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Friday, January 9, 2015

Baked Oatmeal for the New Year

(Originally published in The News Review on January 6, 2014)
Recipes in this post: Baked Oatmeal, Individual Baked Oatmeal Cups


Baked Oatmeal with berries and hazelnuts
For me, 2014 will go down in my journal as a year of tracking. With the help of my smartphone and several free apps, I was able to gather data about many aspects of my life. Technology has made this quite simple. I used My Fitness Pal to record what I ate. I wore a Fitbit activity tracker to see how much exercise I got. I used Spendee to keep tabs on where my money went.

What did all this tracking teach me? When it comes to diet and nutrition, I learned just how many calories I currently consume. I found that I have no trouble keeping my saturated fat intake under 20 grams or my dietary cholesterol under 300 mg. per day. I do a good job limiting my sodium intake to 2300 mg. I get plenty of fiber, calcium and vitamin C. I rarely, however, get the recommended amount of vitamin A or potassium. Like most folks, I need to eat more vegetables.

By monitoring my physical activity, I discovered that on days I don't hike or go to the gym, it's pretty difficult to rack up 10,000 steps. I definitely sit too much.

By recording where I spent my money, I was able to see what percentage of my grocery budget goes to local food. By now you know that I am passionate about supporting our local farmers, ranchers and food producers. There are, however, many food items not grown or produced in this area that I purchase from a grocery store. I was curious to see how many of my food dollars stay in Douglas County. Turns out, on average, more than forty percent of my food budget is spent on local fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products and a few miscellaneous prepared food products. I don't qualify as a locavore, but every bit counts toward growing our local food economy. Still, I have room for improvement.

I don't intend to continue tracking every morsel I eat or every step I take this year. The goal, of course, is to use what I learned to make positive changes. Isn't that what January and the New Year are all about? It's a chance to take stock and consider adopting a few simple habits that will help us live healthier, happier lives.

If improved health is on your list, incorporating more whole, nourishing foods into your diet is a step in the right direction. Breakfast is a great place to start. I'm a big fan of morning smoothies and I have a high-fiber cold cereal that I enjoy, but on frosty mornings there's nothing like a hot meal to warm me up from the inside out. A steaming bowl of oatmeal topped with fruit, nuts, cinnamon and a touch of sweetener makes a “stick-to-my-ribs” breakfast that will carry me all the way to lunch. It's quick and easy; no recipe required.
 
Baked oatmeal takes those same ingredients and kicks it up a notch. The addition of eggs and milk bumps up the protein and instead of a bowl of porridge you end up with a breakfast “cake” you can eat with a fork. What's more, you have leftovers for the rest of the week. Just pop a square of baked oatmeal into the toaster oven or microwave and breakfast is ready. Baking the oatmeal in individual muffin cups or ramekins lets you vary the combinations for each family member.

Resolutions needn't be grand or complicated to be effective. Whatever your goals might be, here's to a healthy and happy 2015!
  
Baked Oatmeal

This recipe lends itself to endless adaptation. Vary the amount or type of sweetener according to your tastes. Substitute coconut oil for the butter or omit it entirely and spray the pan with oil instead. Experiment with different fruit and nut combinations like sliced bananas, blueberries and walnuts; dried cranberries and pecans; or finely diced apples and raisins.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups berries, fresh or frozen, divided
½ cup coarsely chopped nuts, optional
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
6 tablespoons Sucanat* or packed brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups milk, whole or low fat
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt the butter over low heat or in the microwave. Use part of it to generously brush the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan. Set the remaining butter aside to cool. Scatter 1 ½ cups of the berries over the bottom of the pan. If using nuts, sprinkle about a third of them over the berries.

In a medium bowl, stir together the rolled oats, sweetener, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Cover the berries and nuts with the oat mixture.

In a the same medium bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, vanilla and the rest of the melted butter. Pour over the oats and fruit. Sprinkle the remaining berries and nuts on top.

Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes, until golden brown on top and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cut into squares and serve with cream and/or maple syrup, if desired.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

*Sucanat (which stands for “sugar cane natural”) is a less refined sweetener made from dehydrated, rather than crystallized, sugar cane juice. I love its strong molasses flavor. It's available in the bulk bins or natural foods section of most grocery stores. If you decide to use a liquid sweetener, whisk it into the egg and milk mixture rather than combining with the dry ingredients.

Bananas, blueberries and walnuts are ready for the oatmeal topping.
Individual Baked Oatmeal Cups

Baking the oatmeal in small ramekins or a muffin tin allows you to make several varieties in one batch and customize the ingredients for other members of the family. 

Follow the recipe as directed but distribute the fruit, nuts, oat mixture and egg mixture evenly among well-buttered muffin cups or ramekins. Fill the cups only about two-thirds full as the oatmeal will rise as it bakes. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.




Monday, January 5, 2015

Fresh Produce in the Land of Plenty

(Originally published in The News Review on Tuesday, December 2, 2014) Recipe links: Glorified Cauliflower, Roasted Romanesco, 

A lovely display from Norm Lehne Garden & Orchards
A stroll through the farmers market is like a trip to an art museum, with the added benefit that I can afford to purchase the edible masterpieces I admire. The produce vendors in particular go to great lengths to create esthetically pleasing displays. With an eye for color, texture, balance and detail, fruits and vegetables are carefully arranged in baskets, bins, crates or free form pyramids. The results can be stunningly beautiful. No wonder still lifes of food are my best-loved works of art.
A beautiful Big Lick Farm display
 My dear friend Gloria Johnson is a woman who loves vegetables almost as much as she loves cheese. Gloria and her husband Roland are currently humanitarian missionaries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They are thrilled to be in Africa serving people they have grown to love. Gloria is the most enthusiastic, energetic, upbeat person I have ever known (her maiden name is Jolley!) and she's embraced the daily challenges they face with courage, optimism and a sense of humor. One of her only complaints about life in the capital city of Kinshasa is the limited availability of fresh produce and its exorbitant cost. A tiny box of grapes? Thirteen dollars! A single red pepper? Six bucks! In one of her email updates to friends back home, Gloria implored us not to take the abundance and affordability of our fresh fruits and vegetables for granted:

"The next time......you go to the grocery store, Kruse Farms, any other farm, Sherm's in Roseburg, anywhere that has produce!  Please PLEASE hug...(I MEAN IT!!!) the produce person and anyone else within reach.... then... pick up a head of cauliflower and caress it, kiss it, hug it, buy it, take it home, prepare it any way you want then slowly and lovingly chew each morsel and say my name at least 10 times while doing so.   And forever more don't race through the produce section of the store, or farmer's market, just stop, savor every color, every texture EVERY beautiful piece of freshness and thank the Lord that you have it."

In honor of Gloria's wishes, I offer my version of Glorified Cauliflower, a whole head steamed to perfection and covered in a "glorious" cheese sauce. I serve it in a shallow bowl with a large spoon and it looks lovely. (Well, one member of my family says it looks like a brain, but he eats it nonetheless.) If you're lucky enough to have leftovers, you can easily turn them into a creamy soup.

Of all the varieties of cauliflower on display-- white, orange, purple, green-- the most intriguing to me is Romanesco, also called Romanesco broccoli. It stands out from the crowd with it's lime green, cone-shaped head of spiraled florets. (For you mathematicians reading, the number of spirals on a head of Romanesco is a Fibonacci number.) Roasting it with olive oil brings out the sweet, nutty flavor.

You and I are indeed fortunate to live in a land of plenty. We have year round access to more fresh fruits and vegetables than we could ever tire of eating and at prices we can afford. So take your time. Saunter through the market or produce aisle and let your senses delight in the visual feast. Then fill your bag or basket or cart and count your blessings.

Roasted Romanesco


Romanesco (some say it's cauliflower, others call it broccoli) with it's lovely green color, nutty flavor and spiky,spiraled florets, is my favorite variety for roasting. Rinse well, break the florets off the stem and toss with olive oil and salt right on a shallow baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 25 minutes, just until barely tender when pierced with a fork or cake tester. Serve immediately.

Glorified Cauliflower


This recipe is adapted from one in my old Betty Crocker cookbook. A tender head of steamed cauliflower is cloaked in a velvety cheese sauce. As a bonus, any leftovers can be pureed into a creamy soup.

1 large head (about 2 pounds) cauliflower
salt
a heel of bread* (optional)

Remove the leaves, stalk, and any bruised or discolored areas, leaving the whole head of cauliflower intact. Rinse thoroughly and drain. Place a rack or steamer basket in a large saucepan. Add an inch of water and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Place the cauliflower on the rack and place the bread (if using) on top of the cauliflower. Cover the saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook 20-25 minutes, just until tender. While the cauliflower is steaming, prepare the cheese sauce.

*Placing a slice of bread on top of the cauliflower absorbs some of the "aroma" and keeps it from filling the whole house. This helps when cooking broccoli and cabbage, too.

Cheese Sauce

Betty Crocker may have enjoyed processed American cheese, but I like to use extra-sharp aged cheddar in this sauce. Be careful not to let the sauce boil after you add the cheese or it may separate.

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup milk (preferably whole milk)
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
one or two dashes of cayenne pepper, to taste
paprika for garnishing

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over low heat until foamy. Stir in the flour, dry mustard, salt and white pepper with a wooden spoon or rubber scraper until smooth and bubbling. Whisk in the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for one minute. Add the shredded cheese and stir until melted. Remove from heat and season with cayenne. Cover to keep warm until ready to serve.

When the cauliflower is tender, carefully remove it from the pan and allow any water to drain off. Transfer to a shallow serving bowl. Pour half of the cheese sauce over the top, letting it run down the sides of the cauliflower. Garnish with paprika. Pass the remaining sauce at the table.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Note: I use ground white pepper because it is invisible, but black pepper is fine, too. You can buy white pepper in the bulk spice section of most grocery stores. 

Easy Cheesy Cauliflower Soup: Turn your leftovers into a creamy soup for a light lunch or first course later in the week. Puree the cauliflower and any remaining cheese sauce with equal parts milk and chicken stock (canned or made from chicken soup base). Start with a half cup of each and add more to desired consistency. Heat gently to serving temperature. Do not boil. Alternatively, you can freeze the leftovers (without additional milk and stock) to make soup at a later date.

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