It looks like a dish of cereal, a pretty one at that with a few little adornments. However, take a bite, and you might forget forever about those packets of instant oatmeal.
Hot cereal in the winter
When I was a child, winter months usually meant hot cereal in the morning, and that was all right with us. It filled and warmed us up. Oatmeal was often on the menu, as was cream of wheat or cream of rice, hot Ralston (one of my favorites, a wheat cereal, but I haven’t seen it in many years), and corn meal mush! Mom would make a big pot of this and spread the left-overs out in a shallow pan and refrigerate. The next day, we ate what I would now call polenta squares, fried in bacon grease. We loved it!
The hot cereals were usually drizzled with maple syrup (homemade Maypo) and milk, perhaps a sprinkle of cinnamon. Apples and walnuts might make an appearance, but usually it was served up plain. The cereals simmered until cooked on the back burner while mom puttered around with the rest of her morning routine to get us all out of the house in time to catch the school bus.
Let’s spice it up
Here we are, situated firmly in hot cereal weather, and that morning bowl of oats could easily get boring! I always make old fashioned or steel cut oats because they have a slightly higher soluble fiber content, more texture, and they taste better. But, bowl after bowl, they benefit from a little spice and toppings.
I’ve been swapping out some other favorite grains for breakfast and experimenting a little with spices and toppings while the snow falls. One cereal I really love is cream of buckwheat. It has a lovely nutty flavor, and is gluten-free as well.
It was cream of white rice when I was a kid, and I’ve long changed that up for the whole grain. It is even tastier!
Why use just water?
One of the things I’ve been playing with is using liquids other than water in which to cook the cereal. This adds a great flavor boost. I started with apple cider in our oatmeal, but you can use other juices, coconut or other plant or dairy milks. Apricot nectar is great as a partial replacement for water in any of these hot cereals.
Put that pot of cereal on to simmer, sprinkle in some spices, chop up some nuts or fresh and dried fruits. Slice a banana or pear and play with some of the flavors you like best. You don’t need to make it sweet either. My mom often had hers with a little butter, milk, salt, and pepper!
Here are a few examples of what we’ve liked recently. What do you like in your morning cereal bowl?
Tropical Brown Rice “Risotto”
This is not a typical risotto, but it has a great story attached.
A running list
Over the years of running the inn, I kept a mental list of memorable guests. Often it was because of their unique personalities, quirks, odd requests, and, one of my favorite categories, “food fussbudgets.” Ask any innkeeper, they will have a list, usually kept in our memories with humor. I found the food fusspots to be a challenge and not a negative, and I believe the people with the odd requests actually helped me to become a better cook.
When you are feeding people from all over the country and world day after day, and month after year, you have to amuse yourself in these little ways.
#1 self-described fussbudget
This dish is a simplified version of one that was born of my #1 (self-described) fussbudget, an extremely entertaining, funny, brilliant man who happened to be the father of a friend of mine. He introduced himself, told me a funny story about his trip, and proceeded to tell me he was a big challenge to feed – he only ate brown rice and smoked fish.
That’s it. Brown rice and fish. He said he did eat all kinds of herbs and spices if that helped.
Of course I can feed you!
“No problem!” I told him, not nearly as optimistic as I tried to sound. “We’ll feed you!” During the course of the day, I pondered many an idea, but it was a challenge, especially since we served two courses at breakfast.
I ended up serving him smoked trout on brown rice cakes for his starter, and a brown rice risotto which I made much the same way as a traditional risotto by browning the rice and ladling heavily spiced rice milk into it slowly until it was cooked. I was also preparing two-course breakfast for 8 other guests, so this was not an easy dish! But the bottom line was that he loved it, and we loved it too! I’ve streamlined the recipe considerably, using brown rice cereal instead of the actual rice, and I’ve added coconut and fruit to the mix as well.
As for the #1 fussbudget, I tried to ignore the empty pint of Ben & Jerry’s in his wastebasket after he checked out…
1/2 cup brown rice cereal
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. ground fennel
Few grates of nutmeg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 banana, sliced
Toasted unsweetened coconut
Combine the cereal and the coconut beverage with the spices and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer on lowest setting, and cook for around 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until thick and a little taste tells you it is ready.
Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
Plate and top with bananas and sprinkle with toasted coconut.
I’ve also made this with pineapple juice and chunked pineapple to top. Delicious!
This can be made in the microwave by cooking for three minutes with a two minute rest.
Triple Apple Old Fashioned Oats
It is hearty. It is a good start to the day, fills you up and stays with you, and it tastes good. If you are worried about cholesterol, it has an element of protection there with its soluble fiber. And, you can also find gluten-free varieties.
One of the things I love the most about this grain is that you can add so many wonderful little treats on top: apples, of course, nuts, raisins, dried cranberries or cherries, any other fresh or dried fruit for that matter. Fresh raspberries are delicious on oatmeal. Sweeten or not, maple syrup, brown sugar, white sugar, agave syrup, honey, everyone is happy.
We always put cinnamon and maybe some ginger or allspice in the mix, but there are so many other options. Maybe something a little more savory would be a change of pace, even a curry blend in the cooking oats, is delicious!
I didn’t want the apple flavor of my favorite topping get lost, so while I was fiddling with the spices, I also added a little cider to the cooking water in the oatmeal. At first, I added too much and ended with with sweet sweet sweet. So I backed off and concentrated more on the spices.
To boost the apple flavor even more, I added some dried apples as well as fresh.
3 apples, peeled, cored, sliced
1 tsp. cinnamon, divided
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup unfiltered apple cider
2 tbsp. dried chopped apples
1/2 tsp. cardamom
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Maple syrup or honey to sweeten
Dried cranberries and walnuts to garnish
Place your apples in a small saucepan and cover with water. Add 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook while working on the oats.
Combine the oats, water, cider, dehydrated apples, the rest of the cinnamon, cardamon, and add a pinch of salt.
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for about five minutes.
Drain you apples once cooked, mix them up with the vanilla. Plate your oatmeal, and top with apples, cranberries and walnuts.
This can also be made in the microwave in about three minutes.
Cream of Buckwheat with Pears and Crystalized Ginger
Buckwheat has a delightful nutty flavor, and is one of my new favorites. Use whatever milk you like here, and top with a fresh fruit. The ginger in this dish is great to stimulate your whole system in the morning!
2 1/2 cups almond milk
1/2 cup cream of buckwheat cereal
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
Crystalized ginger, slivered to top
1 large fresh pear
Place the milk, cereal, and salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 8 minutes, stir in the fresh ginger, and cook another two minutes.
Plate and top with crystalized ginger and the fresh pear.
This can also be made in the microwave in about three minutes with a two-minute rest.
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