Just plain comfort

Oatmeal is a blank canvas that is waiting for your personal textures and flavours If calendars had a place for calorie weigh in, my December would have toppled over!

Adding some chopped apples and cinnamon while cooking oatmeal generates “hot out of the oven apple pie” aromas that will have the snooze pushers jumping out of bed.

Adding some chopped apples and cinnamon while cooking oatmeal generates “hot out of the oven apple pie” aromas that will have the snooze pushers jumping out of bed.

Oatmeal is a blank canvas that is waiting for your personal textures and flavours

If calendars had a place for calorie weigh in, my December would have toppled over! Though I have no regrets of all the chocolate that I consumed, or the decadent squares that I nibbled through, I have begun to crave “the breakfast” which took a hiatus over the holidays. My oatmeal!

I know “craving” and “oatmeal” are two phrases not often joined together, but I love oatmeal (don’t laugh… there are many of us out there). And, telling the most picky eaters that you will be serving oatmeal in the morning won’t have them jumping up for joy.

But announce that you will be serving apple pie oatmeal, banana bread oats or some exotic flavours like Pina Colada or Chai flavoured oats and the family will take a second look at this old time staple.

Probably one of the oldest cereals, oatmeal is ground oat groats. While cruising down the cereal isles, you may have noticed that there are three varieties of oatmeal to choose from; the steel cut, the rolled and the quick oats. What is the difference?

The steel cut oats are simply oat that has been cut up into smaller pieces which look similar to rice. These oats are less processed and thus contain some of the oat bran still intact. As the names suggests, rolled oats are flattened oats by steaming and rolling oat groats. Rolled oats are the typical Quaker Oats “Old Fashioned” variety of oats, but usually don’t contain much — if any — of the oat bran. Finally the quick oats are simply rolled oats that have been cut up and steamed. Quick oats often are used in “instant” varieties and usually have added sugar and other ingredients that don’t add anything to your oatmeal.

Which variety to buy is up to you, but just know that rolled and steel oats are the most nutritious. The instant packets are a great, portable idea; but if you are trying to keep your breakfast healthy, it is usually better to use plain oatmeal and spice it up yourself.

Traditionally, oatmeal has always been prepared over stovetop and this method is probably still the most popular. The more processed the oats are, the less time they take to cook. Using this method, the steel cut calls for 30-45 minutes, while rolled variety requires only 5-10 minutes. For those whose preference for cooking is the microwave, you can mix oatmeal and liquid together and cook for two and half minutes until the desired consistency is reached. Use a large, microwave-safe bowl. Oatmeal tends to bubble up and get messy as it cooks.

If you need some help to lure the “snooze button pushers” out of bed, consider baking your oatmeal in the oven or cooking in the crock pot. There is nothing more enticing then to be awakened by the sweet smells coming from the kitchen. If you decide to bake your oatmeal, you can assemble the ingredients together the night before, store covered in the refrigerator and simply bake in the morning.

Similarly the slow cooker method allows you to assemble it in the slow cooker in the evening and wake up to a bowl of hot, nourishing oatmeal. The slow cooker eliminates the need for constant stirring and ensures an exceptionally creamy consistency. With the slow cooker it is important to use steel-cut oats, as old-fashioned oats become too soft during the long cooking process.

Being the blank canvas that it is, you can dress oatmeal up in many ways. Try adding a variety of textures and flavours. Some of my favourite ways to spice up the oatmeal are by adding roasted coconut, chopped pecans or walnuts, raisins dried cranberries or dates. Don’t just stop with the dried fruits, pineapple, mango, pear, apple, banana, and peaches are always a good mix-ins.

Speaking of spices, if your palette is hankering for more, there is cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and ginger. Using spices adds flavour with very few calories.

And if you are craving a bit of sweetness, you can drizzle with honey, maple syrup, or a bit of brown sugar.

Oatmeal itself lacks protein but this can be easily remedied by cooking some protein powder, beaten eggs, a pat of cream cheese or peanut butter.

When trying to combine flavour combination, think comfort, seasonal and exotic flavour mixtures. For instance, adding banana and apple mimics the comfort food, banana bread and apple pie. Add a bit of pumpkin puree and seasoning with pumpkin spice during the October months while combining pineapple and roasted coconut to create a Pina Colada exotic taste.

There are many delicious variations on this familiar theme. Try using different combinations to create your own work of art.

Baked Oatmeal

2 cups oatmeal (quick cooking or old fashioned)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup applesauce

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup or more of dried fruits and nuts

1 cup vanilla yogurt, for topping

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl combine the oatmeal, baking powder and salt.

Mix in milk, eggs, applesauce, brown sugar. Pour into a greased casserole dish. Bake at 325 degrees F for 45 minutes. Serve hot, top with yogurt.

Pina Colada Oats

1/3 cup quick-cooking oat

2/3 cup pineapple juice (or 1/3 cup juice & 1/3 cup water)

1/4 cup dried pineapple or fresh

1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

toasted coconut, to garnish

milk, to serve

Combine oats, juice, pineapple pieces & coconut extract in a bowl. Microwave for 1 minute and give it a stir. Microwave for a further minute. Serve with milk & toasted coconut.

Indian Chai Spice Oat Bowl

1/3 cup quick-cooking oat

2/3 cup water

Pinch of Cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and a twist of black pepper

1/2 teaspoon butter

1 tablespoon vanilla protein powder

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

milk, to serve

Cook using your preferred method and pour milk before serving.

Banana Bread Oatmeal

2 cups Quaker Oats (Old Fashioned)

3/4 teaspoon Cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg

3 cups Milk

3 tablespoons Brown sugar

1 cup Bananas mashed

3 tablespoon Pecans chopped

In medium saucepan, bring milk, brown sugar, spices and salt to a gentle boil (watch carefully); stir in oats. Return to a boil; reduce heat to medium.

Cook 1 minute for quick oats, 5 minutes for old fashioned oats, or until most of liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally.

Remove oatmeal from heat. Stir in mashed bananas and pecans. Spoon oatmeal into six cereal bowls. Top with yogurt, sliced bananas and pecan halves, if desired. Makes six servings.

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at madhubadoni@gmail.com. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com.

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