Saturday, 21 May 2011

Exceptionally Tasty Oatmeal Porridge

Did you know, children, that porridge is one of the most ancient cooked foods? People have been eating porridge for thousands of years! And there are three good reasons for that: 1) It is extremely tasty, 2) it's very good for you, and 3) it's really easy!

As easy as it is, Auntie Megan does like to add a step or two to make it even more tasty. But you can do whatever you like, since at the end, the porridge you make will in fact be for you, not for me.

Did you also know that there are many different types of porridge? Porridge can be made with all different kinds of starchy things, like rice, wheat, corn, millet (another Auntie Megan favorite) and barley. It is eaten all over the world! But today we're going to make it with oats.

Oats are high in fiber, like many of the things I have shown you so far. But there is another kind of fiber, called soluble fiber, which is found in abundance in oats. Soluble fiber helps to keep your bad cholesterol levels low. This helps keep the blood inside you flowing freely to all parts of your body, and blood carries other nutrients to your muscles, so it's very important. If your blood was slowed down because it couldn't flow easily, then your muscles would get hungry, then you would be too tired to play, and that is NO FUN. Oats are also very high in protein and lipids, which help to build strong muscles so you can play better, and that IS fun.

Auntie Megan's Exceptionally Tasty Oatmeal Porridge

1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter (10g)
2 Tbsp steel cut or pinhead oats
1/3 cup rolled oats (not sure of the weight - probably about 35-50g)
pinch salt
cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ground ginger, allspice or any other warm spice you like
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp brown sugar

Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until melted and just beginning to foam. Add the pinhead oats and stir to coat. Turn the heat to medium and toast the oats in the butter for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. They may brown slightly, but the real indicator is when they begin to smell like heaven warm oatmeal cookies or bread.

When they've reached this stage, add the rolled oats and the pinch of salt, and stir to coat. Continue to toast for a few minutes until the cookie smell returns, then add a dash or two of your spices. I use a tiny pinch of cloves and about a half tsp of cinnamon. Stir in and toast for about 30 seconds.

Add the water carefully. It will hiss and bubble, possibly a bit violently. Stir immediately to calm it down and to prevent sticking. If it is very thick (unstirrably so), add another splash or two of water until it's fairly liquid. Simmer gently for 5 minutes until it starts to thicken and the oats start to soften.

Add the milk and stir. The milk will thicken even more quickly than the water, and it will turn creamy quickly, so start adding the sugar and dried fruit right away. I use very dark brown muscovado sugar, which has a high molasses content, and which melts into a fudgy puddle. YUM. But you can use anything you like. See below for fruit combo ideas.

As soon as the porridge is the consistency of a very thick soup, remove it from the heat. It will continue to thicken as it cools. Pour into bowls and eat! Please note, the porridge will be very hot straight from the stove, and it will retain its heat for a long time because it is dense, so please test it before giving it to your children. Makes 1 very hungry Auntie Megan serving or 2-3 little people servings. It might not look like a lot of food, but because it is dense, it doesn't take much to fill you up.

What can the kids do?
They can stir stir stir! There's a lot of stirring to do, so prop them on a chair and give them a spoon. The only time the grownup needs to take over is when the water is first added, as it can bubble and steam a bit violently. They can also add any of the other ingredients to the pot.

Fruit Ideas
Oh the possibilities... Well, I like to keep lots of dried fruit on hand for cooking and baking, so I often use dried fruit in my porridge. Lately I've been using a tablespoon of dried currants and a small handful of dried banana. NOT banana chips, which, although delicious, are shockingly high in fat. Dried banana is chewy and has no additives, and it is extremely delicious. Currants are nice because they plump up like miniature raisins. Raisins themselves will swell to quite an impressive size. I also like dates and dried banana in combo. If you're going to use dates, I advise tearing 2 or three whole dates into the porridge, rather than using pre-diced dates which are dry and not that pleasant. Whole dates are soft and fudge-like and you only need a few for a nice natural sugar hit. I also like fresh banana by itself. Grated apple or pear would not go amiss, and neither would poached plums or other stone fruit. You can also add fresh berries, but in that case I'd skip the spices.

The recipe above does not make a very sweet porridge, so if it's too bland for your kids, sprinkle more brown sugar or drizzle a little honey on top once it's in the bowl. If you're really feeling luxurious, top with a tablespoon or two of cream as well.

As for the recent fad in health news that dried fruit should be avoided by children because it is high in sugar and bad for their teeth: AUNTIE MEGAN SAYS JUST SAY NO TO STUPID HEALTH NEWS. This is complete madness. Dried fruit are high in natural sugars and carbohydrates and they are PACKED to overflowing with vitamins and fiber. Any risks they may carry in terms of calories is completely counterbalanced by their nutritional density. Just make sure you buy the kind without added sugar and make your kids brush their teeth! This is the stupidest health news in existence, and I was angry with a capital A when it started making the rounds on parenting sites and other health forums. If you want to avoid teeth-rotting sugar in your kids' diets, here's Auntie Megan's advice: minimize the fruit juice and completely avoid soda. And please for the love of Pete, do not give them diet drinks, which are packed with chemicals and artificial sweeteners and which won't solve the problem in the long term.

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