It's the first week of my second year of grad school and I have to admit I am not feeling ready. Mostly I'm bummed about four continuous months of only having enough time to do the bare minimum in the kitchen. Quick breakfasts, lunches that will survive several hours in a backpack and late-night dinners that don't involve a lot of fuss — my cooking now sounds like headlines from a women's magazine.
But maybe with kids or a long commute or a demanding job, you're right there with me. If so, you understand the appeal of frozen, single-serve oatmeal. These handy little pucks of cooked oatmeal have all the mix-ins frozen right into them, so they are easy to heat up quickly or grab on your way out the door and warm up at work or school.
A photo on Pinterest inspired me to try freezing oatmeal in muffin tins, which sounds like a DIY version of the frozen discs of oatmeal you can buy at Trader Joe's. Although you might wonder if the world really needs frozen oatmeal, I know that there are mornings when I can't spare the extra five minutes required to measure and cook oats, and add mix-ins like fruit and nuts, as sad as that may be.
For this recipe, I used oatmeal made with old-fashioned rolled oats, but steel-cut oatmeal would work just as well, and would save even more time. Dried cherries, pumpkin seeds and almonds are my personal favorite mix-ins, but any type of dried fruits, nuts and seeds can be pressed into the tops of the oatmeal pucks before freezing. Once frozen, the oatmeal pops out of the muffin tins and can be individually wrapped and frozen for later.
My standard muffin tin cups hold about 1/3 cup each, which is not enough of a breakfast for me; I usually eat two or three pucks at a time, warmed in the microwave and topped with a little milk. It's as fast as a bowl of cold cereal, but a lot more satisfying. And it's comforting to know that a quick breakfast doesn't have to feel like an afterthought.
Frozen Single-Serve Oatmeal with Almonds & Dried Cherries
Makes about twelve 1/3-cup pucks (4 to 6 servings)
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3 1/2 cups water
1/8 teaspoon salt
Honey, brown sugar, agave or other sweetener, to taste (optional)
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/3 cup almonds, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
Lightly grease a standard muffin pan and set aside. (No need to grease if you are using a nonstick pan.)
Combine the oats, water and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook, stirring frequently, until soft and ready to eat, 3 to 5 minutes. Mix in sweetener of choice, if using. Divide the oatmeal evenly into the cups of the muffin pan. Top with the cherries, almonds and pumpkin seeds, pressing lightly to make sure they are embedded in the oatmeal.
Place the muffin pan in the freezer until oatmeal is fully frozen, at least 3 hours. Remove and allow to thaw slightly, until the oatmeal can be popped out of the pan with an offset spatula or a thin butter knife. (You can dip the bottom of the pan in warm water to speed the process.) Wrap the oatmeal in freezer-safe packaging and freeze.
To eat, remove the desired number of pucks and warm in a bowl in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes.
Steel cut oats can be used in place of rolled oats. Adjust the amount of water and cooking time according to package directions.
Any combination of nuts, dried fruit or seeds can be used on top of the oatmeal.