Sunday, November 6, 2011

Harvest Oatmeal

Well, I supposed I should start with (yet again) another apology for slacking on this thing. Life has been incredibly busy. Cooking all these yummy meals takes up what little spare time I have, leaving me zero time to write about it. I know I still owe many of you recipes and I promise to really, really try to get caught up as soon as possible. How's that for open-ended? :)

Oatmeal. It's one of those things that I have a hard time thinking of as good food. My mom is not a fan of oatmeal, so as a kid, oatmeal came out of those little packets. And you added boiling water. As much as I loved those little packets, when I grew up, I still tended to think of oatmeal as a quick & easy breakfast for kids. Good quality, whole-grain oatmeal was an ingredient to make really yummy apple crisp and add a unique texture to muffins. It really wasn't a stand alone breakfast.

I still made it from time to time when I needed a quick, easy, HOT breakfast. However, I always just mimicked my favorite brown sugar-cinnamon flavor from childhood. I'd follow package directions, add a clump of brown sugar, a dash of cinnamon, a pat of butter, and a splash of milk. Stir and eat. Good? Yes. But I still didn't really think of it as a quality breakfast.

Then I had kids. As a baby just starting to eat solids, my oldest got that baby oatmeal and some homemade fruit baby food. Then he got a little older and liked more flavor and texture. So I would make my standard oatmeal and mix it with a little homemade chunky applesauce or some finely diced apples. My thinking: cinnamon-apple is one of the flavors in the little packets that kids love so much. And over time when my family was having oatmeal for breakfast, it became a healthy version of those little packets.....lots of cinnamon, fresh apples and raisins mixed in.

Then one day we walked into a bakery in a suburb of Dallas that we'd never been to. On the breakfast menu was "Swiss Oatmeal". Since I'd never really thought of oatmeal as something fancy that anyone would really order out, I'd always ignored it on the rare occasion I'd actually seen it on a menu. But this sounded different. Along the lines of what had become my standard homemade oatmeal at home, but better. A combination of all my favorites fall goodness, but things that had never really occurred to me to add to my oatmeal at home. It was chalked full of apples, craisins, raisins, and nuts and served.......are you ready for this??.......COLD. That part made me squeem a little bit. Cold oatmeal? Um, not.

But I tried it any way. Everyone in line ahead of us was ordering it and it looked so good. And it was. The granny smith apples were tart. The raisins sweet. The craisins sweet-tart. The nuts crunchy. And the brown sugar, spices, and milk just make it sweet, creamy and warming. Even if it was cold.

Now I knew that I'd never make it ahead of time at home so it would have time to get cold. Who really makes oatmeal the night before, unless you're cooking it all night in a crockpot? But I still decided to make a mock version of it at home, even if it was hot. After all, it really wasn't that much different than what I'd been making for years.

Over time I've created my own version and called it "Harvest Oatmeal". It always involves my favorite fall flavors, even if it isn't exactly the same every time. This oatmeal really is more of a method than a recipe. I don't ever make a special trip to the store to make sure that I have the exact ingredients to recreate the restaurant version. After all, when you have a gala apple at home to use up, are you really going to miss the tartness of the granny smith? Well maybe, but you decide if it's worth running out in the cold.

Harvest Oatmeal

4 servings of prepared oatmeal (make your favorite according to package directions)
1 large granny smith apple, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 pear, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup craisins
1/2 cup walnut pieces
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (more or less to taste)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cardamon
milk, half & half, heavy cream

Easiest directions ever - stir all ingredients, except the milk (H&H or cream) together in the pot you cooked the oatmeal in. Spoon into dishes. Serve with a splash (or two) of the milk of your choice (I say the creamier the better!!) You can always chill for later if you want to try the restaurant version. :) And remember, use your favorite apple/pear combination (or whatever you have on hand!) and omit anything you don't like.

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