Soon after I graduated from pastry school, I got a job at the wonderful 11th Avenue Inn on Capitol Hill in Seattle. It was a dream job, especially coming from being a bottom-of-the-totem-pole pastry cook at a large restaurant. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to be able to see the faces of the people I cooked for every morning, to talk to them and see they were enjoying my food. Not only that, but I got to plan the menus, do the shopping and order equipment. You know, like an actual, real-live chef.
My favorite of that second sort of task was the opportunity to come up with new dishes, which leads us to today’s recipe. (You’ll notice that it’s still on their list of sample breakfasts, although I have to say that I never put papaya on it, mostly because I have yet to meet a papaya I’ve got on with well.) This oatmeal was my star contribution to the breakfast lineup, the only one that really stuck, the only one that it was imperative to leave the recipe behind when I had to leave long before I ever wanted to.
At the Inn, there were several discussions about what to call the oatmeal. I have to admit, it was a hard sell every morning I made it. When you say “oatmeal”, most people think of the instant kind that you hide under lots of milk, brown sugar and raisins (if you fall on the pro-raisin side of things). Even qualifying it with “steel-cut” didn’t do much good. This was a few years ago, and steel-cut oatmeal wasn’t on the average American’s radar yet. It needed a good name to recommend it to the uninitiated.
I liked to call it “Pirate Oatmeal”, both because of the fruit and because I sometimes added rum at the end of the cooking time. (Pirates of the Caribbean was big back then, and it seemed like the thing to do.) No one else seemed to like the name, so I kept thinking. The names I came up with weren’t any better. I think I even tried “Oat Risotto” out on the owner at one point as a way to hint at the cooking process and upscale nature of the oatmeal. Thankfully, he shot that one down, too.
I still call it Pirate Oatmeal when the need for a name arises. However, it’s never fit all that well, so I’ve decided to dub it “The Tiger’s Oatmeal” in honor of the launch of this site. I think that both captures the exotic twist of the spices and fruit and the way this oatmeal invigorates you for the day ahead.
Spiced Ginger Steel-Cut Oatmeal
Fruit, preferably tropical (mango-pineapple-strawberry is my favorite combo), sliced and diced as you see fit
Toasted coconut flakes
The Cardamom Yogurt was derived from a recipe for Mango with Yogurt in Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, and my oatmeal evolved from Alton Brown’s delicious Steel Cut Oatmeal, but both diverged from the original recipes long ago.
One of the great things about cooking the same thing for a crowd week after week is that you learn how to make it in your sleep and you figure out all sorts of tricks for increasing efficiency and serving things to a large group over an extended period of time. One of the great things about writing for a food blog is that you get to share those tricks with other people. Here’s what I’ve learned about making steel-cut oatmeal over the years.
| || The yogurt’s quick and easy: whisk it with the maple syrup and cardamom until smooth. Both the syrup and cardamom should be done to taste, so make sure you start with a conservative amount of both and work up from there. For instance, I like a lot of spice in anything spiced, so I use eight times as much cardamom as the original recipe. I think it tastes better that way, but a few people out there would disagree, I’m sure. |
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The yogurt is best made the night before you want to use it. This gives the cardamom time to disperse its flavor throughout the yogurt. If you’re making it the morning of, though, you can add more cardamom so that it will have more flavor right away.
I usually make an entire large container of yogurt at a time and put it back into the fridge, making sure to clearly label that it’s cardamom yogurt, not plain. It’s great to put on top of all sorts of fruit, with or without oatmeal, and I find if I have it in the fridge, it always gets used. It helps, of course, that yogurt has an excellent shelf life.
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Here is another part of the recipe that can be done the night ahead. I usually put the oatmeal in a sealable container and shake it up with the spices (and any dried fruit). It can be used right away, left on the counter overnight, or put away in the cupboard until you want to use it. Even if you’re going to make it right away, the advantage is that the spices are evenly distributed throughout the oatmeal from the start.
Here I’ve added a lot of cinnamon with smaller amounts of ginger, cardamom, and pumpkin pie spice (I was too lazy to grind cloves). Like I said, I like spiced things to taste like they have spices in them. In these photos I’m making a double batch of the oatmeal (I always do, for reasons that will become clear later), and I think this is about as much as I would’ve liked to have used on a single batch.
| || This is what it looks like all shaken up. When I’m eyeballing the spices, I usually go until it’s quite a bit browner than this, but unless you’re like me on the spice thing, this is a good ratio to start with. |
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Everything up until this point can be done beforehand. (If you’re using the coconut flakes, you can also toast them ahead of time for about 2 minutes in a 350 degree oven, making sure only the very edges turn toasty and brown.) When the time comes to make the oatmeal, make sure the first thing you do is to get the water boiling. This saves you time, and worry over burning the oatmeal while you fiddle with your tea or electric kettle.
Ginger is the key to this entire recipe. I don’t remember when I first tried it in the oatmeal or why, only that it imparts a flavor to it that I now can’t separate from the taste of steel cut oatmeal. When I get steel cut oatmeal elsewhere, it’s never quite the same, and the crystallized ginger is the key.
| || I have a pinched nerve that causes a lot of pain in my shoulder, which is why I don’t cook professionally anymore. Chopping and slicing hurt it more than just about anything else, especially tough things like crystallized ginger. Only recently did I think of the answer: I put the ginger in a bowl and pour just enough of the boiling water for the oatmeal to cover. After two minutes, the ginger is soft and much easier to dice. (Be careful. It’s also very hot.) Because I count on all of the flavor from the ginger, plus the hint of sweetness from the sugar encrusted on it, I reserve the water it soaked in and use it as part of the water for the oatmeal. Problem solved. |
| || Now it’s time to cook the oatmeal. First, melt the butter in your pot over medium heat. (You can get away with using less (or more!) butter, depending on whether you’re going for health or luxury.) While it melts, make sure your water is boiling. |
| || Add the spiced oatmeal. Stir well to evenly coat with butter. |
| || Toast the oatmeal for about two minutes, stirring the whole time to keep it from burning. |
| || Add the boiling water. It will bubble dramatically as soon as it hits the bottom of the pot, so beware of flying flecks of hot, wet oatmeal! I got hit by one right at the moment this photo was taken. |
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Add the crystallized ginger and stir together, just until everything is mixed, then stop and turn the heat down to low. Because the oatmeal is hot and the water is boiling before they meet, you won’t have to wait for them to come to a boil. Leave it to simmer, uncovered. Set a timer for 25 minutes and don’t touch the oatmeal until it goes off.
While the oatmeal cooks, you’ll have time to cut up fruit and toast coconut flakes, if you haven’t already. If you have, then make yourself a cup of tea with any excess boiling water and relax.
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After 25 minutes, add the buttermilk. Once again, stir only long enough to combine. Set the timer again, this time for 10 minutes, and leave it to simmer again, uncovered.
If you are making a large batch of oatmeal for a lot of people, and won’t be serving it all at once, you have another option. After the timer goes off, rather than adding the buttermilk, just cover the pot and turn off the heat. Then, make the oatmeal to order by scooping it into a second, smaller pan, adding a little of the buttermilk and cooking it until it starts to bubble.
| || After the ten minutes have passed, turn off the heat. Give it one last stir–this would be the best time to add that rum, if you’re feeling pirate-y. |
| || Serve the oatmeal, topped with the yogurt, fruit and coconut. |
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One way to convince picky eaters (children or adults) to try the oatmeal is to cover it all up with the yogurt and a ton of fruit. (If they hate yogurt and fruit as well, I can’t help you.)
You know, I’ve been following too many bento blogs lately…sadly, though, I still couldn’t figure out how to give my tiger stripes with the fruit I had on hand.
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I mentioned above that I always make a double batch of oatmeal, even if I’m eating alone. The reason is that this oatmeal makes fantastic leftovers, something I only figured out a few years ago. This is already getting awfully long, so next time I’ll demonstrate how to do that.
I hope you will try out this oatmeal. I still have the same problem I did at the Inn: there really is no way to make it sound as good as it tastes, even if I use every superlative in my arsenal. I never can pick a favorite book or TV show or scene I’ve written for one of my novels–it’s that whole choosing between your babies thing–but this is my number one, super-favorite recipe I’ve ever come up with. I can’t help wanting everyone to taste it.
So, what about you? Do you have a personal recipe that you’re more proud of than any other, one that’s special no matter how many times you make it?