These cold, dark winter mornings we all need something to special to get us in gear for the day.
Dana Jacobi of the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests waking up with oatmeal.
Old-fashioned though it may be, a bowl of oatmeal is still one of the best breakfasts you can choose, Jacobi said.
With a bit of imagination, you can even turn this already healthy comfort food into an always enjoyable, ever-varied, eye-opener breakfast treat.
For variety the easy way, be creative with toppings. Fresh fruit is a perfect partner for oatmeal. She said she likes using blueberries, raspberries, or diced nectarine, but crispy fruits like apples and Asian pears also go well with oatmeal. For an extra twist, mix berries with a tiny sprinkling of grated lemon or orange zest, plus two drops of vanilla extract.
Dried fruit also works well with oatmeal, adding sweet chewiness for a satisfying contrast in texture. Most dried fruits are sweet enough that you won't need sugar. Dried fruit means more than raisins or apricots. Think of dried cranberries, blueberries and cherries as well as pineapple and other tropical fruits. Their tangy tart-sweet flavor is a perfect foil to mild oatmeal.
On a cold, damp day, try chopping up a couple of calymyrna white figs or seedless dates, Jacobi said. These dried fruits are especially good combined with a few chopped walnuts. Fresh or dried, fruit adds health-protective benefits as well as extra flavor, texture and color.
Using a dollop of a juice-sweetened fruit preserve is another way to add fruit, sweetness, and flavor to oatmeal. She recommends wild or regular blueberry, or any other berry spread.
If you must have sugar, dark brown is ideal because a little of it goes a long way to perform its magic. Toss it with the cut-up berries or apple and let them sit while the oatmeal cooks. This gives the fruit enough time to macerate and create a bit of syrup.
Or, try this oatmeal cooked with pear nectar and a grated Bartlett pear for natural sweetness. (Feel free to use apple cider and grated apple in their place.) With the fruit in the oatmeal, cool, creamy vanilla yogurt is the ideal topping for this cinnamon-spiced porridge.
Cinnamon Pear Oatmeal
1 cup quick cooking oats (not instant)
1 cup pear nectar
3/4 cup water
1 Bartlett pear, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons golden raisins
1/2 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
In a dry skillet, over medium-high heat, toast the oats, stirring frequently, until fragrant and slightly colored, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the oats into a bowl to avoid their burning.
In a deep medium saucepan, combine pear nectar with 3/4 cup water. Over medium heat, cook slowly until bubbles appear around the edges. Do not let liquid boil. Immediately stir in oats. Add pear, cinnamon and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the oats are tender, about 15 minutes. Mix in the raisins.
Divide the oatmeal among 4 bowls. Stir the yogurt until creamy, then add a dollop to the top of the oatmeal. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings
Another warm and healthful breakfast can be built around a "sciscuit" -- it's what you get when you cross a biscuit with a scone, Jacobi said.
Only about 10 minutes is needed to whip them up. And the version below is a revamped, healthier, but yummy reinvention that will help everyone in your household start the day in cheerful spirits.
You can do it with these sciscuits because they are whole wheat and low in fat. The combination puts them between a biscuit and a scone, and they are easy to split so you can use your favorite toppings.
If you have kids, instead of demanding they have cereal, put out peanut butter or a low-fat cream cheese as well as their favorite jam to encourage them to have this high fiber, nutrient-packed treat.
Whole Wheat Raisin Sciscuits
1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1-1/2 cups unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoon chilled butter, cut in small pieces
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoons, divided
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup whole milk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray, and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine both flours, baking powder and salt. Work in butter, starting with a fork, then using your fingers in a quick pinching/rubbing motion. Mix in raisins and 1/4 cup of the sugar. Add egg and milk, mixing with a fork until a soft dough forms.
Turn dough out onto a work surface. Knead it briefly to work in loose bits of flour. Pat out dough until it is 1/2 inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter to cut out rounds. Gather up excess dough with your hands and pat out again if you want to maximize the quantity. With a metal spatula, transfer rounds to the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle tops with remaining sugar.
Bake 20 minutes, or until sciscuits are lightly colored. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool. Serve these scones warm or at room temperature. If desired, reheat split scones, individually wrapped in foil, in a 350 degree oven until hot.
Makes 12-15 sciscuits, depending on the size of the biscuit cutter.
Dana Jacobi is the author of The Joy of Soy and recipe creator for AICR's Stopping Cancer Before It Starts. AICR offers a Nutrition Hotline (1-800-843-8114) Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, a free service that allows you to ask a registered dietitian questions about diet, nutrition and cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research is the only major cancer charity focusing exclusively on the link between diet, nutrition and cancer. The Institute provides a range of education programs that help millions of Americans learn to make changes for lower cancer risk. AICR also supports innovative research in cancer prevention and treatment at universities, hospitals and research centers across the U.S. The Institute has provided more than $65 million in funding for research in diet, nutrition and cancer. AICR's Web address is www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.