Monday, October 20, 2008

The Magic of Oatmeal

I think fall is the snuggliest season. One might argue that winter is the snuggliest season, and it’s true that the snuggling is awfully good in the winter, but if half your body parts are numb from the cold, snuggling loses a certain amount of charm. It’s no longer a luxury but rather a necessity. The fall, however, offers the first really good snuggling weather after summer’s heat has faded. It’s warm enough that you might even have the windows open to catch a breeze, which feels so good on bare skin, but it’s cool enough to enjoy the heat of skin on skin. In fact, I would argue that an open window makes snuggling even nicer—the sigh of a cool breeze provides a delicious foil to a cozy tangled-up snuggle. And if it gets a little too cold, you can always grab a nice fleecy blanket to make things cozy again.

A lot of noise is made about how great sex is, but honestly, I’ll take a little hand-holding or a chaste cuddle any day. Physical intimacy comes in many forms, and sometimes all I want is to feel warm, safe, and loved. I’m very low-key that way. In fact, low-key romance is my favorite kind. I love little stories about how couples take care of each other. My friend Nicole picks up her husband from his night class at Boston College so that he doesn’t have to endure a two-hour commute home on public transportation. JD visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum with his wife, a history buff, just to make her happy. And this one might qualify as a heroic act, and therefore not low-key, but my friend Aaron waded through filthy flood waters, carrying his pregnant wife, so that she would stay safe, dry, and clean after their condo building flooded.

Daphna makes oatmeal for Ian. In fact, I wonder if Ian didn’t propose to Daphna because of the oatmeal.

Few foods are humbler than oats, but in the right hands, oatmeal is a lovely food. Daphna is an oatmeal expert, a person for whom oatmeal is a treat and a breakfast staple. She has perfected her oatmeal over the course of many mornings. Recently, Ian lamented how Daphna used to make baked oatmeal back when they were dating, but she doesn’t make it much any more. He loves her oatmeal. But Daphna’s way with oats is magical and unknown. How does she make them so delicious? Magic or not, sometimes a man just needs a bowl of oats. If his oatmeal-maker isn’t around, he has to take matters into his own hands. Ian got the basics right: oats, water, microwave. He put 1 cup of oats into a bowl, added some water, and microwaved for 2 minutes at max power. He took the oats out, stirred them around, ate a spoonful. Hmm, he thought. These do NOT taste like Daphna’s. They’re kinda bland—oaty but bland. But he ate them anyway and concluded that he doesn’t have the magic touch. (I’m sure his colon thanked him for all the fiber.)

For Ian’s sake, and the sake of their future children, I convinced Daphna to share her oatmeal recipe with us. I must confess, I don’t eat much oatmeal in porridge form. I’m more likely to make a batch of granola, or mix it into my cookie dough, than I am to have a bowl of hot oatmeal for breakfast. But I know that Ian is not much of a cook, and if Daphna’s oatmeal can lure him into the kitchen, then it’s time for me to start taking notes. Daphna’s version uses a microwave, but stone-age cooks like me who live without microwaves at home can use the stovetop. Daphna has three tricks for her oats: a little salt, half a frozen banana, and slow, gentle cooking in the microwave. A deep bowl is essential for this, she explains, because otherwise the oats will overflow while they are cooking. She uses a large ceramic soup bowl for her breakfasts at home.

Oats-in-a-bowl are good for a quickie morning breakfast. On slower mornings, when one can putter around the house a bit, baked oatmeal is the equivalent of a lazy morning snuggle. Before making it, I found the idea of baked oatmeal intriguing. I even mentioned it here a few months ago, and my only regret now is that it took me so long to try this recipe! I tweaked Kath’s recipe to include cardamom and a little more sugar in the oat mixture; 2 tablespoons of sugar worked perfectly for me. I love the texture of baked oatmeal. More solid than oatmeal porridge, enriched with egg, it’s like a wedge of creamy pudding with chunks of banana strewn throughout. I love it so much that I made it twice last week, and I ate both batches all by myself. It makes a perfect late-afternoon snack, something to eat while I watch the sun begin to fade for the day, a sure sign that winter is just around the corner. Time to stock up on oatmeal.

Daphna’s Banana Oatmeal
Serves 1 (multiply as needed to serve more people)

Daphna adapted her recipe from Kath’s advice, and this recipe makes a mighty fine bowl of oats. I can only speak for the stovetop method because that’s what I use at home, but Daphna’s advice has never let me down, so I wholeheartedly believe the microwave directions will work well for you, too. The banana melts into the oatmeal such that the final bowl is a creamy porridge laced with the sweetness of banana. When Daphna told me she usually doesn’t add additional sugar to the oats because the banana is sweet enough, I was skeptical. But she’s right: half a banana makes a perfectly delicious porridge. It’s an awfully nice comfort food in the morning, not to mention that if you are watching your pennies (as I always am), it’s a fabulously cheap breakfast.

30 grams or 1/3 cup of rolled oats
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup water
Two pinches of salt (“Two twists of a salt-grinder,” says Daphna.)
1/4 tsp. real vanilla extract
1/2 of a frozen banana, coarsely chopped into 4-5 pieces

Optional toppings such as:
-peanut butter or almond butter
-sugar (Taste before adding; you might not want additional sugar here.)

Microwave directions:
1) In a deep, microwave-safe bowl, combine the oats, milk, water, salt, vanilla, and banana pieces. Microwave for 5 minutes at 50% power.
2) Remove your oats from the microwave and give them a good stir. Top the oatmeal with any or all of the optional toppings, or whatever sounds tasty to you. Eat.

Stovetop directions:
1) In a smallish saucepan (I use one that can hold about four cups), combine the oats, milk, water, salt, vanilla, and banana pieces. Plop the saucepan on the stove, turn on the heat to medium-high, and bring the contents to a very gentle boil—just over a simmer.
2) Turn down the heat as low as it will go, give everything a good stir, and cover the saucepan. Cook over very low heat for ~3-4 minutes, uncovering and stirring every 1-2 minutes. When the oats have become creamy and the banana has cooked into the porridge, remove the saucepan from the heat. Spoon everything into a heatproof bowl. Top the oatmeal with additional toppings (see above) if you like and serve immediately.

Baked Oatmeal Brulee with Banana, Cardamom, and Cinnamon
Adapted from this recipe from Kath Eats Real Food
Serves 2-3 for breakfast or a substantial snack

This is baked banana oatmeal for those of us who love chai. The cinnamon and cardamom are subtle so they don’t overwhelm the other flavors, and they add a wonderful spicy warmth to the oats. A slice of this oatmeal is like slipping on your favorite sweater: cozy and delicious. Even the oatmeal itself has a few layers: in addition to the oatmeal base with its spices and bananas, there is a thin layer of sugar that gets melted and caramelized under the broiler for a little bit of a brulee effect, and then each serving gets topped with a peanut butter-yogurt mixture. I really think that the topping is what takes this dish from “Yum!” to “Wow!” Peanut butter and bananas go together like hugs and kisses, or like fall and snuggling.

For the baked oatmeal:
Cooking spray
1 cup oats
1 cup milk (I used 1% organic cow’s milk, the standard dairy milk in my kitchen)
1/2 cup vanilla soymilk (plain soymilk is tasty too)
1 tsp. real vanilla extract
Two shakes of salt from the salt-shaker
1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
1 egg
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 banana, sliced

For the brulee:
1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. demerara sugar or brown sugar

For the topping:
3 tbsp. creamy peanut butter
3 tbsp. plain yogurt

1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray an 8x4-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside for now.
2) In a medium mixing bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the baked oatmeal except the banana. Make sure the egg is thoroughly mixed into everything else. Add the banana slices and stir gently to combine.
3) Pour the oatmeal mixture into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time.
4) Remove the baked oatmeal from the oven and turn on the broiler. Sprinkle the brulee topping (1 tbsp. + 1 tsp. demerara sugar) evenly over the top of the oatmeal, smoothing it with a spoon to spread it evenly. Place the oatmeal under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to caramelize the sugar, watching it very carefully to make sure nothing burns.
5) Remove the oatmeal from the broiler and turn the oven off. Let the oatmeal cool for a few minutes while you mix together the peanut butter and the yogurt for the topping. Use a pancake flipper to slice the baked oatmeal in half or into thirds and serve, hot or warm. Top each portion with a generous spoonful or two of the topping. This dish also reheats well in the microwave, which is what I use at work to eat it as an afternoon snack.


JD said...

RA, thanks for the link, and you are right about warm oatmeal being the equivalent of a nice hug when getting home from work. Relationships need a LOT of oatmeal. Wife and I will have to try this baked recipe on some cold winters weekend morning.

Delightfully Healthy said...

Wow, I never thought to bake oatmeal, either. Now I know what to make for brunch on Sunday.


Rosiecat said...

JD, you're welcome! I totally agree with you: "Relationships need a LOT of oatmeal." What an adorable line!

Delightfully Healthy, I'd never thought of baking oatmeal before Daphna gave me a recipe for it. Now that I HAVE tried it, though, I think I'm hooked. I hope you enjoy it, too! Thanks for stopping by!

daphna said...

I made your baked oatmeal on Sunday, and it was SO good! Only thing I did differently was add walnuts to the recipe and use almond butter instead of peanut butter for the topping. Yum!

Thanks for the sweet post. :) Ian got a kick out of it too. Lately I've been adding some speltberries and chopped almonds to the oatmeal but a fun texture.

Also, now that I'm finally done with my exam (ugh) I can prep those pumpkins. I'm SO excited, just have to figure out what I'm going to make.

Rosiecat said...

Hola, Daphna!

I'll have to try your tweaks the next time I make the baked oatmeal. I can imagine that the walnuts might add a nice flavor and texture.

Thanks to you and Ian for letting me tell your oatmeal stories :-) I'm charmed by your family and your stories, and now I have some new oatmeal recipes! Hurray!

Exams--blarg! I'm glad yours is done. It was fun picking out pumpkins with you at the market! I'll look forward to hearing what recipes inspire you to get cooking.

Hmm, now if only I can convince Nicole to let me share her pumpkin pancake recipe... ;-)

boston girlie said...

Of course you can!

Catherine said...

What a lovely post... it makes me want to kick of my shoes and curl up in a ball with a warm cup of tea. Ok I may already be doing that mostly, but I'm at work so the curling part isn't too possible... :)

Rosiecat said...

Boston Girlie, you are the best! So are your pumpkin pancakes. I can't wait to make them.

Thank you, Catherine! I can also be found curled up with a mug of tea these days. The heat in my apartment is hit-or-miss, and these October evenings have gotten chilly lately!

ammie said...

I am so trying this the next time I have a) a banana, and b) a free morning or afternoon.

Laurie said...

I can't wait to show my daughter your oatmeal recipes! She and her boyfriend eat oatmeal every morning together at their favorite local breakfast spot.

Cuddling in the fall IS the best. Thanks for making me smile.

Rosiecat said...

Ammie, I hope you don't have to wait too long to try this recipe...knowing you, I'm more worried about that free morning/afternoon part than I am the banana :-) Have a lovely week, friend!

Laurie, a morning oatmeal ritual sounds so nice! And imagine being able to do that in pajamas! Even nicer. Thanks for your sweet comment--it made ME smile!

ammie said...

This is in my oven right now, and I just tried the topping and it's amazing! It's going to be a good day :)

Rosiecat said...

Ammie, I feel the same way when I make this recipe! And that topping: who knew peanut butter and yogurt were soul mates just waiting to be united by some light stirring? Yum.

Have a good week, friend.