If you love a bowl of hot, steaming oatmeal in the morning, the idea of cold oats might not sound all that appealing.
As a kid growing up in Missouri, I couldn't imagine eating a cold bowl of cereal during the cold January and February mornings. I loved warm oatmeal with brown sugar sprinkled on top, and my sister ate hot Cream of Wheat with butter and salt.
But Texas winters feel a little different from Missouri winters, so Texas winter breakfasts are a little different, too.
I'd known about overnight oats for years and even made a batch or two, but I didn't really take to them until I started experimenting with a few more ingredients in the mix.
My first attempts at overnight oats included old-fashioned oats and milk and little else, but I recently started making them with about half a dozen ingredients, including instant oats. Some overnight oat fans swear that you have to use old-fashioned oats, but I didn't mind the softness of the instant oats, especially when they were mixed with Greek yogurt, whole milk, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds and a spoonful of jam.
When I mixed all those ingredients together and stored them in a pint-size glass canning jar with a lid, I discovered the joy of opening the fridge and finding a ready-made breakfast that was easy to transport and that I wanted to eat again and again.
Infinitely customizable, overnight oats become a blank canvas for whatever flavors you're craving. You can think of them like jarred smoothies but just made with a slightly different technique and without the blender.
Here are a few more tips and ideas for making them at home:
• I eyeball the quantities, including the oats and liquid. I've read that many cooks use a 2-to-1 ratio of liquid to oats, but I prefer closer to 1-to-1, so about 1 cups of oats and 1 cup of milk with about 1/2 cup of yogurt. I use a heaping tablespoon each of chia seeds, flaxseeds and nuts for a pint-size jar, which is two mornings' worth of oats for me, but you'll use less or more, depending on your preference.
• To ensure an even consistency, I mix together the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients and then combine them. I've seen plenty of people layer the ingredients in the jar and then simply stir them together with a spoon, but I find that mixing jam (or honey) with a little yogurt and milk first and then adding to the mixed oats/chia seeds/flaxseeds leads to an even consistency.
• Yogurt is technically optional, but not for my tastes. Thickening the milk — or milk alternative, such as almond or cashew milk — with yogurt adds sweetness and creaminess to the oats that they don't have if you use milk exclusively. The chia seeds and flaxseeds, which both produce a gel-like substance when hydrated, also add to the overall creaminess of the breakfast, not to mention a punch of nutrients and fiber. Don't have or don't like yogurt? Double up on the chia and/or flaxseeds.
• Chopped nuts or shredded coconut will soften as they sit in the oat mixture overnight, so some people prefer to add them right before eating. If you really can't stand soft foods and want to add a more significant crunch, you could sprinkle your overnight oats with Grape-Nuts, trail mix or granola right before you eat them.
• I go back and forth between old-fashioned and instant oats, depending on what I have on hand, but I don't use steel-cut oats for overnight oats, unless I've already cooked them. You also could use brown rice, amaranth or quinoa, but these grains need to be cooked first.
• Other ingredients you might use include maple syrup, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, peanut butter, wheat germ, raisins, cream cheese, shredded carrots, ground cinnamon, honey, bananas, pineapple, mango, strawberries, coconut milk or pumpkin puree.
• Adjust your technique based on what texture and flavor combination you prefer. For instance, if you like the bite of chopped apples, leave them in chunks when you mix up the batch, but if you only want the flavor of apples, add applesauce instead.
• I like using the small and midsize canning jars, but you could use a larger container and then spoon then oats into a bowl each morning, or you could mix up a larger batch in a bowl and then spoon individual servings into smaller jars with lids.
• If you're still not convinced that you want to eat cold oats in the morning, try mixing up a batch and you can always pop it in the microwave to heat up if you don't like the temperature and texture combination.