Start with oats for a hearty (and tasty) breakfast

  • By Jackie Burrell Contra Costa Times
  • Tuesday, January 29, 2013 4:48pm
  • Life

There are so many traditions associated with the new year — midnight kisses, shiny New Year’s resolutions and, of course, the guilt-laden, mid-January plunge into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. That’s what happens when you go draconian on yourself.

But if the healthful hopes of Jan. 1 included such resolutions as “eat a healthy breakfast” and “more whole grains, baby,” here’s some happy news:

You can have your waffles and eat healthfully, too.

At least you can when you’ve packed them with toasted oatmeal, buttermilk and a hint of cinnamon.

Packed with antioxidants, high-fiber oatmeal fills you up, warms your soul and makes your heart (and other body parts) happier and healthier. Bake up a batch of berry-laced oatmeal, whip up a bowl of chai-spiced oats or dig into a jar of Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough’s Not-Just-Oatmeal Granola, and you’ll make your taste buds happy, too.

Health issues first prompted food writers Weinstein and Scarbrough’s efforts to incorporate more whole grains into their diets, but they soon discovered the delicious benefits of farro, freekeh, bulgur, oats and groats (the latter, they say, “taste like oatmeal squared.”)

The beauty of whole grains for breakfast, Scarbrough writes in the duo’s new book, “Grain Mains” ($24.99), is that “lunchtime rolls around without a hunger pang in sight. We can’t think of better morning news than that.”

Warren Brown, a Washington, D.C. attorney-turned-baker and proprietor of the very popular CakeLove bakeries in the D.C. area, does plenty of decadent sweets, of course, but he calls oatmeal the best way to “make the body feel nourished in all the right ways.”

His new breakfast cookbook, “CakeLove in the Morning” ($24.95), offers everything from sticky buns — decidedly not resolution-fare — to chocolate pancakes (ditto).

But Brown also shares his love for hot, creamy porridge, especially when the flavors are amplified with spices and fruit.

He steeps traditional chai spices — cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and star anise — in the milk he uses to cook oatmeal in one version, and mixes crystallized ginger, sliced bananas and flaxseeds into another.

As for those toasted oatmeal waffles, they’re the creation of San Francisco food writer and pastry chef Dawn Yanagihara, whose new book “Waffles” ($16.95) is devoted to everything crisp, golden and pocked with those signature imprints.

Here, rolled oats are toasted first, an idea that a colleague at Cooks Illustrated magazine first came up with a decade ago to add a light nuttiness to your basic porridge. However, Yanagihara takes the concept much farther.

“You make these resolutions, but if the food doesn’t taste good, you won’t want to eat it,” she says. “I love oatmeal. It made sense to do it — and I knew I needed to bring out the flavor. I pushed the envelope with the toasting to get that nutty, caramelized, butterscotch-y flavor.”

Buttermilk is added to the still-warm oatmeal mixture, along with melted butter, eggs, flour and brown sugar, before the batter is baked in a waffle iron, forming a crisp exterior shell for the tender, custardlike interior.

OK, so melted butter and brown sugar aren’t exactly health foods. But a toasted-oatmeal waffle is much better for you than ice cream.

Just go easy on the syrup.

Toasted oatmeal waffles

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided (see note)

1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats

1 3/4 cups water

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 large eggs, beaten

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add oatmeal; cook, stirring frequently for 8 to 10 minutes, or until browned with a deeply rich, toasty fragrance.

Off heat, carefully pour in water; mixture will steam and sputter. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat; lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until water is absorbed and oatmeal is thick and creamy, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; stir in remaining butter and brown sugar, mixing well. Stir in buttermilk. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

Preheat your waffle iron.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and baking soda.

Whisk beaten eggs into the oatmeal mixture. Pour oatmeal mixture into dry ingredients; fold gently with a rubber spatula just until batter is evenly moistened.

Pour a generous 1/2-cup batter into the center of the waffle iron. Use the spatula to spread the batter to about 1/2-inch from the edge. Close lid; bake the waffle to desired doneness. Repeat with remaining batter.

Makes 9 standard-size waffles.

Note: If you’re watching your weight — or planning to add butter at the table — you can reduce the amount of butter in the batter.

Dawn Yanagihara, “Waffles: Sweet, Savory, Simple”

Baked oatmeal

2 cups rolled (not instant) oats

1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted, divided

1/3 cup natural cane sugar or maple syrup

1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder

11/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups milk

1 large egg

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, divided

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 ripe bananas, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

11/2 cups huckleberries, blueberries or mixed berries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter an 8-inch square baking dish.

In a bowl, mix together the oats, half of the walnuts, sugar (if using), baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together the maple syrup (if using), milk, egg, half of the butter and vanilla.

Arrange bananas in a single layer in prepared pan. Sprinkle with two-thirds of the berries. Cover with oat mixture. Drizzle with milk mixture. Scatter remaining berries and walnuts on top.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is nicely golden and oat mixture has set. Let cool for a few minutes. Drizzle the remaining melted butter on top and serve with more sugar or maple syrup, if you wish.

Serves 6 generously.

Heidi Swanson, “Super Natural Every Day”

Chai oatmeal

1/2 cup soy milk

1/2 cup milk

2 tablespoons honey

2 cinnamon sticks

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground

1 star anise

5 to 8 green cardamom pods, unopened

1 cup whole rolled oats

In a 1-quart saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup water, the milks, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise and cardamom. Bring to a simmer; turn off heat and steep for 10 minutes.

Strain out the spices, then return the milk to the same pot. Add oats; bring to a simmer over medium heat.

Reduce heat to low; cover loosely. Cook without stirring for about 10 minutes, or until the oatmeal thickens to desired consistency. Serve with milk and sweetener of choice, if desired.

Serves 2.

Warren Brown, “CakeLove in the Morning”

Banana-ginger oatmeal

1/4-1/2 cup crystallized ginger

1 cup whole rolled oats

1 cup milk or soy milk

1 medium banana, peeled and sliced

1 tablespoon flaxseeds, optional

1 tablespoon honey

Pinch salt

1 tablespoon sugar, optional

Chop the ginger into small pieces.

Put all the ingredients into a 1-quart saucepan with 1 1/4 cups water; stir to combine. Cook over low to medium heat until oatmeal simmers lightly, about 15 minutes. Serve with strawberries and honey, if desired.

Serves 3 to 4.

Warren Brown, “CakeLove in the Morning”

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