Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Secret to Oatmeal (Who Knew There was a Secret?)

Before I give away the secret... let's rewind to the oat part. What kind of oats does one use to make awesome oatmeal? What are the different varieties? Who do the Irish think they are coming up with their own oat?

Here's the breakdown:
This is an oat groat, the grain's original state, before being processed into breakfast. Only the outer hull is removed. 
These are instant oats, AKA the worst. They're precooked, mushy, nutritionally depleted, and will not be considered food from this point forward.
These are rolled oats, also called oat flakes or old-fashioned oatmeal. They're nothing more than oat groats that have been steamed, rolled and flaked (in order to cook more quickly). While they do serve practical purpose in oatmeal cookies, pie crusts, and granola... I generally refuse to acknowledge their presence as a breakfast food. Textureless food is not fun food.
These are steel-cut oats! (applause) Sometimes they're referred to as Irish oats or Scotch oats, but all the title really means is that these oat groats that have been chopped into smaller pieces for easier eating. They're the healthiest, the tastiest, and the most satisfying of all oat breakfast options.
Now that you understand the ingredient... you're ready to learn the secret. Ready?

Don't use water. 

The secret is... almond milk.

If you cook oats in milk (in my case, almond milk... you could also use dairy milk or try another nut milk) they absorb the flavor and adopt a rich, creamy texture that would typically be attained with the addition of something blasphemous, like heavy cream. While using milk is obviously a better idea than using cream, taking it one step further with non-dairy milk slashes calories from sugar (91 cal/cup skim milk, or 40 cal/cup almond milk) and adds vitamins and minerals, without compromising calcium.

(Milk them.)
Both almond milk and skim milk contain 30% of one's daily recommended amount of calcium, but almond milk is sugar-free, while milk sneaks in 12 grams of sugar. That's two more grams than in a Pure White Fudge Covered Oreo, and the first ingredient on its nutrition label is, in fact, "sugar". Have I hammered that point in hard enough? No one needs the extra sugar. Next, milk offers negligible amounts of vitamins (4% vitamin C... that's it), while almond milk serves as an excellent source of vitamin A, D, and E. Plus, when it comes to cooking, baking, making pudding, hot chocolate or smoothies, almond milk and skim milk are interchangeable. Oh, and there's always the fact that almond milk is lactose-free, casein-free, and vegan... but on to the wonderful world of oats.

Spiced Apple Pie Oats!
Avena Sativa, or oats (I've typed the word 'oats' about 60 times now and it no longer looks like a word), contain a plethora health benefits, including manganese, selenium, vitamin B1, dietary fiber, magnesium, and protein. What are the benefits, you ask? Well, the beta-glucan (soluble fiber) found in oatmeal lowers cholesterol at least 8%, which translates to an at least 16% decrease in risk of contracting heart disease. Nothing like reducing your chances of coming face-to-face with the #1 cause of death in America, right? Beta-glucan also stabilizes blood sugar, which keeps you from craving a half a package of Chips Ahoy half way through your day. Magnesium, calcium, and whole grain foods in general consistently reduce risk of type-2 diabetes in medical studies, and I won't even get started with the anti-oxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties. Bottom line: as things with gluten in them go, oats are pretty good for you.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Oats!

Now what? Start with:

- 1/4 C steel cut oats
- 3/4 C almond milk

Add almond milk and oats to a small pot and leave in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, cook oats on the stove over low for about 10 minutes. You can also cook them the morning of by boiling the almond milk and adding the oats, then simmering for about 30 minutes. Don't have time? Make a larger batch over the weekend and it'll keep in the fridge for the week, or use McCann's quick cooking steel cut oats.

Then choose your path of inspiration:

1. The Elvis
During the last 5 minutes of simmering your oatmeal, melt in one mashed banana and one tbsp nut butter, then sprinkle crushed nuts on top.

2. The Oatmeal Raisin Cookie
Add 2 tbsp raisins, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp vanilla and crushed pecans or walnuts

3. Trail Mix
Add a small handful of dried fruits and nuts of your choosing (and no one will judge you if there are chocolate chips involved).

4. Maple Walnut Crunch
Add 1 tbsp maple syrup, 2 tbsp walnuts, and a sprinkle of granola on top.

5. Spiced Apple Pie
Add 1 diced, peeled green apple, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp allspice, 1/4 tsp ginger and a dash of nutmeg, then simmer for 10 minutes.

6. Hot Cocoa
Add 1 tsp cocoa, an extra splash of sweetened milk + vegan mini marshmallows at the end of the simmer phase.

7. If you like PiƱa Coladas...
Add toasted coconut + diced pineapples. The rum is your call (don't do it)... and feel free to sub coconut milk beverage for almond milk!

8. Banana Cream Pie (favorite)
Stir in one mashed banana, chopped walnuts, and 1/2 tsp vanilla during the last five minutes of the simmer phase, then sprinkle cinnamon on top.

9. Savory
Add salt to taste. It may sound weird, but it's not. It's awesome.

10. Berry Scone
Stir in dried cherries, fresh strawberries, blueberries + 1/2 tsp vanilla.

Banana Cream Pie Oats!

Feel free to invent your own breakfast creations and combinations, and don't hesitate to share. Enjoy!