I'm a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to the oatmeal front. I come from a big family and Mom didn't want to be a short order cook, so we were each allowed only one thing we could refuse to eat. Mine was oatmeal. It made me gag when I was little. Then, one day when I was older high school-aged, I was on an all-family church retreat, and Saturday morning the dining hall had oatmeal for breakfast. It was a very crisp fall morning and I'd been up late the night before with my peeps and just felt very in need of a more substantial breakfast than dry cereal. I decided to brave the oatmeal. And something clicked. Yum.
Much more recently I developed a fascination with the concept of baked oatmeal in my slow-cooker. Wouldn't it be wonderful to wake up on a cold winter morning with a hot bowl of oatmeal all ready and waiting, with no effort on my part? That just sounds the epitomy of cozy. So I hit the Internet. Unfortunately, the recipes I found were all for crowds: 6-10 servings or more. I'm the only oatmeal-phile in the house, so I really wanted to scale that down. The biggest issue with oatmeal in a slow-cooker is proportions. I wanted to have nice, creamy oatmeal waiting for me in the morning, not a dried out lump of gruel or, on the flip side, soup.
So I started playing around. I've eaten more oatmeal in the last two weeks than the last two years, now, I think. I couldn't quite get it down to a single serving; it clocks in at 2-3 servings, but it reheats in the microwave quite well, so you'll get a couple of mornings of tasty breakfast with minimal work.
Sandy's Slow-cooker Baked Oatmeal for One, with Leftovers
Equipment needed: 1.5 quart slow-cooker (see notes)
1/2 cup steel-cut oats
2 1/4 cups cold or lukewarm water
Seasonings (optional, to taste): cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin or apple pie seasoning, brown sugar, maple syrup, etc.
Add-ins (optional): dried cranberries, raisins, diced apples, nuts, etc. Dried fruits and nuts hold up to slow-cooking fine; apples will cook down a bit. Bananas or other soft add-ins would do better added in the morning. Don't add dairy products until morning.
- Coat sides of slow-cooker with butter to keep oatmeal from sticking.
- Combine all ingredients in slow-cooker and stir. Cover and set on low, cook for 6-8 hours.
- When you're ready to eat, give it a good stir to mix the drier edges with the creamier center. (See below for additional tips.)
1. I used a 1.5 quart slow-cooker. If you have a different size, you may need to mess with the proportions of liquid to oats a bit. I don't know that I'd try doing this small amount in significantly larger (3.5-6 qt) slow-cookers--I'd think it would dry out.
2. Steel-cut oats rather than regular rolled oats are highly recommended; they stand up to slow-cooking much better. In fact, I tried steel-cut oats on my stovetop and wasn't a fan, but I love them done in the slow-cooker. There are several brands of steel-cut oats; I use Quaker because they're readily available in my grocery store in the cereal aisle. You can google something like "best steel-cut oats" to find out what other options are popular out there. If you use rolled oats, you're probably going to have to lessen the amount of water. I didn't test those.
3. On seasonings and add-ins, just have fun. I used various combinations of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, dried cranberries, apples, and brown sugar. Use a light hand on seasonings the first time; you can always add more later but you can't take it out. (I found a pinch of each worked well for me.) The one issue with this method is you can't really taste-test it until it's all done. See leftover oatmeal recipes below, however; you may choose not to season the oatmeal until you've scooped it into your bowl, leaving your leftovers unseasoned for another use.
4. I found proportions that made my oatmeal creamy but not soupy; you may like yours a little drier or creamier, so you might want to mess with that some too. If it does seem a little dry when you first scoop it out of the slow-cooker into your bowl, some milk or hot water should moisten it up enough. If it seems a little soupy and you have some extra time, leave the cover off the slow-cooker and turn it up to high for another few minutes--that will help dry it out a little bit. I found myself doing that anyway--it makes a little bit of a soft crust on the oatmeal that was quite nice in my bowl.
5. Buttering the sides of the slow-cooker first really does help quite a bit. It's much easier to clean when it's been buttered first. Plus, it does add just a little bit of flavor. I'm not sure I'd go with a spray here--they can leave a residue that's harder to clean.
6. New to slow-cookers? Here's a link to some helpful FAQs. I have several sizes--smaller ones are great for hot dips or cheese/chocolate fondues at parties!
7. Here are some links to recipes you can make with the leftovers. Note that for these recipes, the oatmeal is cooked plain--no add-ins or seasonings--but you could play with the recipes to accommodate whatever you've made.
If you're looking for a slow-cooker baked oatmeal recipe that will serve a crowd, just google. There's a ton of them out there!