DIY Instant Oatmeal

Both my little guys love oatmeal for breakfast, and for that matter so do their parents. There’s something about eating a warm meal to start your day that just can’t be beat. And it’s nice to know that you’re feeding your children something that will stick with them… at least until snack time. I do love the convenience of those little oatmeal packets — especially on days when I am called upon to make breakfast while still half asleep — but I don’t love all the sugar and what-cha-ma-call-it contained inside. Take a look at the ingredients sometime, you might be pretty surprised.

It turns out that making your own super yummy, customized, much better than the store bought stuff, instant oatmeal at home is a pretty darn easy. I’ll call this one “an hour and you’re done”- type activity which makes it perfect for an afterschool project or a weekend quickie. It would also be a great one to do as a foodie playdate with a few buddies. Even though ziplock bags or old yogurt containers will do just fine for storing your awesome artisan oats, we highly recommend going the extra mile and making your own groovy DIY packets from recycled lunch bags — that is if you don’t find a few zips on a sewing machine off-putting. We loved the oatmeal we made, but in the end I think we loved our handmade packets even more.

Gather your ingredients:

  • Oats — plan on 1 cup of oats per ~8 packets . Quick oats will be most like the instant oatmeal you know and love, but you can use rolled oats too. We found we needed to give rolled oats a little zap in the microwave after adding hot water to really soften them up to our liking.
  • Dry nonfat milk powder
  • Other no-cook or quick cooking whole grains and seeds (optional): puffed rice or wheat, whole wheat couscous, bulgur wheat, amaranth seeds, flax seeds, etc.
  • Dried or dehydrated fruit, chopped nuts, shredded coconut, etc. Scissors work great for snipping larger pieces of dried fruit into small slivers.
  • Spices and Sugar (we like a sugar with some flavor like turbinado or vanilla sugar made by storing a vanilla bean in  small jar of sugar)

If you are making your own packets:

Grab some old lunch bags and for each packet, cut a rectangle 10″ x 7″. Fold the rectangle in half so you have a 5″ x 7″ rectangle doubled over. [We used a 4″ x 6″-sized packet which worked for the amount of oatmeal described here, but it was a little tight.]  Sew a straight stitch along 2 of the open sides, leaving one side open so you cal fill your packet (this took me less than a minute per packet). Decorate your packet and then fill it up. To close up your filled packet, push the oatmeal away from the open side and hold it there while you make a quick seam along the open end (sounds harder than it is). You’ll be able to tear into the un-sewn side when it’s oatmeal time.

Mix up the oatmeal base for each packet:

After some tinkering, we decided that we like this base for for our oatmeal packets. This is just the right size for a kid-sized portion:  1 TBL whole oats, 1 TBL oat powder, 1/2 TBL dry milk powder, 1 TBL whole grain of your choice (we used a combination of bulgur wheat and puffed wheat). To make oat powder, just pulverize whole oats in your blender or food processor.  If you like more texture, just increase the ratio of whole oats to oat powder. Definitely mix one up and doing a taste test before assembling the rest of your packets.

To each packet add your favorite extras. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Tropical Fig: slivers of dried fig, toasted coconut, toasted sliced almonds, turbinado sugar, a pinch of ground ginger (pictured below, topped with cara cara oranges and a splash of milk)
  • Apricots, Apricots: tiny slivers and bigg-ish chunks of dried apricot, vanilla sugar
  • Strawberries n’ Cream: dehydrated strawberries, brown sugar, and a little extra dry milk powder
  • I Love Apples: tiny pieces of dried apple, cinnamon, teensy pinch of allspice, brown sugar (mix in apple sauce and a dash of apple cider syrup after adding hot water)
  • “Hi Mom/Hi Luca”: dehydrated strawberries, dehydrated blueberries, vanilla sugar, chopped up dried cherries (and a tiny pinch of coconut thrown in while Luca wasn’t looking)

Hungry for more? You might also like these other breakfast favorites: Granola-yogurt Fruit Towers, Snack Attack (or Anytime) Granola, Orange Vanilla Creamsicle Smoothie, Becky’s Carrot Zucchini Pineapple Muffins

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Cozy Up with Apple Cider Syrup

Apple Cider Syrup by A Little Yumminess

Here’s an easy little cooking project to start the new year that will sweeten up your pantry: old-fashioned apple cider syrup. It’ got all the cozy, sweet-tangy flavor of apples wrapped up in a gorgeously glossy, caramel-colored, drizzle-y package.

We love apple cider syrup as an alternative to the usual sweeteners because it satisfies our sugary cravings while packing in a lot of rich flavor. We’ve been loving this as an accompaniment to oatmeal and on our pancakes (mixed with maple syrup or on it’s own). It’s delicious swirled into yogurt or as a sugar substitute in our favorite muffin recipes. We’ve used it to sweeten our granola and have even called it into service in a sweet- sour reduction (alongside dijon mustard and apple cider vinegar) for pork chops. As I write this I’m imagining an apple-cider-salted-caramel dipping sauce for apples or pears, and apple cider syrup dappled on one of Anya’s Farmhouse Cheddar Muffins or brushed over the top of a tarte tatin. This would be a great foil for a sharp, salty cheese on a cheese plate on tucked into a grilled cheese sandwich. I’m officially drooling now!

Apple Cider Syrup

This one is so easy, I don’t think it even qualifies as a recipe. Buy a jug of apple cider. Bring the cider to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer it slowly until you have a thick syrup. It will take anywhere from one to two hours. You don’t have to hover over it, but do give it stir every 20 minutes or so to avoid any scorching on the bottom of the pan.

That’s all there is to it. Starting with 8 cups of cider you will end up with about one to two cups of syrup depending if you want something the consistency of honey, or more like jam. It will keep in your refrigerator in a well sealed container for at least a month.

You might also like:

Snack Attack: Orange Vanilla Creamsicle Smoothie

A yummy one for breakfast, snack time or dessert. It’s always a good time for a smoothie at Casa Stacie. This happens to one of our current faves and we almost always have the ingredients on hand. I keep some frozen OJ concentrate in our freezer for this express purpose.

We are always looking to tread new smoothie territory. What are your favorite combos?

  • 1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup vanilla yogurt (if using plain yogurt, you may want to add a dash of honey, sugar or agave nectar)
  • 1/2 tsp teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Ice Cubes

You might also like these snacky favorites: Luca’s Favorite Pink Milk, Banana-Avocado Bread, Smørrebrød, Just Banana Ice Cream, Charred Green Garbonzos

Leslie’s Favorite Pumpkin Muffins

My friend Leslie is a rock star of healthful eating among many, many other things — a parent who has a true passion for eating well both in the flavor and nutritional sense. Whenever we stop by her house (even spur of the moment), there’s bound to be something homemade and yummy at hand. With the goal of making an even bigger impact, she recently got involved in her son’s school cafeteria program with the goal of getting healthier (but still kid-friendly) choices on the menu. Way to go Leslie!!!

Since I was a little girl and old enough to stand on a chair in the kitchen without falling, I have enjoyed baking with my Grandmother, Mother and Sister. Now that I am a Mom I found myself back in the kitchen this time with one or both of my boys standing on a chair next to me baking muffins and other delicious and healthy eats. I started making muffins for my first son.  I found it so easy to make muffins in a mini muffin pan and wrap for storage in the freezer.  It was very handy to reach into the freezer grab a muffin or two and toss them in my bag. By the time my son was ready for a snack the muffin had thawed!  I laugh now as those 24 mini muffins last maybe 3 days with two boys in the house!   I cannot remember the last time they actually made it into the freezer! One of my most popular muffins is made from pumpkin. These are a hit at school when I am in charge of bringing snacks!

I adapted this recipe from a Junior League Cookbook for Butterscotch Pumpkin muffins. I think what makes them so good is the combination of ginger, cinnamon, cloves and mace.  As you read the recipe you will see the Butterscotch, refined sugar and majority of flour is either removed or improved. Muffins pair nicely for breakfast with a delicious smoothie!

PUMPKIN MUFFINS

  • 1 ¾  Cup  Flour.  Use half whole wheat and half white flour or all whole wheat.  Use what your tastes like or are used to.
  • ½   Cup Maple Syrup  (Grade B ) (Increase by 1/8 cup if you prefer a sweeter muffin)
  • ½ Teaspoon Ginger
  • ½ Teaspoon Mace
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • 1 Teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ Teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1 Cup pumpkin (I have used canned and puree from a sugar pumpkin, both were great)
  • ½ Cup butter, melted.  [Variation to omit butter:  ½ cup milk, 2 tablespoons canola oil, 1/3 cup ricotta cheese.]

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  1. In a large bowl, mix flour, ginger, mace, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Create a well in the middle of the mixture.
  2. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, pumpkin and butter (or other), and maple.  Pour into well of dry ingredients.
  3. Fold together just until dry ingredients are moistened.  Do not over mix (tough one if you have helpers…)
  4. Spoon batter evenly into mini muffin tins (or regular).  Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean.  Place on a rack to cool.

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As I was making Leslie’s recipe, I took a minute to take a look at the nutritional facts on my can of pureed pumpkin. Pumpkin is very high in Vitamin A (a good source of the anti-oxidant beta carotene) and rich in fiber in case you needed another incentive to run out and make this recipe.

These muffins don’t last long around my house!

“Think Pink”! Luca’s Favorite Raspberry Milk

We’re smitten with “pink milk” at the moment. Our version is nothing more than 1 cup milk blended with 1/2 cup frozen (or fresh) raspberries, and a dash of honey. We love its cheerful color especially on gloomier mornings and its not too sweet taste. Luca likes to help measure the ingredients and I like the fact that I can pull it together even when I’m half asleep come breakfast time. The true measure of its appeal, however, is that Luca asked to bring it to his snack day at preschool. Pink milk, you are IN!

So in the words of one of my favorite movie musical numbers of all time (from 1957’s Funny Face):  “Banish the black, burn the blue, and bury the beige! From now on…. Think Pink!”

Snack Attack (or Anytime) Granola

The three members of my family fall into different camps when it comes food —  sauciness, spiciness, saltiness — but a real point of solidarity in our family eating is our shared love for granola, especially with greek yogurt, fresh fruit and a good drizzle of honey. Needless to say, granola gets made and eaten often around here.

There’s not much prep time difference whether you make a little or a lot, so granola is a great recipe to scale up. It keeps well in the freezer, so make some to eat right away and stash some so you’ll always have something tasty and nutritious at the ready. We’ve happily eaten granola for dinner when we just couldn’t get it together to make anything else.

Since all that’s required is a little measuring and mixing and throwing it all on a baking sheet, it’s a great cooking project to do with kids. It makes for a fun playdate, too. Divvy up the ingredient list and invite some of friends around to make a mega batch that everyone can share. After putting together the granola base you can have some fun mixing in all sorts of goodies. You can also make loose granola or bars. The variations are endless.

Basic Granola Mix

1. Combine dry ingredients – 5 cups total assorted oats, seeds, nuts, grains (some ideas below). For a classic granola, we prefer at least half of the mixture to be oats.

2. Combine wet ingredients in a sauce pan over the stove, until sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture is syrupy.

  • 3/4 cup apple sauce
  • 2 TBL butter or vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup brown rice syrup (or corn syrup)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Spices (a basic mix would be: 2 tsp cinnamon, 2 tsp ground ginger)

3. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together, making sure dry ingredients are well coated.

4. Spread into a thin layer (no more than about 1/2″) on cookie sheets. I line my cookie sheets with silicon baking mats which makes the clean up super easy. Alternatively you can spray your cookie sheets with a little cooking spray just to make sure nothing sticks. Bake at 375 degrees until the mix starts to turn golden (about 30 minutes), tossing with a wooden spoon and turning your pan once or twice to ensure even baking.

5. When the granola is approaching your desired golden-ness, turn the heat down to 200 degrees and continue drying out the granola so that it will be nice and crispy without too much more browning. I usually give it another 20-25 minutes, checking and tossing every 10 minutes or so. Granola will crisp as it cools, so at this point you’re just gauging moistness. You want it to be reasonably dry to the touch. Luckily if you take it out too early and you find it’s not as crisp as you like, you can always throw it back into a low oven to continue to dry and crisp.

6. When your granola is golden and crisp to your liking add your final mix-ins including chopped dried fruit, coconut or chocolate chips. When cool, store in an air tight container or freeze granola you wont be eating right away.

Mix-Ins, a few of our favorites:

  • Nuts: Sliced Almonds; Chopped Pistachios, Hazelnuts, Pecans or Walnuts
  • Dried Fruit: Raisins, Cranberries, Blueberries, Dates, Flaked Coconut, Apricots, Mangoes, Apples, Cherries, Banana Chips
  • Seeds/Grains: Oats, Sesame Seeds, Golden Flax Seed, Sunflower Seeds, Amaranth, Wheat Germ, Oat Bran
  • Spices: Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Ginger
  • Other stuff:  chocolate chips!

Notes:

  • Mix in chocolate chips, flaked coconut and dried fruit after baking. [If you like toasted coconut like me, I think it’s easier to control the brown-ness by toasting it separately in a pan vs baking it along with the base.]
  • If you want to keep the base nut free, toast the nuts separately over the stove and mix in after baking.

Granola Bar Variation

With our new lunchbox routine we decided to try a more portable granola. To make bars, reduce the dry ingredients by about a cup, so that the wet ingredients coat everything a bit more.

  1. Toast the dry ingredients (350 for 30 minutes or until lightly golden) before mixing with the wet ingredients.
  2. Combine wet ingredients in a pan over the stove until the sugar is dissolved and mixture is syrupy.
  3. Combine the pre-toasted dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. Add mix-ins including dried fruit, coconut or chocolate chips.
  4. Spread on cookie sheet and press lightly to compact the granola mixture. Make sure you have a nice even layer. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.
  5. Turn down the oven to 200 degrees and let crisp for another 25-30 minutes. When cool cut into bars. If bars aren’t crisp when you start cutting them, you can return them to a low oven for a another 10-15 minutes.