Tangy Strawberry Oatmeal Bars

My neighbor brought over a pint of strawberries the other day that were way on sale at our local grocer, presumably because they had less than a day left in their natural life before going mushy. Since I happened to have picked up a pint of my own from the same grocer that same morning, I decided to use them for a little treat for our two households to share, and I came up with these bars.

Typically, oatmeal bars are made with jams instead of fresh fruit. They are also often very sweet, but I cut about half the sugar that is recommended in other recipes and topped the bars with a drizzle of yogurt glaze. The result is a mildly sweet and tangy oatmeal bar that won the hearts in our homes that night.

2 cups rolled oats
1  c. flour
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 c. cold butter, cut into small chunks
1 pint strawberries, cleaned and thinly sliced
1/4 c. jam (I used a homemade cranberry jam with a very nice tang, but raspberry or strawberry would be fine)
sprinkling of sugar (optional)
1/2 c. plain Greek yogurt
1/8 to 1/4 c. powder sugar, to taste
1 t. vanilla

Pre-heat your oven to 375° F. Using the butter wrappers, grease the bottom and sides of a 9×13 glass baking dish. In a large bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. With a knife, your fingers, or the pastry blade on a food processor, cut or rub the butter into the oat mixture until a coarse mix is formed that will stick together, but is not over-blended. Press two-thirds of the oat mixture evenly into the bottom of your greased dish and bake for about 15 minutes, just until the edges begin to brown. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, sprinkle the sliced strawberries with about a teaspoon of sugar, just to get the juices flowing. Then add the jam and stir to combine. In a small bowl, stir together the yogurt, powdered sugar, and vanilla until smooth, then store in the refrigerator until ready to use. Spread the strawberries evenly over the half-baked crust, then sprinkle the rest of the oat mixture over the top. Return the dish to the oven and bake for about 25 minutes more, until the filling is bubbly and the top is browned. While hot, drizzle the yogurt mixture over the top of the bars with a spoon or small piping bag – you may not use it all, so reserve the rest to eat over granola or fresh fruit.  Allow to cool completely before cutting and store in the refrigerator or freezer.

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Steel-Cut Oats

Steel-cut oats are one of those things that I avoided for the longest time for no other reason than I just wasn’t familiar with them.  I mean, old-fashioned rolled oats were so easy and familiar – why change, right?  But one day, while I was raiding the bulk section at my grocery store, I decided to get them, and I haven’t turned back since.  They are delicious!  They have a nice nutty flavor and a slightly chewy texture that does not turn to complete mush.  And they’re as easy to make as the rolled oats — they just need about 30 minutes to cook rather than 5-10.  Nutritionally, the steel-cut and rolled varieties are just about equal.  The difference is as implied by the name – either the grain is rolled into flat pieces or cut with a steel blade.  Quick Oats, on the other hand, have gone through a higher level of processing and pre-cooking, which depletes some of the nutritional value, so they are NOT a good choice when with a few extra minutes you can have the real thing!

All you really need is the oats and water, but I like to make them with a few extra ingredients.  This nets about 4 servings.

1 cup steel-cut oats

1 Tbsp. butter

3 cups water

1 cup milk or buttermilk

Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan and toss in the oats to coat.  Stir and cook for a couple minutes, until the oats start to brown and smell a little nutty.  Stir in the water (preheated, if you want, so that the oats don’t stop cooking) and allow to come to a simmer.  Cover and keep at a low simmer for about 15 minutes.  Add the milk and cook for about another 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed.

If you tend to run out of time in the mornings (um, like most of us!), an alternative cooking method is to combine the grains and water in a pot before going to bed and allow to soak overnight.  In the morning, just turn on the stove and add the milk and simmer on low for about 10 minutes, or until they are done.

Now you can add whatever you want for flavor — fresh, frozen, or dried fruit, nuts, a little cinnamon, or lightly sweeten it with honey, brown sugar, or maple syrup.  What I often do for my 2-year-old is add some frozen blueberries and a couple spoonfuls of plain yogurt, which cools it down quickly and gives it a delicious, creamy texture.  To make the oatmeal more appealing to a wary child, I like to dust the top with my special brown “sprinkles” (flax seed).  Or I’ll bury some raisins at the bottom to dig out like a treasure hunt.  My personal favorite way to eat them is with some mashed banana, cinnamon, and ground walnut…just like banana bread!

Steel-cut oats also hold up well as leftovers.  Just add a little more liquid when re-heating.  I usually make a large enough batch on Mondays to last us through the busy work week.  They are also a good choice for those of us on a budget.  They may cost slightly more by pound than the rolled variety, but since they require more water, they make almost twice as much.  We’d love to hear how you like to eat your steel-cut oats.  Please share with us by adding a comment to this post or by sending us an email to twodancingbuckeyes@gmail.com.