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Oats: Cooler than you think!

By Anne L. Desjardins

I always hated my dad's oatmeal as kid. For one thing, he overcooked it in water. And he made me eat it, saying it was good for me. That alone is enough to turn any kid off. To me, it looked like wallpaper glue and didn't taste much better! It wasn't until a couple of decades later that my husband convinced me to revisit the breakfast cereal and I realized that, properly prepared, oatmeal could in fact be a great way to start your day. One the tricks is to cook it in milk or soy beverage. Another is to add your favourite goodies such as dry cranberries or cherries, toasted nuts, even chocolate chips or bananas to your oatmeal.

Oats: a real health food
It turns out that oats pack the most soluble fiber of any grain. A crucial component of the soluble fiber in oats is beta-glucan, which helps lower your bad cholesterol. Studies show that a diet that regularly includes oats and oat bran can lower cholesterol by up to 20 % and can also help prevent heart disease. Beta-glucan slows the absorption of glucose into your body, helping to avoid sugar highs and lows. That's great for people who suffer from diabetes or have trouble controlling their blood sugar. Making oats a regular part of your diet can also reduce hypertension or high blood pressure. And studies show it can also help prevent certain cancers like breast cancer.

A Brief History of Oats
Oats have been maligned for years. Oat seeds were found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 2000 B.C., but experts say they were probably only seeds from weeds found in other cereal crops. It wasn't until around 1000 B.C. that the "weed" was domesticated for human consumption. Many people thought oats were only fit for animals. The English apparently looked down on the Scots for eating oatmeal, saying they fed their oats to their horses. The Scots retorted, saying that "while the English raise fine horses, in Scotland, we raise fine people." Still, oats continued to make their way as a staple in diets, no doubt because of their beneficial qualities. It was imported to the early American colonies, and by 1785, George Washington was said to have sown 580 acres of oats on his farm. Since the 1980s, with more and more documented proof of the health virtues of oats, even more people are rediscovering the once-scorned cereal.

Everyday Oats
As with all foods, the more processed the oats, the less nutritious it becomes. Oat groats are the whole oat grain, with only the outer hull removed. Since they are whole grain, they take a long time to cook but they make a great breakfast cereal or, like brown rice, can be cooked as a salad, a casserole or a pilaf.

  • Steel cut oats are the groats which have been cut into two or three pieces with a steel blade. They still contain the whole grain, including the bran and are very nutritious.

  • Rolled oats are groats that have been steamed and flattened under heavy rollers. The Scots perfected whole rolled oats by simply rolling whole groats, without any further processing. As such, they are easier to cook, but still retain many of the original nutrients.

  • Quick cooking or instant oats have been chopped into small flakes and take only three or four minutes to cook. But because they have been processed, they don't provide all the benefits. If you must buy these, at least look for a product that has no sugar or salt added.

Recipes

Groat mushroom pilaf

    Ingredients
  • 6.5 cups chicken broth
  • 2.5 cups whole oat groats
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped cashews
  • Salt and pepper to taste
At home, put groat in chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cover and let sit for 35 minutes. Bring back to boil and simmer, covered, until tender for about 35 minutes. Let cool and put in an airtight container. Groat will keep in refrigerator or cooler for up to 48 hours.

At camp, heat olive oil in a skillet and cook onions and celery over medium heat for 5 minutes. Turn heat up, add mushrooms, thyme and rosemary and cook for about 5 minutes, until golden brown. Add precooked groat and mix well with other ingredients. Add salt, pepper and nuts and heat through.
Serve.


Gourmet oatmeal cookies
Makes about 4 dozen cookies (depending on the size)

    Ingredients
  • 4 cups steel cut oats
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground clove
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 375°F. In a large bowl mix dry ingredients together. In another bowl put eggs, vanilla, sugar, brown sugar and butter and mix with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add applesauce and mix well. Add all dry ingredients at once and fold in. Add dried fruits and pecans and mix well.

Spray cookie sheets with cooking spray. Drop cookie dough by spoonfuls 2 inches apart. Bake 15 to 17 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes on cookie sheets. Transfer onto a rack and let cool completely. Store in an airtight container, making sure each layer of cookies is separated with parchment paper.


Swiss muesli
(Yield: 12 cups)

    Ingredients
  • 6 cups organic rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup organic oat bran
  • 3/4 cup organic wheat germ
  • 1 cup currants
  • 1 cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 2/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and put in an airtight container.

12 hours before serving, put 1/2 cup muesli in an airtight container with 1 cup plain yogurt or 3.5% milk. Let stand in the cooler (or in the fridge) and serve with fresh fruits and maple syrup (optional). You can also pour a little 10% cream on top if you like.


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