Sunday, 7 April 2013

In Transition

We will be taking a break and will return on 1st May!

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Rice Cooker Risotto

Mention chicken breasts and the last thing you would probably picture would be chicken breasts with skin on them. So you could imagine my surprise when I saw that Sainsbury's have expanded their line yet again to include, amongst other things, skin-on chicken fillets. I was trying to look for ways to get rid of my bottle of Sainsbury's Basics White Wine as well as what is left of my rice before my household leaves my current flat. A risotto with chicken, courgette and some sort of salted meat for flavour sounded promising, so I decided to pick this up along with several other groceries.

While I was at it, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could make a risotto using the rice cooker, but nonetheless still opted to brown the chicken first for better flavour.

Heat the Basics pepperoni in a pan. Once enough oil has been extracted from the pepperoni add the chicken breasts to the pan, skin-side down, and brown.

Dice the chicken breasts while deglazing the pan with Sainsbury's Basics White Wine.

Wash the rice once. Crumble the now crispy pepperoni into the rice, and add the chicken breasts after dicing, along with diced Basics courgettes. Add the deglazing from the pan, and a generous amount of Basics Hard Cheese.

Fill with Sainsbury's Basics White Wine, such that the water level above the rice and other ingredients is one joint of your index finger. Top up with water if necessary. Cook in rice cooker until done.

The wine dominated the flavour of the rice, so perhaps I should have made up for it by adding more cheese and perhaps other herbs as well. Overall however I am satisfied with how this has turned out and would consider exploring more combinations I could put into the rice cooker.

British Chicken Fillet Portions (skin on): £8.33/kg, approx. 300g
+£0.90 for fillets with no skin

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Bolognaise and Toast

In the days when the Pizza Hut back home still had unlimited pizza buffet available, my father would often help himself to the bolognaise sauce and have it with the thin garlic toast, saying that it was probably the best way of getting maximum value out of the buffet. He had a point: by avoiding the deep pan pizzas which filled you quickly with heavy dough and cheap smoked meat (like ham or pepperoni), you get to the highest value ingredient in the buffet other than salad, namely, the minced beef.

I have one last serving of Basics frozen mince to get through, after which I am once again left to my own devices. The idea for making a pasta sauce came about as I noticed that I have not reviewed the Basics Tomato Soup on this blog, and was curious as to how effective it was as a substitute for the Basics chopped tomatoes, which is about 7p more expensive. Knowing how well it can substitute may also be useful to know when caught in a pinch.

I do not recall ever having tinned soup for my meals, though I would imagine it has kept many a university student in the UK alive. The most I remember is my friend having tomato soup and roll in a pub when I visited her.

The smell of browning Basics frozen mince in the kitchen is starting to take its toll on me and my flatmates, so I was rather grateful to learn from a friend of mine at church this morning that using wine in cooking would help reduce strong smells from cooking.

Once the mince has been browned and Basics white wine has been added, add the Basics tomato soup and herb mix. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Skim off all the fat while waiting for the whole thing to reduce by about half its volume.

Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle Basics Grated Hard Cheese and serve with toasted Basics Sliced White Bread.

This turned out surprisingly well, and would serve as an excellent example of rustling up a pasta sauce without actually having any pasta sauce or canned tomatoes available. The tartness of the tomato soup can still be felt, but with clever use of herbs and other seasoning it shold be easily masked.

Creamed Tomato Soup: £0.24, 1 serving
+£0.35 for More variety, Be Good To Yourself

Sunday, 10 March 2013


When studying in university, swedish meatballs featured regularly in my lunches and dinners, amongst other similar mince or otherwise processed meats. I believe the first time I was introduced to them was when a good friend of mine and his household was moving out of his old place. He gave away his flatmate's half-finished bag of frozen meatballs to me amongst other things, which I gladly accepted. 

Over time I developed a taste for these things and so was glad that Sainsbury's offered packs of Swedish meatballs at a discount on a regular basis. They're still more expensive than the Ikea ones though, so whenever my flatmates bought new furniture for the new flat we were moving into, we would take the opportunity to buy and share bags of frozen Ikea meatballs to take home and share.

There is a recipe in my discount copy of Everything Meals on a Budget cookbook for meatballs that I thought would fit in nicely if I ever were to buy a bag of Basics frozen mince. At the time I was unfazed about rustling up all the other ingredients (which include amongst other things tomato paste, breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese), but of late work and other pressures have put me off doing it.

My kitchen now has most of the ingredients available now though, other than the tomato paste and breadcrumbs, so I no longer have much of an excuse not to do it. With the recent scare over horsemeat in Ikea meatballs, I thought this would be an interesting opportunity to explore making my own and remember yet another part of my university life.

I have never understood the need to add breadcrumbs to meatballs. I was aware though that breadcrumbs are absorbent, so they can retain any moisture that would otherwise be lost to cooking. A quick search on StackExchange's cooking page confirms this. 

So start by defrosting the frozen mince in a microwave. While that is going, dry a slice of Basics bread to make breadcrumbs, while beating an egg to use as a binder for the meatballs.

Combine egg and defrosted mince with Basics Grated Hard Cheese and Herb Mix.

Shape into meatballs and bake in the oven near 200 degrees celsius for about 12-15 minutes.

While the meatballs themselves bear a vague resemblance to the ones I am familiar with, having them together with Basics spaghetti dressed with herb mix and cheese certainly brought back memories. The meatballs would become dry if baked for too long, with the fats spilling onto the foil or baking pan, so time the time it takes to bake carefully.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Roti John Redux

Regular readers would know by now that I have been striving to finish the big bag of Basics Mince that I have in my freezer. Since we are due to move out of our current flat soon I have also been reluctant to buy groceries, and have been trying to get by with whatever little is left in our kitchen.

My most recent find is a Sainsbury's Basics part-baked baguette that I had left forgotten. The first idea that came to mind that involved both this and mince was Roti John, which I covered some time ago. In the interest of variety though, I decided to take a different approach, baking the baguette sliced in half, topped with the already cooked mince drenched in egg.

This turned out well, and probably is slightly healthier than if I were to fry it. The idea could perhaps be taken even further and done on a barbecue, although I only have vague memories of seeing the hawkers back home doing this at their stalls.

Saturday, 23 February 2013


Popcorn happens to be very cheap to procure - All that is needed are the right variety of maize, hot oil or an air popper, and desired flavourings. It is thus no surprise that Sainsbury's carries a Basics popcorn that comes in a large 160g bag. At £1.10 it is certainly cheaper than the popcorn sold at cinemas and no doubt people would be tempted to sneak this in their bags into the theatres. In fact, I bought it for a movie date but never got round to eating it during the show as my companion does not eat popcorn and was unwilling to share.

There has been a recent trend towards having gourmet popcorn, that is, popcorn flavoured with exciting flavours, like jalapeno and cheese. I suspect that this started or at least took off when Pret A Manger began to offer popcorn alongside crisps and other snacks at their stores. In the face of this, it would be interesting to see how the Basics popcorn, a representative of the cinema popcorn we're so familiar with, would hold up  against its more upmarket counterparts.

The popcorn itself was okay, if a little simple. Ingredients listed were maize, soya oil, sugar and soya lecithin as an emulsifier, hardly as sophisticated as the popcorn you might get at Pret A Manger or EAT. With the advent of gourmet popcorn throughout the UK and given the large bag that the Basics Popcorn comes in, it is hard to imagine what use this would be for, other than movie marathons and similar protracted evenings of entertainment. I cannot recommend this even if you like popcorn and snack on from time to time as you would need a sealed container to store all the popcorn once the bag is opened.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Cinema Sweet Popcorn£1.10160g+£0.40 for 150gNot known. Other exotic varieties available at +£0.40 for 75g(!)

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Pork and Beef Burgers

The hectic pace of work recently, a desire to find solitude in the evenings, and a general reluctance to cook have led to me eating out almost every other weekday. This in turn has led to me developing an especially strong penchant for burgers. At its peak, I found myself browsing websites in the States dedicated to the sandwich, since, in all honesty, they are probably more familiar and more comfortable with it than the British are.

Truth be told though, I have always loved burgers. From the McDonald's cheeseburgers I grew up with, to becoming acquainted with Gourmet Burger Kitchen in the UK, to being told stories of the burgers in Shake Shack in New York City, there was something rather alluring to a juicy patty of prime minced beef with a slice of cheese in a sesame seed bun.

Eating out tends to be a rather expensive affair however, and with a bag of frozen Basics mince yet to be finished, it would almost be criminal if I did not try my hand at making my own burgers. After all, the idea seems simple enough - roll the mince into a ball, flatten to a patty, and grill. Alter the patty composition if desired, and serve with whatever makes a burger tasty.

Defrosting the mince in a microwave proved to be a little tricky. I found that it is best to microwave in small batches to avoid uneven heating. 1.5-2.5 minutes on defrost should suffice.

Form balls to be flattened to patties later on.

Those who might want to make fun of the photo above might be surprised that this is a result of a valid technique - smashing - and is popular though not without controversy across the Atlantic.

Serve in sesame seed bun with Basics iceberg lettuce and other condiments of choice.

The burgers turned out really well, largely thanks to the crust the patty developed through the Mallard reaction. As these were burgers, I ate with my hands, leaving no cutlery to wash up, always a nice bonus. One main problem would be controlling the defrosting of the mince in the microwave so that it is defrosted and not cooked, and forming up patties that do not fall apart. Off the top of my head you could either use binders like egg white, or freeze the patties overnight between baking sheets.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Cheese and Tomato Tortelloni

I still have a sizable amount of Basics frozen mince to go through, and when deciding to invest in a bag, I had in mind several ideas to run down my current supply. When I went to get it at my local Sainsbury's however, it turns out that the grocer has revamped their fresh filled pasta range yet again. The Sainsbury's Basics filled pasta have been given a makeover as well, and accordingly, the price has been marked up. This is nonetheless information that would be relevant to the blog, and so I bought myself a bag with the intention to have it together with the mince.

The Basics Tortelloni come in two different variants; I went with Cheese & Tomato as I was planning to have this with meat, choosing to stay away from the Ham & Cheese one.

I do remember having a lot of this at one point in my working life, since it was very easy to prepare and was generally healthier to have than frozen pizzas. This particular pasta itself was okay, and of no noticeable difference to the regular filled pasta that I was familiar with prior to the revamp.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Cheese and Tomato Tortelloni£1.70375g-£0.01 for 300gMore variety

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Frozen Mince

During Sainsbury's transition of their value line branding from Low Price to Basics in 2005, my local store were selling discontinued products at bargain prices. One of these happened to be the Sainsbury's Low Price Frozen Mince. It was an interesting if bizarre product, if memory serves: for about 75p after deductions I had in my possession 1.5kg of frozen pellets consisting of about 40% beef and 20% pork, with soya protein, fillers and other things like flavourings and preservatives making up the rest. Cooking the pellets in a pan made them dissolve into a fine powder, with which you would then add, say, pasta sauce to make bolognese, binding agents like egg whites to make meatballs, and so on.

For a time I received a lot of attention from my friends and the university hall cooking group I was in, not because the Low Price mince made me popular, but because people were concerned that I might actually die from sustained consumption of this product. I recall my fellow hallmates doing a double-take when I joined them for dinner eating spaghetti with powdery bolognese sauce, and even the famous Marcus "Pierre White" Lim went so far as to condemn it as dog food. Back then, this product was perhaps the ultimate representative of Sainsbury's value branding prior to the revamp, and the reason why consumers were intrinsically adverse to the idea of buying supermarket value brand products.

Well, I'm still alive, 8 years later. Since starting this blog, I have wanted to retell this experience to readers who might take an interest to this, but have until now lacked the determination to finish a kilogramme of low-grade mince. Recently however I have been told that I will have to move to a new location yet again, and that would mean that I lose use of the deep freezer. Add to that the recent scandal involving Tesco and their Tesco Value frozen burgers containing 30% horse meat, and I have a one-time opportunity to present this product and use it in a variety of ways over the coming weeks.

Unlike its predecessor, the Sainsbury's Basics Beef & Pork Mince is purely meat, specifically, 65% beef and 35% pork. Of interest is the cooking instructions saying that the frozen pellets can be fried in a pan without oil.

As a light introduction to this product I decided to recreate one of the recipes I previously featured on this blog, by combining the mince with a can of Sainsbury's Basics Baked Beans I bought a while ago for no particular reason.

Surprisingly, the pellets turned into familiar looking cooked mince, which was a relief, as I was frankly not looking forward to my days of eating meat powder.

I was glad that I have gotten acquainted with the Basics frozen mince, which, combined with the Basics baked beans and left to simmer for awhile, provided much needed warm comfort on a bitingly cold winter evening. The mince does contain some small amounts of gristle, but for the price, this is probably worth it. It does take up a lot of space in the freezer however, so plan accordingly.

DescriptionPrice per UnitNo. of servingsTrade-up PremiumTrade-up Benefits
Pork & Beef Mince£3.001kg+£3.49 for 1.5kg100% beef mince

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Satay Pasta

Satay Bee Hoon is one of the lesser known features of the cuisine where I come from. A dish of rice vermicelli topped with peanut sauce, kangkong and seafood of various kinds, you would strangely find this served not at the same stalls selling satay, but stalls dedicated to selling only the one thing. Sad to say, the one stall that I frequented for is no longer there, its proprietor refusing to give out his recipe for fear of cultural dilution.

Strangely enough, at one point in time, the army's combat rations featured satay pasta, a vague analogue to the Satay Bee Hoon that my fellow citizens know and love. Amongst them, the males would have encountered the pasta through National Service; reactions vary wildly, from revulsion to fondness. It is through recollecting some of my moments wearing green, as well as a need to use up the ingredients in my kitchen in creative ways, that led me to doing this tonight.

Blend the Basics Peanut Butter and Cream Cheese together, while waiting for the pasta to be ready.

Shred the Basics Seafood Sticks and merge with the mixture. When the pasta is ready, tip some of the pasta water in to smooth it out, before

This was as awful as it looks. Do not cook for others. Do not cook even for yourself, unless absolutely necessary.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Cheese-crusted Crabstick

When I was back home for the holidays, I attended a friend's wedding. One of the items on the banquet menu was crab claws coated in a parmesan-crust. The contrast in flavours between the savoury parmesan and the sweet crab meat was also interesting, and certainly something I have not come across before. Fellow guests at the wedding were largely in praise of the parmesan-crusted crab claw, and it went down as one of the more memorable things during the wedding.

On the way back to the UK, thoughts of that particular dish kept returning, and on further contemplation I realised that we could possibly replicate it using Sainsbury's Basics ingredients, namely the seafood sticks and grated hard cheese. With this in mind, I decided to put in some extra effort for lunch to experiment and toy with the idea.

Prepare the cheese crust by mixing breadcrumbs with Sainsbury's Basics Grated Hard Cheese. Dip each Basics seafood stick in oil, before dipping into the breadcrumb mixture, ensuring even coating.

Bake or deep-fry the crabsticks and serve.

Lack of technique notwithstanding, this was pretty good. There was a nice contrast in texture, between the crispy cheese crust and the chewiness of the crabstick. The flavours were also similar to what I remembered from the wedding banquet. An extension to the idea would be cheese-flavoured crabstick tempura, which, together with the cheese-crusted crabstick, might serve as an interesting yet cheap form of finger food for parties.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Crabstick Baguette

While on holiday back home, a friend related his college experiences to me. Outside his university, there was a sandwich shop which was very popular amongst students. One of the sandwiches that they offered was the crabstick baguette, which, as the friend related, was the epitome of cheap food, being a combination of cheap protein (ie, the crabstick), cheap mayonnaise and bread made from cheap flour. For the price the quantity was substantial, but one quickly got sick of the sandwich halfway through.

Intrigued by the idea of having crabsticks in a sandwich, I decided to try to do a take on the crabstick baguette offered by that sandwich shop. The British happened to like fish fingers in a sandwich, so why not crabsticks? I replaced the mayonnaise in the sandwich with cream cheese as the Sainsbury's Basics offering is known to be awful, and comes in a big tub that I would have trouble finishing. Other items I used include the Basics Young Leaf Salad, Basics Seafood Sticks and Basics Part-Baked Baguette.

All in all, the resulting sandwich was tolerable, although the sweetness of the crabstick combined with the savouriness of the cream cheese got some getting used to. This would be another useful idea to have, as thus far, I have only seen crabsticks being used in instant noodles and pasta.
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