Continued cold weather means we are still grateful for warming winter food like corned beef hash and another steaming bowl of oatmeal. I know the Equinox is this week, but I don’t see many signs of spring around this house, and I’ll bet you don’t either.
I have been struck by how many of you got in touch about oatmeal porridge. I guess I knew that there were many oatmeal eaters out there. I know some personally, some who sit down cheerfully to giant bowlfuls with a huge array of add-ons, and others who eat their oatmeal dutifully but joylessly as if oatmeal were a kind of hair shirt tolerated in penance for the sins of ice cream and steak.
The conversation started with Sandra Dinsmore who wrote, “I never knew it was possible to make unsticky oatmeal. I haven’t tasted it since I was about seven.” She added that she could never manage the “slimy, sticky mess” her mother made. After trying the method I recommended, she and I had an exchange about whether or not to use a double boiler to prevent oatmeal sticking on the pan. To loosen any sticking I notice, I add a splash of cold water to the oatmeal, let it settle a moment, then nudge the porridge off the bottom of the pan with a spoon. Of course, if you wait too long to do this, and the oatmeal really catches, then you will just have to soak the pan, and use a scrubber to get it off. A pain. Or use a double boiler.
Doris Plumer wrote, “On the subject of yummy oatmeal…add barley to the oats during cooking for extra chewiness.” Charming idea. And then I thought, what about adding leftover cooked grains like rice, or farro, or bulgur?
Pam Chase has read this column for a while, and the oatmeal ideas prompted her to write, “My husband, Lloyd, and I are fans of oatmeal.” She sent her recipe, below, for a banana or apple version, which calls for vanilla or maple extract. “The extract makes a big difference,” she said, and added, “Honey or maple syrup can be substituted for the brown sugar. Raisins can be added as well. Lloyd likes raisins with the apple version.”
When she makes the apple version, she said, “I core, peel, dice it, and cook in the microwave for a minute or two, depending on the power of the oven.” When she uses a banana, she mashes it while the oatmeal cooks.
The other good thing about this recipe is that her directions are for microwaving porridge, something I do for leftover porridge. I haven’t tried actually cooking it in the microwave. Besides reheating, the other thing to do with leftover porridge is to treat it like polenta. Slice it when it is cold, dip it in egg and flour or cornmeal, and fry it golden brown on both sides in oil or butter.
Corned beef and cabbage, along with potatoes and carrots, and sometimes onions, mark St. Patrick’s Day, but in New England it can be any day with a good old-fashioned boiled dinner, especially if you add in turnips and beets. I hope, in the wake of Monday’s observance, you are lucky enough to have sufficient leftovers for a fine breakfast some day this week. When I cook corned beef, I make sure there are leftovers by cooking a few extra potatoes to go with the ample quantity of meat.
Out comes the old family chopping bowl and the chopping knife with the curved blade and wooden handle on top. I dump the ingredients in it, and chop them all up. If you are a masterful pulser with a food processor, you could get away with chopping in that, but I find that the machine is usually too powerful to trust my meat and vegetables to it. You can, of course, also chop on a cutting board with a chef’s knife, rocking the blade down through the potatoes, meat, bits of carrots, or other vegetables.
Personally, I don’t use very much cabbage or boiled onion in hash, because it is a bit soggy, and a little freshly-chopped raw onion is a good addition. Otherwise, the proportions of meat to vegetables ought to suit your personal taste. You know that, if you want what is known as red flannel hash, you have to add cooked beets which usually turn everything a lurid pink.
Usually, corned beef has enough fat in it that no extra is need to crisp it up on a frying pan, but a dribble of vegetable oil could help if the hash sticks.
Generally, we eat the hash all by its glorious self, but on lusher occasions, an egg dropped on top and allowed to firm up is a good addition. This works as breakfast or supper. If supper, a salad on the side is good; oh, heck, a salad might even be good anyway, if breakfast is nudging brunch time.
Pam’s Oatmeal Porridge
For each serving:
1/3 cup old fashioned oats
dash of salt
2 teaspoon brown sugar, or to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts
2/3 cup water, plus and teaspoon or so more to compensate for the walnuts
1/8 teaspoon maple or vanilla extract
Banana or apple
Put the oats, salt, sugar, walnuts, water and extract, and raisins, if you use them, in a microwave-safe bowl, large enough for the number of servings you are making. Stir just a bit, and cook in the microwave three or four minutes, depending on power of your oven. When the oatmeal is done, take out of the oven, carefully, because the bowl will be hot. Stir and let set a minute. Add mashed banana or apple, and eat plain or with milk or half-and-half.