What, not tantalizing enough?
Now I have your attention. You love it, right? Everyone does. I make it from scratch on a regular basis. But one cold winter morning, I had none. And I wanted it. And there was no way I was venturing out into the zero degree morning to get the ingredients to make some.
Rummaging about, I decided to make oatmeal, a lovely bit of steel-cut oats I make on a fairly regular basis. Oatmeal, notably, is not nearly as sexy sounding as Nutella. To put it in perspective, my mother refers to my steel-cut oats with the not so flattering moniker of “Colon Blow,” but she means no disrespect to their flavor (or nutritional value.) After years of making them, despite knowing the time it takes to make them, anything less seems like eating lightly seasoned wallpaper paste.
As I pulled out the ingredients for the base oats, I clapped eyes on my unsweetened cocoa powder. Bump down a shelf, a few hazelnuts from the last batch of homemade Nutella hanging out in a plastic bag. A quick swivel of the head and bananas came into view. Pre-coffee neurons shook off sleep and began to fire, waking that part of my brain that remembered the main thing that makes unsweetened cocoa powder actual chocolatey goodness is sugar, and OH MY you are going to add brown sugar to that oatmeal! And wait! Nutella is simply cocoa and hazelnuts, a few hazelnuts wouldn’t hurt, so let’s just toast some of those up, and, well, there should probably be fruit, so why not some sliced bananas? And while we’re at it, why not sauté up those bananas in a little butter, get a little of that glorious Maillard effect on them, get them all shiny, releasing the warm tropical flavors from within that might, just might, for one moment, make you forget the frost slowly creeping up the insides of your kitchen window.
You see, the beauty of oatmeal is the blank palette it presents to you. It can be as simple as a swath of real maple syrup and a touch of brown sugar. It can be juiced up with finely diced granny smith and a swirl of cinnamon. It can go a touch off path and be laced with dried figs and cardamom. Or, on a cold morning where you crave chocolate but have none at your immediate disposal, you can fake some chocolate hazelnut goodness.
Winter isn’t letting go quite yet, and there are some cold mornings ahead, so why not experiment a little with some steel cut oats of your own? Add in some raisins, some craisins, some nuts, some berries, see what you like. A personal favorite is adding fresh blueberries in while it simmers. They explode and turn the whole thing purple. Just one piece of advice: if you are serving this to others, leave the “colon blow” moniker out of the picture.
Serves 1 generously, so just multiply up from there:
Scant tsp. of unsalted butter
1/3 cup steel-cut oats
1 ¼ c. hot water
1/3 c. milk (I use whole, the flavor and richness is better)
1Tbsp. brown sugar (or more, to your taste)
1 ½ tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (for the chocolatey option)
maple syrup (optional)
Add-ins to your liking (dried fruit, whole fruit, nuts, spices, etc.)
For the banana, I sliced up a whole one into 1/2” slices, ate 1/3 of it, and sautéed up the other 2/3 in a small skillet with a bit more butter.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Toss in the oats and cook, stirring constantly, until they start to brown a little and you get a lovely nutty smell coming out of them, about 1-2 minutes.
Once the oats are smelling all nutty, pour in the hot water, lower the heat to a simmer, cover and let simmer for 15 minutes. Go make a pot of coffee.
After 15 minutes, pour in the milk, and add in any dried fruit or blueberries, if you are swinging that way today. Cover and cook for ten more minutes.
Remove from heat, stir thoroughly, then add in the brown sugar, salt, and a touch of maple syrup (an excellent universal sweetener.) Add in any nuts or spices you like at this point. For one serving it doesn’t take much. A pinch of two of spice, a few nuts. Stir everything up, taste, adjust if you need to, then find a quiet place to sit and eat. And ignore the snow outside.
(I occasionally go a little over the top and toast some nuts in a 350 degree oven for five minutes before I add them in, and occasionally melt a tsp. more butter in a small skillet and sauté up fresh fruit before I throw it in. It makes a lovely addition.)