And during this excursion, you might have read some of my directions and asked, "Why?" Thus, I've decided to make one post explaining all of my slightly quirky oatmeal tricks.
The Mashed Banana?
The mashed banana appears in some expected recipes, like Dark Chocolate Banana, but it also pops up in a couple strange recipes, like Lemon Poppyseed and Thin Mints. Why? First of all, with intense flavors like lemon or mint, it completely overpowers the banana taste. The banana, then, is merely used to sweeten the porridge. For example, without the banana in Lemon Poppyseed, the oatmeal would taste like citrus mixed with a hay bale. Additionally, the banana serves three more purposes: to include a serving of fruit in my breakfast, add a creamy texture, and bulk up the volume of the porridge! Not bad, eh?
I always mark this as optional in my recipes, and I imagine most people take me up on the offer to forego it. Here's why you shouldn't: flax tastes great, helps the texture of the oatmeal, and is an excellent source of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids (so it's good for your digestion AND your heart!). Flax has a wonderful nutty taste that is especially wonderful in oatmeals with less intense flavors (e.g. Apple Cinnamon). Plus, it helps the oatmeal gel together; after all, flax is used as an egg substitute in vegan baking! It's like dropping an egg into your bowl, without the cholesterol and saturated fat. I use milled flax, flax seeds, or a mixture of the two!
You can use whatever milk you want. My favorites are almond and coconut. Why? They taste good, and they're easy on my digestive system (dairy upsets my IBS).
Half Almond Milk, Half Water?
I once saw a European comment on a food blog once about how strange Americans are for cooking their oats in water. She viewed this as evidence of our self-hatred. This made me laugh (and think), but here's the thing: almond milk is expensive! By mixing it with half water, I can essentially double my supply. Plus, almond milk (and most nondairy milks) is pretty thick, so watering it down isn't a problem.
1/2 an Apple/Banana/Whatever?
Whenever I write to use half a fruit, I always imagine people reading it and thinking, "WTF?! What do I do with the other half??" Well, if you haven't learned by now, I'm really cheap. Because I've committed to
When to Add What?
I understand my directions aren't always the easiest to follow. That's because oatmeal is difficult to screw up. Really, it all comes down to timing. For apples, bananas, and frozen fruit, I add those almost immediately after adding the oats (to soften them and let them become "one" with the porridge). Fresh stone fruits, like peaches, can also be stirred in early on. For fresh berries, I add them closer to the end, or even as toppings at the very end, so they don't collapse and lose all their flavor and appeal.
When adding flavor enhancers, like vanilla or almond extract, I wait until the oatmeal has thickened up (and about 2/3 of the liquid has been absorbed or evaporated). I'm afraid of adding them earlier because I don't want the extract to evaporate with the simmering almond milk/water. I could be totally wrong about this; I'm just following my instinct.
For cocoa powder, I will typically add it when the liquid is half absorbed. Don't wait too long because the powder needs some liquid to mix with. For chocolate chips, save them until the end to sprinkle on as toppings! Otherwise, they'll melt in right away--which defeats the purpose!
"Finish with Another Splash of Milk?"
I end all my recipes with this line. I never did this until I saw pictures of other people's oatmeal, which always had milk poured on top. I decided to try it once, and I instantly recognized the appeal. Splashing some milk over your finished oatmeal serves three purposes: it cools it down so you can eat it without burning yourself, adds one more source of creaminess and milky flavor, and moistens it up again, especially if you accidentally overcooked your oats. From an aesthetic perspective, it also makes your breakfast look more appealing. :) So don't skip the splash!
|Without the splash of almond milk, this bowl of Thin Mints Oatmeal would just be a brown blob.|
Yes, I use almonds frequently. Many times, a different nut would fit the recipe better. In such cases, I'll say so ("I suggest pecans or walnuts"). However, I can't afford to have a variety of nuts on hand. I can barely afford to have one type of nut on hand. Since almonds are my favorite, I buy them in bulk from Sam's Club, so I always have plenty to add to my oatmeal, even if a different nut would fit better.
Sugar is for ninnies. I "quit" instant flavored oatmeal because of the sugar content (and artificial flavors), so sugar is one thing I never add to my porridge. Occasionally, I'll add honey, but that's more for its flavor than its sweetness. If you're not hardcore like me, feel free to add some sugar, but please, for the love of Michael Buble, do not use Splenda on any of my recipes--nothing would offend me more!