Arcimboldo’s Summer

Arcimboldo’s Summer
Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593) was the master of these pre-surrealist paintings of figures formed of grouped objects (not always food).

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Eat to the Beet

I like beetroot but it will be a cold day in hell when I cook one from scratch. So ever since I came up with a wonderful beetroot recipe I've been looking for bargain beetroot to buy. (Apologies for the alliteration.) And the bargain beetroot buy to beat (okay, that's enough) is Lidl's Oakland Cooked Beetroot.

I was delighted to find that this cost close to half the price of beetroot at other supermarkets — 59p (44p when on special recently) per pack. But then I realised that the Lidl beetroot came in 500g packs. In other words, twice the size of the other supermarket's beetroot. A huge saving and an incredible bargain. 

What's more, the Lidl beetroot, if anything, has a superior flavour to its competitors. considerably sweeter. Unbeatable — Or should I say "unbeetable"? No, I won't say that, and as an apology for all the alliteration and appalling puns I will post my wonderful beetroot recipe next week.

(Image credits: One reason that Lidl is so cheap — sorry, inexpensive — may be that their web presence is close to non existent. They have a website, but you can't search it for products and no search engine would disgorge a photo of the Oakland Cooked Beetroot they sell. So what you've got here instead is a beautiful photograph of the lovely Chioggia stripey beetroot from a delightful blog about gardening in London, Out of My Shed. Many thanks to Naomi Schillinger.)

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Budget Mozzarella Shoot-Out

There is no question about my favourite mozzarella — it's Laverstoke Park Farm Buffalo Mozzarella. And it's my first choice, when price is no object. However, price is usually an object. And the Laverstoke Park, tasty as it is, costs about six times as much as the budget mozzarellas I tend to buy.

I recently sampled Tesco Everyday Value Mozzarella (44p for 125g versus £2.50 for the Laverstoke Park) and I thought it was excellent. Not in the same league as the expensive buffalo mozzarella, but genuinely a cut above the other budget mozzarellas I'd tried.

So I set out to test this, doing a comparison tasting with two other contenders, Lidl's Lovilio at 44p for 125g and Sainsbury's Basics, also at 44p for 125g (do you get the impression that these supermarkets are aware of each others' pricing policies?).

All of these budget mozzarellas were perfectly acceptably but I confirmed my initial impression about the superiority of the Tesco product. It has a buttery complexity of flavour that the others lack. It's texture is also better, having some of that feathery quality when you break it open that is the mark of a good mozzarella.

The Tesco Everyday Value Mozzarella is a clear winner and a genuine bargain.

(Image credits: The Tesco pack shot is from My Supermarket. As is the Sainsury's. The Lidl Lovilio is from FDDB.)

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Tesco Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil

I've discovered that Tesco has a competitively priced own-brand extra virgin olive. I'd like to include it my comparison tasting against the current leader, Sainsbury's, and others. But no branch of Tesco nearby stocks it. While I'm waiting to obtain a bottle I decided to try their Greek Extra Virgin.

This oil is currently on offer at a reduced price — down from £3.25 to £2.50 for a 500ml bottle. Rocket scientists will swiftly realise that this is five quid a litre, which puts it well out of our comparison tasting sweepstakes (where we're looking at four quid or less) but I couldn't resist trying it, not least because I've been wanting to try some Greek oils for a while.

Tesco's Greek extra virgin is pleasant, tasty, and distinctive. It has the interesting characteristic of combining buttery smoothness (which I think of as a Spanish trait) with an herbaceous bitterness (which I associate with Italian oils). Very nice. I compared it with the Sainsbury's own brand, which is also agreeably bitter. The Sainsbury's doesn't have any of that buttery flavour and its bitterness is more complex, with a longer finish, tasting of green grass and dark chocolate.

Which you prefer is of course a matter of personal taste, but the Sainsbury's is remarkably classy and sophisticated for a cheap oil — £1.15 a litre cheaper than the Teso Greek, even when it's on special. And when you consider that the Tesco Greek is almost twice as costly as the cheapest oil in our recent tastings (Lidl's Primadonna at £2.79 a litre) it doesn't seem like a contender for we gourmet cheapskates.

(Image credits: the Tesco Greek is from My Supermarket. And the Sainsbury's one too.)

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Sainsbury’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil

I'm continuing my quest for the finest budget extra virgin olive oil. Recent notable purchases from Asda and Lidl were both well under three quid a litre, so when I splashed out £3.85 for a litre bottle of Sainsbury's own brand extra virgin olive oil, it felt like an almost obscene act of profligacy.

But the Sainsbury's extra virgin is a classy product. There is a wrapper around the lid which you have to peel away, like on a bottle of wine. And once you remove the screw top you find there is a  plastic pull-top seal which you have to remove before you can pour the oil. This has to help protect the freshness of the product. And the bottle is made of dark green glass, which also helps, by cutting down on the degradation caused by light reaching the oil.

So what did it taste like? Well, it is delicious — with an intense, pleasant, aromatic bitterness. It is much sharper, and to my taste, more appealing than the excellent and rather buttery Asda extra virgin.

I'll have to compare it with Lidl's Primadonna as well. Once I've arranged a blind tasting of the three oils I will report back. In the meantime I am going to go in search of other extra virgin olive oils for £4 or less. Coverage of products on the internet is so poor for all the major supermarkets that the only way to really find out what they sell is to visit a large branch. 

So I need to investigate Tesco's and Morrison's and perhaps even Waitrose, though they are probably too posh and expensive to meet our price point. My spies have only been able to find ordinary (non extra virgin, non mechanically extracted) olive oil at Audi's, which is odd because at Lidl's, in contrast, they only sell extra virgin. One day I'll have to try the more expensive Italian-only extra virgin oil at Lidl. But at well over five quid a litre that will have to wait another and more affluent survey.

But back to Sainsbury's extra virgin. This is a strong contender for the best tasting of the budget supermarket olive oils. I love it. Keep up the good work, folks.

(The Sainsbury's oil bottle shot is from My Supermarket. Regretably, I couldn't find a suitable photo on Sainsbury's own website. The Asda shot is also from My Supermarket, although it's an out of date image — as far as I can tell, it's the only one available.)

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Asda Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In our continuing search for the best budget extra virgin olive oil, I have to tell you that there's a new kid in town. Now, I have nothing against Lidl's excellent Primadonna, which I've written about here. Indeed when I was in their store the other day I noticed the price had dropped from around three quid a litre to about £2.79.

And I think I know why. I visited Asda the same day I discovered that their own brand extra virgin was on sale for £2.89 a litre (it's normally £3.75). I took a bottle home to try and it was first rate. Perhaps a little more spicy/peppery than the Primadonna.

I got a lift with a friend (thanks, Matt!) and bought half a dozen more litre bottles from Asda. This is going to be my standard oil for a while.

One word of warning though, that picture doesn't accurately depict the oil I bought. It appears to be an old design, but it's the only one available. Once again I'm surprised at how out of date the websites of the major supermarkets are.

Still a great oil, though. And a terrific bargain. Try some.

(Image credits: the erroneous pic, but the only one I could find on the net, comes from My Supermarket.)