Friday, November 14, 2008

Oatmeal: Cheap, Filling, Healthy, Yummy Breakfast

Now that the weather's turned cold, I'm returning to wintry ways with breakfast. Hot breakfasts are so welcome at this time of year. After an indispensable large cup of tea, I'm eating oatmeal again these days. Even with rising food prices, rolled oats are still an excellent value, and they're a good way to incorporate whole grains into your diet. Steel-cut oats are good as well, but they tend to be more expensive, and I've found that I get hungry sooner after eating steel-cut oats as compared with plain old rolled oats.

I appreciate oatmeal because it can be accessorized in so many delicious ways. I grew up on the sugar bomb instant oatmeal packets, while my husband's family favored rolled oats garnished with salt and butter. Both of us retain those preferences. I still like maple syrup on my oatmeal; he still likes it savory. Right now we have apples coming in from our apple tree. So I've been cutting one up each morning to add to our oats. I used to add sliced bananas before we began trying to eat more locally. Dried fruits are great too. I'm particularly fond of golden raisins, but just about any dried fruit will work nicely.

We're not afraid of fat in our household, so we often add some of that to our oatmeal. I used to favor a tablespoon of heavy cream drizzled over my bowl of oats in the past. More recently, inspired by that wicked idea of Mark Bittman's, I've started adding a tablespoon of cream cheese paired with a small shot of maple syrup.

There are dozens of ways of customizing your bowl of oatmeal or other rolled grains. Here are some of my favorite combinations of ingredients:

banana, walnut, raisin
maple syrup, chopped apple, cream cheese
chopped pear, pomegranate molasses
honey, dried cranberry, a little lemon zest
mixed berry jam, heavy cream, pinch of cardamom
dried cherries, vanilla sugar

Old fashioned rolled oats cook so quickly that there's really no justification for quick oats. Five minutes is all it takes. If you really want to, feel free to cook it for 20 minutes to produce a mushy porridge. The nearly al dente version appeals more to me. I usually add the smallest pinch of salt to the water when cooking the oats, and any other powdered spices I want to flavor it with. The rest of the ingredients can be added after the oats have cooked.

Home cooked oatmeal is a much better choice than breakfast cereal, in my opinion. It's usually cheaper per serving, even if you jazz it up with nuts or fruit. At bulk prices, the organic oatmeal in the photo above cost me 21 cents. True, the additional ingredients cost me something, though the apples came from our tree. But how much could a few raisins and a dollop of maple syrup really add up to? Certainly well under a dollar all together. Additionally, by preparing your own food, you avoid the chemical additives and refined corn sugar that are nearly universal in breakfast cereals. You can control precisely the sweetness and the amount of fat in your food. There's less packaging to throw away. And you get a warm breakfast that delivers sustained energy for several hours. What could be better than that?

What do you like in your oatmeal?


It's me said...

We actually eat steel cut oats. I just bought regular oatmeal the other day because I realized we were completely out.

Normally I drop in some frozen or dried blueberries in the last few minutes and top with a bit of maple syrup, whatever nuts are handy, and a splash of milk.

Anonymous said...

That's one of the best things about cooler weather--having oatmeal for breakfast! Like you, I used to add bananas, until I started trying to eat locally. But, last week a windstorm blew a literal bunch of bananas into our backyard from the trees behind us. The tree broke off along the top of the fence. I sure hope they ripen. A true windfall! I also add milk and brown sugar.

Sarah D. said...

My husband prefers the rolled oats with cinnamon, sugar, and a dash of salt. I go between liking the consistency of rolled oats or quick oats (cooking time has nothing to do with it as I cook both on the stove-top and they seem to take about the same time that way). For topping, the same as my husband but with a splash of whole milk and sometimes no cinnamon.
Cream of wheat type cereal is good, too, when it's cold. I'm sure it's more expensive, though.

Dr. Bijana Devo, ND, LAc said...

I LOVE oatmeal - when I make hot oatmeal, I usually add some seeds (pumpkin, flax or sunflower), a bit of butter or earth balance, cinnamon and a touch of honey. Sometimes fresh or dried fruit, too.

I also recently started making RAW oatmeal. Oat groats from the bulk bin, soaked overnight and blended in the food processor in the morning with dates and cinnamon - delicious, filling, energizing and a great way to enjoy oatmeal year round! (Admittedly probably not popular in the cold winters, but keep in mind for summer!)

Anonymous said...

If you can find a place to buy your oats in bulk, your costs will be even lower.

Baked Oatmeal is a family favorite of ours. We enjoy it hot out of the oven with canned peaches and milk or skillet apples with cinnamon and sugar. We also heat up the kitchen/dining room this way!


Anonymous said...

sorry, didn't read that last paragraph! glad you are getting the best deal at bulk prices.

still like baked oatmeal better :)

Kate said...

Meadowlark, have you compared steel-cut oats and rolled oats in terms of how soon you get hungry after eating them? I was surprised at the difference I found. I suspect the rolling makes more carbohydrates available to our digestive processes as compared with the cut oats. Blueberries with oatmeal sounds heavenly!

Jeri, windfall bananas! That's something very special. I hope they ripen up for you.

Sarah, I've never eaten much cream of wheat. But if it's more expensive than oatmeal, then I'll happily stick with the rolled oats. Why swap something so good?

Dr. Devo, I have heard of raw oatmeal. I almost included a mention of it in this post, but I haven't tried it myself, so I can't speak from experience. Maybe I'll try it next summer as you suggest.

Carolyn, I've never even heard of baked oatmeal, but you make it sound good. I'll have to look into that, though there are only two of us to feed. So maybe I'll wait till I have a crowd for breakfast.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate,

Here is our recipe for Baked Oatmeal

1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups milk
1 cup sugar
3 cups oatmeal
1 tsp salt

Cream oil, sugar, eggs well. Mix in remaining ingredients. Place mixture into a veg oil sprayed 9 x 13 pan , bake 30 min. at 350* or until browned on top.

We also add cinnamon, cloves, etc if we want, but either way it tastes good. A nice treat from the stovetop way.

Hope you get a chance to enjoy it!

Anonymous said...

I prefer steel cut, but my boyfriend prefers the texture of rolled oats. I found that the cost from the bulk bins is MUCH lower than any of the packages.

A few tips for steel cut:

1. At night, bring oats and water to a boil, cover, and turn off the heat. The next morning the cooking time will be about 5 minutes.

2. Cook a larger batch, and save the rest in the refrigerator in a plastic tub. It will harden to a blob (like polenta). Just reheat on a very low heat for about 10 minutes (while you are showering or making coffee and lunches, etc) and it will be ready to go. You can also add a bit of water to help it along. I usually cook 4 servings at a time, and portion out the "extra" into three small plastic tubs.

3. Add any fruit and cook with the oatmeal.

Things in my oatmeal (besides the ones already mentioned):
-peanut butter (protein and fat)
-peanut butter and jelly
-persimmon (small diced, becomes wonderful when cooked)

Kate said...

Good additions, ScooterX!

Anonymous said...

My Fav is to add dried craisins and sliced almonds. With a touch of cinnamon and sometimes a splash of vanilla - yummy! Oh, and I use 1/2 water and 1/2 skim or 1% milk. You just need to cook it a bit slower so the milk doesn't boil.

Anonymous said...

I eat oatmeal during the week and never get tired of it. I use rolled oats cooked in the microwave for 5 min in water with some dried cranberries. when done I add a tablespoon of peanut butter-crunchy-and 3/4 cup of nonfat soymilk. I bring this to work with me and reheat for 2 min. in the micro there. YUM!!!

kateS said...

Mmmm, I love a big spoonful of sorghum on my oatmeal!

Anonymous said...

I make a big batch of oatmeal in my rice steamer. It re-heats perfectly.

Carl said...

If you're happy to have your oats just cooked, not mushy, you can microwave a bowl of them in about 2 minutes.

Kate said...

Good point, Carl! I also like Holly's steam cooked idea.

Annodear said...

Like Carl, I cook regular old fashioned oats in the microwave. However much oats you want, and water to cover. I use plain water and include some raisins, making sure they are completely submerged. They plump up beautifully inside the micro~ then top with brown sugar and half and half or milk~ doesn't get much better than that!

How do you make vanilla sugar? :-)

Kate said...

Annodear, vanilla sugar couldn't be easier once you have the vanilla beans. Just put a vanilla bean or two in a canning jar and pour sugar in to cover. Let the sugar sit for at least two weeks, and you've got vanilla sugar.