Have you tried baked oatmeal?

Cinnamon Apple Baked Oats (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

January’s dark, dreary, chilly mornings mean winter blahs for many. That calls for comfort foods — and one of the best is a bowl of steamy oatmeal: warm, comforting, stick-to-your-ribs healthy. That may be why January is also National Oatmeal Month!

Unless you live on another planet, you can’t miss the health claims for oats. They’re everywhere, most frequently on TV in the Cheerios commercials.

But while Cheerios have done a lot to educate us about the healthful properties of oats, they’re far from the real McCoy. The oats in Cheerios have been ground into flour, then mixed with sugar, cornstarch, preservatives and water to make a paste. In a process called extrusion, this paste is forced through a Teflon-coated mold or press or under intense pressure and high heat. The heat and pressure destroy many of the nutrients and protein. Since they’re loaded with sugar, they give a quick rush followed by a plunge in energy.

Simple oats have far more fiber, more available nutrients, less sugar, fewer calories, and a lower glycemic index than those processed into cold cereal shapes. They provide more energy, help you feel full, and will warm you up on a chilly winter morning.

This complex, gluten-free carbohydrate contains more soluble fiber than any other grain. The fiber fills you up, improves digestion, and helps stabilize blood glucose levels.

Studies show people who eat more oats are at lower risk of developing heart disease. That’s because oats’ soluble fiber helps reduce blood pressure and LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad’) without lowering HDL cholesterol (the ‘good’ kind of cholesterol). And the phytochemicals and insoluble fiber in oats may have cancer-fighting properties.

Oats are a good source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, folate, vitamin E, B vitamins, and many minerals: zinc, selenium, copper, iron, potassium, manganese and magnesium.

Once considered weeds in fields of cultivated grains like wheat, barley and rice, oats are a relative newcomer. They were domesticated about 3,000 years ago in the cold, damp climates of the British Isles and Scandinavia, and soon became a food staple among Scots and Celts.

Today, folks are rushed in the morning. Preparing oatmeal means standing over the stove, stirring a pot. Attack the morning rush by preparing your oats the night before! For a healthy, frugal breakfast, try baked oats!

Unlike mushy morning porridge, baked oats have a consistency similar to bread pudding. There are many variations, depending on which fruits and nuts are added.

This traditional, comforting Amish breakfast casserole can be made ahead and placed in the oven while you do your morning routine. Or bake it the night before and reheat.

Cinnamon-Apple Baked Oats

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups oats

1/3 cup flour (I used buckwheat flour to make these gluten free, but whole-wheat flour is good too)

1/2 cup brown sugar (or more, if you like it sweeter)

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

2 cups milk

4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter or coconut oil

2 large apples

1 cup chopped walnuts, divided

Directions:

In large bowl, stir together oats, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and baking powder.

In another bowl, beat eggs with salt and milk. Add to dry ingredients and stir to combine.

Melt butter, and stir in.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch-by-9-inch baking dish.

Wash, core and chop apples (no need to peel).

Place half the chopped apples on the bottom of the prepared baking dish.

Mix the other half of the apples and half the nuts into the batter.

Turn into baking dish. Top with remaining nuts.

Bake 30 – 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. (If you over-bake, it will be dry). Serves six.

Berry-Baked Oatmeal

Ingredients:

2 cups oats

2 cups plain yogurt

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup butter or coconut oil

2 eggs

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 cup berries (blueberries, raspberries, etc.), fresh or frozen

1/4 cup slivered almonds and 2 Tablespoons brown sugar, optional, for topping

Directions:

In the morning, combine oats, yogurt and maple syrup. Let sit 12 to 24 hours to soak the grain. (This is not absolutely necessary but is recommended. If you don’t have time to soak, it will still come out good).

In the evening, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch-by-9-inch baking dish.

Melt the butter or coconut oil and stir into the oatmeal. Beat eggs; stir into the oatmeal. Stir in baking powder and berries.

Turn into prepared pan. If desired, scatter almonds over the top and sprinkle with brown sugar.

Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. (If you over-bake, it will be dry). Serves six.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com, yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.

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