Building a better breakfast bowl

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February 11, 2013 by E.

Forgive the overly alliterative title; my inner nerd is really hard to suppress sometimes.

What we’re really talking about, is oatmeal.

Recently, I’ve been going though an oatmeal kick.  Usually, I’m an eggs-for-breakfast kind of girl, but I’ve recently made an effort to decrease my consumption of animal-based foods (which has not been easy, since I now live with A., an avid and enthusiastic carnivore – see my last food-related post).  But since he has to be at work so darn early, I make him an egg sandwich to go, which means we eat breakfast separately and I can eat whatever I want without depriving him of his most favorite breakfast ever (eggs, cheese, and any sort of bread product).

Like I said, this oatmeal thing is very recent.  I spent years alternatively despising and ignoring the stuff, because at its worst, oatmeal is a gummy, gloppy, flavorless mess, and at best, it’s somewhat acceptable.  Unless you added in spoonfuls of brown sugar, dried fruit and nuts, in which case surely you’re no longer building a healthy breakfast but more of a dessert.

Then I began reading food blogs, and recipes for oatmeal popped up pretty frequently.  Especially at one of my favorite sites, A Farmer in the Dell.  The author of that blog is a farmer (surprisingly enough), so she loves a hearty breakfast and frequently shares her variations of oatmeal.  That made me curious, and I began to experiment with my own oatmeal likes and dislikes.

If you’ve always been an oatmeal hater, here are some of the methods I’ve used to convert myself (and A., who eats it just as willingly, but not as frequently, as I do).  This list is more of a series of helpful hints, and not a specific recipe.

Building better oatmeal

  1. Start with good oats.  Spend the money buying a quality product (oats last a long time), and I’d recommend against the “quick cooking” variety.  I’m not educated enough to know how they take oats that should cook for 30 minutes and tell you to cook them for only 5, but something about that doesn’t quite add up, and I’m not buying it.  Quick cooking oats that taste the same as regular oats?  If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  If necessary, cook a large batch at once and eat it over several mornings, or soak the oats overnight (follow specific instructions on your box of oatmeal) to save time the next morning.  I use John McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal.
  2. Add spices.  I don’t like sweet food at breakfast, so to make my oatmeal flavorful without adding a lot of sugar, I turn to spices like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and nutmeg.  I don’t like the flavor of cloves or allspice (used in pumpkin pie), but if you like those flavors, they’d also be good.  I always keep a knob of fresh ginger in my freezer, so it’s easy to pull it out, scrape off the skin, and grate into the gently simmering oatmeal.  Around the holidays, Trader Joe’s makes a pumpkin butter that is a great mix-in.  Apple butter is also delicious.
  3. Add texture.  Add color.  I hate eating food that is once consistency and one shade.  That’s boring and unappetizing.  I add toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, or almonds) for texture and a little bit of salty.  Then I add sliced fruit (frozen or fresh) for color and natural sweet flavor.
  4. Add a little sweet.  Let’s face it – oatmeal on its own has practically zero flavor, and even with all the spices and the fruit, you’ll probably still need a spoonful of something sweet to make the oatmeal truly delicious.  I switch between honey, agave syrup, or real Vermont maple syrup (expensive but truly worth the cost).
  5. Add milk or cream at the end.  Cook your oatmeal in water, according to the package directions, then stir in a little milk (I use almond or soy) or cream at the end to give your oatmeal the consistency you’re looking for.  I like mine pretty porridge-like, so I add a fair amount of almond milk.

And there you have it!  Good oatmeal that doesn’t look like something Oliver Twist would have been made to eat.

Fruit, nuts, and agave

Fruit, nuts, and agave

If any of you are die-hard oatmeal lovers or recent converts, I would love to know some of your tips and tricks!

Monday morning breakfast

Monday morning breakfast

For those of you who still aren’t convinced, I found the most hippie-like website I could, Mother Earth Living (which is actually a magazine, who knew?), to explain the 7 Health Benefits of Oatmeal.  Peace, love, and oatmeal, y’all.

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