Creamy little dollops of cashew butter make this hearty breakfast feel so indulgent. (Maureen Tisdale)
My mother-in-law is visiting — thank God. I’ve been dreaming of having a day in the house with my 20-month-old near but tended, allowing me to get much-neglected stuff done. (What is IN that pile of papers near my computer?)
Anyway, for months I’ve been tinkering with a slow-cooker oats dish, working to find the right balance of flavors in a hearty make-ahead breakfast with no added sugar or sweeteners — only to find last week, when I made a double batch to share with my mother-in-law and son (who LOVES it and fusses if I get some and he doesn’t), that I had it nailed a while ago. All the tinkering of late — more or less nutmeg? coconut butter for a little more silkiness? — has just led me back to the version I landed on, oh, before Thanksgiving.
That was when I practiced making it in advance to see if it would hold up for the family holiday I told you about where I needed some resources to resist my brother Bill’s fabulous big breakfasts. I found this will hold up a solid week and that — though I think it’s a wonderful winter breakfast (my sister Tiff, when she tried some I made at Thanksgiving, said it’s like “hot banana bread”) — I actually prefer it cold. It has a batter-type creaminess, and the cashew butter and banana give it enough sweetness that I can avoid all added sugars, real or artificial.
Of course, if you don’t mind add-ins like honey, you could take this a bit further and make your own nut butter (see Kate’s fabulous make-it-at-home story, featuring recipes for homemade versions of nut butter and other items more typically just picked up at the supermarket; also on the other end of the sweetness scale, if you missed Kate’s recent unusual spin on slow-cookers — desserts — be sure to go here to catch it).
But for me, the honey violates my no-added-sugar thing (honey and sugar are parallel on my food plan), so I just buy unsweetened cashew or almond butter. Germack has them, and many Value Centers carry that; I’ve also found some brands at Whole Foods and sometimes, Westborn, though the Meijer near my house carries the Once Again Cashew Butter that’s become my go-to.
Meanwhile, my slow-cooker oats were a hit with my son, my mother-in-law, my husband, even my friend Amy during her visit last month I told you about, when she asked me how to make oatmeal “un-gross” (ha). I love to make this harsh-winter breakfast favorite about once a week and then have grab-and-go breakfasts stacked in the fridge — a busy working mom’s best friend. And since the dish manages to come up frequently on social media chats, it’s a relief to be able to have it recorded to link to rather than sheepishly offer, “I’ll have to put that up soon,” one more time.
Now, to tackle that pile of papers ...
What are your harsh winter breakfast favorites or slow-cooker dessert ideas? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below. You need a Facebook account to add comments, but they’re easy to sign up for, and free. Over the next few days, Detroit News Food Editor Maureen Tisdale will respond to comments or questions. You also can follow her on Twitter @reentiz. Join the discussion!
Maureen's Slow-Cooker Oats with Cashew Butter and Banana
I found out last week you can double this recipe and not increase the cooking time, which makes it swell for crowds. With fruit, protein and grains, it’s a one-dish breakfast that is logical to serve warm but, I think (though I stand alone amongst friends and family who’ve tried it) it’s even better cold.
1 ˝ cups unsweetened almond coconut milk, like Almond Breeze
1 ˝ cups whole regular milk
4 ounces steel-cut oats (often marked Irish oatmeal)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
4 large, very ripe (tiptoeing into overripe) bananas (about 2 cups, mashed)
5 ounces unsweetened, unsalted Once Again cashew butter (or the nut butter of your choice), divided
Optional: 2 tbsp coconut butter
Put in the two milks, all the flavorings and mix. Add the steel-cut oats.
Mash up two of the bananas, then add 2.5 ounces of the nut butter. Mix them until fairly homogenous, then scoop large spoonfuls of the mix and drop them dollop by dollop around the cooker. Repeat (possibly going less homogenous on the second go; see the tips).
Top by drizzling coconut butter around, if you’re using. Cover, and cook on high 2 hours and 15 minutes. Turn it down to warm, stir fairly well (a few run-ins with chunks won’t hurt) and serve anytime (it will stay a good consistency for a while, which makes this a great breakfast to feed a come-and-go crowd at a breakfast or brunch).
Some tips from my tinkering
■I wouldn’t go heavier on the nutmeg; it overpowers the dish quickly. Also, my husband and I run low blood pressure and like salt a lot, but it wouldn’t hurt to take it down a notch if you need or prefer; I might try this myself (see I SAY I’m done tinkering...)
■The hazelnut cashew butter was my biggest bomb; there was a weird bitter flavor it brought to the table. Macadamia nut butter — which I had such high hopes for — has such a mild flavor I didn’t even try it, while regular cashew or almond butter work great.
■If you mix the banana and nut butter together, it’s much easier to dollop into the pan (but it’s a little more fun eating to leave some banana chunky and drop in some morsels of cashew butter on their own, allowing you to run into silky or creamy bites that mix up the texture a bit).
■If you use a slow-cooker bag (which I’m hooked on), take the time to scrape down the sides; some of the best concentrated flavors come off there. That’s when my son gets very insistent about helping. Also, spraying the liner with cooking spray helps a lot.
■I recommend, if your slow-cooker is a little old or inexpensive (like mine), folding over some foil and lining the back-half (opposite the controls) of the cooker with that before adding the bag; that will help prevent burn-on in the back, which tends to be hotter than the front.
■I found the coconut butter heightened both the coconut flavor in the milk and the silky decadence of the dish, but I found it such a pain to work with (I have to loosen it by soaking the jar in hot water, then work it hard to mix it together) and the dish good enough without it that once this jar is used up, I think I’ll skip the calories in future batches.
■I wouldn’t recommend freezing this dish; when I did recently, for a week just to test (I had dreams of making bigger batchs and doing it once a month, like I’m working to do with my husband’s breakfast bars), the flavor held steady, but the texture lost its luster. Blech.
Makes 4 servings.
Per serving (with cashew butter and the optional coconut butter): 520 calories; 24 g fat (10 g saturated fat; 42 percent calories from fat); 69 g carbohydrates; 12 mg cholesterol; 848 mg sodium; 16 g protein; 9 g fiber.