Sunday 11 December 2016

Fresh start

Whether you're dieting or in a rush for school or work, don't miss the most important meal of the day, says Brenda Costigan. Choose fresh fruit and oats for a breakfast of champions

Published 02/01/2011 | 10:04

To launch into the stresses of a normal day with an empty stomach has been proven to considerably reduce the performance of an individual, be they child or adult. In school, the timetable traditionally schedules the more brain-taxing subjects for the first half of the day.

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Adult surveys show a poorer performance, along with a tendency for accidents, among those who don't break their fast in the morning. It is, admittedly, harder for those who are not morning people, but, in the long run, it is worth the effort to consume something more than just a cup of coffee.

Anyone who is trying to lose weight would do well to have a sensible breakfast, as it helps prevent the temptation of 'keep-me-going' snacks between meals, which are usually high in fat and sugar.

Time is of the essence in the morning, so it is good to know that our Western option of cereal with milk and a little fresh fruit is all that is required to make a nutritionally sound breakfast. The big fried breakfast, high in saturated fat, is most definitely not recommended on a daily basis; it comes under the heading of a treat at weekends.

A thumbnail guide to healthy eating is to eat a wide variety of foods in moderation, going easy on fats and sugars. Another point to note is that wholegrain cereals are proven to help the passage of food through the digestive tract. Also, the inclusion of vegetables and fruits as part of a varied diet is important.

Go Get 'Em Smoothie

This tasty combination is one of Nigella Lawson's suggestions. She suggests collecting overripe bananas, peeling them, cutting them into four and freezing them. When you're making a smoothie, take four pieces of the frozen banana from the freezer and buzz with the other ingredients. This not only chills the smoothies perfectly, but it also helps give them a nice, ice-creamyish sort of bulk.

You will need:

1 peeled banana cut in 4 (preferably from the freezer)

150ml (1/4pt) milk

1 tablespoon runny honey

4 teaspoons chocolate Ovaltine

1/2 teaspoon instant coffee or 1 teaspoon peanut butter

Put all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and buzz. Serve.

banana and orange juice sMOOTHIE

Soothing, nourishing and tasty, smoothies are perfect for a speedy breakfast. Buzz the ingredients together in a food processor just before serving. Ideally, take the yogurt cold from the fridge. Serves 1.

You will need:

1 banana

Juice of 1 orange

125g natural yoghurt

Put all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and buzz. If necessary, thin the mixture with a little milk.

POACHED EGG AND TOMATO

So simple, the egg is known as nature's convenience food. Rich in protein, it makes for a hassle-free breakfast. The addition of a grilled tomato or two introduces a vegetable element to the dish. Serves 1.

You will need:

1 large egg, choose free range and organic for preference

1-3 tomatoes, depending on size

1 slice of toast, buttered (omit butter if you are watching calories)

There are various suggestions for helping the poached egg keep its shape. At the moment, my solution is to fill a small saucepan with 7.5cm (3in) of lightly salted water.

Place a scone cutter into the water, in the centre of the saucepan. Bring the water to the boil and then draw the saucepan off the heat.

Drop the egg gently into the scone cutter. Return the saucepan to the heat and simmer gently until the egg has reached the required set.

While the egg is simmering, grill the tomato, or tomatoes. Serve the poached egg on the hot brown toast with the grilled tomatoes alongside.

FRUITY MUESLI

This is a Swiss-inspired recipe. Use your favourite brand of muesli or other cereal as a base for this healthy breakfast. If you prefer, you can simply use standard porridge oatflakes, see the note below.

Use the juice of an orange -- or juice from a good-quality carton -- and some natural yogurt. Some milk will also help to moisten this delicious mixture. The choice of fruits can vary depending on their availability and what's in season. Serves 1.

Per serving, you will need:

1-2 scoops muesli, cereal, or porridge oats (see note)

1 small banana, sliced

1 tablespoon blueberries

2-3 strawberries, halved (optional)

1 nectarine, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon raisins

1 tablespoon nuts (hazelnuts or almonds or walnuts, or nuts of your choice) raw or toasted, and coarsely chopped

Juice of 1 orange

150ml natural yoghurt

A little milk

Put the muesli, cereal or porridge oats, whichever you are using, into a large cereal bowl and mix in the sliced banana, the blueberries, the halved strawberries, if you're using them, and the peeled, chopped nectarine. Mix everything together well. Then add the raisins and the chopped nuts, stir, and moisten to taste with the orange juice, the natural yogurt and the milk.

Note on oats:

Countless studies have shown that a daily helping of oats is a very good food choice to make, particularly for the heart, because the type of fibre oats contain sticks to the LDL, or 'bad' cholesterol and removes it from the body, thereby preventing it from clogging the arteries.

Oats are excellent for making porridge, which is both a handy and an economical breakfast -- Flavahans have a great selection of different flavours -- or they can form the base of muesli. Oats can be used in baking bread or biscuits, or as a coating for fried fish.

If you would like the oatflakes to be more crunchy and crispy, rather than using them straight from the packet, prepare them in the following manner.

Preheat the oven to 180 C, 350 F, Gas 4. Spread the oatflakes in a fairly thin layer over two or more baking tins and bake for about five minutes until crispy. Stir them once or twice during baking so that they crisp evenly.

Allow them to cool completely, and then store them in an airtight container to use when required.

OVEN-BAKED BREAKFAST RISOTTO

The rashers, mushrooms and tomatoes give a breakfast touch to this classic Italian recipe. This is really a weekend brunch recipe, but it's so delicious I just couldn't resist including it. Baked in the oven, this risotto eliminates the time that's normally required to stir the hot stock gradually into the rice. Serves 4-5.

You will need:

225g (8oz) back rashers, chopped very small

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

150g (5oz) button mushrooms, halved or quartered

25g (1oz) butter

300g (10oz) arborio or other risotto rice

1/2 glass white wine (optional)

150g (5oz) cherry tomatoes, halved

Freshly ground black pepper

Hint of salt

700ml (1 1/4pt) hot chicken stock

50g (1 1/2oz) freshly grated Parmesan

To serve:

Salad (optional)

Crusty or garlic bread (optional)

Use an ovenproof pan or a casserole dish with a lid to fry and bake the risotto. If necessary, do the frying on a large frying pan and then, to cook in the oven, transfer the risotto to a piping-hot ovenproof dish. Heat the oven to 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6. Fry the chopped back rashers in half a tablespoon of the olive oil until they are tasty and golden. Lift them out on to kitchen paper. Wipe the pan. Add a tablespoon of the olive oil and fry the chopped onion and garlic until they become soft, but not browned. Then add in the halved or quartered button mushrooms and fry them until they are soft and juicy. Now add the butter. When it has melted, add the arborio rice, or whichever rice you are using, and stir well over a gentle heat. Add the white wine, if you are using it, and cook gently until it has been absorbed. Add the cooked rashers back in, and add the halved cherry tomatoes also. Season with freshly ground black pepper and maybe a hint of salt -- although the rashers should be salty enough. Pour in the hot chicken stock and stir well. Cover the frying pan with a tightly fitting lid -- or transfer to a heated casserole. A layer of baking parchment or foil between the casserole and the lid will ensure a close fit. Bake in the oven for 18 minutes until the risotto is just cooked and the stock has been absorbed. Stir most of the freshly grated Parmesan through the rice, with the remainder sprinkled on top. Serve with a salad and crusty or garlic bread, if you are using them.

OATMEAL MUFFINS

To make a change from cereal, try these oatmeal muffins. They freeze well.

The melted butter will set and stiffen quickly, making everything difficult to mix, so it is important to work quickly and have everything ready and to hand.

You will need:

150g (5oz) oatflakes

150g (5oz) self-raising flour

50g (2oz) caster sugar

50g (2oz) raisins or 25g (1oz) blueberries

Juice of 1 orange

50g (2oz) butter, cut in small lumps

1 large egg

A little milk

Grease a 12-cup bun tin. Preheat the oven to 200 C, 400 F, Gas 6.

Put the oatflakes, the self-raising flour and the caster sugar into a bowl. If you're using blueberries rather than raisins, then add them to the dry ingredients. Put the orange juice, the lumps of butter and the raisins, if you are using them, into a saucepan. Place it over a moderate heat until the butter has melted and the raisins have plumped up slightly. Take the saucepan off the heat and leave it to one side. Whisk the egg, then add enough milk to measure 150ml (?pt). Whisk the egg and milk together with a fork. Then add the egg and milk mixture to the partly cooled butter mixture -- if it is too hot, the egg will cook. Stir. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir everything well together and work fairly quickly before the butter sets. Spoon the dough into the prepared bun tin -- it will be rather rough in texture. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until the muffins are golden brown and cooked through.

BREAKFAST TOMATO SNACK

Simple, quick and delicious. Serves 2.

You will need:

A little butter

2 ripe beef tomatoes, sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A few little pinches of dried oregano

About 40g (1 1/2oz) Cheddar, grated

2 slices hot brown toast, buttered if liked

Place a layer of tin foil on the hot grill pan. Lightly butter the tin foil where you are going to put the tomatoes. Place the sliced tomatoes on the butter in such a way as to make two rectangles approximately the same size as the toast slices. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and the dried oregano. Scatter a layer of the grated Cheddar lightly over the tomatoes and place under the hot grill. When the cheese turns golden and the tomatoes are heated, remove them carefully with an egg lifter. Place the grilled tomatoes on the hot brown toast and serve.

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