Porridge has always been around of course but it has become fashionable in recent years. This doesn’t mean we should reject it as a fad; quite the reverse. In fact part of the reason it has become so popular is that its nutritional and health-giving properties have been well publicised. There are studies which show it can help reduce blood cholesterol levels, for example. Oats are low fat and have a low GI (glycaemic index) which means a slow release of the carbohydrate into your bloodstream so your energy levels are sustained for longer and you are less likely to feel hungry mid-morning.
Porridge doesn’t have to mean oats; it can also be made with rye, spelt or barley. I think the two brands of porridge oats most commonly found in our supermarkets are Quaker and Scott’s, but other names are coming to the fore and building a reputation for wholesome breakfast cereals. And we are discovering more about the different types of porridge; we are probably mostly used to oats which have been steamed and rolled into flakes (rolled oats like Quaker and Scott’s) but there are also the oats cut into two or three pieces (called, steel-cut, pinhead or coarse oatmeal). It is said that because of their size and shape, the body breaks these down more slowly, thus keeping you full for longer.
A bowl of porridge can be made fairly speedily using rolled oats, in a saucepan or the microwave, but pinhead oatmeal requires some forward planning. The instructions on the one we buy, by Rude Health (see photo), advise overnight soaking and this is where the Aga comes in, because a mere three or four minutes’ preparation at bedtime means one can wake up to a saucepan of porridge which requires just a quick stir and the addition of your favourite toppings.
So this is what you do:
Just before you go to bed, place 75g oatmeal per person in a pan and add 600ml water. In truth, this makes a large portion so if making for two people, I only add half the amount again, ie I use 112g and 900ml water; for three people 150g/1.2l and so on. You can add a pinch of salt too if you like. My youngest son doesn’t like salt in his so I add a little to my own portion in the morning.
Place your saucepan on the boiling plate and start whisking with a balloon whisk. Keep doing this for about a minute, making sure you get into every “corner” of the pan, and then transfer to the simmering plate and do the same for about two more minutes until the mixture is simmering.
Cover and place in the simmering oven and go to bed.
Next morning, put the kettle on (for tea), take the pan out of the oven and give the mixture a good stir with a wooden spoon. Serve.
You can now add whatever takes your fancy. Here are some options:
A little cold milk and sprinkling of demerara sugar
Dark muscovado sugar stirred into the porridge before adding milk or cream
Maple syrup, raisins and a little double cream (husband’s favourite)
I try to avoid the January sales unless I want to check whether something I’ve had my eye on for a while is reduced. I usually do this online because shops during the sales are not particularly pleasant environments.
It is not worth buying something just because it’s cheap; you have to know you are going to get a lot of use out of it. This is why I am often tempted by items on the Aga Cookshop website, particularly textiles like oven gauntlets and tea towels. They don’t last forever, so if yours are looking worn and threadbare, I suggest you head over there. This is the link.
By the way, I didn’t get them from the Aga shop but I am thrilled with these large hooks for hanging tea towels and oven gloves. (Smaller hooks seem to be available everywhere but don’t quite fit on the Aga rail.) I found them in my wonderful local shop, Kitchens Cookshop. I can’t believe it took me ten years of owning an Aga to discover this way of ensuring these much-used items are always close to hand.
NB: I am not sponsored by Aga or the Aga Cookshop; I just enjoy sharing tips with fellow Aga owners and cooks.
So that’s it for another year and we can get back to normal, whatever “normal” is. The tree has been taken down and is currently awaiting collection in our front garden; all the decorations have been stored away in the spare room cupboard; and Sons 1 and 2 have returned to work, in Cambridge and London respectively. It was so lovely to have them at home, sometimes with and sometimes without the girlfriend of one and the fiancée of the other, and although I should be used to it, I always feel a little sad when they’ve gone; not too sad, mind, because, as my mother says, if your children are happy to leave home, then you have probably done a good job as a parent. Son 3 stayed on for an extra couple of days which softened the blow, as much for his younger brother as for their parents. We all love films but Son 3 is the proper film buff of the family and at his suggestion we sat down on Monday evening to watch Singin’ in the Rain. I hadn’t seen it for years and had forgotten just how marvellous it is and what a wonderful actress the late Debbie Reynolds was: RIP. He returned to London with his dad yesterday, leaving youngest son and me, and Granny in her flat downstairs, in a very quiet house until the weekend.
Before he left I borrowed one of his Christmas presents to make supper: the book Fresh India by Meera Sodha, which is on the bestseller lists. Having eaten so much meat over Christmas we were all craving meat-free dishes and the aubergine and pea curry fitted the bill. The last thing I need is another cookbook but if this recipe is anything to go by, I might be adding this book to my birthday wish list.
Aubergine and Pea Curry
5 tbps rapeseed oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 large onions finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 tbsps tomato purée
1 1/2 level tsps salt
1 1/4 tsps chilli powder (unless like mine, yours is very hot, in which case use less)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon sugar
4 medium aubergines 1.2kg, chopped into 3cm cubes
100g (I used 200g) peas (fresh or defrosted)
Put the oil in a wide-bottomed lidded pan on the simmering plate (conventional hob: medium heat). Once hot, add the cumin seeds and stir for 30 seconds. Add the onions and stir to coat in the oil. Cook (in the simmering oven) for 15-30 minutes until translucent but not brown. Add the garlic and stir-fry for a couple of minutes
Add the tomatoes and purée and cover with a lid. Leave to cook for 5 minutes (or longer in the simmering oven), then add the salt, chilli powder, turmeric and sugar and cook for a further couple of minutes
Now add the aubergines, coating the pieces with the masala, pop the lid back on the pan and cook for around 10 minutes (or longer in the simmering oven). You want the aubergines to be tender and soft with little or no water running from them. If they’re watery or not yet tender, they may need another few minutes’ cooking
When they’re cooked, add the peas and cook for a couple of minutes
Serve with hot chapattis or plain boiled Basmati rice
I used one of those large round aubergines from Natoora. It weighed 620g and I was worried it would not be enough but it was plenty. Am therefore a little baffled by the aubergine quantity recommended in the book. Would it not have led to a very dry curry?
Also: I only used 5 cloves of garlic and 1 large onion.
Apologies that I don’t have a photo of this dish (but then nor does the book!). Instead here are a few photos of our Christmas.