Why cereals are evil; or, why breakfast is the greatest meal ever

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I love breakfast. But equally, they know how much I deplore and detest cereal. And I’m not discriminatory here, no breakfast cereal is acceptable, in my opinion.

Here’s why:

Popular breakfast cereals like cornflakes, all bran, bran flakes, weetabix, shredded wheat, wheatos, cheerios, special K, whatever, they’ve all been cooked to death before they even make it into the box. Every perfectly healthy-and-good-for-you grain has been pressure-cooked into oblivion, right from the start.

Then they’re flattened by an immense roller, and dropped off a conveyor belt ready for the oven. Then they’re oven-baked to that fabulous crunchiness that everyone loves so much (and everyone can’t wait to make soft with milk). When they come out of the oven, they have so little nutritional value that in order to be sold as ‘food’ they have to be sprayed with vitamins and minerals.

Who needs to eat food which has been processed to the point where it needs spraying with something to give it minimal nutritional value?!

No one, that’s who!

But breakfast is the best meal of the day … here’s why:

It sets your metabolism off, so that you get energy delivered before you run out. It tastes great if you choose the right things, and part of this is because the time between dinner and breakfast is the longest gap in 24 hours that you have between meals. And because … well … you can eat things like this:Perfect little poached eggs (one a double yolker) on fresh homemade scones with spinach

Blue Cheese and Broccoli Baked Eggs

Today was a writing-for-money day, and on those days I eat at funny times of the day. Having had lunch at about 3:00 pm (and wolfing a Tunnock’s Caramel and a Moser Roche dark mint chocolate bar (about 25g), I didn’t need anything to eat until about 10:00 pm. And boy, was I hungry. And greedy.

I devised a kind of broccoli and cheese egg bake, and ate it with oven-baked na’an bread and homemade red coleslaw.

egg and broccolli bake

Cut up into small florets enough broccoli (one average-sized floret into 5-6 pieces) to cover the bottom of the dish, and blanche. While that’s cooking (no more than a couple of minutes), heavily grease the inside of the dish with softened butter and line with the broccoli when done.

Crumble some blue cheese on the broccoli. Not too much. (I used Blacksticks Blue, creamy and quite salty, but doesn’t sting your mouth). Break enough eggs into the dish to lightly cover the main of the contents, careful not to break the yolks.

Salt bravely.

Spread a few teaspoons of creme fraiche across the eggs; it doesn’t have to cover the whole dish, and salt this gently.

Grate some plainer cheese on the top – I went for Creamy Lancashire – and sprinkle small dices of chorizo or bacon on top. Bake until the top begins to brown, and start eating within a few minutes or the yolks will set.

The idea is to dip the toast or na’an bread into the yolks and the whites to be combined with the creme fraiche, like a very light, hot quiche.

egg and broccolli bake

Old Style Baked Cheesecake (credit to Nigella)

With one thing and another (actually at least one new crisis every day for two weeks) there hasn’t been much time for cooking and baking. To look at my kitchen, you’d think that I have a flock of laying hens in the garden. About 18 eggs, gratefully received over two weeks ago with the good intentions of having a baking frenzy, and then not baked. Not fried. Not coddled. Nada.

That’s all changed a little today. I didn’t really want to bake, but I forced myself into it. Apart from anything else, the process of cooking is important to my wellbeing. So I did enjoy it, despite my weird ennui.

old style lemon cheesecake

Old Style Baked Cheesecake with grateful credit to Nigella Lawson since it’s her recipe which I reduced because I didn’t have 725g curd cheese. I had 227g. I added some cream cheese (Philly-style) and the total cheese came to 281g. This resulted in some very peculiar quantities, but if you want to read the original, please check out Nigella’s Kitchen (US Nigella Kitchen) page 173.

So that I could see how large (or small) a tin I would need (a 7 inch round loose-bottomed tin), I mixed the topping first, though Nigella logically stipulates the base before the cheese.

Set the oven going at 170 deg C.

The Topping

Take 281g curd and cream cheese, bash it about with a wooden spoon to soften it, and add about 60g vanilla caster sugar. Beat that in, and follow it up with 2 free range egg yolks (save the whites). Beat in about 20g cornflour – yes, sieving it is usually essential, but I didn’t, and there were no icky lumps in the mix. Add in about 3 teaspoons of lemon juice (and at this point I should have added the zest of one lemon, not instructed by the recipe but with 20-20 hindsight), a pinch of salt, and fold in about 100ml softly whipped double cream. Put everything to one side.

Line the tin with foil. (I did so with difficulty. Do not ask how.)

The Base

About 90g self-raising flour (Nigella wisely says plain but I didn’t have any because I keep buying self-raising when really I need plain flour) whizzed in the machine along with 20g vanilla caster sugar, 14 g soft butter (should’ve been about 10g, but I like living dangerously), and 1 whole egg, until everything looks breadcrumby. Then splash some whole milk (I said a splash) and whizz it on a pulse setting till it clings together like dough. Dump it onto the bottom of the foil lined tin, smooth it out (I used wet fingers) and shove it in the oven for around ten minutes.

If you make it with SR flour, it rises. That would be obvious. I just pressed it down with the back of a spoon. It made for a very light base, which was nice.

Whisk the saved egg whites into soft peaks (no prizes for throwing out the original egg whites and having to crack open two new eggs at this point), firmly beat a large dollop of froth into the topping mixture, and fold in the rest.

Fold thoroughly. Just be gentle. Once I was a coward and didn’t incorporate whisked egg whites properly; my cake rose on one side and not at all on the other. Just saying.

Pour the mix onto the base and place in the oven. The original recipe said 1 hour, but that was nearly 3 times the size, so I whipped it out within about 35 minutes, and it was pretty darn perfect. Set and scorched on the top, wibbley-wobbley beneath.

Nigella says the surface may crack, but that makes it more authentic. Presumably because I’d messed around with her recipe, it wasn’t remotely authentic and didn’t crack. It isn’t overly sweet or rich at all because the curd cheese is low fat and I probably underguessed the quantity of sugar. It wasn’t lemony enough by far, so next time I will get that zest in.

And there will be a next time. It’s got a great mouthfeel, firm and unctuous at the same time.

Newcomers – Goslings are Imminent!

What a day it has been today. A terrific hangover, the food shopping trip that took me straight to Hell, Sainsbury’s style, some appalling news, a new copywriting opportunity with proper money attached, and a fabulous event to report:

Two goose eggs are peeping and tapping in the incubator!

I initially thought my nose was whistling as I was turning the eggs this evening! That’s the kind of thinking you do when you’ve had a lifetime of colds and allergies. I finally twigged on, switched off the lights and lit the torch on my phone, picked up each suspect egg, peered at its shadow and listened hard. The fourth egg produced a moving shadow through the shell. Every time it whistled, the shadow moved. The tapping was very clear.

It can take around 24 hours for goslings to hatch – sometimes longer I think – so I’m trying not to panic. Not succeeding too well there.

A second egg started up about half an hour later. The tapping on the shell hopefully denotes that they have internally ‘pipped’, meaning that the inner membrane has been broken by the gosling, and that there is now air throughout the egg.

I’ve sprayed all the suspect eggs (five) with room temp water, and I’m waiting to see what happens. The water should make the shells easier to break through (external pipping), though who knows. There is so much conflicting advice on the internet, you can only read so much without becoming confused, so I’ve looked at a few posts (confirming that mine are probably in the second stage of their four or five stage hatching) and abandoned the show.

Even though they sound healthy and gobby in a gooseish way, there are a million ways to kill baby goslings while trying to help them, and there’s always the chance they’ll screw it up themselves.

Lambing time should be called hold-your-breath-and-pray-for-life time. On every level.

Basa Not

Basa fish

This fish is marketed similarly to cod and haddock, but I’m not sure it shares their reputations.

I bought two shrinkwrapped basa fillets from the Co-op (not the best start for a meal), and proceeded to egg and breadcrumb them – even using the classic Paxo, orange breadcrumbs, so they looked pretty perfect. Breadcrumbs were seasoned with a touch of salt (definitely needed more) and a heavy shower of mixed herbs.

It was a good idea, executed reasonably well. Tasted … Well … Not that good at all. The unfortunate basa fillets tasted vaguely of fish for a millisecond, then dissolved into a flavourless mush in the mouth. Unlike the meaty cod, the basa’s flesh breaks up into tiny strands, similar to skate. It’s an unexpected mouthfeel after the crispy outer shell.
Meal was shared with some homemade potato salad.

I threw the second breadcrumbed fillet in the freezer, but tonight I took it out. It definitely needed something. Preferably salty.

Using a tiny mound of breadcrumbs (left over), I mixed a larger handful of grated cheese, a serious pinch of salt and some mixed herbs. This dry mixture easily covered the surface of the fish and baked well as the oven defrosted the fillet and crisped it up.
Meal was eaten with a heap of homemade coleslaw and some capers.

Still no flavour *sigh*. The crust was nice.



The Cauliflower Pizza Crust Epidemic.

I swear Cauliflower Crust has gone viral. The Daily Dish Recipes swears it is a kid proof, fussy eater’s cauliflower. The type they don’t realise about until they’ve eaten it.

I had to try it, but I knew I’d want to write about it, so I made mine a little different. Small, and perfectly formed.

I did the Paleosisters’ recipe for the first batch (sort of – how heavy is 1 cup of grated cheese?!? American recipes still baffle me), using Jarlberg (because it goes stringy) and chucked in some self-raising flour to boost the quantities for the second lot. The garlic was CRUCIAL to the flavour. (Missed it out of the second batch and missed it, a lot).

Tips to help yourself:

  • grease the pan. Plenty of oil. Don’t skimp.
  • eat them while they’re warm.

Gaps in the production line already. These had great flavour with the backdrop of sweet, nutty, Norwegian cheese.

Two bites and it’s gone!

I wanted to finish them off as mini pizzas – it’s part of the cauliflower’s disguise, almost, so pesto, harrisa, a slice of mozzarella, a couple of spring onions and some pieces of Polish sausage finished the deal … Topped with perfection!

The reason there are only seven cooked final babies in this photo is simple.

A self-confessed cauliflower hater entered the house with several bags of clothes shopping, ate six pizza bites in a row whilst describing her shopping trip and then apologised for eating so many at once. Then I remembered to take a photo.*

Later I was telling her about this recipe. “You’d probably better not try it out on me,” was the response. “Of all the vegetables, that’s the one I’ve never been able to stomach. (Pause) Why are you laughing? (Pause) Was that … Was that the recipe?”

So it does work.

*I am doomed to take out of focus photos of food for the rest of eternity. I’m sure of it.