Resolve to roll out more oats

Jackie Burrell / Contra Costa Times (Calif.) /

There are so many traditions associated with the new year — midnight kisses, shiny New Year's resolutions and, of course, the guilt-laden, mid-January plunge into a pint of Ben and Jerry's. That's what happens when you go draconian on yourself.

But if the healthful hopes of Jan. 1 included such resolutions as “eat a healthy breakfast” and “more whole grains, baby,” here's some happy news:

You can have your waffles and eat healthfully, too. At least, you can when you've packed them with toasted oatmeal, buttermilk and a hint of cinnamon.

Packed with antioxidants, high-fiber oatmeal fills you up, warms your soul and makes your heart happier and healthier. Bake up a batch of berry-laced oatmeal, whip up a bowl of chai-spiced oats or dig into a jar of Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough's Way-More-Than-Just-Oats Granola, and you'll make your taste buds happy, too.

Health issues first prompted food writers Weinstein and Scarbrough's efforts to incorporate more whole grains into their diets, but they soon discovered the delicious benefits of farro, freekeh, bulgur, oats and groats. The beauty of whole grains for breakfast, Scarbrough writes in the duo's new book, “Grain Mains,” is that “lunchtime rolls around without a hunger pang in sight. We can't think of better morning news than that.”

Their version of granola pumps up the nutritional volume by augmenting the usual oats with Kamut, wheat and barley flakes — which can be found in gourmet markets, health-food stores or online — as well as almonds, wheat germ and nonfat dry milk. The goal, Scarbrough says, is to “grain it up” — and by “it,” he means everything. Mix the crunchy results with milk for morning cereal, use it to top yogurt parfaits or nibble the granola as a hearty, healthy snack.

Warren Brown, a Washington, D.C. attorney-turned-baker and proprietor of the very popular CakeLove bakeries in the D.C. area, does plenty of decadent sweets, of course, but he calls oatmeal the best way to “make the body feel nourished in all the right ways.”

His new breakfast cookbook, “CakeLove in the Morning,” offers everything from sticky buns — decidedly not resolution-fare — to chocolate pancakes (ditto). But Brown also shares his love for hot, creamy porridge, especially when the flavors are amplified with spices and fruit. He steeps traditional chai spices — cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and star anise — in the milk he uses to cook oatmeal in one version, and mixes crystallized ginger, sliced bananas and flaxseeds into another.

As for those toasted oatmeal waffles, they're the creation of San Francisco food writer and pastry chef Dawn Yanagihara, whose new book “Waffles” is devoted to everything crisp, golden and pocked with those signature imprints.

Here, rolled oats are toasted first, an idea that a colleague at Cooks Illustrated magazine first came up with a decade ago to add a light nuttiness to your basic porridge. However, Yanagihara takes the concept much farther. “You make these resolutions, but if the food doesn't taste good, you won't want to eat it,” she says. “I love oatmeal. It made sense to do it — and I knew I needed to bring out the flavor. I pushed the envelope with the toasting to get that nutty, caramelized, butterscotch-y flavor.”

Buttermilk is added to the still-warm oatmeal mixture, along with melted butter, eggs, flour and brown sugar, before the batter is baked in a waffle iron, forming a crisp exterior shell for the tender, custardlike interior.

Toasted Oatmeal Waffles

Makes 9 standard-size waffles.

6 TBS unsalted butter, divided

1 C quick-cooking rolled oats

13⁄4 C water

2 TBS packed brown sugar

1 C buttermilk

1 C all-purpose flour

13⁄4 tsp baking powder

3⁄4 tsp salt

1⁄4 tsp cinnamon

1⁄4 tsp baking soda

2 lg eggs, beaten

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Add oatmeal; cook, stirring frequently, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until browned, with a deeply rich, toasty fragrance.

Off heat, carefully pour in water; mixture will steam and sputter. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat; lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until water is absorbed and oatmeal is thick and creamy, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; stir in remaining butter and brown sugar, mixing well. Stir in buttermilk. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

Preheat your waffle iron. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Whisk beaten eggs into the oatmeal mixture. Pour oatmeal mixture into dry ingredients; fold gently with a rubber spatula just until batter is evenly moistened.

Pour a generous 1⁄2 cup batter into the center of the waffle iron. Use the spatula to spread the batter to about 1⁄2inch from the edge. Close lid; bake the waffle to desired doneness. Repeat with remaining batter.

— From “Waffles: Sweet, Savory, Simple,” by Dawn Yanagihara (Chronicle Books, 2012)

Baked Oatmeal

Makes 6 generous servings.

2 C rolled (not instant) oats

1⁄2 C walnut pieces, toasted, divided

1⁄3 C natural cane sugar or maple syrup

1 tsp aluminum-free baking powder

11⁄2 tsp cinnamon

Scant 1⁄2 tsp salt

2 C milk

1 lg egg

3 TBS unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, divided

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 ripe bananas, cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces

11⁄2 C huckleberries, blueberries or mixed berries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter an 8-inch square baking dish. In a bowl, mix together the oats, half of the walnuts, sugar (if using), baking powder, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the maple syrup (if using), milk, egg, half of the butter and vanilla.

Arrange bananas in a single layer in prepared pan. Sprinkle with two-thirds of the berries. Cover with oat mixture. Drizzle with milk mixture. Scatter remaining berries and walnuts on top.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is nicely golden and oat mixture has set. Let cool for a few minutes. Drizzle the remaining melted butter on top and serve with more sugar or maple syrup, if you wish.

— From “Super Natural Every Day,” by Heidi Swanson (Ten Speed Press, 2011)

Way-More-Than-Just-Oats Granola

Makes 16 servings.

Note: Find Kamut, wheat and barley flakes at specialty markets and health food stores.

2⁄3 C almond oil

2⁄3 C honey

1 TBS vanilla extract

3 C old-fashioned rolled oats

1 C each Kamut, wheat and barley flakes

1 C sliced almonds

3⁄4 C instant nonfat dry milk

1⁄2 C dark brown sugar

1⁄2 C toasted wheat germ

1 TBS cinnamon

11⁄2 tsp salt

Position oven racks at top and bottom thirds of the oven. Preheat to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stir oil, honey and vanilla until honey dissolves. Continue heating, stirring a few times, just until a few whiffs of steam come off the top. Set aside.

In a big bowl, mix the oats, Kamut, wheat and barley flakes, almonds, dry milk, sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon and salt. Pour in the oil mixture. Stir until everything's moist. Spread the mixture into even layers on 2 large rimmed baking sheets.

Bake until crunchy and irresistible, about 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through baking. Cool on the sheets set on racks for at least an hour. Break the granola into bits, chips and flakes. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

— From “Grain Mains,” by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough (Rodale Books, 2012)

Chai Oatmeal

Makes 2 servings.

1⁄2 C soy milk

1⁄2 C milk

2 TBS honey

2 cinnamon sticks

1⁄2 tsp nutmeg, freshly ground

1 star anise

5 to 8 green cardamom pods, unopened

1 C whole rolled oats

In a 1-quart saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup water, the milks, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise and cardamom. Bring to a simmer; turn off heat and steep for 10 minutes. Strain out the spices, then return the milk to the same pot. Add oats; bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to low; cover loosely. Cook without stirring for about 10 minutes, or until the oatmeal thickens to desired consistency. Serve with milk and sweetener of choice, if desired.

— From “CakeLove in the Morning,” by Warren Brown (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2012)

Banana-Ginger Oatmeal

Makes 3 to 4 servings.

1⁄4 to 1⁄2 C crystallized ginger

1 C whole rolled oats

1 C milk or soy milk

1 med banana, peeled and sliced

1 TBS flaxseeds, optional

1 TBS honey

Pinch salt

1 TBS sugar, optional

Chop the ginger into small pieces. Put all the ingredients into a 1-quart saucepan with 11⁄4 cups water; stir to combine. Cook over low to medium heat until oatmeal simmers lightly, about 15 minutes. Serve with strawberries and honey, if desired.

— From “CakeLove in the Morning”

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