Last summer a friend I will call Nancy of Busy Acres introduced me to real oatmeal, meaning: made with steel-cut oats.
Unlike rolled oats, which are flat and cook up fairly quickly, steel-cut oats look like chopped grain and take a good 40 minutes to cook on the stove. (They’re also pricey if you purchase the fancy white tins at an upscale store. However, I found them at a natural foods co-op for $1.99 a pound, same as organic rice.)
The trouble is, I don’t have 40 minutes to spend hovering over the stove in the morning; I want that time to write Morning Pages. I’ve heard that one of my grandmothers used to put a pot of oatmeal over the pilot light on a gas stove at night, and it would be ready in the morning. Alas, we don’t have a gas stove, and even if we did, always-on pilot lights are a thing of the past.
But what I do have is a slow cooker, and after extensive online research, I’ve come up with a method for cooking steel-cut oatmeal overnight in my old Crockpot. In the interests of better-nourished writers everywhere, here’s the procedure that works for me.
This recipe calls for 2 cups of steel-cut oats, a slow-cooker of at least 3 quart capacity, water and/or apple juice, one of those timers you plug lamps in to fool potential burglars, and a box of slow-cooker liners. [Yes, the liners are plastic. I’m willing to be light-green on this, because I don’t have room in the kitchen to soak a slow-cooker insert for days to get rid of baked-on oatmeal crust if I happen to oversleep. Most of the larger grocery stores carry slow-cooker liners on shelves near the oven bags.]
1. Line the slow cooker.
2. Add 2 cups steel-cut oats and 9 cups of liquid. I use 7 cups of water and 2 cups of apple juice, but plain water is fine. So is substituting milk for some of the liquid.
3. Set the slow cooker to Low. Plug it into the timer.
4. Set the timer to the time of day it is right NOW. Double-check to make sure you have the AM/PM setting correct. This is the voice of experience speaking; I goofed up on this just last week.
5. Set the ON time for 6 hours before you want the oatmeal to be ready to eat. For me, that’s ON at 1:30 AM, OFF at 7:20 AM. Double-check this, too. And do NOT give in to the temptation to take a short cut and cook it on High. Unless you stir it every 15 minutes or so, it will scorch on High, or at least get very, very brown and hard on the sides.
6. Plug the timer into the wall.
7. Put the lid on the slow cooker.
8. Rinse and drain 1 to 2 cups of raisins but do not add them until the morning!
9. When you get up in the morning, or if you get up in the middle of the night, stir the oatmeal first thing. Sometimes the part closest to the heating element will crust if the liquid’s on the light side. The crust doesn’t taste burned, just deep, but kids might not like it.
10. In the morning, stir in the raisins. Serve with brown sugar and chopped toasted walnuts, pecans, or sunflower seeds. Easily serves 8 to 10.
Options: Add finely chopped, peeled apples at Step 2. Or, instead of raisins, add chopped dried apricots, mangoes, and cashews for a tropical variation I learned from Resident Alien.
For storing the left-overs, either put the covered slow-cooker insert in the refrigerator as is, or decant (after it cools, which takes several hours) into quart containers. Oatmeal solidifies as it cools, so before serving you might want to stir in milk, water, or juice to a consistency you like before microwaving in individual bowls.
Let me know how it works for you!