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
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