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Can we talk oatmeal?

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. But if you’re anything like me, you take advantage of this time of the year to refocus on your health and make sure you’re still tracking the right way on those healthy habits.

I’m very passionate about healthy eating. I really do believe that you can’t outrun a bad diet (and believe me, I’ve tried ;)), and that eating real food (minimally processed, nutrient-rich, kind to your body and the earth) is not only what makes our engines run as smoothly and efficiently as possible, but is way tastier than the manufactured, artificial “pseudo-food” that’s out there. And while I do indulge occasionally (ok, maybe sometimes a little too occasionally :p), when I do, I try to make sure that that food was (1) worth the splurge, (2) made with as many real ingredients as possible (this is not always possible, but why not aim for this?), and (3) thoroughly enjoyed. Old habits die hard and sometimes I still find myself struggling with guilt when I have something that is probably not the most nutritious thing on the planet, but for the most part, I try and keep the stress over food to a minimum. I mean, really–the stress over food guilt is probably tons more harmful to your system than the food ever was in the first place ;).

Which brings me to the point of this post, which is to share with you one of my all-time favorite healthy treats: oatmeal.

Now, I know, I know–for some of you (and I was in this category just a few short years ago), the mention of oatmeal brings up visions of bland, mushy concoctions that resemble wallpaper paste. You may even think it tastes like that, too ;). But I am here to assure you that that need not be the case. It’s time to show your taste buds that oatmeal can be exciting!

There are a few secrets to this:

  1. Use steel cut. Seriously, that instant oatmeal in a packet? No bueno. It’s been dehydrated and chopped and steamed and goodness knows what else–by the time you heat it up in your microwave, no wonder it results in mushy goo. Texture is one of our best friends when it comes to food enjoyment, and steel cut oatmeal has it in spades. Just trust me on this. If you really must shun it, do consider using old-fashioned (or rolled) oats. Just not that instant kind. Pretty please.
  2. Use milk! I was shocked to discover in talking to people that the vast majority of you use water to cook your oatmeal. Well, psst… water is flavorless. Which leads to flavorless oatmeal. This is probably why the makers of those pesky instant oatmeals load it with sugar (artificial or otherwise) and/or flavors (again, artificial)! Do yourselves a favor and use milk. Vegan? Use a milk substitute. But use something other than water, because it makes for a creamy, yummy oatmeal.
  3. Add salt. I know, I know, I thought this was weird, too. It’s in the instructions of every box of oatmeal I’ve ever seen, but I figured that was an optional step. Wrong. When I finally tried it, I tasted the flavor of the oats for the first time. Zing! Remember, we’re talking a pinch here, not drowning it in salt so that it becomes salty. A little bit goes a long way, and a little bit is all you need to bring out the flavor of your oatmeal.
  4. Dress it up–the smart way. I’m going to share with you my favorite recipe below, but seriously, if you think that oatmeal has to be boring, just take a look at the possibilities. You may even find it’s like eating dessert in the morning!

Alright, enough with the sales pitch on the oatmeal and onto the recipe, right? This is the one I use most regularly. I make a big batch of it every Sunday, portion it out in tupperware, then re-heat it in the microwave every morning so that it takes 2-3 minutes, tops to have myself a healthy–AND delicious (heck, it’s downright decadent, if you ask me)–breakfast. I was inspired by my favorite breakfast as a kid in the Philippines: champorado, which is chocolate rice porridge. I figured adding chocolate to my oatmeal might make it more enjoyable, and sure enough it does. Oh boy, does it! And being that I couldn’t have just chocolate, I found a way to dress it up even more with a few more surprises :).

Jen’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal (makes 5 servings of 3/4 cup cooked oatmeal)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup + 3 tablespoons of Trader Joe’s Quick Cook Steel Cut oats (you can also use whatever brand of steel cut you prefer, but the Trader Joe’s Quick Cook kind cooks in about 10 minutes, as opposed to the 30-45 minutes necessary for the regular kind; just adjust the cooking time accordingly)
  • 3 3/4 cup of your favorite kind of milk (I usually use light soy milk, but I also like skim milk)
  • 1 pinch of salt (sea salt or kosher salt, but I don’t recommend regular table salt, which is highly processed and hence, devoid of flavor–ever notice how you need to use tons of it to get any flavor?)
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 cinnamon stick (or 1 teaspoon of cinnamon–or more, if you prefer more. I’m big on cinnamon, so there’s no such thing as too much, if you ask me)
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract

Directions:

In a large stockpot, add the milk, cinnamon stick, orange zest, almond extract, and pinch of salt. Heat the milk on medium heat (any higher and the milk will burn) and bring to a boil, then add the oats. Stir a few times, then set your timer for 10 minutes (or more, if you’re using the regular kind of steel cut; check the box for the exact timing).

After the timer goes off, stir the oatmeal, then cover and let rest for 5-10 minutes. Now you’re ready to portion it out into your containers!

When you’re ready to eat, grab these ingredients to fancy up your oatmeal:

  • 1 cup berries (I usually do 1/2 cup of strawberries and 1/2 cup of blueberries, but you decide here what you prefer)
  • 1 teaspoon natural peanut butter (just say no to hydrogenated oil and added sugar! Blech!) or any other nut butter you like
  • 1 unpacked teaspoon of brown sugar or 1 teaspoon of sucanat (this is optional, but I like to add just a touch of sweetness–a teaspoon is really all that’s needed, though, because you’ve got some sweetness from the milk, and adding salt to the oatmeal brings out its flavor, so there’s some nuttiness there that is excellent)
  • 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Ghirrardelli, but feel free to use your favorite–as long as it’s unsweetened and extra chocolate-y :))
  • More cinnamon, if you prefer (told ya I’m a cinnamon fan)

To reheat (either in the microwave or over the stove), reconstitute the oatmeal with 1/4 cup of milk, then pour into a bowl. Add the brown sugar and cocoa powder, then stir to incorporate. Now add the peanut butter and stir again. Top with berries and more cinnamon, and now you’re ready to eat!

See, doesn’t that sound almost like a dessert? I think so. In fact, I love it so much, that I have this five days a week. No joke. I’m kind of addicted to it :).

Steel cut oatmeal

Your new best friend. You're welcome.

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About writejenwrite

Silicon Valley marketer by day, novelist-in-training by night--running addict, foodie, bookworm, pop culture enthusiast, and aspiring philanthropist in between.

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