Oats three ways

23 01 2012

It’s been a while since I wrote about cooking, and you might not sense it from reading this blog, but cooking is obviously what I do the most of, since we have to eat, and it’s something I really enjoy.  Too much, probably.  I have definitely gotten lost in a cookbook only to discover that it’s getting late and I haven’t actually made anything!  I got “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter” for Christmas and have really enjoyed reading it.  Before that, it was “Nourishing Traditions” (and just for fun, I read “Eating Animals” on my iPod—back to back, these two books are the very definition of cognitive dissonance).  It’s been a lot of reading, and I thought I would share just one idea that has made breakfasts much simpler around here.  (If you’re interested, this is from Nourishing Traditions, although Foer would probably approve too, since it doesn’t involve any factory-farmed animals.)

At night, I soak about 1.5 cups of steel-cut oats in about 3-4 cups of water (I rinse them first).  In the morning, boil 1-2 cups water in a big pot and dump in the soaked oats.  Add a pinch of salt, bring to a boil, and cook for 5-10 minutes.  Soaking overnight reduces the cooking time, but more than that, it make the nutrients in the oats more available.  (Supposedly.  For someone more knowledgeable about this, I direct you here.  There are lots of online sources, sometimes contradictory, on the topic of soaking grains.)  So that’s day 1!  Oatmeal.  We like to add in mashed banana/peanut butter, or applesauce/cinnamon, or blueberries/yogurt…there are lots of possibilities!

There should be a lot left over (if like me, you are feeding 1 adult and 2 small kids).  So, the next day, just to avoid having oatmeal over and over, we mix it up a bit and make oatcakes.  The recipe in the NT book is so simple: 1 cup leftover oatmeal and 1 egg.  I found that adding a mashed banana adds a bit of sweetness, and I like to add blueberries too.  Then just fry them up on the griddle!  They need to be small or they don’t flip well, so I make lots of little oatcakes.  Very easy, and very popular with the kids!

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Then if there is still more oatmeal (there always is), I found a recipe for muffins that I thought came out really well.  Actually, this search for a muffin recipe came out of a crazy desire to not throw away uneaten oatmeal.  BB usually loves oatmeal, but we all have our off days, and one day I was faced with essentially a whole bowl of blueberry oatmeal to throw out. 

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So sad!  I tried several recipes, but found that I liked this one the best.  So get your little helper to don his new apron (that’s right, LB has been promoted to kitchen assistant!), and mix up a batch of muffins, either from leftover breakfast, or straight from the stash of cooked oatmeal left over from the start of the week. 

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He added the blueberries one…by…one.  He really was having fun!

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We also make some peanut butter bars (found here) that are a great snack!  I have to say, I liked it as is, but I also changed it up a bit; I think it’s a great base recipe that is easily tweaked.  So there you have it; oatmeal, oatcakes, muffins…three days of breakfast from a humble pot of oats!

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Awesome snack bars

7 05 2010

Ever since I saw this video, I have been sort of on a crusade to eat less sugar, and especially to reduce the sugary foods in BB’s diet.  I have always had a sweet tooth, and we would often make cookies or brownies to have on hand as a snack.  Making them was fun, and of course so was eating them, but I think it’s true to a certain extent that sugar is addictive and I don’t want my kids to grow up hooked on overly sweet foods.  Because once you cut back on sugar, you quickly realize that just about everything is overly sweet.  Granola bars that are more like candy bars, yogurt that is sweet enough to qualify as dessert, fruit snacks that are mostly sugar and sort of fruit flavored…the list could go on.  The most disturbing thing I have seen recently is a “yogurt” in the baby food aisle that had sugar as the second ingredient and was pasteurized after culturing, so all the good bacteria were killed anyway!  Now why do babies need sugary snacks too?

The video is a little bit long, so I will just summarize what I thought was the main point.  (Apparently this was on the news recently too, my parents tell me, so maybe it’s old news to you…)   Fructose and glucose are metabolized by completely different pathways.  Glucose is used by your muscles and brain as food, and excess can be stored in the liver as glycogen.  Consumption of glucose triggers a hormonal response that makes you feel full.  Fructose, on the other hand, is metabolized exclusively in the liver, and the majority of it is converted into fatty acids that are released into the bloodstream.  After eating a lot of fructose, he says, there is a measurable increase in your triglycerides.  This newly synthesized fat is then stored in fat cells around your body.  Also, fructose does NOT trigger the pathways that make you feel full.  In short, eating sugar will make you fat.  Now, sugar is 50/50 glucose and fructose.   High fructose corn syrup is 45/55 glucose and fructose, so it’s a little worse than sugar but not a whole lot.

That’s a long lead-in to my great snack bar discovery, but I feel pretty strongly about it.  Refined sugars are bad bad bad, and they are aggressively pushed on children.  (When was the last time you saw a cartoon pushing vegetables?  Now that I think about it, that would be great; Bugs bunny selling carrots, Spongebob on pineapples… Warner Bros. and Nick, if you take that idea, I want a cut!).  If you watch Jamie Oliver’s show at all you saw the children all drinking sugared milk (!!!); it made me want to cry.  If kids are used to eating less sugar they won’t expect everything to be so sweet.  BB will happily eat a bowl full of plain yogurt because that’s what we have.  Snack?  Fruit.  We just don’t have any cookies or fruit snacks or ice cream, so it’s not even an option.  Of course we have sweets occasionally, but they are not permanent residents on the shelves.

Going out is a little harder, because I like to carry snacks (no, I NEED to carry snacks; if you have a toddler you know this universal truth: never leave home without a snack.)  The trouble with processed food is that they hide sugar.  Like granola bars.  So, I’ve been trying to make snack bars for us and today I found snack nirvana.  These are knock-offs of Larabars, which I’ve never tried, but they must be good!  I found the recipe here and followed it more or less.

I guarantee: call them chocolate snack bars and children will eat them.

Chocolate Snack Bars (my slightly modified version using what I had on hand):

* 1 1/2 c. pitted dates

* 1/2 c. raisins

*2 T. cocoa powder (unsweetened)

* pinch of sea salt

Process the above ingredients in a food processor until they are a paste (it will kind of form a ball).  Transfer to mixing bowl.  Then, chop the following in the food processor (no need to clean it first):

* 1  c. pecans

* 1/2 c. almonds

* a sprinkle of shredded coconut (I used sweetened because it’s all I had, but unsweetened would be great)

The nuts should be ground up to be pretty small pieces.  Then add them to the bowl and mix the date puree with the nuts; it’s a stiff mixture and you will have to knead it to mix.  Finally, line a pan with plastic wrap and press the mixture in.  Refrigerate to set (about 30 min) and cut into bars.  Alternately I guess you could roll them into little balls, or something like that.  I’m trying to replace granola bars, so I wanted them to be bars.  The verdict?  They were AMAZING.  Sweet, chocolatey, nutty… everything you could want in a snack without a whiff of added sugar.  The challenge now is to not eat the whole batch!  They still have calories, after all!  I don’t, in general, like to use the food processor because it’s always too much work to get it set up and then cleaned, but overall I would say these are easier than making cookies or brownies, because you only dirty the processor and one bowl, as opposed to one or 2 bowls, spoons, and a cookie sheet or three.  They are more expensive to make than brownies, cookies, or granola bars, because they are not grain based, but they are cheaper than buying Larabars (or powerbars, etc.), so although they are not cheap, I consider them an all around winner on taste, effort, nutritional value and cost. The only thing I would do differently next time is make more!

PS.  I did not soak and dehydrate the nuts as indicated in the original recipe.  I do like to make snacks, but some things are just a little too much effort for the payoff, IMO.