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Published: Tuesday, 1/29/2013

While you were sleeping: breakfast!

BY GRETCHEN McKAY
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

I'm a huge fan of breakfast, but I also like to sleep as long as possible. As a result, most weekdays all I have time for, after getting the kids out the door for school and walking the dog, is a quick bowl of cereal instead of the slow-cooked, chewy steel-cut oats I hanker for this time of year. Sure, it's the most important meal of the day, but who's got 40 minutes to make oatmeal?

I'd still be eating those boring bowls of cold cereal if my husband hadn't learned from a co-worker about a better way to make Irish oatmeal -- overnight, in a slow cooker.

Before bed, simply spoon a cup of oats into 4 cups of salted water, cover the crock with a clean dish towel to absorb moisture, then the lid, and set the cooker on low. When you get up in the morning, not only will a steamy bowl of nutritious oatmeal be waiting, but also your kitchen will smell like an Irish bed-and-breakfast.

A search of slow-cooker cookbooks turned up several more recipes that will deliciously kick-start your day. Breakfast need never be cold or boring again.

Irish Oatmeal

1 cup steel-cut oats

½ teaspoon salt

4 cups water

Raisins, chopped bananas or toasted nuts, optional

Maple syrup, honey, brown sugar or raw cane sugar, optional

Milk or cream, optional

Cook's note: If you halve the recipe, as I did, be sure to use a small (1½-2 quart) slow cooker. Our oatmeal ended up having a little bit of a crust on the edges, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Reheat any leftovers the next day with a little water or milk in the microwave.

Lightly grease a small to medium (1½-3½ quart) slow cooker.

In cooker stoneware, combine oats, salt, and water. Stir well. Place a clean tea towel, folded in half (so you will have 2 layers) over top of stoneware to absorb moisture. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or overnight, or on high for 4 hours. Stir well.

Serve with raisins and/or fruits, nuts, maple syrup, sugar, milk, cream or non-dairy alternative, if using.

Yield: 3 cups.

Source: The Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Over 200 Delicious Recipes, by Judith Finlayson

Orange-Flavored Breakfast Barley

3 cups water

½ cup whole (hulled) barley, rinsed and drained

½ cup dried cranberries

1 tablespoon grated orange zest

Pinch salt

¼ cup toasted chopped pecans

Milk or non-dairy alternative, optional

Raw cane sugar, honey or maple syrup, optional

In stone insert, combine water, barley, cranberries, orange zest, and salt. Stir well. Place a clean tea towel, folded in half (so you have 2 layers), over top of stoneware to absorb moisture.

Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or overnight, or on high for 4 hours.

Stir well, so the cereal is creamy, then garnish with pecans. Serve with milk or non-dairy alternative and/or sugar.

Yield: 3 cups.

Source: The Vegetarian Slow Cooker: Over 200 Delicious Recipes, by Judith Finlayson 

Sausage and Egg Casserole

2 teaspoons mustard, optional

14 slices bread

1 pound ground pork sausage

½ onion, chopped

2½ cups grated cheddar or Monterey jack cheese

12 beaten eggs

2¼ cups milk

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Cook's note: I substituted finely chopped andouille sausage for a bit more zing. This recipe reheats quite well, and tastes just as good at lunchtime.

Grease sides of slow cooker (or spray with nonstick spray). If desired, spread mustard on 1 side of bread and cut bread into large squares.

Crumble sausage into a medium skillet. Add chopped onion. Cook over medium heat until evenly brown; drain.

Make layers in the slow cooker of bread, followed by sausage and onion, followed by cheese, ending with a cheese layer.

Beat eggs, milk, salt and pepper together. Pour over mixture, cover and cook on low for 8 to 12 hours.

Yield: 8 servings

Source: cdkitchen.com

Slow-Cooked Banana Bread Pudding

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, divided

2 ripe bananas, finely chopped

¾ cup sugar, divided

7 slices firm bread, white or whole-wheat, cut into 1-inch squares

2 cups milk

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

2 large or extra-large eggs

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Cook's note: You'll need a programmable slow cooker that automatically switches to the “warm” setting to make this dish if you aren't awake to monitor its progress. I made it the night before, then kept it on “warm” all night long. If the thought of warm bananas makes you shudder, substitute diced peaches or apples.

Heat 1 teaspoon butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add bananas and cook until they begin to soften, about one minute. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar and cook until it dissolves. Toss bananas and bread together in a mixing bowl and mound in a 1½-quart soufflé dish; set aside. (I used an oven-safe glass Pyrex bowl.)

Add milk to saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring often, until bubbles form around the edges of pan. Stir ½ cup of remaining sugar into milk and continue stirring until it dissolves. Stir in vanilla and salt, remove from heat, and let rest for five minutes.

Whisk together about 1/3 of the milk mixture and eggs into a bowl. Stir mixture back into remaining milk. Pour over bread and bananas. Cover with plastic wrap, and weigh top down with a saucer or bowl. Set aside for 20 minutes, until bread has soaked up most of milk. Remove saucer and plastic wrap.

Meanwhile, mix nutmeg and cinnamon with remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and sprinkle over top of pudding. Dot with remaining butter and cover loosely with foil. Place inside a 6-quart or larger slow cooker and pour enough boiling water into crock around dish to reach 1 inch up the sides. Cover top of cooker with a folded kitchen towel and top with the lid.

Cook for 2 to 3 hours on high, until a tester inserted in center comes out with just a few specks clinging to it. Remove pudding from cooker and cool for at least 10 minutes or to room temperature.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Source: Art of the Slow Cooker, by Andres Schloss

Block News Alliance is made up of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade. Gretchen McKay is a food writer for the Post-Gazette.


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