Battle of the (Own) Brands

Let’s face it, students have to watch their pennies. Or in my case, watch their pennies leave their pockets as quickly as they’ve made it there (damn Canterbury rents being so expensive they swallow up my entire loan, and more…). So I thought I’d do a post on good-for-the-pocket-and-the-mouth food buys. And maybe some household and cosmetic items too.

So here it is, my cost-saving guide to shopping!

First of all, my first point is to always check the clearance shelves. You can normally find things that you would have considered out of your budget there – like two plaice fish fillets (fresh fish is SO good for you) for £1.20 as apposed to nearly £6. Okay, still not the cheapest meal option. But perhaps having a ‘treat’ meal on your shopping day will keep you satisfied with cheaper items.

I would also advocate looking in ‘cheap’ shops. Aldi is my favourite, along with Poundland, simply because I can easily get items from them.

My parents bring me my favourite from Aldi, seeing as the one here is unhelpfully located in terms of bus stops. I love their own-brand cereal and instant hot chocolate. Their branded bread tends to be far cheaper than other shops too. And according to my parents, their meat is the best quality they’ve had in the last few months. I’m unable to vouch for this, having not tried it.

Poundland is great for things like cereal bars, branded cereal (because who doesn’t like Chocolate Minibix…), and crisps.

I’m now going to completely contradict myself. PLEASE don’t avoid shops deemed as ‘expensive.’ And by that I mean Waitrose and M&S. They can have some seriously good buys, and in some cases work out cheaper than Tesco.

Who knows the much-longed-for Tesco deal of 3-for-£10 meats, mix and match? Its on for a couple of months, spread about throughout the year, or it is as far as I’ve noticed. Well Waitrose does the same deal. But it’s on permanently  And the choice is much greater. You can buy turkey breasts (healthier than chicken, unfortunately out of stock this weekend), and various cuts of meat. There is more weight in the mince and chicken included (550g mince as opposed to 500g). This weekend I purchased two packs of mince, and one of mini chicken breast fillets; this has made two portions of chicken/mushroom casserole (along with two portions of the sauce for pasta), two portions of chicken curry (two portions of the sauce made into vegetable curry), four portions of chilli, three cottage pies, and four portions of bolognese. I personally find some of their vegetables bigger and cheaper than Tesco too, though do check before buying – I notably saved money on the cabbage from Waitrose, and it was far nicer than Tesco! I also must mention that Waitrose do the best dried noodles ever!

M&S is less useful, and I mainly use it for their tomato-free curry paste (the Tandoori is lovely, the Balti is yet to be tried!). However, their Dine In For £10 is excellent, and is the monthly treat when my man comes to visit!

Now…(Own) Brand Winners!

Garlic Bread

Tesco Value (30-something pence a loaf, serves 3) is lovely, cooks great, not too strong, not bland, not greasy or dry – its a winner! Just avoid ASDAs equivilant…

Naan Bread

I must confess I have only tried Tesco’s, but it is very yummy. Their standard ones are the right size for a single portion, the garlic and coriander flavour is just enough, and they are 6 for £1 and freeze really well.

Yoghurt

For individual pots, ASDA is great. I like their 6x125g pots of low fat vanilla/toffee for £1. They do packs of 4 for a £1 too, with slightly more variety in flavour. For bigger pots, I like Tesco’s lemon, as it has just the right amount of bitterness.

Chocolate Mousse

Tesco is the clear winner here, at 24p for four value mousse, that are absolutely yummy. They’re also great frozen!

Scampi

I recently ‘risked’ some Tesco Value Scampi Bites, at £1.25 for two portions. I say risked, as cheap seafood scares me. However, despite oozing some dubious looking liquid during cooking, and having to be turned regularly to prevent going soggy, these were surprisingly nice, and definitely worth buying – I won’t bother with more expensive stuff until I can afford it! That said, if you don’t need to cut pennies too much, go for more expensive versions.

Southern Fried Chicken

Aldi and Tesco’s (both frozen) is very good, as is Waitrose (also frozen, and considerably more expensive).

Pies

Now, nothing beats a Pukka pie. Especially as they’re tomato free. Most other supermarket deep-filled ones are, so I tend to buy (when I’m not treating myself) the shallow puff pastry ones. They’re usually priced at around 2 for £1.10, and whilst they aren’t full of meat, they’re okayish. The chicken ones tend to be far nicer than the steak.

Squash

I love ASDA’s Lemon and Lime double concentrate. Be warned it is very strong, and tastes very nice with vodka. ASDA’s Blackcurrant high juice is another favourite and has been for several years – I don’t drink normal Ribena, only this.

Curry Sauce (Korma)

As I am allergic to tomatoes, I only have a few options here. Tesco Finest Royal Korma sauce has a very, very odd texture – it tastes floury. It is also very expensive! ASDA normal brand Korma is a bigger jar, smells amazing, and tastes okay. It is a little bland, but I tend to marinate my chicken in Mark’s and Spencer’s tandoori paste, which helps. As does adding onions, peppers and chillies. Yes it perhaps bumps the price up a little, but it also bulks it out, so the meat goes further – bulking out meals is something I really, really suggest when cooking on a budget.

Cream Cheese

Bit of an odd one. Philadelphia is lovely, lovely, lovely, and you can honestly tell the difference. But at 1/4 of the price, Tesco’s value version isn’t too bad, just buy the full fat!

Cookies

The best packet of cookies I have ever, ever bought is from Aldi. They are around 30-45p a packet for 20 cookies, and honestly taste far superior to Maryland. They stand up well to dunking into drinks too….

Hair Styling Product

One for the girls. If you have curly hair, humidity is a nightmare, and causes a lot of frizz (and tears). Boots Curl Creme (it is pink) is the only thing that helps me. Apply to wet/damp hair. Only use a tiny tiny bit and rub in between your hands first, so it goes white. It’s very, very cheap and lasts for ages. I have about 5 tubs as a few years ago there was a discontinuation scare.

Hot Chocolate

ALDI for the win! Their big tubs of hot chocolate are £1.09, as opposed to a more general price of £2+, and it does taste very nice. However their individual sachets are really not pleasant, and for here I reccomend Options, which are very pricey. I only buy sachets for taking to work, so it’s not too much of an issue, but definitely wouldn’t ‘live’ off Options hot chocolate as I do the Aldi stuff.

Washing-up Liquid

I personally would never, ever buy Value range washing up liquid, there’s something so sad about getting so little bubbles in the bowl. However, ASDA’s own Lemon washing up liquid is my current favourite. Very bubbly, cuts through grease well, and smells gorgeous (although coming from a family where citrus products are banned, maybe I’m just addicted to the scent!).

Tea Bags

I love Yorkshire tea. It’s my absolute favourite. I can’t afford it. Even after my student loan comes in, I know perfectly well that if I buy it I’ll drink a huge pack in a week, and that’s just too expensive. So I stick to Tesco’s standard brand, or Aldi’s. They are stronger though, so brew for less time.

Cheese

Please, please don’t waste your money buying cheaper stuff. It is awful, and really doesn’t taste nice. More expensive cheese really is the only thing to go, and thats why I save it for a treat (or when the parents pay for shopping!). If you eat a lot of meals that include cheese in the cooking, buy a packet of ready grated parmesan, provides cheesy flavour for a much lower price!

Things to AVOID

  • ASDA Smart Price Garlic Bread – just horribly strong tasting, but not strongly of garlic!
  • Own-Brand White Lasagne sauce – I’ve never found anything close to Dolmio!
  • Own-Brand Chocolate – it’s alright to cook with, but not for eating.
  • ALDI flour- makes Toad in the Hole soggy and watery, and makes pancakes sticky.
  • ASDA Smart Price chocolate mousse – so bitter its inedible!
  • Own brand pesto – bleurgh!
  • Value branded washing up liquid – no bubbles!

Baking: Banana Nutella Oat Muffins

I’ve been looking for recipes I can bake which will do for an on-the-run breakfast, or quick but filling snack, when I go to lectures. My second-term timetable is pretty evil; 9am starts four days out of five, and 5pm finishes most days. This means making things ahead is a must for me (my freezer is currently stuffed full of meals – another blog post!). Now, last week I bought some bananas, thinking I would eat them. I always get cravings for bananas, but never eat them. I tend to want them at ridiculous times (who gets up at 3am just to have a banana?!) and so they just go overripe. As these ones did. However, I’m now a student. I can’t afford to throw away food. I quickly went through what was in my cupboards, did a bit of googling, and decided to adapt The Londoner’s recipe (found here) to make them a bit more substantial. Basically I made it, threw in some oats, and reduced the nutella slightly. Here’s what I did, and what I ended up with:

Banana Nutella Oaty Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 230g flour (I used plain, and added 3-4 teaspoons of baking powder and a splash of milk)
  • 150g sugar (I’d reduced this down next time, probably to 120g, maybe 100g)
  • 2 tablespoons porridge oats (could add more – I will be)
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 115g melted butter (I used salted)
  • 2 eggs (I used medium sized ones)
  • 2 tablespoons of nutella

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Peel, break up and then mash the bananas straight into your mixing bowl. Don’t worry too much about lumps.
  3. Melt the butter, and add to the bananas. Let it cool for a bit if its a little warm, or you’ll scramble the eggs.
  4. Break the eggs, beat lightly and add to the bowl. Mix everything together briefly.
  5. Add the flour (and baking powder if you’re using plain flour) and sugar, and mix until everything is just combined. It will look a bit like sick – don’t worry, it definitely shouldn’t be smooth! 
  6. Mix in the porridge oats – it will look even more like sick now!
  7. Prep a muffin tin by putting in paper cases. You could use the posh silicon ones, but that’s too much washing up for me!
  8. Add one tablespoon of the mixture to each case.
  9. Melt down your nutella slightly. Add a bit (around a teaspoon, definitely a good dollop) to each case.
  10. Top the nutella with around another tablespoon of the muffin mixture.
  11. Get a teaspoon and turn it upside down, and use the handle to swirl the muffins, making a marbled pattern with the batter and the nutella.
  12. Put the tray in the oven, cook for just over 20 minutes (mine took 22).
  13. Bowl licking time – the nutella one can’t just be washed of course, needs to be as clean as possible beforehand! 
  14. Let cool until you can handle them, eat warm if possible. 

 

I thought these were really good. I would maybe want them more substantial. Next time I will reduce the sugar, add at least double the amount of oats (and probably a little more baking powder), and maybe add some chopped nuts. There’s another version of this recipe which uses no flour and no butter (but does add low fat yoghurt) which I fancy trying, but that means digging my blender out of the cupboard. This recipe took about 15 minutes to mix up (rushing up and downstairs locating ingredients), and then 22 minutes to cool, and comes in at a reasonable 205 calories per muffin (the mix made 14 muffins). Alongside an apple, I reckon they could be a decent breakfast for days I wake up too late to make porridge. They’re definitely a good snack for a long weekend-day of maths!

These are amazingly quick to make, and a great fuel for the mind – I’ve made them lots during the exam term as they’re great to make when you need a break, and great to eat when you need cheering up!