Cooking Basics

Cereals

Unrefined cereals provide proteins, carbohydrates, B vitamins, iron, vitamin E and trace minerals. Some cereals contain the protein gluten - essential for making bread rise but to be avoided by those suffering from coeliac disease or gluten intolerance.

Storage
Cereals are best stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark, dry place. Wholegrains can be stored for up to two years; flaked, cracked grains and flours should be used within two to three months of purchase.

Barley
Barley grows in a wider variety of climatic conditions than any other cereal. Usually found in the shops as whole or pot barley, or polished pearl barley, you can also buy barley flakes or kernels. It can be cooked on its own (one part grain to three parts of water for 45 to 60 minutes) as an alternative to rice, pasta or potatoes, or added to stews. Malt extract is made from sprouted barley grains.

Buckwheat
When roasted, the seeds are dark reddish-brown. Buckwheat can be cooked (one part grain to two parts of water for six minutes, leave to stand for six minutes) and served like rice or you can add it to stews and casseroles. Buckwheat flour can be added to cakes, muffins and pancakes where it imparts a distinctive flavour. Look out for buckwheat spaghetti or soba. Soba noodles, made from buckwheat, are an essential ingredient in Japanese cooking. Buckwheat is gluten free.

Corn/maize
Fresh corn available in the form of sweetcorn and corn on the cob is eaten as a vegetable. The dried grain is most often eaten as cornflakes or popcorn. The flour made from corn - cornmeal - is used to make Italian polenta, and can be added to soup, pancakes and muffins. Cook polenta (one part grain to three parts of water, for 15 to 20 minutes), stirring carefully to avoid lumps. Use it like mashed potato: it's quite bland, so try stirring in tasty ingredients like Gorgonzola, Parmesan and fresh herbs, or press it when cold, cut into slices, brush with garlicky olive oil and grill. You can also get ready-made polenta. Tortillas are made from maize meal, as are quite a lot of snack foods. Don't confuse cornmeal with refined corn starch/flour, used for thickening. Corn is gluten free.

Millet
Millet makes a delicious alternative to rice but the tiny grains need to be cracked before they will absorb water easily. Before boiling, sauté them with a little vegetable oil for two to three minutes until some are seen to crack, then add water carefully (one part grain to three parts of water). Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until fluffy. Millet flakes can be made into porridge or added to muesli. Millet flour is available, sometimes also made into pasta. Millet is gluten free.

Oats
There are various grades of oatmeal, rolled oats or jumbo oat flakes. All forms can be used to make porridge, combined with ground nuts to make a roast, or added to stews. Oatmeal is low in gluten so can't be used to make a loaf, but can be mixed with wheat flour to add flavour and texture to bread, muffins and pancakes. Oatmeal contains some oils and can become rancid, so watch the best-before date.

Quinoa
Quinoa is an ancient crop which fed the South American Aztec Indians for thousands of years, and has recently been cultivated in Britain. It's a grain which is high in protein, making it useful for vegetarians. Cook for 15 minutes ( one part grain to three parts of water) - it's ready when all the grains have turned from white to transparent, and the spiral-like germ has separated). Use in place of more common cereals or pasta, or in risottos, pilaff and vegetable stuffings.

Rice
Rice is one of the world's most important crops. There are three basic kinds in culinary terms: long, medium and short grain. Long grain is traditionally used in savoury dishes and short grain in dessert cooking, although this varies across the globe. Wholegrain rice has a nuttier taste and contains more fibre and nutrients, but takes longer to cook - use one part grain to two parts of water for 35 to 40 minutes. Arborio rice is a medium to long grain rice and is used in risottos because it can absorb a good deal of cooking liquid without becoming too soft. Rice flour is available but, because it's gluten-free, it can't be used to make a yeasted loaf. Rice flakes (brown and white) can be added to muesli or made into a milk pudding or porridge.

Wild rice
Not, in fact, a rice, but an aquatic grass! Difficulty in harvesting makes it expensive, but the colour, a purplish black, and its subtly nutty flavour make it a good base for a special dish or rice salad and it can be economically mixed with other rices (but may need pre-cooking as it takes 45 to 50 minutes to cook, using one part grain to three parts of water).

Red rice
An unmilled short grain rice from Camargue in France, with a brownish-red colour and a nutty flavour. It's slightly sticky when cooked, and particularly good in salads.

Rye
Rye is the only cereal (apart from wheat and barley) that has enough gluten to make a yeasted loaf. However, with less gluten than wheat, rye flour makes a denser, richer-flavoured bread. It's more usual to mix rye flour with wheat flour. Rye grains should be cooked using one part grain to three parts of water for 45 to 60 minutes. Kibbled rye is often added to granary-type loaves. You can add rye grains to stews and rye flakes are good in muesli.

Spelt
Originating in the Middle East, Spelt is closely related to common wheat and has been popular for decades in Eastern Europe. It has an intense nutty, wheaty flavour. The flour is excellent for breadmaking and spelt pasta is becoming more widely available.

Wheat
This is the most familiar cereal used in Britain today, used for bread, cakes, biscuits, pastry, breakfast cereals and pasta. Wheat grains can be eaten whole (cook one part grain to three parts of water for 40 to 60 minutes) and have a satisfying, chewy texture. Cracked or kibbled wheat is the dried wholegrains cut by steel blades. Bulgur wheat is par-boiled before cracking, has a light texture and only needs rehydrating by soaking in boiling water or stock. Semolina is a grainy yellow flour ground from durum or hard wheat and is the main ingredient of dried Italian pasta. Couscous is made from semolina grains that have been rolled, dampened and coated with finer wheat flour. Soak in two parts of water/stock to rehydrate; traditionally it's steamed after soaking. Strong wheat flour (with a high gluten content) is required for yeasted breadmaking. Plain flour is used for general cooking including cakes and shortcrust pastry. Wheat flakes are used for porridge, muesli and flapjacks.

Recipes

Super Cereal

INGREDIENTS:

* 2 ounces cream cheese, softened
* 1/2 cup grape juice
* 1 cup crisp rice cereal
* 2 tablespoons milk

DIRECTIONS:

1. In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add the cereal to the cheese then add the juice to the mixture until it holds together. Stir in milk until the cereal is pasty but not lumpy.

Homemade Cereal

INGREDIENTS:

* 7 cups quick cooking oats
* 1 cup wheat germ
* 1 cup wheat bran
* 1/2 cup brown sugar
* 1/2 cup vegetable oil
* 1/2 cup honey
* 1/2 cup water
* 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
* 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 cup chopped dates
* 1 cup chopped pecans
* 1 cup flaked coconut (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F (135 degrees C).
2. In a large bowl, mix oats, wheat germ, and wheat bran.
3. In a medium bowl, blend brown sugar, vegetable oil, honey, and water. Mix in vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Stir the brown sugar mixture into the oat mixture until evenly moist, and transfer to a large, shallow baking dish.
4. Bake 45 minutes in the preheated oven, stirring every 15 minutes, until lightly brown. Mix dates, pecans, and coconut into the dish, and continue baking about 15 minutes. Allow to cool, and store in airtight containers.

Cereal Chocolate Roll

INGREDIENTS:

* 3/4 cup corn syrup
* 3/4 cup white sugar
* 2 tablespoons butter
* 4 1/2 cups crisp rice cereal
* 1/3 cup butter
* 3 tablespoons milk
* 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
* 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
* 3/4 cup peanut butter

DIRECTIONS:

1. Melt together corn syrup and white sugar over low heat. When mixture bubbles, remove from heat and add peanut butter, butter or margarine, and crispy rice cereal.
2. Grease cookie sheet and put wax paper (also greased) on cookie sheet. Spread cereal mixture on wax paper.
3. To Make Filling: Mix together 1/3 cup butter or margarine, milk and confectioners' sugar. Stir in cocoa and mix well.
4. Spread filling on cereal mixture and roll up as for jelly roll. Slice when cool. Store in refrigerator.

Special Cereal Bars

INGREDIENTS:

* 1 cup white sugar
* 1 cup light corn syrup
* 1 1/2 cups peanut butter
* 7 cups high protein crisp rice and wheat cereal
* 1 cup peanut butter chips
* 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:

1. Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan.
2. In a large sauce pan, combine sugar and light corn syrup. Cook over medium heat until boiling. Stir in peanut butter until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the cereal. Pat the cereal mixture into the greased pan.
3. Melt peanut butter and chocolate chips over a double boiler or in the microwave. Spread the melted mixture over the cereal bars and refrigerate to set.



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