Irish Oatmeal – and how it can help develop your palate

When we were grocery shopping this week, my 6-year-old asked to get oatmeal. I don’t usually make oatmeal, so I thought this was curious. I like having oats in the house for baking, but I’ve never been a huge fan of oatmeal. I’ve recently realized it’s due to the mushy texture – with everything I eat, I need texture: something crunchy, something to chew on. Plus, I questioned the real nutritious value of microwavable oatmeal packets, and I had never made homemade oatmeal.

But my little girl wanted it, so I figured we could try it again.
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Now, I am pretty happy with A’s palate so far. She is able to pretty accurately describe what she’s eating using good descriptive words. She always asks about what’s on her plate or in her bowl. I tell her, because instead of hiding from her that she’s eating vegetables, I want her to appreciate and enjoy all parts of her food; when she inevitably likes it, I have now opened a door to using that ingredient in other ways and reminding her that she likes it. The worst case scenario is that she’s able to vocalize when there’s something she doesn’t like.

So the first time I made her oatmeal, before school this week, I made it according to package instructions, and tasted it plain. (Yep. Still don’t like plain oatmeal. Does anyone, I wondered?) I knew I could add butter and brown sugar, but I was trying to think a little healthier, so instead I added honey and a few dashes of cinnamon/sugar. Then I got thinking about my texture issue and added a very little bit of chopped pecans I had purchased to put in chicken salad. Then she said she wanted cut up strawberries on top, so we did that as well.

Well, here’s proof of her sensitivity. I had mixed the pecans in and didn’t tell her. She quickly noticed there was some kind of nut in there, and let me know she didn’t like it. But she did seem to like the oatmeal otherwise, and even asked for seconds.

She asked for oatmeal again today, and asked to help make it. I gladly agreed, thinking, here’s an opportunity to develop her palate a bit more. (You can probably try this with your kids using a different food, but oatmeal is pretty kid friendly, and pretty easy to make small adjustments and notice differences in the taste.)

When I first started cooking, I remember feeling overwhelmed at the idea of not following a recipe EXACTLY. Watching cooking shows, seeing people taste a dish and say, “It needs more ____.” How should I know what else it needs?! I was still learning what the most basic spices and ingredients tasted like, and how best to combine them, and didn’t yet trust my palate to determine what was missing from a dish. I want to prevent my kids from having the same issue. Oatmeal is one of those things that you can modify to your liking really easily, so I figured it was a good place to start.

I measured the water, put it on the stove in a small saucepan, and explained this:
“Any time you are boiling water, adding salt helps it boil faster, and brings out the natural flavors of whatever you’re cooking.”
Once we reached a boil, we added the oatmeal and put the timer on, stirring almost constantly. We removed it from the heat, covered it, and let it sit for 3 minutes. Then I removed the lid, stirred, and let her taste it plain.
“I want you to taste it how it is and tell me what you think we should add.”
She tasted it, made a face, and said, “I want to add cinnamon.”
So we added some cinnamon. She tasted again. “I think we need more cinnamon.” (I think she was right.)
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More cinnamon, another taste, and even while making a face, she said “I think that’s good,” and held out her bowl. Because of the face she made, I asked, “Do you want to add some honey to sweeten it?” and she agreed: “Last time I had it there was honey in it and it was really good!”
So we added honey and she was happy with it. She did say, “I don’t want any pecans. I don’t like the nuts and how they stick to my teeth.”

Well maybe she didn’t, but I did. I made myself a bowl and topped it with the pecans and then – chocolate chips. Not just to add some texture, but to add that smooth mouth-feel that happens when chocolate melts. And, because, let’s face it, I’m still a chocoholic at heart! ❤
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*Adding chopped bananas or strawberries, raspberries or blueberries will lend more nutrition and flavor.
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Click here to read more about how to develop your kids palate, and rid yourself of picky eaters!

Whole Wheat Apple & Oat Muffins

With all that’s been going on over here, I needed a baking session to keep everyone’s spirits up – and just to have an easy, healthy snack on hand. These apple muffins are my go-to because they are so easy, quick, and healthy. I often bring them to church when it’s my turn to bake, doing a mini muffin for easy eating. The only problem with them is that they get eaten too fast! Everyone loves these – my kids, my husband, everyone at church, anyone who tries them really. They’re moist and flavorful and great warm AND after they’ve cooled. We eat them for breakfast, with lunch or as a snack. I’ve refined this recipe and use a few different options depending how I’m feeling and what OHI I have.

Are you convinced yet?  😉 Let’s bake.

Here’s what you’ll need:
1/2 C softened butter or margarine
2/3 C sugar OR 1/3 each of honey and sugar
2 extra large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 C whole wheat flour*
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1tsp milk
1 cup applesauce
OPTIONAL:
*one chopped apple (Granny Smith is best, but you can always use your OHI)
*1 c oats
*you can substitute all purpose flour if you prefer, or even do half AP and half wheat flour.
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Start by preheating your oven to 350° and preparing your muffin tins. When I make regular size muffins, I use paper wrappers; when I make minis I just go paperless.

Cream together your butter (or margarine) and sugar (or honey). Most times, in baking, the creaming process has a lot to do with the final product. That’s why it’s important to start with softened butter.

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If using sugar and honey, add sugar first

Here is what a good cream should look like (fluffy and light and combined):
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When complete add vanilla, then eggs, one at a time.
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Scrape the sides of the bowl if necessary, using a rubber spatula. I even scrape the bottom of my bowl to be sure all the butter is not stuck on the bottom. Now add all your spices and baking soda & powder.

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Measure, then sprinkle gradually around sides of bowl for better mixing

Be sure to fully combine before moving on, and scrape side of bowl if needed.

Next you’ll alternate the flour and applesauce.
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Add 1/2 cup flour until fully incorporated, followed by 1/2 cup applesauce.
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Then 1/2 cup flour, the rest of the applesauce, and the rest of the flour. Last add milk a teaspoon at a time if the batter looks too thick. (The more you make this, the more you’ll understand what the final product should be. I think because I used honey this time, it was more dense and needed a little loosening up.)

Lastly add your oats, if desired. Put your mixer on high to break up the oats, otherwise the muffins will be dry. (Add a little milk or more applesauce bifv the batter looks too thick.)
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And/or stir in chopped apples if desired. (Don’t use the mixer!)

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I actually like big chunks best. If you have toddlers or you’re making mini-muffins, you can dice the apples.

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Since I was doing regular sized muffins, I left the chunks bigger:
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If you’re making mini muffins you can dice the Apple, or leave it out altogether.
I love the apples here because they add texture, yet still get soft and warm in the oven. So delicious!
When apples are incorporated, scoop mix into muffin tin. I use a ladle to pour.
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I know many people use an ice cream scoop, but I find this harder to maneuver unless you have one with the little button to push the contents out. Even then you need the exact right size. But you can use whatever you have on hand. Maybe all you have is two tablespoons. That’s ok. Just fill them as evenly as possible so they all cook the same.

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I fill them just about to the top

Bake for about 20 minutes (mini-muffins for 15-17). They are finished when the tops look dry and are a little springy to the touch. If you’re not sure you can always use the classic test – stick a toothpick in the middle, and if it comes out clean, they’re done.
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But wait!

If you want a little something extra, you can cook a bit of oats in a pat or two of butter in the microwave (only takes a few seconds -10 TOPS!) Then stir in some cinnamon and/or some sugar in the raw. Then spoon this on top of the muffins BEFORE you bake. I do this because I feel like it’s healthier, easier, and quicker than an official strudel topping (as delicious as those are!) which is what I was going for when I first made these.

This recipe makes at least 14 muffins, though if you use apples you will probably get another 1-2 from it.
Keep in a plastic bag on the counter for up to a week. Be sure not to completely seal the bag so they don’t get too mushy.

Hope your family enjoys our favorite muffins!

From my kitchen to yours: Enjoy !