Posts Tagged breakfast

Slow, slow oatmeal

Readers of this blog will know that steel-cut oatmeal has revolutionized my winter breakfasts, especially after I found a low-risk, low-maintenance way of getting the perfect taste and texture, precooking things in advance and letting them sit around to plump up nicely overnight. This year I got more adventurous, but also even lazier, and the oatmeal is, if anything, even more perfect. It’s a high-fibre, filling and low(ish) calorie way to start the day, and it keeps me going until mid-morning at least, especially if I add a few walnuts to add a protein filler. The secrets? A $20 slow cooker from the discount kitchen store, a selection of different grains to supplement the oats, far more liquid than you ever think you’ll need and patience.

The recipe is infinitely flexible, but here’s roughly what I do. Each batch lasts me for a week or so, maybe a bit less if I feel particularly hungry in the mornings.

Slow-cooked steel-cut oatmeal
generous half cup of steel-cut oats
skimpy one-third cup of other grains (I’ve used tef, amaranth and very small amounts of freekah so far, with amaranth at the top of the list for taste and texture)
2-3 cups water
1-2 cups other liquid (apple cider, coconut milk, milk, depending on mood)
generous pinch of salt

Put all the ingredients in the slow cooker and cook on low for 3-4 hours. Stir once in the middle if you remember. Allow to cool in the cooker and then store the porridge in a tupperware in the fridge. Come breakfast time, spoon out a portion into a bowl and reheat it in the microwave. Then add fruit and nuts, perhaps some cocoa nibs for bitterness and a generous splash of milk, buttermilk, yogurt or home-made kefir (which curdles slightly in the hot oatmeal). You could add honey/sugar/maple syrup too, or even jam, but I find the apple cider offers enough sweetness for my taste.

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The Guardian describes tef (an Ethiopian cereal) as “the next big supergrain,” while HuffPost gives a similar moniker to freekah (wheat that’s harvested when it’s still green and then cracked and roasted), dubbing it “the next hot supergrain“. HuffPost also offers “14 reasons to eat amaranth” (an eat-everything plant — the dark green leaves are used in Caribbean cooking and known as callaloo), and says cocoa nibs are “even better for you than dark chocolate.” How can I go wrong?

I’d note I don’t like to add too much freekah, because it adds a very wheaty taste to the finished cereal. I get a wheaty taste from bread; I like my oatmeal to taste mostly of oats.

Anyone got other ideas to jazz up oatmeal?

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It wasn’t a disaster

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I suppose in a year and a bit of bread making, and a lot of playing fast-and-loose with recipes, it was inevitable that not everything is going to work out quite the way you think it should. There was the (delicious) wheatberry bread where I broke a filling cracking down on a kernel, and the bread that never rose, and ended up as tasty, solid, twice baked-bagel chips. But most of them have been pretty wonderful, bringing the challenge of how not to eat a whole loaf of bread at a single sitting.

The basic non-recipe comprises 6-7 cups of flour (usually a mix of white, brown and something vaguely exotic), 3 (ish) cups of water, a tablespoon each of salt and fat, two teaspoons of dried yeast, a quarter cup of honey (or other sweetener) and a cup or two of Other Stuff, which could be nuts, or grains, or oat flakes, plus maybe a spoonful of cumin or coriander to make things a little bit more interesting. My recent favorite used spelt flour for a third of the flour and walnuts for the extra. It was very lovely.

But today’s adventure had me wondering if I should actually start measuring things  again, and reminded me that using up “the rest of that flour” might not be a particularly smart way of following a recipe. The idea was to do a 2:2:2 ratio of stoneground whole wheat bread flour, stoneground white bread flour and spelt flour, and maybe up the flour just a little because I wanted my two loaves to be a little bit larger than they were last time. For extras I chose some leftover pumpkin seeds, a couple of spoons of lightly ground flax seeds and half a cup of  hemp hearts, which the internet tells me are a protein-rich superfood. I added about a teaspoon of cumin too, just because I like the taste.

Then I discovered a baggie of a couple of cups of red fife flour in the freezer, so I decided to use that instead of the spelt even though it was freezer cold. And I was so close to finishing the wholewheat flour, that I just kept pouring that in after my two cups were full. Total flour? Seven cups, perhaps. Maybe a bit more. I didn’t measure it, and I didn’t weigh it, and I just threw in something over 3 cups of water and hoped for the best.

Hmm.

This dough was sloppier than anything  I’ve ever worked with — it practically walked off the countertop while I was reaching over for the coconut oil. It stuck to my hands, my clothes and anything that came anywhere near it. And the extra (white) flour I added in an attempt to make it slightly less sticky was fresh from the freezer too, so it chilled the dough some more and probably slowed the kneading/rising process. After twenty nervous minutes and a lot of extra ice cold flour I had a dough that I could almost handle, so I kept going until it felt good and elastic before putting it to one side to let the yeast do its stuff.

It rose, threatening to spill over the bowl.

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I squished it down and transfered it to tins and let it rise again, and baked it for about 55 minutes, first at 425F and then down to 350F.

And to my deepest surprise, it’s a really, really nice bread, with a good crust, a healthy chew and a lovely taste. And of course, having no idea what I actually did,  there’s no way I am going to be able to make it exactly the same again.

Lessons:

  • Those cookbook writers know what they are talking about when they say it’s better for a dough to be too wet than too dry
  • A stand mixer would be really nice for a dough this wet
  • You do need to knead bread to develop the gluten, and even sloppy doughs might (might) turn into something you can use
  • Experimentation is often very scary. But it sometimes works
  • You may never be able to recreate a newly invented recipe, which is actually rather sad

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Life (and marmalade) on the bitter side

As I may have mentioned once or twice before, there’s a short season for bitter Seville oranges in Toronto, which means grabbing when you see them and fitting the jamming session in around the fruit. So this weekend was time for the first experiment, with two glorious batches of bitingly tart marmalade for round-the-year enjoyment. We followed the recipe that’s mostly worked before, boiling the fruit in water, removing the pith and the pits, chopping the peel relatively finely, and then boiling the resulting goop up with sugar until it almost sets. Unusually for me, I did not cut the sugar this time — I admit last year’s marmalade was a little too tart, even for me, and a few extra sugar calories won’t do any harm. It’s runny again, just like it was last year, but I’m still hoping it will firm up a little over the course of the next few days.

Here’s the simmer…

The prep…

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The boil…

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The bottle…

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And the collection.

IMG_0714We ended up with 10 jars of regular Seville marmalade, with a couple of blood oranges to give it a richer color, and 11 of a slightly caramelly whisky/brown sugar concoction, which are the ones lurking on the left of the picture, plus a jar of mixed marmalade that wouldn’t fit into the regular batch. I had a spoonful of that in my morning oatmeal, for a wake-up bite.

We finished just in time to watch part 3 of the current season of Downton Abbey, which is lurching fast from period piece to soap opera.

Successful day.

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Never give up

A while back I grumbled, rightly, about my melon syrup, which tastes great, but is several notches too liquid to be called a jam, and I threatened to use it as the base for poached fruit rather than pretending it was jam. Today was the time to try that out, poaching sliced up peaches and a handful of plums in a mix of the melon syrup, plus a honey-water syrup base (half a cup honey, 2 cups water, juice of one lemon.)

The fruit is very pleasant, if a little sweet (skip the honey next time, I think), and there’s a hint of the lime/ginger/melon taste that I loved when I made the jam syrup in the first place. I  put it in a big container in the freezer rather than digging out the canning gear — and I can imagine it over ice cream, with yogurt or even with farro or steel cut oats when I get back into winter breakfast mode.

But the real revelation is using the leftover syrup with fizzy water, for a taste of heaven.

I give you peach spritzer. A splash of syrup, a lot of soda water and a bit of ice. All I need is the mint and the little paper umbrella.

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Oatmeal with a twist

I like a wholegrain breakfast ahead of the work day, or (even better) as a line-the-stomach venture before a bike ride or a ski trip. I do hot breakfasts in the winter, and cold ones in the summer, when I just throw oats together with buttermilk and fruit and pretend it’s low-cal muesli without the nuts.

For winter warmth, steel cut oats were my big discovery a few years back, especially after I realized that all you need to do is boil them up with water, cover the pan and let the porridge sit overnight to thicken up. The next day you spoon a portion into a bowl and nuke it warm.

Then I flirted with farro, which is higher in protein and more nutritious than oats. I like it a lot, and kept going for a couple of months of breakfasts.  But even after I tried whirring the pre-soaked grain around in the food processor for a few seconds to speed up the cooking time, farro takes forever to cook, and I meandered back to the steel cut oats. Depending on my mood, and on what I have in the house, I add a sliced up banana, a handful of raisins or cranberries, along with a splash of buttermilk, and I’m ready for the day.

But the oatmeal I tried at a Tucson cafe this week might just have transformed my life. Instead of using water or milk to cook their steel cut oats, Liv Cafe at the north of the city, cooks oats in apple cider, for a sweet-but-not-sweet start to the day.

I don’t know what proportions Liv uses for its oatmeal, but here is what I did.

Steel cut oats with apple cider
1 cup steel cut oats
2 cups water
2 cups apple cider (not the alcoholic kind, if there are any Brits reading this)
generous pinch of salt

Bring the oats and liquid to a boil and then switch off the heat, stir the porridge and cover overnight. Store in the fridge, and reheat a portion as you want it.

Serve with fruit, yogurt, milk, cream, nuts, spices. The choice is yours.

Ever so easy, and oh, so good.

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Quite the quince

I admit I’m somewhat addicted to the concept of quinces, even if they are bastards to peel and the jams and jellies don’t always live up to their promise. It reminds me of childhood – we had a quince tree in the back yard which offered pretty pink flowers in spring and rock hard yellow fruit in fall. But they are hard to find over here, and the season is so short that I buy them when I see them, and work out what to do afterward.

This year’s I managed to snag a series of quinces from four different shopping ventures, but of course I had no clue what to cook. I made quince chutney a couple of  years ago, so wanted to try something sweet this year. Quince jelly was the event of the moment, although it was amber rather than deep, deep red, possibly because I didn’t boil the quinces for the length of time suggested in one of several internet recipes. It’s sweet rather than quince-like too. Almost too subtle.

Next up was poached quinces, and I admit it took me three attempts to get this one right. My first recipe said to pressure-cook the quinces for 30 minutes, which turned the yellow-beige fruit into a glorious shade of garnet red. But it also removed even the faintest hint of bite, which wasn’t really what was ordered. The taste was good — I threw in a generous couple of tablespoons of grated ginger for bite and the last couple of inches of a bottle of white wine. Texture sort of blah. Nothing like the pale pink chunky, grainy things my mother used to make.

From there I moved on to try a notch harder to recreate her sweet-sour taste,  although I used the pressure cook method (for 20 minutes). I added a cup of white vinegar to the poaching liquid and threw in five-spice for flavor and (too little) chilli powder for heat. But I should have upped the sugar to offset the vinegar, and used (milder) cider vinegar rather than white vinegar. It’s pleasant, and it’s working with the farro too, but it isn’t quite so nice.

Third attempt was the charm, simmered on the stove for about two hours until soft but not soggy. What it lacks in dark pinkness, it makes up for with taste.

Poached quince with vanilla and cider vinegar
6 quinces, peeled (with a potato peeler), cored and sliced into wedges
1 vanilla bean, split down the middle to remove the seeds
1 cup cider vinegar
sugar
Water

Use a sharp knife and plenty of patience to chop the quince, and weigh the chopped up fruit to work out how much sugar to use. I had just over a kilo of fruit, so I used 150 grams of sugar. (Counting in metric makes it far easier to work out the percentages)

Add vinegar and sugar to a saucepan, and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Then add the quince, the vanilla (seeds and pod) and  water to almost cover.

Bring up to a simmer and simmer until the fruit is soft. The longer you cook it the pinker it gets, but also the mushier.

It’s glorious, served with farro, my breakfast of the moment.

As for the farro, I flirted with it earlier this year, and then forgot about it. But I’ve cooked up four batches so far this fall, two with varying amounts of coconut milk, one with three parts water to one of milk and one of milk and water in equal parts, and (mixed with the quince). It’s a wonderful start to the day.

Breakfast farro
1 cup farro (a wheat like grain that’s supposed to be high in protein)
4 cups liquid (all water, or water and coconut milk, or water and milk)
A little salt

If I remember I soak this overnight (or longer) before I start cooking it, and then I boil this up 2 or three times, allowing it to simmer for a few minutes before switching off the stove and putting a lid on the pan to keep the heat in. It’s cooked once the moisture is mostly absorbed and the grains have cracked — you can’t really overcook this one. Store in the fridge in a closed container and use as needed. A cup of cooked-up farro seems to do 5-6 portions of breakfast, depending on how hungry I feel when I wake up.

I’m serving this one with a generous portion of poached quinces, or stewed fruit (or maybe jam), microwaved for a minute or two to heat it up. The addition of a splash of milk, cream or buttermilk is optional but rather nice. Bananas go well with it too.

Enjoy the fact that you won’t be hungry until almost lunchtime.

Edit: to speed up the cooking time, you can presoak the grain and then whiz them up in the food processor for a few seconds to crack them a little, before you start the boiling/cooling process. They still take a while to cook, but they become a little bit more like porridge and a little bit less like grain. It’s all a question of taste.

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Fun with farro

I’m not sure which particular bucket I’ve been burying my head under for the last few years, but I for one had never heard of farro, the high-protein it grain of 2008 or so (or so the Internet tells me).

But a rider on a bike trip I just came back on swore by it as the breakfast fuel to die for, and given that steel cut oats revolutionized my life when I discovered then a few years back, I thought it had to be worth a try.

I admit it doesn’t look like much — it’s a whole grain that was available at Rube’s Rice in Toronto’s St Lawrence Market – and the cooking process was every bit as long as the Internet recipes said it would be.

But I think I could get hooked on this one, if I can find the time to cook it ahead of time and microwave it back to life in the mornings.

Here’s what I did, in a combination of recipes and invention, because, as anyone who reads this blog knows, following recipes is not my strong point.

Breakfast farro with oats

1/2 cup farro
2 cups water
1 can coconut milk
a handful of dried bananas
a handful of quick cook oatmeal

I brought the water/farro mix up to the boil, switched the pot off and left it, covered, to sit on the stove overnight. That’s the way I cook steel-cut oats and it’s the perfect lazy way to make that work. It doesn’t work quite like that for farro, and by morning the grains were no longer tooth-cracking hard. But they were still a long way from being cooked. So I threw in a can of coconut milk and some very old dried bananas (one of the recipes I was looking at the previous day talked of coconut/banana/faro combination as being an especially good one) and simmered the whole mix gently for another 20 minutes or so.

That seemed to do the trick for the farro, but the mix was somewhat sloppy, and I didn’t really want to throw the excess liquid away, as another of the internet recipes suggested. What about oats to thicken things up?

Add oats, simmer for another five minutes, and there you have it. Four portions of breakfast, one for immediate consumption and three for later (I offered a taste to the spouse, and he rejected the idea). I think it would work with any dried fruit, or with fresh fruit too. You could add milk, or buttermilk, or yogurt too. And the coconut milk is optional too. You could just use water, or maybe even milk. Not sure about the milk. A lot of boiling for that one.

Easy. Honest. And tastes really nice.

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