Saturday, November 15, 2008

'Hippie Grain' Porridge

This recipe is derived from Cynthia Lair's Feeding the Whole Family. I had grand plans of only feeding Elspeth homemade cereal when she first started solids. The problem was, no matter what I tried, the cereal was somehow both grainy and glue-y and every time she gamely tried to eat it, she gagged. We decided to go with the dreaded boxed cereal but I was never happy about it. Eventually, two things helped. First, I figured out that the best way to get a smooth texture is to take the technique that Marion Cunningham uses to cook steel-cut oats in her Breakfast Book--a double boiler. Second, I tried mixing the homemade cereal with very silky pureed squash, applesauce or other similarly-textured food. Bingo! The boxed cereal was retired.

Before Elspeth was on cow's milk, I would make this cereal with water or breastmilk. Now that she's eating everything we do, she and I can share the cereal and I make it with cow's milk or a combination of cow's milk and coconut milk (about equal parts). I have heard that coconut milk is the closest thing to breast milk because of the lauric acid. At any rate, it's delicious.

I lived in Scotland for a long time, where the porridge is salted rather than sweet. I grew to enjoy the neutral flavor of the salted (not salty) porridge. Even when you add a bit of salt, you can still sweeten with sugar, brown sugar, agave nectar or honey, if desired.

I use what I call 'hippie grains' because they're a nice change from oats alone and also tend to have more protein and other nutrients. It took a few tries for me to like amaranth that much as it does have quite a grassy taste. However, when toasted it gets wonderfully nutty and we really like it now. I get all of my 'hippie grains' in bulk at PCC. Toasting instructions at the end.

INGREDIENTS
Any proportion of the following:
Toasted millet
Toasted quinoa
Toasted amaranth
Toasted sweet (or glutinous) brown rice
Toasted oat groats OR
Steel-cut oats
Cow's milk, coconut milk or any other non-dairy 'milk' (I bet almond would be nice)
Pinch salt

I usually use 1 cup of grains for a batch that will feed us for several days and mixed with 3 1/2 to 4 cups milk/coconut milk/water.

DIRECTIONS
  1. Grind the grains in a coffee mill until a reasonably fine consistency. The grains really do need to be ground if you want an evenly-cooked cereal
  2. Fill the bottom of a double boiler or saucepan with a few inches of water
  3. Put the grains, liquid and salt in the top of a double boiler (or a glass or metal bowl that can sit on top of a saucepan; I use a Pyrex bowl that has a lid). Stir the mix together and then cover the bowl/double boiler.
  4. Bring the water to a boil and then turn to very low heat
  5. Cook over low heat for 1 hour or until the cereal is very creamy. You should stir the mixture several times during the hour
  6. Serve with dried tart cherries, pear or apple compote, maple syrup, roasted squash puree, slivered almonds for the older ones, or even something savory (we mixed it with dal and kale when Elspeth was younger, for example)
TOASTING GRAINS
Toasting grains is supposed to improve their digestibility. We also like the toasty flavor in the cereal. I like to toast up a big batch of each of the grains I use regularly. Then I can mix and match for the batches of porridge. I do two trays at a time in the oven and usually do four grains total. If you just want to toast enough for one batch of cereal, using a skillet on medium heat would be simplest.

DIRECTIONS FOR OVEN METHOD
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Rinse and drain 2 1/2 cups of grain (I toast each type separately)
  3. Place drained grains on baking tray and put in oven
  4. Toast 10 minutes, then give the grains a shake/stir. You may well need to toast for another 5-10 minutes
  5. Let the grains cool and then store in an airtight container (I've got glass jars that used to contain morello cherries from Trader Joe's--they're a neat shape and work great)

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