Learning to feed yourself can be one of the most terrifying things. Am I about to give myself food poisoning? If I eat this too often will I end up with scurvy? How can I get the most nutritional bang for my buck? Why does this still taste like ass?
With Ode to My Pantry, learn to navigate a grocery store without having a meltdown in aisle three. Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a queer to cook and stave off malnutrition for another semester.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but also the most difficult. Even though dinner requires preparation and lunch requires forethought (can’t eat it if you leave it in your fridge!), when the hunger hits, you usually have enough brain power to make your meal. As for mornings? The only thing I’m certified to do within an hour of waking is brewing coffee, jumping in the shower and smearing my eyes with black paint. And admittedly I’ll even fuck one of those up.
Cereal, bagels, yogurt, breakfast bars, toast and smoothies all have their place in the Breakfast World, but I’m firmly in Camp Oatmeal. I’m not talking about the brick of porridge my mom used to cut a slice off of each wintry school morning and I’m not talking about those little brown packets full of “artificial and natural flavouring” and I’m definitely not talking about those fast food chain paper bowls that come with 300+ calories and a $3 price tag. Nope, just good ol’ fashioned, dirt cheap oats.
All oats come from groats, but not all oatmeals are equal. Much like wheat, rice and barley, we’re here for Avena sativa‘s seed and not for the grassy bits. Once harvested, groats will be cleaned, dehulled and kilned. Cleaning gets rid of un-spoon friendly rocks and stems, dehulling ups the digestibility and kilning switches off the enzymes to make your breakfast shelf-stable. But while other grains usually exit the mill here (unless they’re destined to become flour or meal), chances are you haven’t seen a whole groat recently. So grab a safety helmet and a pair of goggles and let’s make our way through the rest of the mill!
Steel Cut Oats
If you gather up all the broken groats and cut them into even sized chunks you’re left with steel cut oats.
If breakfasts have trends, this is one of them. With minimal processing that lets some of the bran stick around, steel cut oats are thought to be “more nutritious” than their oat cousins. (But we’re fucking talking about oats people! As long as you’ve traded in your Lucky Charms, you’re already streets ahead no matter which oat you pick.) The extra bran and chunkier texture means this style of oatmeal tastes nuttier, feels chewier and keeps you full longer. But pros don’t exist without cons, so this tasty treat requires 20 more minutes of stove time than I can spare in the morning. But there are ways around it.
Making It Your Breakfast Buddy:
Skip Starbucks and hunt down your slow cooker or crock pot instead. Throw 1 1/2 cups of “dairy,” 1 1/2 cups of water, 1 cup of steel cut oats and 1/4 tsp salt into your pot and wait (or sleep) for 7 hours. Or up your game and add apples and cinnamon, eggnog and cranberries or even pumpkin. Either way, all you gotta do is wake up for breakfast to be served. (And microwave the leftovers for the rest of the week.)
If you steam your groats and press them between two spinning cylinders you’re left with rolled oats!
This is the oatmeal you think of when you think of oatmeal or granola. Hearty and toothsome, it’s unctuous and smooth without traipsing into gruel territory. Just like all oats, it’s high in dietary fibre, gluten-free and low on the glycemic scale. On the plus side of things, you can cook it on your stovetop, but on the negative side it still takes a bit of babying. But that extra bit of steam means it still cooks up super fast.
Making It Your Breakfast Buddy:
Grab a handy dandy Mason jar and fill it up with a 1:1 ratio of rolled oats and “dairy.” Top it with any and all of those oatmeal toppings you enjoy (like mangos, bananas, blueberries or strawberries?) and stash it in the fridge while you sleep. The oats will hydrate from the added liquid, losing the powdery raw-texture and becoming creamy smooth in the process.
If you set your cylinders closer together causing thinner flakes and a bit of breakage you have quick oats.
They’re not as revered as rolled oats, but they still do their job. The thinner flake size means that they cook up lightning quick. You don’t even need to cook them on the stovetop, boiling water will do! And anytime you made oatmeal cookies, you were probably reaching for this.
Making It Your Breakfast Buddy:
Reach for another one cup Mason jar and load it with 1/2 cup quick oats, 1/2 tsp of cinnamon, 1 tsp of ground flax seeds and a bit of brown sugar each night. Or if you’re thinking ahead, make a fleet of each Sunday to make it through your work week. In the morning top it off with boiling water and a bit of dairy, close it up and throw it in your bag. You’ll have perfectly prepared oatmeal for your commute with a bowl to boot!
If you set your rollers even closer together and steam or bake the end result you’ll have instant oatmeal!
Instant oatmeal is just that, instant! If you’re running on empty and wanna stick to the familiar brown packet, go for it. You Chew You! Given how simple oatmeal should be, just make sure to choose a sachet with the fewest number of weirdo ingredients. Quaker still seems like it’s king.
But outside of breakfast, the occasional cookie and my favourite stouts, oats tend to get forgotten when meals turn savory. But why should they? If you’re midway through a recipe and find your pantry lacking in the grain department, just reach for your oats.
Throw in some quick oats next time you run out of breadcrumbs when you’re frying up chicken.
Running low on cornmeal? Let your unflavoured breakfast porridge set up before turning out and slicing into cakes. Panfry and serve with a ragu and parmesan. Or if that seems like too big of a step, supplement your normal cornmeal with some steel cut oats.
Fine fine, this is still oatmeal and we’re back to square one, but it’s a great alternative for people that are bored of cinnamon, maple or any of the usual sweet flavours. Go the congee route and add some scallions and soy. Roll your oats with some caramelized onions and curry powder.Or top it off with the ubiquitous breakfast saviour: a poached egg.