Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal

Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal with Golden Raisins & Honeyed Walnuts

It happens without fail.  Come autumn, I fall hopelessly in love again with apples.  The rest of the year, I could take ‘em or leave ‘em.  And I usually end up leaving ‘em, always passing them up for a more seasonable and perfect tangerine or plum or cherry.  But then cold weather hits, and all over again, I fall head over heals for this crisp, tart, juicy, perfect fall fruit. 

The very best part about apples, I think, is apple picking.  Could there be a more glorious way to usher in autumn, than wandering through groves of gnarly apple trees, on a cold but sunny day, where the sun shines but the wind blows, with the grass between the trees a little too long and a little too dewy, with shining apples beckoning from the branches, and soft, squishy fruits rotting on the ground, and with the sweet smell of cider thick in the air?  I just don’t think so. 

Golden Delicious Apples and Steel-Cut Oats

A trip to the orchard in mid-September is a treasured yearly tradition for Ben and me, one we’re sure never to skip.  The rich nostalgia we unfailingly experience during our yearly apple-picking outings, is only the half of it.  The other half, of  course, is the bushel of apples we return home with.  A whole delicious collection of multi-hued varieties.  Jonagold, Macoun, Idared, Golden Delicious, Cortland, Jonamac… I love sampling them all, fresh out of hand.  And then, once each variety has been taste-tested, I finally get cooking.  Well, cooking and baking!

Golden Deliciousness

And so, don’t be surprised if you happen to find a couple or more apple posts, come these next few weeks.  (I do believe I have an apple butter recipe up my sleeve, in fact, that I hope to share in a little while.)  But I’m getting ahead of myself!  Let’s move on to the matter at hand, this Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal. 

A lonely apple seed

A fall snack

Get ready for deliciousness!  This velvety pot of porridge and all its delectable toppings, makes for one heartily tasty breakfast.  It starts with steaming bowls of tender, creamy steel-cut oatmeal, lightly sweetened with brown sugar and warmed with a hint of cinnamon.  Nestled on top… plump, chewy golden raisins, sticky specks of honey-glazed walnuts, cinnamon-flecked slices of sautéed apples, and glistening swirls of melting brown sugar. 

It might sound a little over the top, and yes, a touch of butter and extra sprinkling of sugar do keep this oatmeal out of the ranks of the purely virtuous porridges.  So I worry this may dissuade some of you from trying it.  But one glance at the recipe below and you’ll see, it’s a far cry from bad-for-you food.  Along with the honest goodness of apples and raisins and walnuts, lies only a mere touch of decadence.  The beautiful, fruit-topped bowls are surprisingly subdued, lightly sweet, not too rich, full of apple goodness and warming spice, the kind of breakfast that makes you feel like you started you day off in the most perfect way.   

Walnuts, brown sugar & apple

Brown Sugar Sweetness

I’m a little worried too, that you may be put off by the extra few steps involved in making this oatmeal.  And I totally get that.  While it’s not a complicated recipe (and it’s relatively quick too – every last step is easily accomplished by the time the oatmeal finishes cooking, in about 20 minutes), it’s also not one I’d venture to whip up every weekday morning, before rushing out the door to work.  I kind of think of this as our weekend oatmeal.  A hearty, immensely satisfying alternative to pancakes or omelets or French toast or waffles.  On cold Saturday mornings, I like to whip up a double batch, and fill two big bowls with its steaming comfort.  I hope you too will whip some up, come your next cold Saturday morning.  As you take your first bite, know that Ben and I will probably be doing the same! 

Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
Makes 2 small (weekday) bowls or 1 big (weekend) bowl
I adore steel-cut oats!  And I guarantee, once you’ve tried them, you’ll be hard-pressed to go back to using regular old rolled oats again.  The tender, chewy bite of steel-cut oatmeal makes all the difference in the world, transforming a mundane , mealy porridge into a lovely bowl of velvety goodness. 
Also, there’s no need to be super strict regarding the apple variety.  I always find that Golden Delicious apples are great for cooking and baking, so I recommend them here. 
Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal with Golden Raisins & Honeyed Walnuts
1 3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons water, divided
1/2 cup steel-cut oats (I like this brand.)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon plus 1 Tablespoon brown sugar, divided, plus more for sprinkling
1/8 teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, divided
1/4 cup raisins (golden or regular)
1/2 Tablespoon plus 1 Tablespoon butter, divided
1/3 cup walnut pieces, sifted to remove any dusty particles
1 Tablespoon honey
1 large Golden Delicious apple, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1/4-inch thick)
First, begin cooking the oatmeal:
In a small sauce pot, bring 1 3/4 cup water to a boil over medium-high heat.  Add the salt and oats and give it a stir.  When the mixture begins to simmer, cover with a lid, and turn down the heat to maintain the barest of simmers.  Simmer gently  for about 2o minutes, stirring every few minutes, until the oatmeal is creamy and tender.  Add 1 Tablespoon brown sugar and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon and stir to combine.
As the oatmeal simmers, you can prepare the topping
In a small bowl, cover the raisins with a generous amount of very hot water and set aside. 
Heat 1/2 Tablespoon butter in a small sauté pan over medium-low heat.  When the butter is melted and frothy, add the walnut pieces and stir to coat with butter.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the walnuts begin to turn golden-brown and give off a toasty aroma, about 4 to 5 minutes.  Add the honey, and continue to cook for about 1 minute more. Then transfer the honey-coated walnuts to a small plate and set aside. 
Wipe out the sauté pan if needed, then add the remaining 1 Tablespoon butter.  Over medium-low heat again, melt the butter.  When frothy, add the sliced apples and cook, stirring once or twice, until tender and golden brown around the edges, about five minutes.  Drain the raisins in a colander, then add to the apples, along with the remaining 2 Tablespoons water, 1 Tablespoon brown sugar and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon.  Cook for about 1 minute longer, stirring frequently, until the water is evaporated. 
Sliced apples, just into the pan
Sauteed apples with raisins, brown sugar & cinnamon
Pour the cooked oatmeal into two bowls.  Top each bowl with a half of the honeyed walnuts and half of the apple-raisin mixture.  Sprinkle with a little extra brown sugar too, if you’re so inclined!

Apples, all lined up

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