Food Notes: A month to celebrate the goodness of oats

Now is when we think about comfort foods like meatloaf, tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, cups of hot chocolate and oatmeal.

This is National Oatmeal Month, a celebration of the grain with the most soluble fiber that has the added benefit of helping to lower serum cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.

It was the Romans who scoffed at oats, claiming they were fit only for horse food. But the Romans were never able to conquer the oat-eating Scots, who credited oats with the excellence of their fighting men.

Americans grew their own oats in Colonial days; they first became commercially available when the Quaker Oats company starting selling oatmeal in 1877. Those were what we now think of as old-fashioned oats, which were followed by “quick oats” in 1922, and eventually by the instant oatmeal packets that are so popular today.

Unfortunately, all oatmeals are not created equal. The more processing the oats go through, the more nutrients are removed. Steel-cut oats have the most nutrition, followed by old-fashioned, then quick, and finally instant. All of them make you feel satisfied and warm inside.

Oats are not just good as your morning bowl of porridge. They can be used in baking muffins, cookies, cakes and breads, added to meatloaf or burgers as a binder in place of bread crumbs, added to stews and soups for thickening and used to soothe skin that has been burned or exposed to poison ivy.

If you don’t like the texture of oatmeal, try mixing up some oat-based granola (see recipe below).

Eat some pie today

It’s National Pie Day, which is not to be confused with Pi Day on March 14.
Sponsored by the American Pie Council, it’s a day to celebrate that most traditional of American desserts, the pie.

Choose from apple, blueberry, cherry, custard, lemon meringue, coconut, peach, chocolate, vanilla and shoo-fly. If you don’t like dessert pies, there are always chicken, beef, sausage or vegetable pot pies. Make or find one today and enjoy a slice; it’s perfect comfort food for chilly weather.

In the restaurants

If you are in search of a new restaurant for breakfast, Bistro Rouget in Stockton has begun offering it from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday.

Executive chef Brian Held, who also owns Brian’s and Hamilton’s Grill Room in Lambertville, has crafted a menu ranging from corn fritters with raspberry creme fraiche to house-cured lox to omelets, brioche French toast and broiled grapefruit. Make reservations by calling 609-460-4863.

Still life stew

We love to eat stew, but can we convince children to eat it by having them paint a picture?

Morven Museum and Gardens in Princeton will test the theory at 11 a.m. Jan. 31 during Story Time at Morven, when children ages 3 and up will hear the book, “Still-Life Stew,” then paint a picture of a stew. When they go home they will take their picture and a copy of a stew recipe.

The cost is $10. For more information see morven.org/storytime-at-morven/

Soup-A-Thon continues
There is still time to head for Lambertville for the Winter Festival, which continues through Sunday, and sample some soups competing in the Soup-A-Thon.
For a list of competing restaurants and the wide variety of soups they are offering, see winterfestival.net.

Oatmeal Superfood Breakfast Bars

This recipe from ahealthylifeforme.com contains oats, nuts and fruits to help sustain you through the morning.

Base:
2 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup slivered almonds
4 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 bananas
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 scoop vanilla whey protein
Topping:
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/4 cup of coconut-almond milk (or plain coconut or plain almond milk)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

For base: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 9 x 9-inch baking pan with parchment paper, lightly grease with coconut oil.

Add all ingredients to food processor until completely combined and wet; this may take several minutes.

Pour into prepared pan and smooth out with off set (long, narrow) spatula until evenly spread. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

For topping: Combine ingredients in medium bowl and stir to combine.
Removing pan from oven, spread topping evenly over and lightly press down into base. Bake an additional 15 minutes. When cool, cut into squares. Store in refrigerator in a sealed container for up to one week.

Granola

This recipe from Alton Brown at foodnetwork.com is another way to get the nutritional benefits of oats.

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup cashews
3/4 cup shredded sweet coconut
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, coconut, and brown sugar.

3. In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, oil, and salt. Combine both mixtures and pour onto 2 sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color.

4. Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl. Add raisins and mix until evenly distributed.

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