Thursday, March 19, 2009

Oats - Not Just for Breakfast Anymore

I did not grow up eating oatmeal, and, frankly, I have no idea when I first tried it, though I know it was as an adult. As a young child, I thought cereal came in three varieties: Rice Krispies, Corn Flakes and Wheaties. All cold. Those, along with Pop-Tarts, Blueberry or Brown Sugar Cinnamon, never frosted, and a completely weird, mitt-like toaster pastry called "Cinnamon Sticks" were the full extent of our weekday breakfast offerings. For many years, I imagined that I didn't like hot cereals (in four years of college in the South, I never once tried grits!).

I vividly remember eating oatmeal in Ireland several years ago, and though I'm sure I'd tried it before that, it was the steel cut oats at Ballymaloe House that really turned me into an oatmeal eater. Creamy from slow cooking on the stove for an hour or so, and served with an assortment of brown sugar, fresh fruit and nut toppings as well as cream from the cows that lived behind the hotel, this was an oatmeal that anyone could love. I still love Irish steel cut oats, though I rarely take the time to make them. There is a local restaurant at which I sometimes meet friends for breakfast that serves steel cut oats. I look forward to that steamy bowl topped with brown sugar and dried fruit and nuts all week. When the server announces that they are out of oatmeal, which has happened all too often lately, I am so disappointed that if I didn't like the company, I might just walk right out of the restaurant.

At home, I am happy with run of the mill (no pun intended) Old Fashioned Oats which cook up in the microwave in only 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. If you're really in a rush, Quick Cooking Oats take about a minute less. I follow the directions on the package, using just water and oats. Once heated, I top the bowl with a little skim milk, a sprinkle of brown sugar or real maple syrup, and an ever-changing mix of dried or fresh fruit depending on the season and what I have around. I try to add a small handful of chopped walnuts, as they are said to be full of Omega - 3 fatty acid.

What's newer to me is the use of oatmeal beyond the breakfast table and the occasional cookie. I have recently seen several recipes for meatloaf which call for oats instead of bread crumbs. I'll write about that soon, once I've had a chance to play with that idea a bit.
I rarely bake, partly because I'm not a huge sweet eater and partly because I feel too limited by the need to measure ingredients precisely. But, I have had success with banana bread. I was inspired by a friend who brought slices of an oaty one to a picnic last summer. It was delicious and when she told me the basic ingredients, I realized it was significantly healthier than the standard from my childhood (Cookie's Steakpub!). She never got around to sending me the recipe, but I played around with the idea of using oats as she did. I also tried using white whole wheat flour instead of refined white flour. White whole wheat flour is milled from white whole wheat, rather than red. It has the same the fiber and nutrition of traditional whole wheat, but has a milder flavor and lighter color that more resembles white flour. In a bread like this, you can simply substitute white whole wheat flour in a direct one-to-one ratio for regular white flour. And I reduced the fat and by adding non-fat yogurt to lighten it up.

The result is a great compromise between the sinfully moist and oily banana bread of my youth and the uber-healthy cardboard that sometimes tries to pass itself off as a treat. This banana bread is something your kids might eat after school or even in a lunchbox.

Banana - Oat Bread
(makes one loaf)

1-1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 medium ripe bananas
1 jumbo egg plus one extra egg white
1/3 cup brown sugar
scant 1/2 cup canola oil
1/3 cup non-fat Greek style yogurt
1 cup quick cooking oats (you can use old fashioned oats in a pinch)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray - either an 8 x 4 x 2-1/2 inch pan or a 9 x 5 x 3 inch pan. Mix flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, mix the oil, sugar and eggs. Add the yogurt and then the mashed bananas into the oil mixture and stir until well blended. Add the flour mixture and stir until moistened. Stir in the oats and nuts or chips if you're using them. Pour into the loaf pan. Place loaf pan onto a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 55 minutes or until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

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