(Welcome to Breakfast Briefs. If you’re like me, you find yourself rushing out the door hungry and undercaffeinated many a morning, the inevitable result of which is $6 spent on a bad egg sandwich and coffee fit only for war criminals. In these posts, I’m going to share my tips and tricks for getting to work fed without adding more than 5 or 10 minutes to your morning routine.)
As the mercury sinks, my hunger for oatmeal rises. I never ate oatmeal as a kid (it isn’t either of my parents’s cup of tea), but a few years after I moved north, a friend of mine introduced me to the joys of steel-cut oats. I’ve loved oatmeal ever since.
The problem with oatmeal, steel-cut oats especially, is that they involve cooking and seasoning and a lot of dishes coated with sticky oatmeal residue. Not a recipe for an easy weekday breakfast. And the alternative is that stuff in the little envelopes that you combine with water to produce apple-cinnamon-scented wallpaper paste. Eugh.
Or at least this is what a lot of people think. But the truth is that you can have delicious hot oatmeal at your desk with just a little bit of prep the night before.
First, two caveats :
1. If you work somewhere where eating at your desk is frowned upon, well, I’m sorry for you. You can, however, still prep this oatmeal the night before and eat it at home. Not quite as time-efficient as eating at work, but so it goes.
2. If you are an absolute and total steel-cut purist, this is not going to work for you. Steel-cut oats, for those of you who don’t know, are rough-cut and pellet-like rather than being rolled like traditional oatmeal. They take time to cook – and they’re worth it – but they’re really a weekend food. Still, I urge you steel-cut oats enthusiasts to try this technique. I used to think I liked only steel-cut, but the fact was that I just didn’t like that awful stuff that comes out of packets. I think that home-made rolled oats are almost as good as their steel cut cousins.
1 plastic take-out container or tupperware, at least pint-size
1/2 cup rolled oats (also called quick oats and are available in bulk)
Add-ins (raisins, almonds, frozen fruit, etc.)
Sweetener of choice (Brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc.)
Pinch of salt (Critical. Trust me.)
Milk and/or water
Combine all of the above ingredients except the milk/water in the container. That’s basically all the “work” of this recipe. You can do it the night before, you can make a week’s worth of oatmeal meals at a time, or – if you have an excessive amount of tupperware – you can ready a year of breakfasts on one rainy Sunday.
(Obviously, if you’re using frozen fruit, wait until the night before. I’d also wait if you’re using syrup or honey as a sweetener. Theoretically, both are shelf-stable, but I don’t know about combining them with oats and then leaving them lying around. Science experiement anybody?)
When it’s time to eat, just add liquid to cover plus a half-inch or so more, and microwave for two to three minutes. Given the huge number of variables that can affect how the oats cook (microwave, fat content of milk, age of oats, variety of add-ins, altitude, humidity, etc.), it will probably take some tweaking with the amount of liquid and cooking time to get perfect oatmeal. But mine has never come out badly, and it didn’t take me too long to hit on a formula I really liked.
Even though you can make this oatmeal with just water, I find it to be much, much better with at least some milk in it. I am also fortunate that my workplace provides milk for coffee (Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to add non-dairy creamer to your oatmeal. And, while we’re on the subject, what the HELL is in non-dairy creamer?!?!? Ewww.), but if yours doesn’t, there are several possible remedies: You can buy milk to keep in the fridge at work. Or, you can add your milk at home, either the night before (and keep it in the fridge) or in the morning. Just be sure your container is tightly sealed, as a briefcase leaking milk is generally frowned upon regardless of your office’s policy on breakfast at your desk.