This food group contains several different elements. Grains: Couscous, wheat germ and other such items. Rice : white, long and short grained, wild, jasmine, basmati among others. Pasta comes in so many shapes that the imagination is literally the limit. And Cereal: which includes the traditional dry cereals such as corn, bran and wheat flakes as well as puffed rice, and oatmeal, barley, cream of wheat, grits, etc.
I think this food group is a whole bonus group as most ingredients may be eaten alone or used as a component in other dishes.
Instant Couscous is truly a quick fix dish and has grown in popularity over the past ten years. It is a wheat based product that is great to use as a salad ingredient or as a base for a flavorful stew.
One thing I find interesting about couscous is that it contains some protein and is well suited to diabetic diets.
It is pretty much flavorless on its own but that is also what makes it such a terrific base ingredient. It is especially good with Middle Eastern or African cuisines. A chickpea stew, vegetable or lamb stew served atop this grain is delicious. You might also mix it with herbs, olive oil and lemon juice, diced tomatoes to make a side salad.
Barley is good in beef based soups. If you think you've never eaten barley you might not know that it's in Campbell's Alphabet soup that we all grew up eating as children. I used to add both alphabet pasta and a little barley in my homemade soup for my children. Traditionally barley is used ground in breads or as an added ingredient in soups and stews.
Oatmeal and wheat germ may be used as filler in ground meat dishes as well as in breads or eaten on their own. Granola is a popular treat that might be made from these two ingredients. It is a viable option for both health and finances to replace the sometimes pricier dry cereals that are traditionally eaten at breakfast. Oatmeal also is good as a topping for fruit crisps or baked apples. Today on the FoodNetwork program "Chopped" oatmeal was cooked as a sort of risotto type dish by the contestant chefs, which I thought an interesting take on a very versatile cereal.
I find that oatmeal is good to add to breads, pancakes, muffins, etc in both the dry form or as a leftover cooked cereal. In winter months we eat oatmeal often, because it is both hearty and feeling and in my opinion it makes both a great breakfast and a nice light supper for me when I'm alone. Sometimes I reheat the oatmeal in the microwave if we've got leftovers in the fridge and I don't care to make bread or muffins or pancakes with it. When I reheat I usually add milk to the cold cereal and stir every minute or so. I am impartial as to whether I use quick or old fashioned oats, but do generally buy rolled oats which are quicker cooking than steel cut whole oats.
I love rice. It is another ingredient that lends itself well to many things. You can make all kinds of flavored rices to go with a meal, from Spanish to pilafs. Plain white rice is always good as a base for chili, or stew and is just as tasty with a pat of butter or ladle of gravy over it, served as a side dish at a meal. Rice is a great addition to soups. Or may be made as an entree by serving it as risotto though the traditional risotto is a rice shaped pasta.
Leftover cooked rice can be a wonderful bonus ingredient. It may be used in muffins or pancakes or waffles, used as the base for fried rice (a very economical dish for the strained budget), or to make rice pudding. I've shared before that my children loved to have hot rice for breakfast and Alan told me that it was frequently his breakfast this past winter.
Rice is also a good base for many casserole dishes or as filler in meat dishes such as stuffed papers or cabbage leaves. I consider rice as one of the prime stretchers for a tight budget because it does add bulk and heft to a meal that might be a little lean on meat.
Pasta is probably the most versatile main dish item on this list of ingredients. Whether it's topped with a meat sauce or tossed with vegetables or herbs and cheese, pasta is a satisfying main dish for most everyone. Kay loves to make an Asisan noodle dish when she feels in need of comfort food. I sometimes substitute leftover pasta for rice and call it Lo Mein when serving oriental dishes. Leftover pasta makes an excellent salad or may be tossed into a beaten egg mixture and served as a frittata.
With all the various shapes available, pasta is without a doubt the most fun food of this group. Macaroni and cheese is a well loved dish but don't limit yourself to elbow macaroni. My grandmother always made spaghetti and cheese and this was a treat in my childhood that I recently revived and brought to our table when we had leftover spaghetti.
There are sweet noodle puddings that might be made for dessert if you choose, as well.
Pasta may also be added to soups.
You might think boxed breakfast cereals are pretty much a one trick pony but think again. Crushed flaked cereal may be used as breading for oven fried chicken or meat croquettes. I have a broiled frosting recipe that includes cornflakes, brown sugar and melted butter with nuts and coconut. It's a nice topping for a plain cake. Most cereals may be crushed to use as filler to stretch ground meats or may be included in a struesel topping on fruit crisps or muffins or coffee cakes. Or you might make a cereal crust for an ice cream pie.
Heartier cereals such as grapenuts (or other bran based cereals) and shredded wheat may even be served as a hot cereal for breakfast simply by heating milk and pouring over the top. So you see this group may be easily as versatile as the others listed here.
Grits are a Southern favorite and are corn based. They do not taste like cornmeal or hominy however. Grits are a favorite hot breakfast cereal but I think it is a dish that is underused. You may use water, broth or milk to cook grits and each one has it's merits for flavor. Plain buttered grits are on most Southern breakfast menus.
Grits (I prefer white grits but yellow grits are similar to polenta) may be served as a side dish for a fried fish dinner and is a great base for seafood stews. You could easily serve grits in place of polenta if you don't have the coarse meal on hand to make polenta from scratch. Leftover cold grits may be reheated in the same way that I do oatmeal but they may be packed into a loaf pan or square dish and then sliced and fried much as cornmeal mush. You could serve with syrup or tomato sauce depending upon which meal you choose to serve it.
As I said earlier, I think this food group is probably the most versatile and definitely the one group that has the most potential for stretching a budget.