Pumpkin Oatmeal in a Slow Cooker

It’s just another early morning workout and I’m starving for a fast and warm breakfast.  I happen to have a extra unopened can of pumpkin puree left over from Thanksgiving.  Pumpkin is a nutrient dense fruit so I decided to add it to my slow cooker oatmeal routine. Unfortunately, the first attempt resulted in some unsavory burned pumpkin oatmeal on the edges of the slow cooker. In my second attempt, I turned my slow cooker into a double boiler. This yielded perfectly cooked, unburned oatmeal. Before I share this recipe, allow me to entertain you with a little Hungry Athlete story.

I’ve been ramping up for another 50K but I cannot get on the trails early enough in the afternoons to complete my scheduled midweek 8 mile runs while it’s still daylight. I got caught in the dark twice. On one occasion I talked the park ranger out of giving me a $200 ticket for being on the trails after sunset. The other time I was almost kidnapped by Thelma and Louise. I had exited a trail I had been running on and ran a quick out and back on a paved road. By the time I arrived back at that trail head, the gate was chained up. Since I could not run on the highway (the only other way back to where my car was parked) I was given a ride by two ladies who I will refer to as Thelma and Louis.  It was dark.  I was getting cold.  The only thing I had on me was the key to my car.  While I’m sitting in the back of Thelma’s car and headed down the highway, I hear the following:

T: “You know those runners … they never have any money on them.”

L: “Hahahaha.”

T: “Yeh, who accepts rides from strangers? What would you do to protect yourself?”

L: “I’d poke them in the eyeballs. They say you should go for the eyes”

T: “She’s a runner. She’d outrun us.”

T: “Hahaha.  Oh, we should stop.  Look at her.  She’s all quiet back there.”

Clearly the ladies were having fun with me and I lived to write this recipe, however the moral to the story is to plan your trail runs better.  Don’t get caught on the trails before they close.  Carry ID and your cell phone so you don’t have to accept rides from strangers and live to enjoy Pumpkin Oatmeal in the morning.

Serving size: 4 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup steel cut oatmeal (also called Irish oatmeal)
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup unsweetened Almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar*
  • 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I prefer freshly grated)

Optional toppings:

  • Unsalted roasted chopped almonds or walnuts
  • Diced apple or sliced banana
  • Honey or maple syrup

* Note: Ideally, if you can do without the dark brown sugar, that is the healthiest option, but I personally prefer to have a small amount of it in my oatmeal. Since this recipe is a serving size for 4, one tablespoon isn’t so bad. I sometimes enjoy my pumpkin oatmeal with a diced raw apple or a sliced banana, which adds a natural sweetness to the oatmeal.  I found that by weening myself off of sugar, I can adapt to enjoying foods like oatmeal and coffee without sugar.

Directions:

Whisk all of the ingredients together and pour into an oven proof glass bowl that will fit inside the slow cooker. I used a 6.5 quart slow cooker but a smaller 4 quart slow cooker is all you need.

Fill the slow cooker with water covering the pumpkin oatmeal bowl at least half way. Cover and cook on a low temperature for 7 hours.  Start the slow cooker before you go to bed and wake up to perfectly cooked oatmeal.  Give the oatmeal a thorough stir before serving.

DSC_6902
Fill the slow cooker insert with enough water to cover the oven proof bowl half way. This is what the oatmeal will look when it’s finished cooking. Give it a thorough stir before serving.

If you prefer, serve with chopped nuts (i.e., walnuts or almonds) and / or with fresh fruit (i.e., diced apple or sliced banana). The leftover oatmeal and be stored in individual serving size containers in the refrigerator. Add a little almond milk to loosen up the oatmeal and warm it up in the microwave when you are ready to eat it. DSC_6905

Eggs with Garlicky Spinach & Tomatoes

I try to eat some protein and a nutrient dense vegetable in the morning as often as I can.  One of the easiest and fastest breakfasts to prepare are my Eggs with Garlicky Spinach & Tomatoes. According to the CDC, spinach is one of the top 5 most nutrient dense vegetable and tomatoes are one of the top 3 most nutrient dense fruits: CDC Nutrient List of Nutrient Dense Fruits & Vegetables

Serving Size: 1

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small cloves or 1 large clove of garlic, peeled, smashed and rough chopped
  • 2 heaping cups of fresh baby spinach
  • 1/3 cup of cherry tomatoes
  • juice of 1/2 of a lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • Worcestershire sauce (optional)

PREPPING IN ADVANCE:

To spare every precious minute in the morning, I prepare as much as possible the night before. I begin by washing and drying the spinach, tomatoes and lemon. I was taught by my wonderful home economics teacher, Mrs. Pfromm, to always wash the outside of all of my fruits before storing them in the refrigerator. I do this for citrus and apples but not berries. I only wash berries before I use them, otherwise the moisture will cause them to spoil faster.

Slice the tomatoes and lemon, then place them, along with the spinach, in a sealed plastic or glass container. Refrigerate overnight. In a small glass bowl, add smashed and rough chopped garlic with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

DIRECTIONS:

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the frying pan over medium heat. Smash, then rough chop the garlic before adding it to the warm oil. Sauté the garlic for about 1 minute until fragrant. Add the spinach and tomatoes to the garlic and olive oil.  Toss together until the spinach starts to wilt.  Season with salt and pepper, then move the spinach, tomatoes and garlic to one side of the pan.

On the empty half of the pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Fry the eggs on that side of the pan. Then cover the eggs and spinach. The egg only needs 1 or 2 minutes to cook when covered. The eggs can be prepared sunny side up, over easy or you can even poach the eggs in a separate pot. Just before removing the eggs, squeeze 1/2 of a lemon over the spinach and tomatoes.

Serve the eggs either to the side or over a bed of spinach and tomatoes.  I like to add a couple dashes of Worcestershire sauce to the top of the eggs.  I learned this from my parents growing up and have always eaten my fried eggs with Worcestershire sauce.  Give it a try.  It’s delicious.

DSC_6886

DSC_6889

Simple Granola

Who doesn’t like granola?  My favorite way to enjoy granola is over Greek yogurt for breakfast. Sometimes I’ll add milk to a bowl of granola for a great alternative to cereal; sprinkle it over ice cream as a yummy crunchy topping; or add 1/3 cup of dried fruit, such as cranberries, cherries, raisins, dates or apricots, and eat it by the handful as a snack. The type of nuts or seeds can be swapped out. I sometimes use more walnuts and omit the pecans or use pepitas (pumpkin seeds) instead of sunflower seeds. Choose your favorite nuts. Just make sure the nuts are unsalted.  The granola can be stored up to 1 week in an airtight container.  Placed into a mason jar wrapped with a bow, fresh homemade granola makes a nice little gift.  Who doesn’t like granola?

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats (not instant or quick oats)
  • 1/3 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup chopped, unsalted & roasted cashews
  • 1/2 cup chopped, unsalted & roasted pecans
  • 1/2 cup chopped, unsalted & roasted almonds
  • 1/2 cup chopped, unsalted & roasted walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F

Combine oats, sunflower seeds, chopped nuts, cinnamon and salt in large bowl. In separate small bowl, whisk together oil, honey, maple syrup and vanilla extract. Pour over oat mixture and combine thoroughly. Spread out evenly over parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown, stirring granola every 12-14 minutes to ensure even browning. Allow granola to cool on pan completely unless you forgot to line the pan with parchment paper. Clean up might be easier if the granola is transferred from an unlined baking sheet to a glass casserole dish to cool. Otherwise, the granola will cool to crisp little chunks and slide right off the parchment paper. I prefer to leave the granola in some smaller chunks to store.

Cool and store in airtight container up to 1 week, if it lasts that long.

image

granola parfait

DSC_6707

I like a variety of nuts, including walnuts, almonds, pecans and cashews, in my granola.  Choose the combination of you enjoy most.
I like a variety of nuts, including walnuts, almonds, pecans and cashews, in my granola. Choose the combination of you enjoy most.

DSC_6703

The granola can be stored up to a week in an airtight container.  They also make nice gifts.
The granola can be stored up to a week in an airtight container. They also make nice gifts.

Healthy Potato Leek Soup

The inspiration for my Potato Leek Soup came from my dear friend Kelly, a 10 time Ironman and 2 time 50 mile endurance runner.  This courageous woman is battling leukemia for the second time.  While undergoing chemotherapy, Kelly requested potato leek soup made without cream for lunch.

The potato leek soup also served as a nutritious and tasty breakfast prior to a long run or trail race, where I am running anywhere from 3 to over 6 hours. Chicken Rice Soup and Potato Leek Soup are now my two favorite early morning meals to help fuel my long workouts.  Both also provide potassium.  I usually consume half a bagel or some oatmeal in addition to the soup.  Some races offer broth on the course or soup at the end of the race.  At the finish of this weekend’s trail race, I grabbed warm soup and chased it down with low-fat chocolate milk.  Since I often cannot tolerate solid food immediately after an endurance event, I find that calories in liquid form are the easiest way to get nutrition down.  I personally prefer real food over “recovery” drinks.  Remember, it’s important to consume calories within 20 minutes of your workout.

Leeks belong to a vegetable family called the Allium vegetables which includes garlic and onions and contain many of the same beneficial compounds.   For more information on the nutritional value of leeks, check out this article:

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=26

Serving size: 8

Equipment:  Hand held immersion blender or regular blender

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 large leeks or 4 medium leeks, white and pale green parts only, washed and diced
  • 5 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 ½ teaspoons finely chopped thyme
  • 7+ cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder (for Kelly, I reduced or omitted this)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • fresh parsley, chopped, to garnish (optional)

Directions:

In a Dutch oven or stock pot, sauté the leeks in olive oil for 8 minutes until the leeks are softened but not brown.

Add chopped garlic, thyme, potatoes and broth.  Bring to a boil and let simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.  If using a hand held immersion blender, puree soup until smooth with no lumps.  Be careful.  The soup will be very hot.  If using a regular blend, allow soup to cool down before pouring into blender.  Once in the blender, puree soup in small batches, using a towel to cover the lid in case the hot mixture escapes.

Add additional broth to obtain the desired consistency.  I prefer it to be a little creamy and loose enough to drink out of a mug.

Stir in chili powder and salt to taste.  It’s important to add a bit at a time and keep tasting.  You can always add more but you can’t take it back out.  Garnish with chopped fresh parsley or croutons.  Add additional broth to soup if it becomes too thick when re-heating.

Use the white and pale green parts of the leek.  Cut the stalk in half length-wise and rise out the layers.  I prefer to remove the outer tougher layer.  Then slice.
Use the white and pale green parts of the leek. Cut the stalk in half length-wise and rise out the layers. I prefer to remove the outer tougher layer. Then slice.

DSC_6589

When re-heating, you can add additional broth to thin out the soup if it gets too thick.
When re-heating, you can add additional broth to thin out the soup if it gets too thick.

Baked eggs with spinach and ham

Early morning workouts are a part of my Ironman training schedule.  I typically swim in the mornings however the past 2 weeks have been extremely challenging.  We have been experiencing unseasonably cold temperatures here in Northern California.  I woke up to a balmy 36F.  After a swim, I am cold and starved.  I typically enjoy steel cut oatmeal with almonds and blueberries but today I was craving something more comforting.  Baked eggs with spinach and ham was a satisfying post swim breakfast that warmed my belly up quite nicely.

I avoided eggs for many years due to a family history of high blood pressure and cholesterol. Fortunately it was determined that I had high levels of HDL “good” cholesterol.  Still I try to maintain a low cholesterol, low fat diet.  I typically use Eggland’s Best Eggs which boasts less fat and cholesterol and more nutrients than regular eggs.  These “engineered” eggs are created by controlling the chicken’s diet.  For more on eggs, here’s a good article:

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/eggs-friend-or-foe.

The latest science seems to suggest that eggs are not as bad for you as once thought.  I’m happy to be reunited with eggs again.  I’m fond of everything made with eggs.

Serving size: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 teaspoon of olive oil
  • 3 tablespoon grated Gruyere and Swiss cheese (cheddar or parmesan works well too)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cooked ham (I had frozen ham left over from a dinner party)
  • 2 tablespoon thawed frozen chopped spinach
  • 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
  • salt & pepper

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 375F.  Coat a medium ramekin (the size you’d use for creme brulee) with olive oil.  Sprinkle even coating of cheese to the bottom of the ramekin.  Crack both eggs into ramekin, being careful not to break the yolk.  Sprinkle ham, spinach and parsley around the yolk.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bake at 375F for 12-15 minutes depending on how well you like your yolks done.

In case you are interested in seeing the episode of Julia Child’s show that inspired me to cook, here it is: