Saturday, 28 January 2012

Economy Fried Instant Noodles

Economy fried bee hoon, essentially stir-fried rice vermicelli with other cheap ingredients, chiefly fried luncheon meat (known in the UK as Spam, or chopped pork and ham; luncheon meat in the UK refers to a deli cold cut) and a fried egg, was something I ate on occasion, either because it happened to be there when we were outside and stuck for breakfast options, or a quick dinner given prior to an event, provided by the event organisers. It has not been a major feature of my diet so far though. That said, when I came across this blog post I was reminded me of home, and the little things that made home so special. In the Google searches that followed, I learnt just how much luncheon meat mattered to people back home, when a government import ban triggered panic buying.

It took a while for Sainsbury's to come up with a Basics version of chopped pork and ham, but its introduction would tie in pretty nicely with the overall theme of this blog. No supermarket in the UK stocks rice vermicelli though, so to compensate I will probably cook three packs of Basics chicken flavour instant noodles. Incidentally, doing this is popular in Hong Kong, where time-poor residents can even go to cafes which serve instant noodles with luncheon meat and egg. To assuage my mother's concerns about my diet I will cook up some spinach to go with it too.

The gelatin you see on the block of pork comes from the bottom of the can. I remembered having the luncheon meat in semi-circular slices, so I did the same. Half a can of the luncheon meat would be enough for one person, according to Sainsbury's nutritional guidelines anyway. The other half could be saved for something else, like fried rice.

Pan-fry the slices until golden brown.

Cook the instant noodles while frying an egg sunny-side up.

When fried to a crisp, the Basics chopped pork and ham tastes more like bacon than the luncheon meat I'm familiar with, possibly due to differences in the meat itself. The cost breakdown of the meal is: 50p for half a can of meat; 12p for a Basics egg; 30p for 3 packs of instant noodles, and; a variable cost for vegetables depending on what you add. Replacing the instant noodles with pasta would probably lower the overall cost of eating this. Still, it's good to know that when homesick and the nearest Chinatown is inaccessible, one can still turn to Sainsbury's to be reminded of home.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Chopped Pork and Ham£0.99/kg200g+£0.30Higher meat content.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Pineapple Tarts

Lunar New Year is almost upon us, but it has been almost seven years since I have actually spent it back home. Amongst other things, I miss the festive snacks and tidbits, though my friends do bring some up to the UK every year or so, such that I have an ample supply. This year, my friend's fiancee was baking pineapple tarts, and given feedback from a reader to do something festive, I decided to join in, albeit a few thousand kilometres away. Since Sainsbury's has all the ingredients in their Basics range, right down to pineapple pieces, I can take the liberty of documenting my experience here.

Pineapple tarts consist of a shortbread topped with a pineapple conserve. Based on that knowledge and experienced cook would have been able to make this without any guidance, but as I am relatively inexperienced with baking I had to look up the recipe on the Net. I managed to find one at Rasa Malaysia, the Southeast Asian culinary blog that has made the rounds in the States. I will refrain from publishing the instructions here other than adding my own comments as we go along. If using one can of Sainsbury's Basics pineapple, halve all quantities listed on the blog (You will need half a block of Sainsbury's Basics salted butter, and no salt). I also have some suspicions about the liberal amounts of sugar used, so reduce where appropriate.

Making the pineapple conserve. Pineapple after blending....

... and after cooking and turning into a conserve.

Simple shortbread pastry making. I overestimated the flour to be used here, but then again, I don't have any weighing scales in the kitchen.

They may not look pretty, and certainly nothing like pineapple tarts found on other blogs, but they certainly are palatable. The Sainsbury's Basics Pineapple pieces were very suitable for making jams and conserves from, so like most of the other Basics products, they will help where presentation does not matter.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Pineapple pieces in juice£0.20/kg227g+£0.41Not known. slices is +£0.28 from basics pieces.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Beef Pot Roast

Braising is best suited for cheap but tough cuts of meat, where the time that slow cooking affords goes into tenderising the meat and mingling of flavours, leading to a very rich dish, and meat that has melt-in-the-mouth texture. Finding braised meat while dining out however is difficult, unless you happen to be in Chinatown, where cheap cuts of meat are favoured for their cost-effectiveness. Braised beef brisket happened to be one of the few things I ordered when I was out with friends for dinner while at university. I still order it today, and it happens often enough that in recent times I found myself looking at the Sainsbury's Basics Beef Pot Roast, wondering if I can braise beef the way the Chinese restaurants do.

There are a couple of techniques that the Chinese use for tenderising meat that I was told about quite some time ago. While searching for recipes to braise the beef, there appears to be some confusion and lack of familiarity on the Internet about using such techniques, and as such, I thought I will try to shed some light on the matter, and use the techniques in my braised beef to see if they will work.

The first techinque involves adding bicarbonate of soda to the beef, leaving it to stand for a while, and then washing it off. This is the more difficult of the two techniques as if the soda is not properly washed off it will adversely affect the final flavour of the food. From what I've read on the Internet so far, the bicarbonate works by making the beef more alkaline (hence the ruined flavour if not washed off), allowing the coiled up proteins in the beef to straighten out, making it more tender.

The other technique involves covering in cornflour. This then acts as an insulating layer when frying so that the direct heat doesn't result in a toughened cut of beef. Since we are limited to the Sainsbury's Basics range, we shall use Basics plain flour instead, along with whatever we want to marinate the beef in (we use Basics black pepper and herb mix here). An extension of this technique, known as 'velveting', involves marinating the meat in cornstarch, egg white, and rice wine along with other seasonings for about 30 minutes.

So while waiting for the beef, prepare anything else that you want to braise together with the beef. I have opted to go 'Yankee-style', as described by Wikipedia, and included a parsnip and carrot. Chop up some onion as well.

Heat a wok, before adding olive oil. Fry the onions until they just start turning brown, and then start browning the beef.

Deglaze the wok using Sainsbury's Basics vinegar, and then transfer contents into a saucepan or pot. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook until tender.

This was only fairly successful. The parts of the beef that were in contact with the bicarbonate of soda and flour were tender, with the rest of the beef making for rather tough eating. While it is reassuring to know that the techniques work, my approach to braising beef might need a bit of tweaking before I can try it on my friends. 

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Beef Pot Roast£6.49/kgby weight+£unknownBetter quality beef?
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