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Wild Garlic Skirlie

skirlieFollowing on from the fried porridge a few weeks ago, I have a bag of beautiful Flahavans oats in the house and an even bigger urge to eat oats than usual so I’ve been dying to try out a skirlie recipe for a while. Getting given a bag of wild garlic from a foraging friend the other week meant the time had come for a simple filling post Easter dinner.

Skirlie is a Scottish dish where oats are toasted in a hot pan before having water or stock added to plump them up and turn them into a chewy almost risotto like dish. Wholesome and incredibly filling, it’s a great way to use up odds and ends but without the constant stirring of a risotto.

A delicious dish, it isn’t much of a looker if I’m honest and it needs something green and gorgeous to lift it and make it more appetising. I usually wilt some spinach into it but wild garlic seemed perfect as it’s still just in season and adds tonnes of flavour. You could use any green leafy veg such as shredded kale, cabbage or beetroot tops.

Like most dishes a little bacon scattered through it is excellent but if you have some leftover haggis then you are in for a treat. It melts into the oats, adds a peppery kick and lends it all a stunning smooth creaminess that takes peasant ingredients and turns them into a dinner that feels extremely luxurious indeed.

Wild Garlic Skirlie (serves 2)

  • 25g butter, lard or bacon fat
  • 1 large leek
  • 1 small onion
  • 200g porridge oats
  • 400ml water
  • 100g haggis (optional)
  • 200g wild garlic

Melt the fat in a cast iron frying pan or skillet and when it bubbles gently, add the leek and onion and sweat it all down over a low heat for about 10-12 minutes. You could add a little fresh thyme here if you had any.

Once the alliums are sweated down and starting to reduce in size, add the oats in and stir well to coat them with the fat and toast them. Stirring continually, cook them for about 3-4 minutes until they soak up the fat and begin to smell toasty and golden.

Splash in a little of the water at a time, allowing it to soak into the oats each time. Stop and allow it to cook out if the oats start to look sticky. When you have about 50ml left, crumble the haggis into the pan as well. Add the remaining water and stir it all through. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes more.

Wash the wild garlic well and put it in the pan with the skirlie. Put a lid on it if you have it and allow it all to wilt down for a few minutes. Serve the skirlie immediately in bowls and eat. Peppery enough from the haggis it needs no more seasoning. Enjoy and marvel at how uncannily filling and simple skirlie is.

 

Fried Porridge

fried porridgeI am probably constructed half and half from oats and potatoes if you consider my Scottish and Irish heritage. Childhood days started with oats in the form of porridge and ended with spuds for dinner very often. Both are still mainstays of my table even now.

Porridge is surprisingly controversial. People have strong feeling about the type of oat used, the ratio of water and milk and whether salt or sweet and they stick to their guns. I make mine with Flahavans oats if I can get them, using half milk and half water and I add a pinch of salt as the oats cook. This makes it all the right smooth consistency for me without being too creamy and the salt makes it taste much more intense. I then tend to eat mine plain or with some fruit on top if I’m feeling virtuous. Occasionally I have a little drizzle of golden syrup, but I have fairly simple tastes with my porridge.

Others however have magical porridge powers involving spurtles and things like steel cut or pinhead oats and take it all very seriously. They also mention something about a porridge drawer which I was reminded of recently when talking to Caitríona at Wholesome Ireland. This would have been a small section in a dresser where the leftover breakfast porridge was poured and allowed to cool and set before being cut into slices. Children ate when they came home from school or men took it as their ‘piece’ for lunch. A forerunner of the flapjack or the cereal bar basically.

Apparently the porridge drawer was common in both Ireland and Scotland, but I’ve never seen one or eaten from one. Curiosity piqued I asked my dad who grew up on the west coast of Scotland and he remembers the sliced ‘purritch’ being fried up in bacon fat or butter and served for dinner. I love the idea of being able to go savoury or sweet here but I’ve tempted go sweet as I had some leftover spiced butter from making hot buttered rum at Christmas. Read more

Apple and Amaranth Granola

At this time of year I struggle for breakfast ideas. It’s not cold enough for porridge and I find it hard to get the lovely plums and greengages the season offers so find my bowls of bircher muesli less alluring without a fruity topping. I need something to shake me up a bit and hopefully wake me up a bit as well. The bite of granola seemed to fit the bill.

Raw amaranth grains

I’d been wondering what to do with the amaranth I’d impulse purchased at Whole Foods a while back and decided that a granola might lift it from looking like birdseed to something more appetising. As terrified to get it wet as Zack should have been with his Mogwai in Gremlins after hearing it goes gluey, I popped it in a hot pan first, turning it from plain seed to toasty treat.

Popped amaranth seed

Amaranth is an ancient grain (from a grass I believe) and is similiar to quinoa in that it is gluten free* and high in protein and fibre. It makes interesting sounding porridges, but I think it most appetising dry cooked to keep it nutty and crunchy. Bearing in mind that the seed is so crunchy, I decided to make the rest of the granola a little bit softer by coating it with stewed apple instead of oil. Everything about this recipe was impulse based so it’s in cups, not weights.

Apple and Amaranth Granola:

  • 2 apples, stewed down to make one cup of apple puree
  • 2 cups jumbo oats
  • 1/2 cup amaranth
  • 1/4 cup wheatgerm (optional if your granola is wheat free)
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup pecans, halved
  • 1/2 brazil nuts, halved
  • 1/2 cup honey (or treacle)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

First, stew your apples. Back in Belfast where I made this, it’s dead easy to get proper Bramley apples for cooking, but I struggle to find them in London, so just use anything sharp and tangy. Peel, slice finely, add about a tablespoon of water and stew until soft and like a puree. They’ll collapse in on themselves if left at the lowest heat with a lid on for about 20 minutes.

Then using a hot dry pan, toast your sesame seeds and set aside. Have a lid handy and then into the same pan, put your amaranth and toast until about 40% of it looks like tiny white popcorn and the rest is golden brown. It won’t all pop, but what does will go everywhere so you’ll need that lid!

Place all your dry ingredients in a bowl. You can add more types of nuts if you like. Hazelnuts would be lovely. Some flaked coconut is fabulous. You could add in some linseeds or sunflower seeds. Play around to get your perfect mix. Heat the pureed apple and the honey together and then mix into the dry ingredients, mixing well to make sure they are all coated.

Cook on a shallow tray so the granola is well spread out in the oven at 200℃ for about 20 minutes. Turn it over at this point and give it another 10 minutes until golden and crispy looking but not burnt. Cool in the tray and put in an airtight container immediately as this granola is a bit softer than oil based ones and will wilt gently if left out for too long.

Eat clusters of it with your bare hands while doing so or wait until you can get it into a bowl where it is fabulous with fresh berries and yoghurt. Healthy and filling, this doesn’t taste wholesome or lacking in flavour. The amaranth is nutty and packed with flavour and the chunky nuts make this feel very luxurious indeed. Considering it takes so little time to make, I’ll definitely be doing this again instead of spending serious money on boxed mueslis or granolas. Their packaging migh look nice on the table, but you don’t get to pop your own ancient grains with those….

*this whole granola can be gluten free if you choose oats that guarantee themselves GF in processing. See the Coeliac Society for more info from people in the know.

Gooseberry and Elderflower Bircher Muesli

Gooseberry and elderflower bircher muesli

As I’ve mentioned before, I love an oat or two. They form the basis of about 75% of my breakfasts (we’ve written extensively about my other choice in the shape of a duck egg) and the year is split into two phases: porridge or bircher muesli. The latter tends to herald the arrival of summer when I switch from the creamy warmth of porridge to the softness of soaked oats and a heap of seasonal fruit to start the day. However this year, the switch has not been followed by an actual change in the seasons so I decided to make my muesli a bit more of a treat and flavour it with the light and tangy tastes of gooseberry and elderflower.

Super simple, but so good it’ll make you leap out of bed on a Monday morning, this is a seasonal treat and a half. Instead of using the more traditional apple juice to soak the oats, I used elderflower cordial.

Gooseberry and Elderflower Bircher Muesli (serves one)

  • 50g oats  (use jumbo oats or look out for Flahavans)
  • 60ml/1/4 cup elderflower cordial
  • 60ml/ 1/4 cup water
  • 2-3 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
  • handful gooseberries, topped and tailed
  • teaspoon sugar
  • vanilla extract

This is a dish best prepped the night before, but don’t panic, it’s very simple. First add a teaspoon of sugar per handful of gooseberries and add a scant sticky trickle of vanilla extract and then roast your gooseberries in a 180℃ oven for about 20 minutes or until they collapse in their own syrup slightly. Set aside.

Soak the oats in the elderflower/water mix overnight. You can do it for 5 or 10 minutes before you eat, but overnight really plumps the oats up and makes them even better.

Then next morning, fuelled by the live giving power of tea, tip a couple of tablespoons of Greek yoghurt (proper stuff, not that weird no fat high sugar stuff that advertisers seem to think womenhood is entirely constructed of) and add in your roasted goosegogs. Stir round and then melt into the sweet creamy oats and sour kick of the yoghurt and fruit and feel ten times more awake, surprisingly healthy and totally full up til lunchtime. It might even kid you it’s actually summer…

Ginger and Marmalade Flapjacks

When I first started baking three or four years ago I started out with flapjacks, having heard they are so simple you can even let the kids make them. They sounded foolproof. I quickly proved that wrong with several batches being so bad even the local birdlife passed them over in favour of some fried chicken bones on the path. Reminded to never to make my ungrateful feathered friends those lard and seed things Blue Peter used to tell me about, I have been in a sulk with flapjacks ever since.

An impromptu visit to The Beanery in Loughborough Junction the other day piqued my interest again with their delicious ginger flapjacks. The warm tingle of ginger lifted the oats nicely, but made with that American upstart corn syrup instead of good old British golden syrup, they lacked the stickiness I crave in a flapjack. There was nothing else for it but to try and make my own. I decided to use syrup and add the gooey-ness of a blob of homemade marmalade to really give my teeth something to sink into.

Excited by this flavour combo, but still nervous there would be a repeat of the Massive Crumblings™ of yore, I needed a failsafe recipe and safe hands. I turned to Felicity Cloake and her Perfect series, reading her recipe and all the comments from flapjack lovers underneath. It looked promising.

Ginger and Marmalade Flapjacks (adapted from Felicity Cloake’s recipe)

  • 150g salted butter
  • 3 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 2 tablespoons dark muscavado sugar
  • 3 tablespoons marmalade (pop a bit more in if it’s very coarse cut)
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 250 g porridge oats
  • sliced stem or crystallised ginger

Line a tray (I used a 23cm by 23cm one) with greaseproof paper and preheat the oven to 150℃. Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup together until bubbling gently, then add in the marmalade and as soon as it is melted, take off the heat. Put the oats and the ground ginger and sliced ginger in a bowl and add in the butter-syrup mixture, stirring well. Once you’ve marvelled at how seemingly healthy oats soak up butter like a hungry sponge, spread the mix out in the tray well, making sure you fill the corners properly. Bake for 25 minutes. I took mine out when they were still a bit anaemic looking but they darkened as the residual heat cooked them a bit more outside the oven.

Cool for about 5 minutes, then cut into pieces. I got 9 ‘I’m going on a ten mile hike’ sized chunks or 16 ‘just a mouthful ones’. I then on Felicity’s advice left them to cool completely in the tray to stop them falling apart when lifted out. The wait nearly defeated me but I was rewarded by a nice symmetrical traybake which was delightfully firey with ginger and tangy with marmalade peel and slivers of candied ginger. Best served with a cup of good strong tea, they will theoretically keep well in an airtight container, but bolstered by my first ever flapjack success, I failed to have any notable leftovers. The flapjack jinx is over!