Friday, January 16, 2009
OAT TO SELF: Use Your Grain
Mares and Does might have appreciated oats as a viable food source long before the rest of us, but it wasn't until recently that I added them to my own diet.
It wasn't for lack of trying that my own mother couldn't get me to eat oatmeal as a child, and she finally laid the matter to rest (dumbfounded) when I failed to appreciate that childhood favorite, the oatmeal cookie.
What's not to like about oats?
It's a question I've heard many times but haven't been able to answer until recently. As an adult, I recognize the importance of whole grains as part of a balanced diet, and more specifically for the health benefits associated with regular consumption of oats. After trying several varieties, it was a pot of perfectly cooked, steel-cut oats that finally convinced me my issue is more with texture than it is with flavor.
I put oats on the back burner for a while and concentrated my efforts on using more whole grain flours in my baked goods.
That is, until now.
Like many, in an attempt to make resolutions for 2009 that would encourage me rather than discourage me, I set out to make small changes to my diet and lifestyle--changes that would require little effort, yet allow for significant improvement.
And so, once again oats were back on the table.
As with any task, I needed proper motivation. Who better to
turn to for a nutritional pep-talk than my favorite power-food
author, Jonny Bowden?
I dug out my well-worn copy of his book The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth and turned to the chapter on Grains. Much of the information I read was familiar to me, like the fact that oats are heart-healthy and can help lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides. What I hadn't realized however, is that oats have the highest protein content of any cereal (in addition to its 5g of fiber content). Where carbs are concerned, oats pack a very low glycemic load.
For a carb-lover like me, that's a win-win.
It's no wonder why Jonny Bowden calls oatmeal the
"Muhammad Ali of foods."
But what's a carb-loving, oatmeal-hating woman to do?
The same thing she always does; take a not-so-favorite, healthy ingredient and hide it in a cookie.
The hiding part however, proved to be more complicated than expected. After much ado, I discovered that my plan to use ground oats as the sole replacement for flour wasn't fool proof. The first few batches served as lessons in what not to do. While I love a loaded cookie as much as the next gal, the addition of fruit and nuts did little to mask the texture of a mostly-oat cookie. My first batch was grainy but had good flavor. By substituting some of the oats with only whole grain flour, I arrived at a slightly smoother cookie whose flavor (unfortunately) seemed a cry for regularity.
In the end perseverance paid off and I finally arrived at a deliciously healthy cookie whose nutritional value far exceeded my expectations. My basic recipe below includes a combination of oats, ground oat flour, whole grain flour, AP flour and ground nuts which, when combined properly, allow for a moist, chewy cookie.
So encouraged by my success, I decided to take a chance and add ground oats to recipes which seemed to offer good "hiding places" for this prize-fighting grain.
To date, I have added ground oats to the likes of meatballs, meatloaf, quick breads, and even pizza dough with excellent results. I also discovered that with patience and a few additional ingredients, homemade granola far exceeds the supermarket variety.
Surprisingly, I enjoy a mostly-oat granola when it is slow-roasted to a perfect crunch.
I suppose Mom was right.
Perhaps I should have paid closer attention to the grazing fauna
of my sing-songy youth.
What do you think Mom and Jonny Bowden might say about the
nutritional benefits of ivy?
Until next time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food
I'm happy to share with you my basic recipe for a great, healthy cookie.
You can use any variety of dried fruit and nuts you choose. I prefer to use almonds or walnuts with dried blueberries or cranberries for their nutritional benefits, but make this one your own to satisfy your taste buds.
To make oat flour or nut flour, simply grind the nuts and oats separately in a food processor until it resembles fine meal.
This recipe yields about 40 cookies (depending on the size of your cookie scoop).
Store cookies in an airtight container for up to three days or freeze (completely cooled) cookies in a double layer of zipper freezer bags.
3/4 Cup whole oats (not quick cooking oats) separated
3/4 Cup finely ground nuts
1 Cup white whole wheat flour (or regular whole wheat flour)
1 Cup all purpose, unbleached flour
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 Cup (1 stick) unsalted butter softened
1/2 Cup Canola oil
1/2 Cup light brown sugar
1/4 Cup granulated sugar
2 Large eggs
1 tsp. Pure vanilla extract
1 Cup dried fruit (larger fruit pieces chopped in small dice)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line baking sheets with parchment paper
Grind 1/2 cup oats in food processor until it resembles a coarse flour, combine with remaining 1/4 cup of whole oats (alternatively, for a smoother cookie, grind entire 3/4 cup oats). Place oats in large mixing bowl. Grind nuts in food processor until mixture resembles coarse meal (do not grind to wet, buttery stage). Add nuts to oats in bowl. Add flours, baking soda and salt to bowl. In another bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Add oil, sugars, eggs and vanilla. Beat until smooth and creamy. Add butter mixture to flour mixture and blend until combined. Add dried fruit and fold in by hand until well incorporated. Drop dough by spoonful onto parchment lined sheets, spacing at least one inch apart (I use a small cookie scoop and then I depress cookies slightly with the bottom end of a drinking glass which yields a flatter, more uniform cookie). Bake cookies for 12 to 14 minutes on top-middle rack in oven. Watch carefully so bottoms don't burn. If necessary, move rack to top position if bottoms darken quickly. Remove cookies when edges are slightly golden and centers appear set. For chewy cookies, allow cookies to cool completely on baking sheet set on wire rack. If you prefer a crisper cookie, remove cookies from baking sheet after five minutes and allow to cool completely on wire rack.
**An added note:
Do yourself a favor and get your hands on a copy of Jonny Bowden's book
The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth
It might be the best thing you do for yourself in 2009.
You'll learn the straight facts about what you should eat and why.
It remains my go-to food bible, and a constant source of inspiration when I'm stuck in that familiar rut of eating the same things over and over again.