Sunday, 29 July 2012

Bored of Porridge?

Over the years, I’ve been called sleight, scrawny, skinny, slim… Most of the epithets you could think of to describe of a man of my small build. Suffice it to say that I’m not going to be entering any muscle-man competitions in the near future. However, fueled by a kind of vanity and the thought of my ever-decreasing strength, I decided to eat breakfasts designed to help one 'bulk up'.

Anna: On the flip side - as a woman subject to the narcissistic pressures of twenty-first century media (and not one of those members of the opposite sex who has the luxury of complaining "but I just can't put on weight however many double Angus burgers I eat!" a la Jamie) - I knew I needed an interesting and healthy breakfast that would keep me going longer than Shreddies. I also wanted a breakfast that I would be able to transport to work and eat at my desk as I rarely wake up early enough to get anything nutritious inside me (really - we moved into the city from the suburbs mostly to allow me an extra hour in bed in the morning).

Porridge, eggs, and even red meat have long been the breakfasts of choice for athletes. Call it parsimony or plain old common sense that, despite my love of steak and eggs, I was always going to choose the most economical option - porridge. Fortunately for Anna, it turns out that oats are a fairly female-friendly option too.

Memories of badly cooked, flavourless lumps of soggy oats meant that I had avoided porridge for the better part of a decade. Also, being fairly time consuming to prepare properly, oats were replaced by quicker easier alternatives.

Nevertheless, after following the steps Felicity Cloake’s 'how to cook the perfect porridge', Anna & I produced a nutty, creamy, wonderfully textured version and, henceforth, porridge became my breakfast staple. Incidentally, my condensed guide to cooking delicious porridge goes as such: toast oats in a dry pan until aromatic (take care not to burn them); soak in required amount of water/milk (50g porridge/300ml liquid), preferably overnight for quicker morning prep; cook relatively slowly and leave to sit covered for 5 minutes once cooked. Make sure to add a pinch of salt, it really does make a difference. Honey, golden syrup, or a swirl of jam are simple and effective; but there are of course a myriad of potential toppings and flavourings.

Nonetheless, come the summer months, a steaming bowl of porridge can be the least appetising thing at 8am on a Monday morning.

Enter Bircher Muesli. 

My first encounter with this style of oat-based breakfast came when I grabbed an apple and peach MOMA pot as an on-the-go breakfast on a recent trip to London. I enjoyed it so much that, upon my return home, I googled Bircher Muesli and, using Yottam Ottolenghi’s recipe as a guide, went about recreating the MOMA version. The original Swiss recipe calls for oats to be soaked in water then mixed with cream, to which are added fruit and nuts. Nowadays, most recipes call for fruit juice instead of water, and yoghurt instead of cream.

Bircher-style muesli is, like porridge, a wonderful canvas for various flavours and textures. Apple, peach and cinnamon is a good place to start but experiment with your favourite combination of fruit, nuts, and seeds. You can soak the oats in various liquids – try pineapple juice and coconut milk, then add fresh pineapple, coconut shavings and allspice for a Caribbean twist. I favour a nice tart granny smith (grated), blueberries, walnuts and pumpkin seeds with a squeeze of lime and a little agave syrup.

Soaking times vary from recipe to recipe. I find 10 minutes is enough time to soften the oats sufficiently for a pleasant texture. Soaking overnight speeds up preparation time in the morning and is advised, but don’t worry if you forget.

This breakfast has various nutritional benefits. The oats help to keep you fuller for longer and give you a good hit of B vitamins, which aid your memory amongst other things. Yoghurt is a genuine superfood (although I dislike the term), boosting your immune system, promoting fat loss, reducing colorectal cancer risk, in addition to giving you a good supply of protein and calcium. In the right quantities (somewhere in the realm of 40g a day) nuts are a great source of healthy fats and vitamin E as well as fibre and protein. I’m sure I don’t need to extol the virtues of fruit - combine dried with fresh to get up two of your 5-a-day before 9am. 

Bircher Muesli is undoubtedly an extremely healthy way to start the day. Try my recipe and forego the porridge, at least until Septemeber:

50g porridge oats
50ml apple juice (or other juice)
Roughly 30ml milk
100ml of natural yoghurt
Half a granny smith apple, cored and grated
1 peach, pitted and diced
Handful of blueberries
Handful of walnuts 
Pinch of cinnamon
Agave syrup, to taste
Half a lime, squeezed 

I work in individual man-sized portions - Anna & I manage to compromise on some things, but I leave her to sort out her own Bircher muesli whims. On this one, Anna suggests using around 35g of oats, around 70g of apple juice - or enough to cover the oats - and replaces the milk for a tablespoon of fat free yoghurt. No lime or agave necessary - A: unlike Jamie, I don't feel the need to start the morning reminding myself of the six Tommy's margaritas I drank the night before.