I am all about the batch cooking and simple eating these days. I feel like I’ve done a total 180 from the start of my cooking career when I considered a great night one where I spent three hours in my kitchen making pretzels from scratch or some other all-consuming process.
It’s not that I don’t still love decadent, complicated, fussy food. It’s just that I’m learning there are plenty of local places doing it exceptionally well (like the above pictured Mint Mark or the below pictured Good Food Low-Carb Cafe among a couple dozen other amazing restaurants I don’t have good photos from).
I’m happy to leave the fussy stuff to the experts while mastering the art of feeding my little family of two as healthy and local as I can with the least amount of effort as possible. Because you know what? I don’t have to make everything I consume from scratch for it be healthy. I don’t have to cook elaborate meals every night. I can roast a pan of vegetables and eat it for dinner. Or I can roast multiple pans of vegetables on Sunday and eat them for multiple dinners.
Life doesn’t have to be difficult to be good. (This particular lesson happens to stretch into so many different aspects of my life but that’s for another day). Today we’ll just settle for letting go of whatever pressure and illusion I had around making chef-quality, five-star meals at home every week or even every day. Simple, batch-cooked meals achieve the same results. We’re happy. We’re healthy. We’re fed. That’s certainly good enough for me.
This new process of taking several hours on Sunday to cook for our week has opened up my schedule for so many other important things like getting a membership at a local yoga studio that mostly has its classes in the evenings when I used to spend my time cooking. It leaves time for attending the cutest little Friday night house concerts in my tiny town, plenty of hikes with my Carrot, networking with truly visionary woman leaders from my local community over glasses of wine with my dear friend Lauren who impresses me more and more every time we chat or dreaming of a better food future with another immensely talented friend.
Cooking a little less, and in more strategic ways, has opened my mind up to new possibilities and collaborations. It’s all about balance (which appears to be my mantra or at the very least the mantra of my twenties), and about not letting the joy of one thing supersede all the other important parts of life.
This particular batch cooking solution came up organically when I made the resolution to take more time to read in the mornings. I don’t get to read much during the farming season and cold winter mornings snuggled up under blankets with a warm cup of coffee are the perfect time to make up for that lacking. But if I’m spending an hour making waffles or eggs Benedict or some other ridiculous meal that is really intended for the weekend, then the morning hours quickly race by and I’m left with no time for Adam Grant or Colin Meloy or other geniuses.
Meet baked oatmeal. The solution to so many of life’s problems.
For some reason or another, I love getting baked oatmeal from coffee shops when away on vacation but never remember how simple it is to prepare at home. For this recipe, I put a hodge podge assortment of old apples and pears from my produce drawer together with steel cut oats, coconut milk, maple syrup, and pecans (alongside some seasonings and spices), tossed it in a baking dish, and threw it in the oven for a giant batch of winter breakfast goodness. I turned the apples into a quick applesauce because they were really getting squishy but you could absolutely skip this step and add 1/4 cup of water to the mix before baking if you only have nice apples lying around.
Once the baking is done, feel free to dig in just as soon as you pull it from the oven or store it in the fridge for up to a week. I ate mine every morning until it was gone, cutting it into smaller pieces, and adding a bit more coconut milk and maple syrup before warming it up in the microwave. You could also use whatever fruit you want/have in the house and experiment wildly with the spices and flavors. My new love of batch cooking also happens to often be beautifully versatile.
APPLE & PEAR BAKED MAPLE OATMEAL
Takes 1 hour, much of it inactive
2 apples (the older and squishier the better), peeled, cored and diced
1/4 cup water
2-1/4 cups oatmeal (either rolled oats or steel cut is fine; sometimes I use a mix of the two)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1-13.66 ounce can full-fat coconut milk
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large (or 3-4 small) pears, peeled, cored and diced
Pecans, walnuts or other favorite nut, optional
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray (if vegan) or butter (if not).
- Combine your diced apples and water in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes until the apples begin to really break down and turn into a thick, lumpy sauce. Add water if the apples begin to stick.
- Meanwhile, combine your oatmeal, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, ginger and salt in your baking dish. Stir to combine and break up the brown sugar.
- Remove applesauce from heat and stir in coconut milk, maple syrup, vanilla and pears. Stir to combine then add to the oatmeal. Use a spatula to combine well, scraping the sides and bottom as you go. You don’t want any of the dry ingredients to appear dry. Top with nuts of your choice. I used 1 cup pecan halves.
- Bake for 40 minutes or until set.
- Serve immediately with some additional maple syrup and/or coconut milk or allow to cool before wrapping in foil and placing in your fridge for a later breakfast.