|Peanut Butter-Pecan Oatmeal with Bananas and Maple Syrup|
As a rule, I tend to crave oatmeal in January and February. During these chilly months, my steaming morning soy latte just isn't enough to warm me through and through. Enter the humble bowl of oatmeal. In a world overflowing with ubiquitous food blogs, cooking channels and culinary magazines, oatmeal [aka, porridge or mush] is not exactly the sexiest victual in the world. But it is a relatively healthy breakfast staple – warming, filling, inexpensive, and overflowing with fiber and comfort. And it's neutral base lends itself wonderfully to improvisation.
As with most recipes, it's important to start with quality ingredients, and oatmeal is no exception. I'm partial to steel cut oats– I love the nutty chewiness. And I find that Irish quick-cooking oatmeal has a cleaner, more straightforward flavor than some of the American instant oats, which sadly, can taste like and resemble wallpaper paste.
Let's face it, oatmeal can get real boring real fast. Cinnamon, brown sugar, and soy milk can only hold our attention for so long. Here are a dozen ways to liven up your oatmeal. Please feel free to add your own ideas as comments.
1. Peanut Butter-Pecan Oatmeal with Bananas and Maple Syrup [Pictured above]. Put a healthy glop of peanut butter in a bowl. Stir in cooked oatmeal. Top with maple syrup, chopped pecans, sliced bananas, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. This has become my new addiction. Try it with different nut/nut butter combos [eg, walnuts and cashew butter, pistachios and almond butter]
2. Blueberry Supreme: Into cooked oatmeal, stir half a container of blueberry non-dairy yogurt and 1/2 cup fresh or defrosted frozen blueberries. You can substitute any berry/yogurt combination.
3. Pumpkin Pie: While cooking oats, substitute 1/4 cup cooking water with unsweetened pumpkin puree. Add 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice per serving. Top with brown sugar or maple syrup.
4. Almond-Pear Crumble: Peel an organic pear and cut into raisin-sized pieces. Cook along with your oats [works best with steel-cut oats]. Top with toasted almonds, a small dab of Earth Balance and some brown sugar or agave nectar.
5. Fruit-Juice Stock: This idea is from my first cookbook. Instead of cooking the oatmeal with water, substitute all or part of your favorite fruit juice: eg, apple juice, cranberry juice, just as you might cook a savory grain in stock. This infuses the oats with an extra zing of flavor and sweetness.
6. Cran-Apple: Toss 2-3 T unsweetened, dried cranberries and a peeled, diced apple into the oats as you cook them. Season with ginger and cinnamon. Add sugar or other sweetener, if desired. If you're really feeling domestic, add some fresh orange of lemon zest, too.
7. Canuck Special: This one's courtesy of F-Stop. Boil some raisins, about 1/4 cup. Puree a peeled apple in the food processor. Add this mixture to your cooked oats, and top with your favorites: eg, nuts, cinnamon, brown sugar, maple syrup.
8. Coconut Chocolate Chip: A fun departure, like eating a deconstructed turtle bar. While cooking the oats, add 2-3 T shredded coconut. Remove from heat. Stir in desired amount of dark chocolate chips and nuts, if you like. You should not need to add any sugar to this one!
9. Cherry-Berry: While cooking oats, add 2-3 T chopped, dried cherries. Season with cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg and maple syrup or agave nectar.
10. Cardamon Sticky-Toffee: The name is a bit of a stretch--this oatmeal will never taste as decadent as the famous dessert, but it is a luscious breakfast treat. Pit and finely chop about 1/3 cup of Medjool dates and add them to the oatmeal cooking water; they will infuse your oats with a cloying, sticky sweetness [Add a tiny pinch of salt to counter the sugar's intensity]. Top with cardamon powder and, if you have a serious sweet tooth, a bit of golden or Karo syrup or molasses. Hedonists can also add some chocolate chips.
11. Pure Vanilla: Halve a vanilla bean, scrape out the insides and mix into the oatmeal and water, before cooking, along with 1 tsp pure vanilla extract and the vanilla bean shells [You'll remove them before eating--but why not extract every possible bit of flavor from these expensive little pods?]. Season as you like, with cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, bananas, vanilla non-dairy yogurt, maple syrup – the sky's the limit!
12. Jelly Roll: Instead of sweetening oatmeal with the usual suspects, add a teaspoon of your favorite jelly [eg, apricot, raspberry, fig, quince] to the cooked grain. Depending on the kind of jam you use, this trick can elevate your oatmeal to bona-fide exotic.