I recently made a subtle yet life-altering decision in my kitchen. In an attempt to consume more fiber and less sugar, and more importantly, to maximize every second of sleep I get, I decided to…(wait for it)… switch from regular flaky rolled oatmeal to steel-cut oatmeal.
But wait a minute, more sleep? Eating something that takes longer to prepare? How is this even possible? Don’t steel cut oats take thirty minutes to prepare on a stove top? Trader Joe’s, a gateway to many things healthy, introduced their quick cook version of steel cut oats, so here we are today. Now in less than eight minutes, everyone is able to have a hot and steaming bowl of steel cut oats every morning. I was sold.
Prior to this decision, I didn’t know much about steel cut oats. I only knew they took a long time to cook, weren’t that convenient but were much healthier for you. I also knew they were a lot less appetizing than those wonderful packets of instant oatmeal I grew up with (yes, the ones with highly inventive names such as “Apples and Cinnamon” or “Maple and Brown Sugar”).
I also didn’t know steel cut oats are whole grain oats run through steel blades and that they aren’t steamed and processed like their wispy flake of a cousin, the rolled oat. Less processing means more fiber is retained in a chewier, denser form. This translates to a longer digestion period and therefore a feeling of being fuller for longer (major score for someone who is always hungry like me). Not bad for something very low in caloric and sugar intake and high on the protein factor.
In chilly weather (anything below 70…hey, I’m in Los Angeles), I put a 1/2 cup of uncooked steel cut oats in the rice cooker before bed, and add 1 3/4 cups of water and a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. I set the nifty auto timer on (love this feature), and wake up 8 hours later to the sweet smell of cinnamon and the Asian jangle of the rice cooker singing. I add sliced bananas (the Husband adds honey, raisins and/or brown sugar as well), and voilà, breakfast of champions faster than you can say, “Dude, where’s my donut?”. For those of you without rice cookers or auto timers, don’t fret - actual cooking time is only 5-8 minutes and Trader Joe’s even has frozen steel cut oatmeal packets available.
So now that my life span is potentially extended with this decision, what to do with that pesky canister of scorned rolled oats sitting in my pantry? I by no means have a large pantry, and every time I opened the pantry door, out fall those damn rolled oats, begging me to use them, consume them, make cookies… SOMETHING.
Then I discovered oat flour. Enter 101 Cookbooks. I love this site. Whenever I have an ingredient in my fridge I’m dying to use, I check out this site and inevitably find a healthy, delicious and inventive way to use that ingredient. In this case it was the aforementioned scorned rolled oats and a half carton of buttermilk. I saw this recipe for Oat Soda Bread and instantly got off the couch to make my rendition of it. An hour later, the house smelled of rosemary and freshly baked bread. Oh oat flour, you’re my new best friend. You look like white flour, you taste like flour but you bring so many more nutrients to the table.
In order to make oat flour, simply put rolled oats in your food processor or blender and pulse until it is ground into a fine powder. Oat flour needs to be mixed with other flour when baking as it will not rise on its own. However it will add a rich nutty flavor and a slightly denser texture to your baked goods, not to mention the dietary nutrients oats have. Lately I have been halving my use of regular white flour, and replacing the other half with oat flour. Here is my favorite recipe so far, it’s delicious with a fat slab of butter.
Rosemary Sesame Oat Soda Bread (adapted from 101 Cookbook’s Oat Soda Bread recipe)
2 cups of rolled oats (or two cups of store-bought oat flour if you are not making your own)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting and kneading
1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons fine-grain sea salt
1 3/4 cups buttermilk, plus 2 tablespoons for brushing
1 1/2 Tablespoons of dried rosemary
1 tablespoon of untoasted sesame seeds (other seeds can be used too at your preference e.g. poppy, etc.)
butter to grease loaf pan
Preheat oven to 400°F with a rack in the middle of the oven. Butter and line a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan with parchment paper and set aside.
Sift the flours, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Pour in the buttermilk. Stir into a dough but no longer. Turn onto a lightly floured countertop and knead for 30 seconds or so, just long enough for the dough to come together into a cohesive, slightly flattened ball without many cracks. If your dough is too dry, you can add more buttermilk a small splash at a time.
Generously brush all over with buttermilk and sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds and dried rosemary. Slice a few deep slashes across the top of the dough. The dough should resemble more of an oval shape at this point. Carefully place the dough into the greased loaf pan, lined with parchment paper.
Bake for 30 minutes, then move the rack and the bread up a level, so the top gets nice and toasted. Bake for another 20 minutes, or until a hard crust forms and the bread is baked through. It should turn a nice golden color. Carefully lift it out of the pan and cool on a wire rack.
Freshly baked bread within an hour, with only a handful of ingredients. Who knew? Now if I could only control my butter intake…