Thursday, October 30, 2008

My favorite (oat)meal

Merriam-Webster's dictionary gives us two tantalizing definitions for the word "meal". The first, and one which you may have already suspected, is "the act of eating a portion of food to satisfy appetite." The second, however, is the topic for this post. "Meal. n. The usually coarsely ground and unbolted seeds of a cereal grass or pulse." While myriad meals are available to the curious consumer, today's post is going to focus on my personal favorite: Oatmeal. Often overlooked, these humble ground grains pack in oodles of fiber, vitamins, and complex-carbs, and when prepared right, make one kick-ass cold-morning breakfast (or lunch, dinner, or evening snack if you're me).

My love of tasty oats was sparked early in life. Growing up, my mom often ground up whole oats in a hand-cranking grinder in order to make our morning oatmeal. And no, I'm not Amish, she was just that into food. My love for oatmeal only deepened when I started paying for my own groceries ($0.30 breakfast!), and before long I began experimenting with my own preparation techniques and added ingredients in pursuit of the perfect bowl. Below I've included some tips about preparing your own perfect bowl of oatmeal, as well as my personal three favorite versions of this glorious grain.

Selecting your Oats
The perfect bowl of oatmeal starts with the perfect bowl of oats. You just can't do better than oats you have just freshly rolled (ground) yourself, but Bob's Red Mill Extra Thick Rolled Oats come pretty darned close. If I can't get my hands on Bob's Red Mill, then I typically go for the "Old Fashioned" variety from Quaker Oats. In my humble opinion, instant oats take up their place at the bottom on the T-oat-em pole, as they have fewer vitamins and less flavor.

Stove-Top vs. Microwave
I find that stove-top oatmeal is drastically tastier than its microwaved cousin. You have so much more control over the texture, and the added flavors and ingredients have more opportunity to blend together. As a general rule, you can influence the texture of your oatmeal in three ways: 1) the liquid to oat ratio (less liquid = thicker oatmeal), 2. whether you use milk or water (creamier or lighter), and 3. the cooking time (shorter time for chewier oats, longer time for smoother oatmeal). Here are three of my all-time favorite oatmeal recipes, each one perfect for a different occasion.

Cinnamon Custard Oatmeal - Perfect for an indulgent morning - 1 serving
Pour 1 cup of whole milk (that's right, WHOLE milk) into a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir the bottom of the pan until the milk starts to bubble, and then toss in a 1/2 cup of rolled oats. Continue stirring constantly in order to keep the milk from burning. After about 3 minutes of stirring (or whenever your oatmeal reaches your preferred texture - I do it for 3 minutes because I like a chewier texture), remove from the heat and shake in some brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. What you'll get is the creamiest, tastiest, richest, most custard-like oatmeal you ever did taste.

Protein-Packing Oatmeal - Perfect for a post-workout snack - 1 serving
Follow the basic steps from above, but this time use skim milk instead of whole. When the oatmeal is close to reaching the right thickness, crack an egg into the pan and stir quickly so that it blends completely with the oatmeal before it has a chance to cook (otherwise you'll get white strings in your oatmeal). The result is a hearty bowl of oatmeal that looks and tastes just like you're used to, but has 20 grams of protein as compared to the usual 5. I like sweetening this version with Stevia if I've just come from the gym.

Forager's Oatmeal - Perfect for the wanna-be hermit in all of us - 1 serving
This oatmeal I tend to make with water instead of milk so that it tastes a bit lighter...but it can certainly go either way. Just like before, put a cup of water in a saucepan and heat it until it begins to boil. Throw in your 1/2 cup of oats, wait for it to boil, and then cook for about 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, or until it reaches the desired texture. Remove from heat and top with chopped nuts, fresh and dried berries, and a dash of whole milk or cream.

Do you have any favorite oatmeal recipes? If so, please let me know! I'm always open to broadening my oatmeal horizon.


  1. Do you remember New Year Eve Day your freshman year...we had plain oatmeal with a little blueberry compote on top. Cream was poured on top creating purple and white rivers before your eyes. Kylie and Rachel appeared the next day for breakfast. I guess it made a great post New Year's repast. Do you think oatmeal is good for hangovers?

  2. Eggs + Oatmeal = a blown mind in Kenya! Wow, that sounds so healthy and satisfying. Thanks for this great blog!



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