Good Results with Gluten-Free Hot Cereal

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… in the Microwave!

Before I get started, I just wanted to wish people a very Blessed Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Now, back to our program.

Ok, ok, I know I wrote an entire post lamenting on  how I had decided not to do it. This, largely because I figure that in this era of smart phones and 5-year old computer geniuses that people, should, by and large, know how to use the most commonly used food warmer in American kitchens.  But. We are talking about gluten free hot cereal, which is a rather different ball-game than even Old Fashioned Oats heated up in 3-5 in your favorite local hot-box.  Because you don’t really have to fiddle with the settings, or experiment with heat transfer properties to get a nice creamy result.  The gluten in standard oats does that work for you.  It doesn’t really occur to you that gluten free oats are so different until you actually try to heat them up with the same ideas in mind.

Fortunately I found them really cheap at Trader Joe’s… for only $3.50 a bag, wherein usual price  in the health food store is $8-12 or even $15 for the same amount.  If you find a really good sale, you can get it for $5 a bag anywhere else– if you are lucky.

So this does not encourage one to experiment– save out of a desperate sense of wanting to get something edible out of your investment.

For one thing, oats in particular seem like a cipher. I avoided gluten free oats for a long time after I got one bag– the expensive way– and most of it just wound up, mostly  uncooked,  plastered all over the inside of my microwave.  I did more microwave cleaning and cold-cereal eating than I ever wanted to do that month. It all just seemed like too much work.  That is, until I found the inexpensive option at Trader Joe’s.

Now, as it happens, I *really* like oatmeal. It has pleasant associations with early morning breakfasts with my grandmother, served with farm-fresh eggs (the real thing), and smoked bacon (ditto). It was drizzled with molasses or brown sugar, raisins and milk with a dusting of cinnamon.   We always had the best breakfasts before spending the day in the kitchen making food for the Fourth of July family gathering which hosted up to 60 people at my grandma’s farm house.   So having a good breakfast was hugely important– because lunch was usually stuff skimmed from the foods we were making.  This could go on for 12 to sixteen hours straight, with a small, ad hoc  break for dinner.  But I digress– massively.

So when the news came that I was gluten intolerant– and that oats were included– I was heart broken. Mom’s family are Scottish Highlanders. Need I say more?  It’s like potatoes for the Irish and pasta for the Italians. It’s a cultural thing, and they are in everything. So, apparently, is gluten.

So, I provide some personal experience and possibly senseless advice to those who wonder how hot cereal can be even remotely as creamy as it was before your food joy came to an end.   Ok, I’m mostly joking, but it can still feel that way.

Soaking your cereal over night is probably the best thing to do. I haven’t tried it with other cereals, but oats are just as simple as the glutenous oats– zap for three to five minutes, and worry little to none about the dreaded boil-overs or eating small chips of wood to break your fast.  But seriously, who remembers to do that? I have managed it once, maybe twice. You can also get more than one serving in your bowl, up to four, even!

You are also not limited to using water and a touch of salt. You can use nut or seed or rice or cow milk to max out the creaminess, apple juice or cider (with a dust of cinnamon or allspice)  to give it a wonderful sweet seasonal flavor, or water with cool-aid powder if you want to surprise your kids.

The bat-winged lawyer clinging to the rafters suggests that soaking your cereal on the counter is hazardous to your health, so do it in the fridge like a good little human.

So, let’s assume you are some combination of busy, distracted or lazy in the evenings and forget to soak your cereal. Then what?

If you are making oats in particular (but this qualifies for most single-grain cereals), and you are serving more than one person, cooking it in a pot is the better option. You get better results over all, and you have less to worry about when it comes to boil overs.  But if it’s only for you, then washing your bowl, and  the pot and the stove is a real pain. So I don’t do that. Because, you guessed it, I’m lazy.

So, we are back to chef Mike.  The first thing to contemplate is the vessel for your prep. I do not, generally speaking, use more than one bowl when making breakfast for only myself.  I also tend to care less about what I eat out of than how what I’m using affects my cooking. They call me a tom-boy for a reason.

Further more, the only way I have found to definitively prevent 99/100 of the boil-overs you may experience, is to use a large clear glass bowl, with relatively thin edges,  for a single serving.   I like Anchor products– they are quality glass, thick enough that it will survive being dropped on the counter top, but not so heavy that it will cause problems when hauling it out, steaming hot, from the microwave.  Mine have even survived being dropped on the floor… but my kitchen floors are not tile or marble but linoleum over plywood, so YMMV.     I am also short, which might have an impact. 😉

There is a clear glass, three bowl mixing set that Anchor has that I like. It is what I use for this purpose.  They also have fewer nooks and crannies to hide the gluey napalm when it gets the better of you and erupts all over the place, plating your fine dishware with glue which morphs into concrete even before you are ready to eat, let alone clean the bowl you want to eat out of.

With this, you can get away with two servings, but you are pushing it with three.  Most instructions tell you that a boil-over happens in about 30 seconds, but I have seen it happen in under 20.  If you zone out, even for a second, you could have a medium sized disaster on your hands and loose at least half of your breakfast.

Second, there is something to those instructions that advise putting a cover on the dish for a shot period. Do NOT listen to those who say that you microwave it covered, for 3-5 minutes. Those people are delusional. The bowl will explode, maybe not break glass, but you will loose all  your food and all your time, and need to remake everything and clean the microwave.

The real way to do it is to nuke the bowl for three minutes (I like a lower setting, to put off the inevitable– it may take more time but the results are creamier, both with rolled/steel cut oats and brown rice grits) at power level 6 (your result may differ) then, stir, put a lid on it, then back in the microwave at power level 8, and nuke for 30 seconds or however long it takes for it to threaten to boil over, but not really. Don’t push this too hard. Doubling in size or at least expanding visibly is all you really need. Then stop the microwave. Leave it closed and sitting for two minutes. If you have a lot of time, leave it for three.  Then, pull the lid off, stir, then nuke on power level 8 for another two minutes, watching it like a hawk and stopping it before the boil-over occurs.  None should occur until for the last minute, but it depends on how much water is in your bowl, versus a kind of suspension of thick stuff that might be edible soon.  In the large bowl all you really have to do is stop and then start it again.

This time I have to thank the Arrow Head Mills people for the covering suggestion. They did not make this for oats, but their GF Quinoa and Rice cereal (which I highly recommend, btw).

Yet it is a brilliant and effective request that is much better than spending five minutes starting and stopping your microwave.

Ok, GF steel cut oats take longer than your regular GF oats.  Double the times for everything. You won’t be sorry. But you might want to save it for the weekends or whenever you don’t work.

At one point I had my microwave programmed to nuke the cereal for a pattern of temperature raises which guaranteed no boil-overs, and I only had to stop the microwave once to stir it. But it only works for my brand and temperature of microwave, at least if you believe what all those warnings on microwave foods say.

It involved the big bowl, the power set to 6 for four minutes  then at power level 8 for two minutes, and then at 6 again for three minutes. Usually you can pull it out before then. This set of settings works for all forms of cream of brown rice and the like, though the last bit at power level 6 can be left off depending on how thick you like your cereal. If you like it thick, only go for an extra minute on 6 at the end. You don’t want a dry lump of grit at the  bottom of the bowl.

If you use a large bowl, you may have to add a minute on the front end so that the bowl gets fully heated up to transfer the heat to the food inside. It may seem like all those little radii are working directly on the food, but heat transfer in this case does play a significant part in the results that you get.

Also, keep in mind that if you don’t want to be handling a searing-hot bowl straight from the microwave, set your timer again for two minutes and pull it out then. It will still be plenty hot, but it won’t burn you– much.  Still have little ones use oven mits.

Unfortunately, to make gluten free taste good, you have to cook it more slowly at the front end, so that the grains have a chance to absorb liquids properly. If they don’t, then you get a bowl full of gritty slurry that is incredibly unappetizing  and in the worst case can menace your dental work.  Don’t let this be you!

I like having hot cereal for breakfast every day, because it kind of makes up for not being able to have steamy hot bread slathered with butter, french toast and orange juice.  So I have a cascading set of choices to accommodate my varying schedule, and laziness level.

1.  Instant Gluten-Free Hot Cereal put out by Good Earth, the Maple flavor, which comes in a box of single serving packets. This is for days when I have maybe ten minutes to eat. Use a regular bowl, pop in Chef Mike, and lo, after three and a half minutes (one point five to cook, and two minutes to rest) you have hot cereal, don’t have to even add sugar, and it’s actually at a reasonable glycemic level thanks to the fiber and unsweetened nut milk. It also rocks for travel, and you can even use it with hot boiling water  at work. Bonus!  It is also one of the least expensive types to have, is pretty common in regular stores. Since I don’t have it too often, I can even afford to have it around.

2. If I have 15-20 minutes for prep and eating, I have my Quinoa and Rice Cereal from Arrowhead Mills. That is perfect for most mornings, has a good flavor, doesn’t boil over much, and I can just nuke it for five minutes with hardly worrying about it. I tend to use a cup of water instead one cup plus a quarter of a cup, only because it prevents boil-overs and takes less time.  I also don’t mind thick cereal, because I optimize the thickness by adding nut milk at serving time.  This is also a very cost friendly option, frequently selling for less than $4 a box.

Oh, and if you can’t have rice or Quinoa, you can go for Pocono’s white Buckwheat Hot Cereal.    It is also gluten free, cooks in the same amount of time with similar virtues. Don’t let the buckwheat name scare you. It tastes nothing like buckwheat pancakes because all of the brown hull has been milled off. It is mild and pleasant tasting, thick and creamy, and nearly perfect in it’s texture. This comes across a bit more pricy for a regular habit, at $4 or a little more for a small box. Keep in mind, I was able to eat quite happily with three tablespoons as one serving, which stretches this out for almost two weeks per box.

Bob’s Red Mill also has a white Buckwheat cereal of similar quality, but it tends to be a bit more expensive.  To turn up the luxury and deliciousness up to 11, just add a half-tablespoon of cold pressed coconut oil and a touch of coconut sugar, agave or sweetener.  It is VERY yummy. You can turn this stuff into grits, too, and it’s easier on your glycemic index than the real thing!  Frankly I like them better than the real thing, especially with grilled shrimp!

3. I have my trusty oats from Trader Joe’s. This is for when I have a good half hour to an hour to both cook and eat.  If I remember to soak them, I have them when I really need some comfort food.  Make sure you buy them in the winter time, because this is a                       fickle seasonal item!

That is all I have, and all that anyone should write about hot cereal.  For me it is an awesome, but modest luxury that makes your day just a little bit better.

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2 thoughts on “Good Results with Gluten-Free Hot Cereal

  1. FYI, my microwave is a 1200 Watt Panasonic Inverter. Or maybe the “Inverter” part is just some kind of buzz-word based feature that may or may not be real. If you want the unit number, leave me a comment and I’ll see what I can do.

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