Everyone gets stuck in a food rut sometimes, I think. When I was in fourth and fifth grades, I would only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. Come to think of it, I may have also gone through that phase in college, but as a breakfast. This year, I’ve eaten oatmeal almost exclusively for breakfast. Now, I love oatmeal, even the borderline-Elmer’s-glue instant type: I love that it’s high in fiber, it keeps away hunger pangs until lunchtime, and it tastes delicious when I stir in peanut butter and top it with my favorite jam of the week.
I think I see a pattern here. Am I posting about peanut butter or oatmeal?!
Anyway, I was beginning to get sick of this breakfast around two months ago. I was also going through copious amounts of peanut butter – probably not the healthiest addiction around. So, I decided to increase my fruit and vegetable intake by whirring a smoothie every morning to take to work. This was a delicious and healthy alternative – even though it did increase my morning readying time, much to my husband’s chagrin as he waited to start the car and leave for work together, however patiently. One banana, some cut-up strawberries or kiwi pieces or frozen mango chunks, a big handful of baby kale or spinach leaves, a generous pour of unsweetened vanilla almond milk, and maybe a sprinkle of cinnamon was all it took. Okay, I confess: I also dolloped in a spoonful of peanut butter, sometimes homemade and always natural, to give my smoothie some staying power. Yes, I am addicted. I’m ready for PBA (that’s Peanut Butteraholics Anonymous, for you non-members)!
Well, that worked for two months, but I do admit it was tedious to prepare. It did make me feel great all morning, made my stomach happy and lively in a healthy way, and didn’t weigh me down like a bowl of oatmeal can – especially the Elmer’s look-alike type. But enter a recipe I found for pumpkin pecan baked oatmeal…. Okay, I’d seen several recipes over the past few months, namely from Joy Wilson of Joy the Baker (one of my favorite bloggers for years now), but had finally got off my duff to try this. Curiosity finally got the better of me; I mean, baked oatmeal – really?
Let me tell you, this recipe method was a true revelation to me. See, I love the look and feel of old-fashioned oats, but I’m too busy – too lazy? – to cook whole oats on the stove for the week’s meals. Thank goodness for instant oats in that respect, but nothing beats the texture of old-fashioned oats. But how easy is baked oatmeal? Mix the dry ingredients, mix the wet ingredients, throw ’em in a baking dish, and throw that in the oven for half an hour. Literally, this is one of the easiest and most rewarding recipes I’ve ever made. It comes out of the oven beautifully browned and steaming, and it made my entire house smell like pumpkin pie. And Lord knows I lovelovelove anything pumpkin. It took all I had not to eat the entire batch in one sitting (one batch can feed 4-5 breakfasts, depending on your morning hunger level – you can guess it lasts 4 for me!). I resisted, I promise.
Actually, I made this for the first time the day before Hurricane Sandy stuck. Needless to say, my leftovers decayed in our warming, power-less refrigerator for five days. Well, of course we cleaned out the perishables after a day, but you get what I mean. I was shafted out of my baked oatmeal! You can bet I made my second batch the next chance I had.
What’s great about baked oatmeal is its flexibility. I love the pumpkin spice take, but you can also go the route of blueberry and cardamom, orange and maple, strawberry and slivered almond, banana and walnut…. I can see this becoming a year-round menu item. It’s also easily portioned and perfect with milk – or almond milk, if you’re like me – poured over it. Think of it as a grown-up alternative to cereal … you get the idea. Please don’t wait as long as I did to try this technique, and do enjoy soon. Now, let’s just hope we both don’t get stuck in a rut eating baked oatmeal for breakfast!
Pumpkin Spice Baked Oatmeal – Adapted from Alaska from Scratch
In her recipe, Maya at Alaska from Scratch adds 3 tablespoons of melted butter. I did this for my first few batches, but I didn’t like the greasy sheen it left on my almond milk. So, I’ve since deleted it with pleasant results.
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries, unsweetened if you can find them
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats
- 1 tsp cinnamon (I love the strength of Vietnamese cinnamon)
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg/cloves/ginger
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup milk (I use 1%)
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup pumpkin puree
- 3 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- zest from 1 small orange
- 1/4 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped (and lightly toasted if you wish)
Preheat the oven to 375F. Grease a small casserole dish, about 8-10″ in diameter; I always use PAM spray. In a bowl, combine the oats, cranberries, spices, salt, and baking powder. Stir until combined and sprinkle evenly in the dish. Using the same bowl mix the milk, egg, pumpkin puree, sugar, vanilla extract, and orange zest. Stir until smooth, then pour this mixture carefully over the oats. Poke the mixture a bit to make sure the wet ingredients have soaked down to the oats at the bottom. Sprinkle the nuts evenly over the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until lightly browned and set in the center. Serve warm, spooned into a bowl with milk.
Notes: Feel free to experiment with the spices, sugar content, dried fruits, and nuts in this recipe. I’m excited to try an apple-cinnamon version this winter, a banana-walnut version in spring, a blueberry-cardamom version in summer… If you have any ideas or versions you’ve already tried, please share!