Baked Baguettes along with the herring roe to try this. A common suggestion is to serve the herring roe fried with hot buttered toast with lemon squeezed over, so for lunch, while baking the baguette, I pan-fried the herring roe, and then topped the sliced baguette with it.

The taste was surprisingly familiar - I remember my mother deep-frying fish roe along with fish for dinner when I was younger. Overall, it was enjoyable, though I perhaps should have gone with the suggestion to butter the toast before laying the roe on. As noted, it's not cheap, but might be useful as an affordable starter when hosting visitors for dinner.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Soft Herring Roe in Brine£1.19125gN/ANot applicable, next suitable alternative is caviar.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Quick Pepperoni Carbonara

One of the advantages that pepperoni holds over bacon is that they are ready-to-eat and hence require little to no time to prepare for consumption. Given that my work in recent times has made me more time-poor than ever before, this was useful to know. It was during one of these days when I wanted to whip something up quickly that Basics Pepperoni came in very useful.

The soup base found in the Sainsbury's Basics Instant Noodles might not be very healthy, but the noodles themselves are actually okay and are an interesting alternative to pasta. Indeed, Sainsbury's have posted a few recipes on their official website that involve the Basics instant noodles but not the soup base. I'm used to having my instant noodles served dry, without soup, so I combined that with a poached egg and some pieces of pepperoni that I microwaved for about 30 seconds.

This was quick to prepare and fairly satisfying, being very similar to the post I did a while ago with luncheon meat and instant noodles. The only problem is that featuring pepperoni regularly on one's diet would lead to somewhat adverse medical consequences, so I ought to identify a deli meat that is just as affordable and does not have as much fat. Perhaps the Basics Chicken Roll might fit the bill.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Baked Feta

I love halloumi, both grilled and pan-fried. I was introduced to this some time in my third year at university, at a Greek restaurant, and I would fondly remember the crisp outside of each slice of cheese slowly giving way to a soft and warm centre. Being a recent addition to the list of EU food products of Protected Designation of Origin though, it is rather expensive.

The cheese is also quite a niche product, so it does not have an equivalent in the Sainsbury's Basics product line. As it turns out, it is also quite difficult to find halloumi in the United States. However, smitten kitchen, a blog that has been recently popping up on my Google Reader quite frequently, found a recipe for baked feta cheese, which apparently will give rise to something very similar to halloumi when grilled, albeit softer. Sainsbury's Basics does have a Greek Salad Cheese, and even though the last time I bought it I never got to finish before it went bad, I decided to give this a go, if only to satisfy my Greek cheese cravings on the cheap.

The recipe can be found here. I have greatly simplified it to just baking feta cheese with some Basics olives, sprinkled with some mixed herbs. This is so that I can avoid using standard-sized tomatoes instead of the cherry ones that smitten kitchen gets to use.

This tasted a lot like halloumi cheese, although I should have left it in the oven for longer than then 15 minutes prescribed for a crispier outside. My only regret is that I did not leave any behind to experiment with pan-frying, as it looks like it can probably retain its structure, perhaps since it's made from cow's milk rather than sheep's milk needed for proper Feta.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Crème Caramel

I'm afraid that I will have to disappoint you, dear reader, that this blog post is not a recipe, but merely another review. I have not yet mustered the willpower to get through cooking a meal for one (or cooking more than one portion and eating the same thing over a few days), given that the British summer this year has been unusually pleasant and I would like to enjoy myself just like you. Do be patient with me; with autumn not too far away I should be able to find the time and energy to cook again.

In the meantime though, I have been doing substantial background reading on the main topic of this blog. Amongst other things, I have chanced upon Dooyoo, which had plenty of people submitting reviews for various Sainsbury's Basics products. The one that caught my attention though is for the Crème Caramel (for the uninitiated, a creamy set custard drenched in caramel), which made mention of a tab at the bottom of the cup. Its purpose is to drop the pudding upside-down onto a plate, as the caramel usually sinks to the bottom of the cup.

I was intrigued by this, since I have a penchant for contraptions and it did sound like an unlikely extra feature on an otherwise simple Sainsbury's Basics product. Indeed, a trip to my local store revealed a couple of interesting facts: Sainsbury's does not seem to stock any other brand of creme caramel other than its housebrand and Basics, and; the Basics Creme Caramel containers are identical to the own brand ones, which probably makes sense for Sainsbury's to not invest in the design of cheaper packaging for very similar products.

I don't remember Sainsbury's ever clarifying the veracity of their Basics taglines, so I was rather amused to see them put a footnote on the packaging of the Basics Creme Caramel.

Preparing one for my afternoon snack, as I let one out of its packaging I began to see how ingenious the whole thing was. The tab basically seals a hole at the bottom of the cup that when exposed, would allow air to rush into the vacuum at the bottom, which would then cause the pudding to be pushed out of the cup and onto the plate.

The creme caramel itself was pleasant, though I certainly have had better. At 45p for 4 it is certainly not something to be sniffed at, and despite its name is surprisingly low in fat. Personally I would not worry about the total sugars; that can be easily walked off.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Crème Caramel£0.454+£0.30More cream, more caramel

Monday, 13 August 2012

Bacon-Egg Rings

The sheer affordability of Sainsbury's Basics Cooking Bacon (99p for 670g) means that one can buy a pack just for experimentation. The Internet happens to have a fondness for bacon as well, so naturally, there is no end to the variety of recipes that one can play with, including chicken-fried bacon, bacon explosion, and even bacon jam. More recently, Lifehacker ran a post on bacon cups, aggregating various similar recipes on the web in one convenient point.

I decided to have a go with making the bacon-egg cup that Kirbie's Cravings did, as I missed my usual weekend slot to blog and this seemed quite straightforward to do. As I did not have a muffin tin, I used a small bowl and some foil to shape into a bowl instead, which worked surprisingly well.

Prepare the oven at 200 degrees Celsius. Mold the foil as shown, and then line the walls with bacon. If desired, line the bottom with bacon as well, so that the egg will not cook too quickly when in direct contact with the foil. Cook for 10 minutes or until cooked or half-cooked.

Turn up the temperature to 220 degrees Celsius. Take the bacon cup out of the oven and knock the egg in. Return to the oven for a further 8 minutes.

Serve as desired. I decided to have it on top of a bed of spaghetti as a variation of carbonara.

This worked out surprisingly well. With a bit of work it could look pretty for hosting guests, although working with the irregular shape of the Basics cooking bacon might take a little patience. The white of the egg actually absorbed some of the flavour of the bacon, and the bacon fat greased up the foil on its own. This is quick, convenient, and for the little time and effort spent, actually very presentable.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Personal matters

The post for this week will unfortunately be delayed as I attend to personal matters. See you again at a layer date.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Fish Finger Bee Hoon

While I was back home, I reacquainted myself with Fried Fish Bee Hoon. Having not had it for a while, it was comforting slurping a bowl of thick rice vermicelli bathing in a broth flavoured with condensed milk, rice wine and ginger, with crispy fried fish. The idea of making it back in the UK has occupied my thoughts often enough that I was determined that this would be one of the first, if not the first, thing I did the moment we were done with the location move.

Fish can be expensive though, and deep and in keeping with the spirit of this blog I decided to use the next best thing - fish fingers. This also makes the preparation of this much more accessible to university students on a budget, who are more likely to have Sainsbury's Basics Fish Fingers than the Basics Frozen Fish Portions. I have adapted the recipe from Shirlyn's Corner, making adjustments where necessary such that all ingredients used can come from the Sainsbury's Basics range. These include substituting condensed milk with Basics UHT milk, rice vermicelli with Sainsbury's Basics spaghetti and rice wine with Basics white wine.

Cook some Basics fish fingers in the oven. In the meantime, boil the spaghetti but only for half the time they recommend. Drain and pour in 250ml of chicken stock prepared using half a Basics Chicken Stock Cube.

Add some Sainsbury's Basics UHT milk and a splash of Basics white wine. Bring to the boil before turning down the heat and letting it simmer. Add half a tomato and season with black pepper and leave for 2 minutes.

Serve immediately with the Basics fish fingers.

This turned out to be a bad idea, the result a poor facsimile of the noodle soup I'm fond of back home. What works well with deep-fried fish does not work well with fish fingers, as the breadcrumb coating absorbs water very easily, resulting in very soggy fish. This could be avoided by serving fish fingers separately though. The soup certainly needs more work, as I remember the flavours I tasted when I was home were much more complex than this. Given that a lot of soup bases back home use soya beans, I am tempted to see how this will turn out if I used Basics unsweetened soya milk. In the meantime I will have to find other things to do with my Basics UHT milk, and quickly, as I have learnt that it has a tendency to go bad very quickly.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Apple Juice Wine Spritzer

As the place that I have moved to is  experiencing Internet connectivity issues, my ability to blog will be similarly limited. Thankfully, I have my smartphone with me, so I am still able to publish some content.
I was recently present at a gathering of final year students prior to their leaving the UK for good. One of the drinks that we had was lychee juice served with white wine. It was very refreshing, the sweetness of the lychee balancing out the tartness of the wine.
Once I had settled down here I decided to try doing something similar with the Sainsbury's Basics range. Unfortunately the closest I can get to something as sweet as lychees was apple juice. The resulting drink was okay, though nothing like what I had that evening. Sainsbury's recently raised the price of their Basics wines to £3.39, which makes it very difficult to justify buying it even for cooking. If you cannot bear to use good wine as a drinks mixer though, Basics would be a viable alternative.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...