Wednesday, March 2, 2011
I don't know about you, but I found this winter to have been a trying one. It feels like it snowed relentlessly, stopping only long enough for the temperatures to dip far below freezing and turn the city into a sheet of ice. Weather like we've seen this winter beckons for comfort food. For cheesy, gooey, hearty things that stick to your ribs and warm you from the inside. But it's also March now, people! I don't know how this came to be, but apparently we're already two full months into 2011. And though the weather's not quite spring-like yet, before we know it, we're going to be expected to don swimsuits and look like we were utterly and completely unaffected by winter.
This meal is perfect for this time of year. There are few things better in the winter (or ever, really) than a warm, creamy bowl of grits. However, grits are pretty much devoid of nutrition, especially the instant kind. Whole-grain cornmeal and polenta are a little better, but they take a lot of time and patience to cook - not exactly the type of thing you can whip up in a few minutes when you're looking for a quick weeknight meal. Enter oat bran: hearty, quick-cooking, yet retaining all of the nutrients that made it a dieter's darling. And no need for it to be sweet, either. Leave the maple syrup for those times you want waffles for dinner (though some may argue those are better topped with ice cream for dinner, or for any meal...some) and make this into the rich, savory and hearty meal we're all craving right about now.
Listen, I know it sounds weird. But hear me out on this one. It's delicious. Oat bran got a bad rap in the 1980's (or so I hear, anyway), when it was touted as THE HEALTHIEST THING EVER. Its popularity among the health nuts faded, and it became something of a joke. But it shouldn't be, because it's incredibly versatile - and while it might not be the healthiest thing ever, its definitely definitely good for you.
This oat bran is rich and warm, yet won't weigh you down. Strong flavors like blue cheese are - perhaps counterintuitively - great items to use when I'm trying to keep things light. The funkier the cheese, the farther a small amount will go. I used no more than an ounce of the stuff in this recipe, and that includes both what was mixed into the oatbran during cooking and what I sprinkled on top afterwards. It's got protein and fiber from the oat bran, and the arugula not only provides a subtle, peppery pop that really sets off the whole dish, but gives the dish a boost of greenness that will ease your mind and prevents the whole thing from looking too, well, bland.
Mushrooms provide a bit of bite to the dish, banishing images of gruel and textureless slop that might come to mind when oat bran is mentioned. Of course the egg does not hurt in any respect - it's the rare savory dish that is not improved by a poached egg, a runny yolk coating all components and making everything extra good. And it's one of nature's more perfect nutritional packages, conveniently portioned and packed full of protein. Not to mention that poaching is one of the healthier ways to cook eggs, since, unlike scrambling or frying it relies on no added fat. Hard-boiled eggs don't require any extra fat either, of course, but being hard-boiled, they obviously don't offer that whole runny yolk thing.
Oat Bran with Mushrooms, Arugula, Blue Cheese and Poached EggServes 1
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup milk or water
1/3 cup oat bran
1 cup baby arugula
1 ounce blue cheese (I used a strong triple creme blue, but gorgonzola or really any blue should work just fine)
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Fill a saute pan with water and place over medium heat until a simmer is achieved.
While the water in the saute pan is heating, place a small pot over medium heat. Add the olive oil and butter and heat until the bubbles from the butter have subsided. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occassionally, until the shallots are soft and beginning to turn transluscent. Add the mushrooms and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the milk or water to the pot, season with a dash of salt and raise the heat to medium high. Once the liquid has boiled, add the oat bran to the pot, stir to combine, and lower the heat to low. Cover the pot and cook the oat bran for 3-5 minutes, until the desired consistency is achieved, stirring often so as not to burn and adding additional milk or water as needed to achieve your desired texture. In the last minute of cooking, add the blue cheese, reserving some if desired to top the dish with the the end. Stir to combine, allowing the cheese to melt into the oatmeal. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the arugula to the pot and cover to allow the steam to wilt the arugula. Give it frequent stirs to help the arugula along. Remove from the heat and transfer the oat bran to a serving bowl.
In the meantime, add a splash of vinegar to the now-barely-simmering water in the skillet. Carefully slide the egg into the skillet, either directly or by first cracking the egg into a ramekin or teacup and then sliding it gently into the water, using a slotted spoon to gather the whites together if necessary. Allow to cook until your desired doneness, about three minutes or so for a nicely runny yolk. Lift the egg from the skillet with a slotted spoon and blot dry with a paper towel, and place it in the bowl over the oat bran. Finish with any reserved blue cheese, a final sprinkle of salt and pepper, crack that yolk and enjoy!