As a kid, I occasionally ate those packets of instant Quaker oatmeal. I liked the apple cinnamon variety. I haven’t had one of those packets in years, but I inadvertently replicated the flavour last week when I stirred some of my homemade apple butter (I followed the recipe from Food in Jars) into a serving of steel-cut oats. I gleefully realised that porridge is the perfect breakfast food for a canner trying to use up a glut of homemade jams and spreads.
I don’t want to give you the wrong impression – my real fondness for porridge developed over years of Keira’s nanny making it for me before I wrote exams at school. She claimed that it would stick to my ribs, so I wouldn’t be hungry while writing the exam. Anyone with cursory knowledge of human anatomy knows that porridge cannot stick to the ribs, unless they happen to spill it down their housecoat…
But Keira’s nanny is right – oats have a fairly low glycemic index, which means they don’t raise your blood sugar very quickly. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, foods with a low glycemic index can help control appetite and cholesterol, as well as lower risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes (pdf). In contrast, most packaged cereals have a high glycemic index. That means they give you a sugar rush and then quickly let you down.
Which brings me to the issue of McDonald’s new oatmeal offering. As usual, McDonald’s has bastardized what would normally be a healthy breakfast food by adding too much sugar and fat. I agree with Mark Bittman, however, that offering porridge (or is it oatmeal?) is probably a good step. My naïve hope is that people might learn to love oatmeal. And, if so, they might realise how dead easy it is to make at home.
The simplest way I make porridge is to bring to boil 2/3c of water and then add 1/3c of oats. (The ratio of 2:1 by volume can be scaled up to serve more.) Reduce to a simmer for about 3 minutes and you have breakfast. If you like it thicker, simmer it longer.
Apparently my great-grandmother liked her porridge so thick you could cut it with a knife. Or so Keira’s nanny tells me. And she says it in such a way that makes me think that she decidedly does not like her porridge that way.
I happen to not be very fussy about my porridge. And so the thought of making a porridge that Keira could eat without a spoon appeals to me. It would have to be a porridge thick enough to resist being crushed by her little fists. After watching the video of her eating courgette, I knew she would need a substantial porridge that could survive a baby’s death grip.
To that end, I adapted a baked porridge by Chocolate & Zucchini. I wanted it to be denser so that slices would not turn to complete mush in Keira’s hands. This oatmeal, quite intentionally, can be sliced with a knife. I also replaced the sweetener with home-canned apple sauce to make it baby-friendly (see how to make your own apple sauce). I find it sweet enough as is, but if you want your own portion to be sweeter, consider a slather of jam or honey.
This recipe lends itself to all sorts of variation – you can make it quite plain, or use different dried and fresh fruits when you want to change things up. I topped my first attempt with slices of apple, as recommended by Clotilde, but it may be difficult for babies to eat, so you can either omit it, or simply peel it off the portion they receive.
2 1/4c regular (not instant) oats, uncooked
3/4 C dried fruit (I used a mix of dried blueberries and dried cranberries. I wouldn’t use larger pieces of dried fruit that might be a choking hazard) – optional
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 C apple sauce (pure apple with no added sweeteners)
3 C milk (I tried both skim milk and a higher fat goat’s milk with good results. Use what you like)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
One apple, thinly sliced – optional
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a 9-inch baking dish.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, dried fruit, and cinnamon.
In a medium bowl, combine the apple sauce, milk, eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Add this to the dry ingredients, and mix until well blended.
Pour the mixture into the baking dish, and use a spoon to make sure everything is evenly spread out. Arrange the apple slices over top. Don’t worry if they sink initially – they will rise back up.
Bake for about 45 minutes, until the center is mostly set and firm to the touch. Let cool. The oats continue to absorb moisture and it slices better when completely cool. If you’re cutting it into sticks for the baby, I recommend letting it cool and refrigerate over night so that it is quite amenable to slicing.
This makes a large dish, enough for about 8 servings. After it cools, you can stash it in the fridge or freezer, pulling pieces out for a quick breakfast. I cut mine into wedges or slices and ate it with a bit of nut butter stirred into some yogurt (I’ll tell you how I make my own nut butter and yogurt in a future post). For babies, you could cut it into thick sticks or nuggets that would allow the baby to grasp them more readily.