Tote the oats: There's more than one way to treat yourself to this staple of the breakfast table (includes fast-food taste test)
by Lisa Davis
ldavis@annistonstar.com
Aug 24, 2011 | 4286 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When McDonald’s started selling oatmeal, the world got a little healthier.

Now Chick-fil-A has entered the fray, adding oatmeal to its breakfast menu. Instead of quick-cooking oatmeal mixed with water, Chick-fil-A’s Multigrain Oatmeal is slow-cooked in kettles and contains steel-cut oats.

Steel-cut oats — also known as Scotch oats or Irish oats — are whole oats that have been cut into smaller pieces. They retain more fiber than other forms of oatmeal, and cook up with more flavor and more toothsome texture. But they take a while to cook — about 30 minutes of simmering on the stovetop.

Old-fashioned rolled oats are whole oats that have been rolled flat, to shorten the cooking time.

Quick-cooking oats are processed even more. They do cook up very smooth (some people prefer the word “gluey”), but they lose a lot in flavor.

Granted, oatmeal is probably never to going outsell chicken biscuits. But it’s nice to have a healthful fast-food option.

We feel compelled to point out, however, that you can make oatmeal at home much cheaper — faster too, when you consider the time you spend in the drive-through lane.

For about $2 — what you’d spend on a single cup of fast-food oatmeal — you can get a whole carton of old-fashioned rolled oats — enough to make 13 bowls.

Cooked oatmeal will keep three-five days in the fridge; cook up a big batch, then reheat individual portions in the microwave. Here are some more cooking tips from Chowhound.com:

Stovetop: The preferred way to make oatmeal is to cook it slowly on the stovetop. Even so, it only takes about 5 minutes. Use old-fashioned rolled oats rather than quick-cooking oats; they have more flavor and more of oatmeal’s healthy fiber, and they don’t take significantly longer to cook. For creamier oatmeal, cook in milk instead of water. Figure 1/2 cup of dry oats per serving. If you like your oatmeal thick, use equal amounts of liquid and oats. Simmer for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Top with brown sugar, cinnamon, fresh or dried fruit, or frozen blueberries. We like fresh peaches with sliced almonds and a dollop of cream. Or try peanut butter, bananas and chocolate chips.

Microwave: Oatmeal will cook in the microwave in about 2 minutes but it can boil over easily. Use a bowl with steep sides. Cook for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between. Or cook on lower power, which will take several minutes longer.

Crockpot: It takes at least 30 minutes to cook steel-cut oats on the stovetop – or you can cook them in the crockpot, the way Alton Brown does. In a slow-cooker, combine 1 cup steel-cut oats, 2 cups dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, figs, etc.), 4 cups water and 1/2 cup half-and-half. Cover and cook at low heat for 8-9 hours. Start it before bedtime, and your oatmeal will be ready in the morning.

Instant Oatmeal: You can make your own individual packets of instant oatmeal, for busy mornings or for a mid-morning snack at the office. In a zipper-type bag, mix together 1/2 cup quick-cooking oats, 3 tablespoons dried raisins or cranberries, 1 teaspoon nonfat milk powder, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and a pinch of salt. When ready to serve, combine with 1 cup of boiling water in a bowl. Stir vigorously for 1 minute until thickened.

Eat it raw: Nobody says oatmeal has to be cooked. Soak uncooked rolled oats in buttermilk, or stir into yogurt. Let sit for a minute or two, and top with your favorite toppings.

TASTE TEST: FAST-FOOD OATMEAL

We compared oatmeal from three fast-food restaurants.(Full disclosure: We had a chicken biscuit as a palate cleanser between bowls.)

McDONALD’S

Price: $1.99

Calories: 290

Taste: This one came already mixed and sweetened, topped with apples, raisins and dried cranberries. No nuts. The dried fruit had plumped up nicely. But we thought the oatmeal was a bit bland, and too thin.

Bonus points: Of the three, this was the only bowl that fit in a cupholder.

Goldilocks would say: This one is too watery!

STARBUCKS

Price: $2.45

Calories: 140 for oatmeal, up to 410 with toppings.

Taste: Starts with a cup of rolled oats; the barista will add hot water, or you can add it yourself later. Comes with three packets of toppings: brown sugar, dried fruit(cranberries, raisins, blueberries, cherries) and nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans). We liked being able to customize the sweetness and the toppings, and the oatmeal had good flavor. But our barista didn’t add enough water, and our oatmeal was too thick.

Goldilocks would say: This one is too lumpy!

CHICK-FIL-A

Price: $2.49

Calories: 120 for oatmeal, up to 290 with toppings.

Taste: A hearty, flavorful mix of steel-cut oats, rolled oats, flax, buckwheat flour and whole wheat flour. Comes with three packets of toppings: cinnamon brown sugar, dried fruit(cranberries, golden raisins, blueberries, cherries) and nuts (roasted almonds, walnuts, pecans). The cinnamon in the sugar mix was the bomb.

Minus points: Ouch! The plastic bowl was hot!

Goldilocks would say: Not too thin. Not too thick. This one is just right!
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