I really like oatmeal. I even make plain oatmeal from packets with a little honey or salt for a snack. But really, I prefer good, hearty cooked on the stovetop oatmeal, but am never enough a morning person to actually do that. My first attempt at slow cooker oatmeal, soon after I learned you could prepare it this way, was a disaster. Yes, I have them too. I thought a big crock of warm oatmeal with lots of toppings would be a brilliant thing to serve for a holiday brunch. I wanted something healthy on the spread too, and the first recipe I saw was for a no sweetener, very simple spiced oatmeal. So I set out all my fruit and nuts and syrups for drizzling and filled the crockpot and went to bed. It was a gluey, flavorless mess that I wouldn’t dare serve, so I stashed the little bowls of toppings in a cabinet and pushed the crockpot back to the recesses of the counter and on we went. Never fear, I had plenty of food without it! The idea stuck and I really wanted to figure out where I went wrong. So I read a lot of recipes, tinkered, fiddled tried with moderate success until I hit on the formula that works for me. I believe my worst attempt was the wrong ratio of oats to liquid, and a total lack of sweetener didn’t help. And I only have a large crockpot, and some recipes insist on a small 2 – 3 quart version. But now I have got it, I have made it for a crowd, and just for myself.
So really, you can use this as a template. 1 cup of steel cut oats and 5 cups of liquid, with a little sweetener and 5 – 6 hours of cooking time. Your oats must be steel cut – rolled, old-fashioned or quick will not stand up to the long cooking time. Water and milk together create a perfect blend of soft and creamy. All water works, but is a bit bland and well, watery, and all or more than half milk tends to curdle and is prone to scorching. Your milk can vary. Regular dairy – whole is best, 2% works, fat free really doesn’t – or almond, oat, soy or another nut milk. I use almond in this version because it goes with the theme. I like this combo of light brown sugar and honey, but you can skip the honey, or use all honey (I which case I would go for a total of ½ cup) or maple syrup. You can cut the amount of sweetener, and as I said, you can leave it out, but the end result will fall very flat and you will use more sweetener afterwards to make up for the blandness. Almond, vanilla and a whisper of cinnamon are a really interesting foil for tart dried cherries, which infuse the oatmeal during the slow cooking, both with flavor and a hint of color. But it is up to you. I have made this with a chai spice blend and raisins, or pumpkin pie spice with dried cranberries. Or leave out the dried fruit altogether. Once your oatmeal is cooked, toppings are up to you and can be a lot of fun. Fresh or frozen berries, dried fruit, chopped apples, pears or banana, nuts or seeds, drizzles of honey or maple syrup, extra dashes of spice, whatever strikes your fancy.
And here is the other great thing. The leftovers of this keep brilliantly. You can serve up what you want for breakfast, then put the crock in the fridge covered for the rest of the week, or scoop it into another bowl. Spoon out what you want and reheat it in the microwave, adding a touch of water or milk if you like. You can even cool it completely, portion it out in ziptop bags or sealable bowls and freeze. Microwave from frozen or after thawing overnight. So you can make a batch on Sunday night for Monday breakfast and eat from it all week. And yes, you can double the recipe if your slow cooker holds the correct liquid (which would be 10 cups). I love to do these overnight, which means more than 5 hours, but they are still good kept on the keep warm function for several hours if your crock has one that ability. And I suggest maybe the first time you do this, do it while you are around to watch so you get a feel for how long it takes in your crockpot.
Slow Cooker Cherry Almond Oatmeal
1 cup traditional steel cut oats (not rolled, old-fashioned or quick)
2 cups almond milk (or dairy milk)
3 cups water
1/3 cup light brown sugar
¼ cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup dried tart cherries
Sliced almonds, dried cherries for topping
- Spray the crock of a 6 – 8 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Don’t skip this step, the oatmeal will stick if you don’t.
- Pour the oats into the crock, then add the milk and water. Add the sugar, honey, vanilla, almond extract, cinnamon and salt and stir to combine. Add the cherries and stir to distribute them evenly. Cover the crock and cook on low for 5 – 6 hours. They will still be lovely after several hours on the keep warm function. If your oats are soft with just a little bite, but it looks a little liquidy, don’t worry. When you scoop it into bowls and it cools down just a little (so it doesn’t burn your mouth) it will firm up just perfectly.
- Serve in bowl topped with sliced almonds, extra cherries and a drizzle of honey if desired.