Saturday, May 11, 2013

Champion of Breakfasts

I frequently don’t have breakfast at all until after my morning treadmill. I’ve read that doing cardio on an empty stomach produces increased results. I don’t know if this is true, but I do it anyway, and I'll wolf down a protein bar en route from the treadmill to the weight room.

But on hiking days, something in the tummy is imperative before starting up the mountain. Something on the lighter side (i.e. not a lot of grease) and carb-laden for that boost of energy. One favorite is peanut butter toast (whole grain bread, crunchy peanut butter) sprinkled with Nestle’s Quik. No kidding! I put some Quik in a salt shaker and the small amount that drifts onto the PB puts the resulting flavor comfortably in the Nutella column.

The undisputed champ of carb breakfasts, though, is oatmeal. And the title-holder of oatmeals is steel-cut oats. You probably know McCann’s, in their charming metal cannister. It’s by far the most common brand. Also by far the most expensive. Quaker Oats now has their own steel cut oats in a humble round cardboard container at about half the cost.

Steel cut oats are to oatmeal what brown rice is to Minute Rice: it’s essentially the same product but with much more flavor and body. Rolled oats are--wait for it--rolled with huge rolling machines to flatten them out. It’s makes them cook faster, among other things. Quick-cooking oats are rolled oats cut into smaller pieces which allows them to cook even faster, and gives them even less texture. Instant oatmeal is a bowl full of wallpaper paste with artificial everything and should be avoided whenever possible.

For me, the biggest drawback to steel cut oats (apart from their cost--no longer an issue) is cooking them. They can be temperamental and they take a long time to cook. I’ve made them in a double boiler, which is more reliable, but that method can take up to an hour. Every time you want to make them... an hour!

Here’s my method for having delicious, perfectly cooked steel cut oats whenever you want them, instantly. It’s fairly complicated, so get a pad and pencil.

Combine 1 cut steel cut oats, 3 cups water and 1/2 tsp. salt in a large saucepan. Boil for 3 minutes over high heat. Turn the heat off.

Bingo! That’s it! Honest!

“Huh,” you’re saying? Here’s the one caveat: you do this about 8 hours before you want to eat. I usually make a batch at night and just go to bed after I turn off the heat. Leave ‘em right on the stove--you don’t even have to cover the pan. The next morning, give the pot a stir (they’re like glue at this point) to make them creamy again. Put a 1/2 cup or so in a small bowl, nuke ‘em, and you’ve got breakfast!

You can put the entire batch in the fridge and it should last close to a week.

Now, me being me, I have to gild the lily, so I usually throw into the water (right at the beginning along with the oats and salt) things like raisins or dried cranberries or prunes, whole fresh cranberries (which I always have in the freezer) and, usually, a couple of peeled, diced, Granny Smith apples. Along with ground cinnamon and ground ginger and a whole cinnamon stick. On days that I'm feeling particularly reckless, when I wake up and find the oats ready to eat, I'll stir half a can of pumpkin into the mixture.

The above extras add so much flavor and sweetness that you won’t need any milk or sugar or brown sugar or maple syrup or agave syrup or nothin’. I mean, it’s actually sweet. But, if you were to add a little cream and brown sugar, well, basically you’ve got dessert. After all, what is rice pudding but this recipe with a different grain? 

Indeed, sometimes a portion of this serves as my afternoon snack. It’s that good.

Try this method once and you’ll never go back to any other version of oatmeal. F’real!

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