A bowl of porridge (which misleadingly tends to be known as oatmeal in the USA) is a truly excellent way to start the day, especially in cold weather. The basic ingredients for porridge are simply rolled oats, water (and/or milk) and - arguably - a little salt. Either way you should use at least twice as much liquid as oats, by volume. These ingredients are boiled together without a cover until thick and creamy; traditionally, if you can stand a spurtle up in the pot the porridge is thick enough. Less traditionally, it's pretty easy to make porridge in a microwave. I make it in a big bowl; the higher the sides, the less risk that it will overflow all over the place. Usually about two minutes on full power is enough to get it boiling but not boiling over; at this point you should give it a stir and then put it back in for a minute or two, perhaps on lower power, keeping an eye on it to make sure it doesn't explode and maybe stirring once or twice more.

Without anything else added to it, porridge has very little flavour and this is doubtless the main reason that many claim not to like porridge. However, there are many things you can do to make porridge interesting. The simplest, but arguably the least satisfying, is simply to add sugar - the darker the better. Other ways to sweeten porridge include: Fruit, such as chunks of pear, apple or banana added at the start (mmm!), or raisins; fruit juice, concentrated or not, pear juice being my favourite (apple juice is good too); or syrup - maple syrup will do its usual job of making anything edible taste heavenly, while date syrup and malt are worth experimenting with although I don't like them to dominate my porridge. Some people also like to flavour their porridge with jam or honey.

Besides being sweet, porridge is also best if it's made a bit creamy by the addition of something with a bit of fat in it, which also adds to its satiety. In the days before I stopped eating animal products I would add full fat milk or straight cream, which gives an extremely rich but undeniably delicious porridge. Coconut oil added just after you add the water gives a wonderful texture (and hardly tastes coconutty at all); random vegetable oil or margarine do the same job but not quite as well. Peanut butter (or another nut butter) is also great added at the start so that it melts in, and very nutritious and filling. A few drops of hazelnut oil or toasted sesame oil added at the end of cooking give porridge a gorgeous nutty flavour and aroma but don't have much effect on the texture. A lot of people like porridge with little or nothing but salt on it, and even when I'm making it sweet I think a pinch of salt adds significantly to the flavour. Full-on savoury porridge is excellent, and deserves a node of its own. I add garlic, spices and some kind of umami goodness to mine - miso or Marmite, soy sauce or stock.

Other things which can work well added to porridge include cinnamon, sesame seeds, muesli and vanilla essence. Play around with it. Done right, porridge is tasty, nutritious and versatile. If you have any more porridge ideas, I would be interested to hear them...

Porridge can also be made with other things besides oats: rice porridge is called congee by the Chinese, and served with meat and other savoury additions; barley porridge was once popular; semolina makes a porridge of sorts, and I have heard of a kind of porridge being made out of hemp seeds. Quinoa's good too, if a little prone to keeping its separate grains.