Oats are just about the healthiest thing you can put on your breakfast table, but sometimes they come packaged up with other ingredients that aren't nearly as good for you. Instant oats are arguably the worst offender. They do make it pretty convenient to enjoy oatmeal in the morning, but that single-portion envelope probably contains a ton of sugar, flavorings and preservatives along with the oats. It's usually a better option to make your own from scratch, and Quaker's quick one-minute oats are almost as fast and convenient as the instant kind.
Cook Them on the Stovetop
Cooking your oats on the stovetop is the most traditional method, and it's pretty easy. For each portion of oats, you'll need a cup of water, milk or some combination of the two. Nondairy milk alternatives work fine too. Measure your liquid into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil on the stove while you get your coffee ready and check your inboxes. Once it's at a boil, add a half cup of oats per person and a pinch of salt. Cook the oats for one minute, stirring them a couple of times – continuously, if you're using milk, because it's prone to scorching – and then divide it into your serving bowls.
Cook Them in a Kettle
If you've ever lived in a dorm room, you might still have one of those small electric kettles or cooking pots that could be used for anything from making coffee to boiling soup or instant mac and cheese. These work really well for quick oats, and it means you won't have to heat up your stove in the morning. Just measure your water or milk into the kettle, plug it in and stir in the oats once it comes to a boil. One minute later unplug the kettle, scoop the cooked oats into your bowl and run a bit of cold water into the kettle to rinse it.
Cook Them in the Microwave
If you're making breakfast for one, the easiest option of all might be to cook your quick oats in the microwave. When you count the time it takes for a pot to boil, this is the quickest way to make your oats. Better yet, you won't have any pots to pay attention to or to wash later. Pick out a microwave-safe bowl and measure your oats and water or milk into it. Microwave the bowl on high for up to two minutes, depending on how powerful your microwave is, until the oats are thick and starting to make "volcano bloops." Take the bowl out of the microwave – carefully, it's really hot – and give the oats a stir to even out the heat. If you like your oats cooked with milk, this is the best way to do it, because the milk won't have a chance to scorch.
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Cook Quick Steel-Cut Oats
If you prefer the chewier texture of steel-cut oats to the usual flaky kind, Quaker makes a quick version of these too. To make them on the stovetop, use 1/3 cup of oats to a cup of water and boil for five minutes. In the microwave, you'll still use 1/3 cup of oats, but cut the water down to 3/4 cup. Set your microwave for 50 percent power and cook the oats for up to three minutes. Let them cool for a couple of minutes before you eat them, because when they first come from the microwave, they'll be hot enough to scald your mouth pretty badly.
Bring On the Add-Ins
If you're trying to wean yourself or someone else from instant oats, quick oats will seem pretty plain-Jane by comparison. That's where add-ins come in. You can add a lot of things to oatmeal – really, really a lot – for flavor or added nutrition or both. Fresh or dried fruit, cooked in or sliced on top as a garnish, is always good. So are berries in the summer or warm spices in the fall. Stir in a spoonful of your favorite nut butter to add protein and make the oats more filling. A sprinkle of chia seeds, flax seeds or hemp hearts adds nutrition and crunch, and so do almonds, chopped peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and toasted walnuts or pecans. Add what you like; it's all good.
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.