Tip #11: See foods in a different way




This is a companion to Tip #10. I usually think of oatmeal as a sweet breakfast food. It is quick, healthy, and tasty, especially with the addition of maple syrup, dried fruit, and chopped nuts. But sometimes I do not want a sweet start to the day, preferring instead to head the savory route. This morning’s breakfast did just that, and while it took a little longer than the usual bowl of oatmeal (about 20-30 minutes total, including frying the egg) the results were delicious and a hearty start to the day. I know I have made something good when I am eating it and already thinking, “I can’t wait to have the leftovers tomorrow!”

There are a number of outstanding cookbooks published on using grains in a variety of ways, which is where I got the general idea for this meal. I knew I wanted oatmeal, but I also wanted bacon and eggs, and there was a small butternut squash sitting on the counter. Breakfast was born. A bit like a risotto made with oatmeal instead of rice, it could have just as easily been my lunch or a side dish for dinner. Toasting the oatmeal made it a little roasty-nutty tasting, the bacon added a very light smoky note, and the squash was a hint of sweet (bumped up by substituting maple sap* for half of the water…sometimes, ya gotta gild the lily…). The egg on top was a perfect companion, but it was not necessary to make the dish delicious.

For other ideas, check out Maria Speck’s books Ancient Grains for Modern Meals and Simply Ancient Grains. Another good one is Liana Krissoff’s book Whole Grains for a New Generation. All three of them have me thinking about grains in new ways.

Butternut Squash and Bacon Oatmeal
(serves two, but can easily be doubled)
2 slices of thicker-cut bacon, chopped
1/4 cup diced onion
1-1 1/2 cups butternut squash, diced small (peeled or not is up to you; just scrub it well if you do not peel it)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups water, plus more if necessary
1/4 tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional, but it added a nice spark of freshness)
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Place bacon in a 2 to 4 quart saucepan over medium heat and cook until the first side is starting to brown. Spoon off half of whatever fat has rendered. (I used this to fry the egg in.) Add the onions and a tiny pinch of salt, stir, and cook 2-3 minutes.  Add the butternut squash and cook, stirring, for 5-7 minutes.
  2. While the squash cooks, toast the oats in a skillet over medium heat. Watch them carefully and stir often as they can go from nothing to burnt quickly. You want the color to deepen on the oats, but not necessarily become totally browned. Add the toasted oats to the bacon mixture and stir.
  3. Add two cups of water and the thyme into the oat mixture, stir, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook, stirring, for 5-7  minutes or until the oats have absorbed the water and the butternut squash is tender. If the mixture is drying too quickly, add a splash of water as needed. Stir in 1 1/2 tbsp parsley and ground black pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with remaining parsley sprinkled on top.

*I would not buy maple water for this recipe, since it is a bit spendy. My neighbor taps his trees and brought me a gallon of sap to play with, so I have been trying it in different things. So far I have had a glass of it straight and made coffee with it instead of plain water, in addition to making the oatmeal with a cup. It could be habit-forming…



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