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Monday, February 13, 2012

A Gourmet Pantheon of Porridges

Happy Valentine's Day!

Much as Christmas, the time of forgiveness, family and giving has turned into a festival of consumerism and confrontation between family members, so too has Valentine’s Day, the day of lovers, become the festival of loneliness, heart ache and recrimination for some unfortunate few.
So today, buy the flowers, cook the dinner, do the dishes and be on your best behaviour to ensure your partner feels looked after.
I plan to try Duck a l’Orange ce soir, and maybe some crème caramel as well, but since I've yet to make them, I have nothing to report. Instead, I thought I'd turn my thoughts to porridge, that least romantic of all foods.

“Porridge?” you ask. “I came here for high gourmet food, not this load of tripe. What next? Is he going to be telling me about a glass of milk?”
In spite of preconceptions, porridge can be a glamour food, in a warm breakfasty, cereal kind of way. I first started eating porridge after a trip to the GP (the doctor, not the car race) about a sore knee.
“Porridge for a sore knee?” you interrupt again.
When I went and saw the doctor the phantom noise had gone and I appeared to have full mobility. Doctor conversation ensues:

“You took a Nurofen™? In addition to being a pain killer it’s also an anti-inflammatory. There’s nothing I can do.”
‘So what do I do if it starts creaking again?”
“Have another Nurofen™.”
“And what will happen to my knee?”
“Eventually it will give out. The sound you hear is the cartilage balling up, like pilling on a jumper. Just don’t go for jogs or do squat lifting. Kind of genuflect.”
Incensed at not going in for an arthroscopy, I asked for him to do something for me while I was there. He offered to do a full battery of blood tests and a general check up, which I duly had. The phone rang a week later.
“The doctor wants to see you.”
The result? High cholesterol, that 21st Century problem. I think mine’s genetic, apart from the French cooking and butter and what not, as my brother is on pills for his cholesterol. A second opinion was garnered from one of my doctor friends over dinner. He’s originally from Germany and is basically no nonsense.
“What a load of rubbish. What are your figures? You’re not even forty yet, and those figures are only a worry if you are a fat sicky. And you’re not a sicky, are you? Eat what you want.”
Confused, I undertook not to take pills and to moderate my diet with a weather eye to cholesterol. And as part of the regime, I undertook to eat cereal every morning.
I’ve spoken to a number of people, done some research, and it appears that oats are the tip top champion at reducing cholesterol, and that WeetBix™ have the nutritional content of cardboard. Allegedly!! A hippy told me at a BBQ beside a whole roasted lamb we were picking at over the holidays.
The first time I tried making porridge, it was an absolute disaster. Too thick, lumpy, dry and generally crap. I thought:
“How can anyone eat this muck?”
But then I recalled the smooth bowl of warm goodness my Mum used to give me in winter as a kid, and swore me an oath beneath the moon and stars that I would hit all the honky tonks and bars and learn how to make the world’s best porridge.
And in the last year think I’ve cracked it. To whit, Kit’s Gourmet Porridge.

Porridge (for 1!)
* Half a cup of traditional rolled oats. I discovered this morning that no-name oats are not as well “rolled” as Uncle Toby’s™ Traditional Rolled oats, resulting in less of a paste than individual oats-en-porridge (which is probably better for you, but not as glam). So go the expensive rolled oats. (Post-script: someone gave me a razz for bigging up Uncle T's, and remarked that Lowan
made very good oats... which I just tried this morning and can confirm. Go Lowan!!).
* A cup and a little slosh (about an extra 50 to 100 mls) of milk. I like Rev™.

Combine in pot and bring to a slow simmer. Do not allow the milk to boil. Stir with a wooden spoon. As the porridge blips away on the stove, you can do the dishes from the night before, which is another bonus. It takes around six to eight minutes to get the right consistency. The porridge should start to become a firm paste, kind of like a clingy glob that sticks to the spoon, but not too dry. Decant to a bowl, mix in a *squeeze of honey (have you tried Manuka honey from New Zealand? - apparently it has healing powers) and allow to sit while you finish the dishes. Add a small slosh of milk to lubricate the edge of the bowl and form a skin on the porridge. Eat, preferably with a silver spoon.
It does take a knack and you will need a few goes.
Some people don’t like sweet porridge. Jane prefers a pinch of salt over a squeeze of honey. To each their own and vive le difference.
Once you’ve managed to make standard porridge, a little door opens for you to enter the mysterious world of gourmet porridge.
“Qu’est que si que ca?” I hear Harry Hill ask.
Well, porridge is basically like toast. Once you’ve got the toast you can then add toppings. Here are a few variations.


Whisky Porridge
I got this, and the next recipe, from Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food, a thoroughly tip-top cook book I recommend to anyone, but I include here my own pukka observations, alright?
At the last minute of cooking the porridge as above, add *half a shot a Scottish whisky. I have a bottle of Tullamore Dew™ beside the stove, and can recommend it highly. The alcohol boils off at a lower temperature than water, so you don’t need to worry about it getting you drunk. That said, if you’re worried about letting good ethanol escape away into the atmosphere, you can inhale deeply over the pot as you stir it in and suck up the alcohol through your breathing apparatus. Add to this *a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. This can be overdone, so no more than about a quarter of a teaspoon. At this point Jamie Oliver adds half a chopped banana, but if you were married to Jane, who has an aversion to all things bananary, you might rethink this and only add if bachelor-ing it up. Mix in honey. Delish.

Dark Chocolate and Marmalade Porridge
This one is not for every day. It’s a special occasion porridge, when you’re being particularly decadent.
In the last minute of the porridge cooking, grate in *some dark chocolate, preferably Lindt™. How much? Not too much. Remember this stuff is like toast: if you were making a fancy sweet toast with chocolate, how much would you add to a slice or two? I’d suggest no more than a tablespoon, but it’s up to you. Next, add *a teaspoon of seville orange marmalade. Make sure it is a bitter marmalade, as sweet ones tend to overpower the dark chocolate and make the whole thing a bit sickly.
Coco-lishous, and decadent.

White Chocolate and Raspberry Jam
Use the same technique as above, with slightly less jam (half a teaspoon). An experiment of mine, and not as good as the above, but worthy of note. Reminiscent of an Iced Vovo™.

Cinnamon and Brown Sugar
This variation occurred to me one morning after making my great-Aunty Claire’s cinnamon toast which I learnt to make when I was a kid at her crazy flat in Bendigo, with all her orange wigs and light fittings that looked like sugared lollies. She’d get us to make cinnamon toast on white bread with butter; you basically sprinkle on ground cinnamon and plenty of sugar to imitate a cinnamon doughnut.
This porridge is the same concept and, can I add, an unmitigated triumph and worthy of joining the Pantheon of Porridges. Sprinkle around *a teaspoon, or to taste, of dried cinnamon, and *2 teaspoons of brown sugar once your ordinary porridge is made.

Gourmet porridge. Make up your own (and send us the recipe!)! It reduces cholesterol, is simple, wholesome, will make you live longer, improve your bowel movement scenarios, as well as reducing your likelihood of a heart attack or stroke. Porridge. I give it six and a half tentacles.


Sally said...

My 85 year old Dad LOVES porridge so will send the receeps on to him! I can't stand the stuff!

Chloe said...

Looking forward to trying your gourmet porridge ideas. At the moment I am busy making baby porridge:)
Jane is so sweet she needs to balance out with the salt!