Overnight porridge

Speaking of oatmeal, remember a couple of years ago when McDonald’s started selling oatmeal? (Are they still doing that? It’s ten o’clock and I’m too lazy to Google it.) The announcement spawned a lot of advice on the web about how easy and quick it was to make your own oatmeal, to which I am now, ages later, responding. This is the difficulty posed by being a historian: “current events” are things that happened at least a decade ago. Look, though, the recipe is still good.

This is how you make real oatmeal and have it hot for breakfast without putting in a lick of effort in the morning. (Well, a lick. But no more.)

Before you go to bed, put one part steel-cut oats in a pot with three parts water and, if you like, a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and leave it until morning, when it will be perfect. Scoop out what you want into a bowl, microwave to reheat it, and put the rest in the fridge, where it will keep a few days.

If you prefer, you can bring the grain to a boil earlier in the evening and let it sit for two to three hours until the water is absorbed, then refrigerate overnight.

Why this works: The oatmeal fairies come and sprinkle magic oatmeal dust on it. (What am I, Alton Brown?)

Also, it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot, so cleanup is easy.

Want variations? You do not have to restrict yourself to oatmeal! I’ve been experimenting this winter, and half oats and half pearled barley make a nice combination; you can pretend you’re a ploughman in the North of England in 1720 or whatever. (When you offer some to your kids, be sure to address them as “my bonny bairns.”) Cracked wheat, if you can find it, would be good — it looks just like steel-cut oats — but you can use bulgur otherwise. For bulgur, because it’s pre-steamed, cut the water back to two and a half parts, which is still more than you’d normally use, but you’re making porridge, not a salad. Amaranth is fantastic, for a completely different flavor; I usually don’t sweeten it much but top it with butter, applesauce and a little cinnamon sugar. And since quinoa is all hip now, eating amaranth lets you be the coolest foodie on the block, which is important, even at breakfast.

And if you’re bored with straight-up oatmeal and don’t like raisins, here’s a good topping combination I found recently: a little brown sugar, dried (not sweetened) coconut, chopped dates, sliced almonds, and milk. Based mostly on odds and ends lingering in the pantry, so don’t run out with a shopping list, but the dried coconut is worth a try.