Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Healthy Budget Breakfasts

Just for fun, something different, I bought a boxed cereal last week.

I had a coupon which made the granola around $4 a box or $4 for 12 ounces of toasted oats jazzed up with little chocolate chunks and sweeteners.

The granola is pleasant, but not fabulously delicious or for that matter, highly nutritious (it contains 4 different sweeteners).

I certainly won't buy it again; it's unnecessarily spendy for something I can easily make myself for much less.

One pound or 16 ounces of organic, bulk oats is about .99 cents and when you buy dry goods in bulk there's no box to throw in the trash.

If I then toss those oats in melted butter and honey or soft brown sugar or agave, toasting them in the oven on a baking tray -- allowing the oats to cool before tossing in little chunks of dark chocolate --I've essentially made the same granola for about one-third of the price of the boxed variety.

Oats are terrifically versatile and a cereal grain we're all familiar with. Periodically though, I get bored with oatmeal despite cooking it with seeds, dried fruits, marmalade, and topping it with stewed fruit, coconut or coconut milk -- anything I can find to make it interesting.

When that happens, I turn to other cereals for a much needed change. Polenta is an alternative. Like oatmeal, it's around a dollar or less a pound when purchased in bulk. It's also quite bland and therefore polenta lends itself to being transformed with the addition of other flavors.

Most commonly served as a savory dish nowadays, it was originally served as gruel porridge. Generally I cook one cup of polenta in about 3 - 4 cups water, the more water added, the more porridge- and the less gruel-like the consistency.

To enrich the polenta, you could boil it in a combination of water, milk, half and half, or nut, coconut or hemp milks.

Add spices like fresh grated or powdered ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, and dried fruits such as raisins, currents, cranberries, figs, pear, and perhaps the zest from a lemon or lime or orange.

Boil the polenta for about 30 minutes. Eat it straight-away as porridge topped with nuts, yogurt, sour cream or stewed fruit or pour the cooked polenta into a bowl and let it set, as in the picture to the left. Keep the bowl of polenta in the fridge for later use.

For breakfast, serve chunks hot or cold with stewed fruits (as in the top pic), seeds like sunflower and pumpkin, and or slivered almonds browned in a little butter. Drizzle with honey, agave, maple syrup or soft brown sugar.

I had a breakfast like this a couple days running and then on the third day, I cut a chunk of the cold polenta and tossed it into a hot skillet with a piece of sliced turkey bacon, stirring the lot about with a fork to break up the polenta, and creating a space in the center of the skillet, I cracked an egg and let it cook.

For a savory, low fat and phytonutrient-rich breakfast, you could substitute the bacon and egg with tofu or tempeh, and add a green like chard, spinach or kale to your polenta mix.

This week, I'll feature economical and nutritious cereal and grain breakfasts-with-a-difference. Check back tomorrow for ideas on preparing millet and quinoa.

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