Friday, February 14, 2014

Oatmeal Take Two: Caramelized Banana and Hazelnuts

There have been many cold mornings when the thought of oatmeal for breakfast reminded me of gruel or watery plain congee; bland and totally unappealing. Maybe it was the years of eating oatmeal and peanut butter for breakfast at 6am, before heading in to work at a restaurant, or to teach; a functional breakfast, filling, cheap, and easy.  I took a multiyear break from eating oatmeal as a regular breakfast item, which must have been a good decision, because suddenly it has reentered my life, reborn and deliciously adorned, like a grown-up fancy cousin, not the plain jane I once knew.  

The thing about this upgraded oatmeal is that it is still simple and delicious; the toppings really take so little time to prepare, but they make such a difference.  I generally add some chopped nuts or nut butter to my oatmeal to add protein, and if I have it, any kind of fruit so there is something fresh, and a natural, unrefined sweetness. I almost always add a sprinkle of cinnamon, which lends a bit of sweetness, and occasionally a little drizzle of honey or maple syrup.  The easiest toppings are things that don't have to be cooked, like strawberries, shredded unsweetened coconut, walnuts and honey, or diced apples, almonds and dates.  On a weekend morning I give it a little more time and sauté some bananas with butter and maple syrup, and caramelized some hazelnuts in the same mixture, making a sweet warm decadent addition to the bowl. When I'm in a rush and I need to save the few pieces of fruit in the house for my kid's lunch or snack, a handful of raisins, cooked up plump with the oats, a big spoonful of peanut butter on top, a drizzle of milk and honey make for one of my workday winter favorites. 

Caramelized Banana & Hazelnut Oatmeal
Serves 2
Prepare plain unsweetened oatmeal (recipe below)
Make toppings while oats are cooking

2 ripe bananas. peeled
1/2 cup hazelnuts (whole or chopped)
3 tablespoons maple syrup or honey (you can use less if you want)
2 tablespoons butter (or less if you want)
pinch salt
milk (any kind)
cinnamon or other spices optional

The Nuts: Generally I add a slice of butter (less than 1 tablespoon), a drizzle of maple syrup or honey (1 to 2 tablespoons) and a pinch of salt to a frying pan set over medium heat. Simmer until butter and syrup are mixed and let them bubble and start to caramelize, about 1 minute. Watch carefully so it doesn't burn. Add a handful of whole or chopped hazelnuts. Stir frequently cooking until nuts are well coated and starting to brown. Remove nuts into a bowl or plate and set aside.

The Bananas: Add one tablespoon of butter to the frying pan right after you remove the nuts, (no need to wash it out). Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of maple syrup on honey, a pinch of salt and any spices you like. While this is bubbling over medium heat, slice 2 peeled bananas in half across the middle and then along the length. Place them in the bubbling syrup and butter. Cook until browned slightly on one side, turn over and cook on other side. If the caramel starts to get too dark, you can add a few drops of water. The bananas will start to soften, so handle gently.

To Complete: spoon one serving of oatmeal into a bowl, top with caramelized bananas and nuts. Drizzle a little milk of your choosing (cow, almond, rice etc...) around the edge. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon if you like. Enjoy.

Basic Oatmeal - Serves 2
1 Cup Rolled Oats*
2 Cups Water (can use 1/2 milk or almond milk if a creamier oatmeal is desired)
pinch salt (optional)
  1. Combine oats and water in a pot. place over medium high heat, bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer oats. Stirring occasionally. 
  2. Cook until oats are cooked through and soft. You can adjust water to make your oatmeal thinner or thicker, depending on how you like it. 
*If you have quick oats you can use the same ratio of oats to water, but they will cook much quicker. If using steel cut oats, you need 1 cup oats to 3 or 4 cups of water. Check out this recipe for how to cook them.

Really I think almost any fruit or nut is wonderful on oatmeal. Mango and strawberries are particularly delicious and beautiful...sadly we ate that bowl before any pictures could be snapped... Medjool dates, melted butter and almonds make for a deep rich version, perfect for these cold winter mornings.

What are your favorite oatmeal toppings?  Please share!

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