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If  you’ve been following The Breakfast Challenge then you’ll know I’m a bit ambivalent about porridge.  I’m trying to like it.  Oats for breakfast are hugely healthy – low GI, cholesterol busting,  lots of  B vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals – but regular old porridge is a bit bland for my tastes, unless it’s loaded up with brown sugar and cream, which sort of defeats the purpose.

So this is my kind of porridge – porridge with the flavours cranked right up.  But it needs a warning. Half the people I’ve tried it with love it (including me), half find it too confronting.  I think the test is, do you like pickled ginger? Or crystallized ginger? That sweet-hot combination? Then you will probably like this.

I’ve also added my recipe for skim milk yoghurt.  There are quite a few good recipes for yoghurt online, including Christine at Slow Living Essentials and Rhonda at Down To Earth.  I’ve avoided posting mine because I’m not sure which bits are really necessary to make it work and which bits are superstition!  But someone asked me in a Comment for my Skim Milk Yoghurt recipe, so here it is.

First the Spiced Strawberry Porridge Recipe:

For a single serve:

In a small pot, over a medium heat (too high and it will boil over) cook for around 5 minutes:

  • 1/3 cup plain (not quick) rolled oats 
  • 2 cups of water
  • ¼ teaspoon of finely grated fresh ginger (start with ¼ – I like a bit more)
  • 1 good teaspoon of honey
  • good pinch salt
  • good pinch freshly ground black pepper ( Not as strange as it seems -strawberries and pepper are a classic combination)
  • little pinch powdered cloves

While it is cooking, hull and halve a cup of strawberries.

When the porridge is nearly thick enough, add the strawberries and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for a couple of minutes longer.  You want the strawberries to be just softened and the porridge turning pink.

Serve with a dollop of:

Skim Milk Yoghurt

Ok, this is deceptively simple but there’s lots of chemistry involved.

  • You want skim milk with the whey proteins denatured by heat.
  • You want slightly more milk solids than in regular liquid milk.
  • You want as little dissolved oxygen as possible.
  • You want the yoghurt bug and no others.
  • And you want a nice warm environment for the yoghurt culture to grow in for 10 to 16 hours.

So, my method is to use powdered skim milk.  This already has the the proteins changed in the process of powdering, and I can make it a bit strong.  If you use fresh skim milk, you need to add a spoonful or two of powdered milk, and heat it up till it just starts to rise, then cool it down again.

I mix it fairly gently by shaking, not using a blender or eggbeater, to avoid incorporating air, and once it is made, I leave it right alone – no shaking, stirring or hassling at all.

I use boiled water to mix it, and I sterilized the jar I make it in (by pressure cooking it for 5 minutes) originally, so as to eliminate competition from other cultures.  (I have tank water with no chlorine, so maybe you don’t need to do this.) Then I just make another batch in the same jar, using the last of the last batch as the starter.

And I use a variety of methods to keep it all warm long enough – the warming oven in the wood stove, a wide mouthed thermos filled with hot water, a blanket and the dashboard of the car out in the sun.

The Recipe (Adapt to Suit)

If you are making it for the first time, sterilize a jar and its lid.  Once you have a jar going, you can just keep using it.

In the sterile jar, put

  • 2 big spoonfuls of plain yoghurt from your last batch, or bought yoghurt of a similar kind (I used Yalna Low Fat Greek Yoghurt)
  • ½ cup of skim milk powder, plus 2 dessertspoons more powder.  I make these last two spoonfuls full cream milk powder, just to add that little bit of richness, but it works with all skim milk powder.
  • 1½ cups of boiled water, cooled to just a bit warmer than “baby bath” temperature.

Put the lid on and tip the jar upside down then up again enough times to dissolve the powder and the yoghurt, without getting it all frothy.

Tip a kettle full of nearly boiling water into a wide mouthed thermos and put the jar, with its lid on, in the thermos.  Put the lid on the thermos, wrap the lot in a towel, and leave it sit without disturbance for 8 hours.  Check. If the water has cooled down, refill the thermos with nearly boiling water and leave it alone again.  It takes between 10 and 16 hours to set, depending, I think, on how vigorous the original culture was.

When it is set you can put it in the fridge, or use it to make labne.  Don’t forget to leave the last two spoonfuls in the jar to make the next batch.

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I’m on a mission to lower my “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. I already eat really well, and I can’t bring myself to consider the “proven to lower cholesterol” margarines so there’s not a lot to play with.  Oats, lots of oats, and oat bran, linseeds, and macadamia oil are just about the limit of the adjustments I can make.

So this is my new favourite bread.  It has lots of oats.  And some linseeds. And it is easy enough for me to make even on weekday workdays. And it tastes really really good, as toast and as sandwiches.

The Recipe:

It takes 24 hours, but only about 15 minutes work over all that time.  Oh, and you need a sourdough starter.

Before I go to bed:

  • Take the sourdough starter out of the fridge.
  • Mix 1 ¼ cups of unbleached bakers flour, 1 ¼ cups of water, and 1 ¼ cups of starter.  (I use my tank water, which has no chlorine or additives in it).
  • Put half of it back in the jar in the fridge.  You should be left with 1½ cups of fed starter, to put in a bowl covered with a clean cloth on the kitchen bench for the night. By morning it should be frothy, like the picture.

Next morning:

Mix in:

  • ¼ cup crushed linseeds
  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ¾ cup oat bran
  • teaspoon treacle
  • teaspoon salt

Let that lot soak in while you cook ½ cup steel cut oats in 2 cups of water.  Be careful – it will tend to overflow if it is on too high.  Just simmer for around 5 minutes until you have a thick porridge.  Cool a bit, then add to the mix.

Stir in a cup of unbleached bakers flour to make a thick dough. Tip another half a cup of flour on your benchtop and have another half a cup ready.  Tip the mix out onto it, and with floured hands knead in the flour.  Add as much more flour as you need to prevent the dough sticking.  It should only take a few minutes, you should use most of the flour, and you should end up with a ball of soft, springy, not too sticky bread dough.

Put a good dollop of macadamia (or olive) oil in a large bowl, swirl the dough ball around in it to coat, cover the bowl with a clean cloth, and leave out on the benchtop for the day to prove.

When I get home at 5.30

The dough will be two to three times the size it was when I left.  I tip it out onto the benchtop (it’s already oily so no need to flour) and knead very briefly – a minute or so – then put it in a oiled baking tin. Slash the top with a sharp knife, cover with the clean cloth again and leave again.

At 7.30

The bread will have doubled in size again.  I put the loaf in the middle of a cold oven, turn the oven on to medium hot, and bake.  It takes about 40 minutes in my oven.  I know when it is done when the crust is nicely browned and it sounds hollow.
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If you’ve been following the Breakfast Challenge series at all, you’ll know that “my current favourite” breakfast is usually only the current favourite for a few weeks.

Partly that’s because what is best, in taste and in health and in cost, is always based on the fruits and nuts and grains and vegetables that are in season.  And partly it’s because I get bored fast, and it’s too easy to avoid boring breakfasts even on very busy school and work days.

So this is unusual.

This is my current favourite breakfast for weeks now, one that I have been regularly going for several days in a row.  I like it for all the usual reasons – tasty, easy, fast, cheap – but not least because I can feel it doing my cholesterol good.  Besides oats and oat bran, which are full of a kind of soluble fibre that reduces cholesterol, they have macadamias, which work as well as the “clinically proven to lower cholesterol” fake food margarines  based on hydrogenated sterols that are being so aggressively marketed these days.

Really good for crazy busy mornings, because I can make a batch that lasts for a few days and grab a couple on my way out the door.

Sadly, it’s coming to the end of the macadamia season, so I’m making the most of it.

The Recipe:

Turn the oven on high to heat up.  You want a hot oven.

In a food processor, blend together:

  • ½ cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup oat bran
  • ½ cup plain raw macadamias (if possible, freshly cracked)
  • a teaspoon of grated lemon zest

Blend until it is a coarse meal, like breadcrumbs, then add

  • 2 dessertspoons of honey
  • 2 dessertspoons of macadamia or rice bran oil
  • 2 dessertspoons of lemon juice

Blend a bit more just to combine.

You should be able to squeeze the mixture together, with wet hands, into little balls about half the size of an egg. If you need to, add a tiny dash more of any of the liquid ingredients and blend again till they will hold together. Put the balls on a greased biscuit tray and flatten them with a fork.

Bake for around 6 to 8 minutes until they are golden.  Cool on the tray (they will crispen up as they cool).

They will keep for a few days in an airtight jar.

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It’s not fair.

My partner went to the doctor for a minor thing, and because he is a male of a certain age who almost never goes to the doctor, and because she is good and thorough, he came away with a blood test.

Which gave him a clean bill of health and very good cholesterol levels.

This week I had a blood test but (and he’s still gloating about it) mine came back with high cholesterol.  The good news is that it was high for both kinds, good and bad, and higher for the good than the bad.  But still, coming from a family with a history of heart disease, I’d rather it was lower.  Here’s hoping our kids inherited his cholesterol genes.

So I have a newfound enthusiasm for oats for breakfast.

Oats are a super food, full of a soluble fibre that lowers bad cholesterol and keeps blood sugar stable. They also have lots of  B vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. I use oats in bread and baking, but I’ve only had one porridge recipe in the Breakfast Challenge series because I find porridge a bit bland without lots of sweetener which undoes some of the benefits.

I actually like my oats better savory than sweet, and in a pressure cooker, steel cut oats will cook quickly enough to be a good option. Steel cut oats are whole oats just chopped a bit.  They look like this.  They are available in supermarkets and health food shops. This recipe looks more complicated than it is.  It comes together within about 15 multitasking minutes.

The Recipe:

(For a single serve – multipy by the number of people)

  • In a pressure cooker or saucepan, sauté half an onion, finely diced, in a little olive oil.
  • Add a bit of diced carrot and keep sautéing.
  • Use a garlic crusher or a grater to crush in a clove of garlic, a little knob of ginger and a little knob of fresh turmeric (or a pinch of turmeric powder).
  • Add a third of a cup of steel cut oats and two cups of water.
  • Put the lid on the pressure cooker. bring to pressure and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Or put a lid on the saucepan and simmer for around 30 minutes.
  • While it is cooking, dice about two thirds of a cup of other vegetables.  I used peas, snow peas, and broccoli.
  • Release the pressure, stir, add the vegetables and a little dash of soy sauce, tamari or miso. Put the lid back on and cook for just a minute or so longer.
  • Serve into a bowl and add more soy to taste.

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I found this gem iron in an op shop.  It took me several months and quite a few goes to learn how to use it, but now it is one of my favourite kitchen tools.  It’s a heavy cast iron baking tray for tiny little cake-scone-muffin bites called gems. It’s an old fashioned implement designed for the days when any self-respecting cook was expected to be able to whip up a batch of baking at a minute’s notice. Which makes gem irons due for a resurgence in these days when time poverty beats money poverty every day.

Once you get the hang of gem irons, this can be done in less than 20 minutes – 5 minutes preparation and 10 to 12 minutes cooking time – making it feasible to be a domestic goddess (or god) and bake on weekday mornings.

The Recipe:

Turn the oven on to medium high and put the gem iron on the top shelf. It needs to be sizzling hot before you put the batter in.

Use an egg beater to beat together

  • 1 egg
  • 3 dessertspoons of plain low fat yoghurt
  • 1 dessertspoon of honey
  • pinch cinnamon

Stir in

  • half a cup (4 good dessertspoons) of dried fruit, seeds and nuts.  I used pepitas, sunflower seeds, chopped macadamias and sultanas, but you could use dates, dried apple, almonds – whatever you have and is in season.
  • half a cup of rolled oats
  • 3 dessertspoons of wholemeal self-raising flour

You will end up with a thick batter. Like muffin batter, it is best not over-mixed.

Take the hot gem iron out of the oven and put a tiny dob of butter in each hollow.  You only need a small teaspoonful altogether.  It will sizzle.  Tilt the iron to spread the melted butter.

Working quickly, spoon the batter into the hot gem iron and put it back in the oven, near the top and up fairly high. Bake for around 10 minutes till the gems are almost cooked.

The Syrup

Meanwhile, in a small pot, melt a good dessertspoon of butter and a good dessertspoon of honey together. Working quickly, spoon a little syrup over each gem and put them back in the oven for another few minutes.

They’re best hot, straight from the oven, but if you make a double batch, you may even have leftovers for lunch boxes, making this double as a Muesli Bar Challenge recipe as will.

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal”. I’m going for a year’s worth of breakfast recipes, based on in-season ingredients, quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and  preferable, in nutrition, ethics, andtaste.  The Muesli Bar Challenge was my 2010 Challenge.)

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I have a bit of a family history of heart and vascular disease, so citrus season is a really good opportunity to change my risk level.  There’s some good science supporting the idea that the  bioflavinoids in citrus fruit strongly help prevent heart attacks, and there’s also  evidence that the pectin in the pulp in grapefruit is extra good.

And I quite like the bitterness of grapefruit.  I have a theory that bitter tastes are often acquired tastes, because bitter foods are usually either medicinal or poisonous.  So natural selection would favour tasters who were very tentative and cautious at first, but if there were no adverse effects, decided they really liked the flavour.

We’re just starting to pick pink grapefruit, and they’re sweet and juicy with just an edge of interesting marmelaide-y bitterness. But if grapefruit don’t do it for you, you might like to try the same idea with tangelos.

The Recipe:

Chop a grapefruit into quarters and peel.  Use a paring knife to remove the pith from the core – the white pith is the very bitter bit, and though it is very good for you, too much of it is overpowering.

Melt a teaspoon of butter in a pan.  Add

  • a teaspoon of honey
  • 2 dates, chopped
  • 6 macadamia nuts, roughly chopped. (Fresh macas in shell in season are a different thing to the stale old things you buy in packets. A macadamia cracker is a great piece of kitchen equipment.)
  • a big dessertspoon of rolled oats
  • a big teaspoon of sunflower seeds
  • half a teaspoon of vanilla essence

Break the grapefruit into its segments and add to the pan.  Gently cook for a few minutes, turning the grapefruit segments once and stirring gently, until the macas and the grapefruit just start to colour.

Scrape out into a bowl.  Put one grapefruit segment back and squash it to release the juice and deglaze the pan.

Serve warm topped with greek yoghurt.

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This is porridge to convert non-porridge eaters!

I’m not a huge porridge fan normally.  I know oats are really really good for you – full of fibre, lower bad cholesterol, lots of  B vitamins, good range of minerals, phytochemicals, etc etc.  And the kind of soluble fibre –  beta-glucan – slows both the rise in blood glucose and the fall. So it keeps you feeling not just full but also clear-headed and energetic and not craving a sugar hit at morning tea time.  But I find ordinary porridge just a bit too bland unless you add lots of sweetener which undoes the benefits of the low GI.

Apples are right in season now, just for another month or so, and they’re hugely healthy too, with phytonutrients called polyphenols that protect against a range of diseases. I’ve topped it with pomegranate, just because I had a fresh picked one and it made it look beautiful! And home-made low fat yoghurt, yet another superfood.

It takes just 5 minutes, literally, to make in a pressure cooker, but only 10 minutes or so even in a pot.

(The Breakfast Cereal Challenge is my 2011 challenge – a year’s worth of breakfast recipes that are quick and easy enough to be a real option for weekdays, and that are preferable, in nutrition, ethics, and taste,  to the overpackaged, overpriced, mostly empty packets of junk food marketed as “cereal” .)

The Recipe:

This recipe makes one adult or teenager sized serve. Multiply by as many people as you need.

It’s the little detail bits that really make this.

  • Put ½ cup of plain rolled oats (not quick oats) in a bowl and pour over 1½ cups of boilng water. Let it soak for a minute
  • Dice 1 green apple into small but not tiny dice – about 12 mm.
  • Melt one teaspoon of butter and one teaspoon of honey in a pressure cooker.
  • Add the apple and a pinch of cinnamon, and fry for just a minute stirring just once, till the apple absorbs the butter and the bottom of the pot starts to brown. (You want caramelisation, not stewing).
  • Pour in the soaked oats, and add
    • little pinch of salt
    • little squeeze of lemon juice (a teaspoon or so)
    • a dessertspoon of sultanas (organic ones are worth it)
  • Put the lid on the pressure cooker, bring to pressure, and pressure cook for 2 minutes. Or, in a pot, simmer for 7 or 8 minutes.

Serve with a good dollop of plain yoghurt, and quarter of a pomegranate if you want to be fancy!

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Last week of the school term, and it’s been hard finding space for Muesli Bar Challenge recipes in amongst everything else.  But this week is the non-planting week by the lunar calendar, and though I don’t follow it very religiously, it is also a bit too wet for planting (ironically – mostly I complain about it being too hot and dry for planting, but I avoid stepping too much on very wet soil to avoid compacting it).

I have been waiting for apple season to post this recipe.  It is, like all the Muesli Bar Challenge recipes, fast and easy enough to knock up on a weeknight, and low fat,  low sugar, low GI enough to belong in everyday school or work lunch boxes.  Apples are right in season now, and there’s good evidence that the polyphenols in apples (especially in the skin, and missing in the juice) are protective against a big range of diseases, including a heap of different cancers. This recipe also features oats, which are a superfood –  a low calorie,  low GI carbohydrate, with good amounts of B vitamins and several minerals, and a kind of fibre that is really effective at stopping cholesterol being deposited in your arteries.

The Recipe:

Makes 8 slices (You need a shallow baking dish of 8 slice capacity, like a pie dish but preferably square).

Pare or thinly slice 3 green apples.  The wide blade on my grater is a good tool for this, but you could use a mandoline or just a knife.

Put them in a pot with:

  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 dessertspoon sultanas
  • 1 dessertspoon lemon juice
  • Good pinch of  cinnamon
  • Little pinch of cloves

As soon as the apples start cooking they will release juice, so you want just enough water to start them off.  A wet saucepan should be enough.  Cook over a fairly low heat, stirring frequently, for 5 or 10 minutes till they are soft and starting to caramelise.

While they are cooking, in a food processor, blend together:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup wholemeal self raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 40 grams butter
  • 2 dessertspoons honey
  • 4 dessertspoons low fat plain yoghurt

You should end up with a soft biscuit dough.

Take half the dough and press it into the base of a greased baking dish.  It should be about 1.25 cm (half an inch) thick.  Spread the apple mixutre on top of the base.

Put a little flour on your bench and roll the other half of the dough out with a rolling pin to fit on top.  Press it down so that it is touching the apple mix.  Prick decoratively with a fork all over.  You can also sprinkle a teaspoon of raw sugar decoratively on top if you like.

Bake in a moderate oven for 30 minutes until golden.  (I forgot these and cooked them just a bit too long – they are a little darker than I would like.)

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This is my current favourite breakfast, and the next in the Breakfast Cereal Challenge. The first of the new season apples have just arrived at our local Farmers Market, coming down from the Tablelands (within our 160 km range as the crow flies), and there are still some late season peaches too, so just for a few weeks the seasons overlap.

Living with stand-alone solar power, you become very aware of what an energy guzzler refrigeration is.  Our little, 60 litre, 12 volt electric fridge is the biggest electricity consuming thing in our household, by a long way.  So I hate to think how much power is consumed, and how much greenhouse gas is created, cold storing apples.

One of the benefits of refusing to buy cold-stored apples is that you stop taking humble apples for granted and really appreciate these  first of the season ones.

Apple season is all over by the end of May in my part of the world.  If you live further south, it probably won’t start till next month and though the season is longer, it won’t last into spring.  Apples cold store reasonably well, but who would choose a cold-stored apple when there are fresh, just picked strawberries instead? And conversely, who would choose strawberries imported from USA and treated with methyl bromide, when you can buy fresh, crisp, sweet new season apples?

The Recipe:

Like all the Breakfast Cereal Challenge recipes, this one is simple, fast and healthy enough for a work and school day mornings.

This quantity is the amount I make for me.  You can double it, but don’t try to do too much at once or the fruit will stew.

Chop an apple and a peach into bite sized pieces.

Heat a little macadamia oil or butter in a heavy pan and saute the chopped fruit, along with a handful of  pepitas, a handful of sunflower seeds, and a handful of raw rolled oats.  Sprinkle over a teaspoon of cinnamon. Cook for just a few minutes, stirring gently occasionally, till the fruit starts to caramelise and the seeds toast.

Serve warm with a good dollop of plain, low fat yoghurt.

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