Please Say Please to Porridge!

oatmeal porridge in ceramic bowl with fresh ripe berries

Porridge can be a bit like Marmite - you either love it or you completely body swerve it! There are even a few Scots who won't give it the time of day (shock horror!) BUT as the mornings get darker and colder, you might want to give it a go!

There are dear alone knows how many ways to make it (rough oats, fine oats, with salt or without, do you really need a spurtle and should you always stir the porridge clockwise - more on that later - do you serve it thick so you can cut it into slices or should you have a thick soupy-like texture?) There are definitely more questions than answers!

So... let me simply direct you right now to Rude Health's 2017 Porridge Championship results on their website - this is the 5th year they have held this fiercely-fought spurtle battle and I think you will see that there is nothing pedestrian or lacking in flair about the fabulous porridge-style dishes you can create with the cheap and cheerful oat! I think this image says it all - concentration or what, young man!

And continuing down the porridge road, in his usual crazily-enthusiastic but always seriously-doable way, Jamie Oliver devotes one of his Food Tube videos to How to Make Porridge 5 Ways which, if you are a 'porridge virgin', I recommend you have a look at and/or if you just know that there is rarely or never going to be time to get the spurtle out first thing in the morning, try my Overnight Porridge Recipe - all the goodness but it can be heated up super-fast and simply topped with whatever fruit is in the bowl, a drizzle of honey (or double cream), a handful of fresh nuts and seeds and a shake of cinnamon or nutmeg powder. And whether you have a spurtle or not, remember to stir the porridge clockwise - Scots legend has it that anti-clockwise stirs up the devil - not worth the risk, I say!

Fiona Kirk Overnight Porridge Recipe.jpeg

Oh and by the way, on the 'good for you front': Oats contain protein, magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium, Vitamin E and Vitamin B and have no sodium. In addition, they contain large amounts of soluble fibre including beta-glucans, which can help the stomach feel fuller for longer, help to suppress hunger and prevent snacking and are known to lower cholesterol.

Go on, give it a try, join me for a wonderfully-warming breakfast of porridge and let me know when you find the combination that seriously works for you!

It's Almost Time to Make Pumpkin Soup!

Halloween pumpkin head jack lantern with burning candles over wooden background

When I was a kid, we always used a big knobbly turnip to make the scary lantern we carried from door-to-door (rehearsing our little song or poem along the way - nobody got away with simply telling a joke back then!) in the hope that we would get some sweets, a tangerine, a few monkey nuts and maybe even a few sixpenny bits for our efforts!

What a relief it is now that we have generally accepted the American habit of using a pumpkin rather than a turnip as they were mighty hard to scoop out and carve!

And of course, the huge advantage here is that all that pumpkin flesh you laboriously scoop out can be turned into a deliciously spicy soup, a warming curry or a mash!

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Super-Smooth Pumpkin and Sage Soup

(makes 4 bowls)

Boy is this good - my resident soup tasters have given it top, top, top marks! I started using sage when roasting pumpkin and/or squash in the oven and decided that it was such a great marriage that it was time to experiment and make a soup that celebrates this perfect pairing and not only is it a delight to look at with the chilli and sage topping but it also tastes divine!

Ingredients

1 red chilli, de-seeded and very finely diced
10 sage leaves, finely sliced (4 for the topping, 6 for the soup)
Light olive oil
500g pumpkin flesh - just chop it up - doesn't matter how roughly! 
500mls chicken or vegetable stock
1 medium onion, peeled and very finely sliced or diced
Pinch of sugar
1 level tablespoon cornflour
150mls double cream
50g soft butter
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Sea salt
White pepper

Method

  • Sauté the chilli and 4 of the sliced sage leaves in a little olive oil until both are slightly crisp around the edges then remove from the pan to a small plate, cover and set aside. 
  • Sauté the pumpkin in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium-sized soup pot until lightly coloured and ever-so-slightly caramelised.
  • Add the stock, onion and sugar, bring slowly to the boil, quickly turn the heat to very low and simmer for 15 minutes before turning off the heat and allowing the soup to cool a little.
  • In a bowl, mix the cornflour into the cream and whisk until smooth then very gradually add to the pot, stirring all the time.
  • Bring the soup very slowly back to the boil, stirring continually until it slightly thickens then turn off the heat and stir in the rest of the sage.
  • Transfer the soup to a blender with the butter and lemon juice and whizz until really smooth and frothy then return to a clean pot (through a fine sieve), season to taste with salt and white pepper and very gently reheat until piping hot.
  • Serve with the chilli/sage topping.
  • NB: white pepper powder is a great deal more pungent than black pepper so watch how you go - add it pinch by pinch until you are happy with the result!

Is Saffron the New Wonder Spice?

Raw Organic Red Saffron Spice

I am currently reading Rosanna Ley's The Saffron Trail (and racing through it!) I have read a number of Rosanna's books and not only are they all brilliantly clever and highly entertaining, but also, she clearly does a great deal of research before putting finger to keyboard and right now I am learning a lot about the incredible, amazing, expensive but oh-so-worth-the-spend-spice, saffron!

Then... what should appear in my inbox but an article from Nutri Advanced about the impressive health benefits of saffron as an effective natural remedy for a range of health concerns - particularly mental health issues - with a range of referenced studies to back up just why this may be the new wonder spice! I urge you to have a look and share the article with others...

it's all about the plant chemical compounds...

"Saffron stigmas contain four major bioactive compounds (crocins, picrocrocin, crocetin and safranal) and many powerful carotenoids, including zeaxanthin, lycopene, beta-carotene and polysaccharides.  Collectively, these compounds are responsible for the health-enhancing properties of saffron." Nutri Advanced

Most studies involve saffron extract at a dose of around 30mg per day which equates to around 10-15 strands of dried saffron or around 1 teaspoon of ground saffron which, unless you fancy a pinch of saffron added to your breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks on a daily basis, could be a bit much so you may wish to consider a supplement on saffron-free days!

But, as you might expect, I have a couple of soup recipes (Carrot and Saffron Soup and Cream of Mussel Soup with Saffron) plus there's my Aromatic Lamb Casserole which makes a great make-ahead dinner and my rather special Fennel, Orange and Quinoa Salad for a great packed lunch - all of which use this wonderfully-aromatic and health-enhancing spice. NB: get your saffron threads and powder from Halal and middle eastern shops - it's a great deal less expensive than in major supermarkets!  

This Book Is A Must-Read!

brian wansink books.png

I read Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by the brilliant Brian Wansink a few years ago and was blown away by some of the creatively-clever and often mischievous experiments he and his colleagues in the Food and Brand Laboratory at Cornell University played on often-unsuspecting 'victims' to prove how mindless we can be when choosing what and how much we eat! Being a soup aficionado the Bottomless Soup Bowl Study was my all-time favourite!

Rich Tomato.jpg

And now he is back with Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life which reveals a great deal more and is a fascinating read... here are a couple of his observations from the book...

"For 90 percent of us, the solution to mindless eating is not mindful eating - our lives are just too crazy and our willpower’s to wimpy. Instead, the solution is to tweak small things in our homes, favorite restaurants, supermarkets, workplaces and schools so we mindlessly eat less and better instead of more. It’s easier to use a small plate, face away from the buffet and Frisbee-spin the bread basket across the table than to be a martyr on a hunger strike. Willpower is hard and has to last a lifetime. Rearranging your life to be slim by design is easy.... 

This book is about solutions - concrete, actionable solutions that my Lab has developed, tested, analyzed and tweaked in dozens of towns across the United States and abroad. This book shows how you can help your kids eat better, control your eating at restaurants, shop like a slim person and eat less at home without having to think twice. In other words, it specifically shows how you can help yourself and your family become slim by design. But equally important, this book will show you how to get all of these places and people around you to help."