Chef Sam Stephens, a graduate from the International Culinary Center with Pastry Chef certification, moved to New York City after enrolling at Baruch. After making the decision to incorporate oatmeal into her life inexorably, she opened the first (and only) specialty oatmeal cafe in New York’s West Village on June 27th, 2012, called OatMeals. Sam has been featured on local and national news, and was approached by Quaker Oats in September of 2013. They named Sam their “Creative Oatmeal Officer” and she has held the title ever since.
It’s dinnertime on a weeknight. What’s on the menu? You could heat up some leftovers, or even indulge in the guilty pleasure of a drive-thru dash if it’s been “one of those days”...but why not try something completely different? How about oatmeal?
Yes, oatmeal. For dinner. It’s a healthy alternative to most other options and can be modified to meet any dietary requirement. Now, what if we told you that oatmeal can be eaten around the clock? Yes, we’re serious. There are so many flavor profiles that are possible once an extra ingredient or two are added to that bowl, it will boggle your brain. But you don’t have to take our word for it.
Ask Chef Samantha Stephens
It’s safe to say that Sam is serious about her oatmeal, and we were curious to find out if oatmeal could be the cure to all our dietary shortcomings. “While I do believe oatmeal offers unparalleled nutritional benefits, it’s not a magic cure-all.” Sam tells us. “We all have to focus on a balanced diet and moderation. I think that starting your day with oatmeal leads to making better food choices throughout the rest of your day. Maybe it’s psychological but it worked for me!”
As we settle into the cozy OatMeals atmosphere, Sam was delighted to share how to incorporate oatmeal into our everyday lives (even for the fussiest of eaters), what some of her tips and tricks are for adding flair and unexpected flavor, and how to make adjustments to classic recipes to be mindful of nutrition.
Oatmeal is not to be viewed as a peddler’s tonic to cure all that ails you. However, if you’re looking for an alternative to costly dieting programs and gym membership fees, why not try eating some? Keep in mind that you aren’t limited to ingesting oatmeal in order to experience the health benefits. “Oatmeal is anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and moisturizing so great for the skin whether eaten or applied directly to the skin,” Sam shares. “ It’s just pretty awesome all around.”
Out of all the possible options, oatmeal is usually one of the last things we think of when looking for a quick bite. After all, it’s not something that springs to mind every morning on the rush to get out the door, let alone when you come home after a long day and look for a substantial meal. Yet there are prices to pay for opting for the “quick and easy” route. Extended waistlines for one, not to mention other more serious complications that are bound to arise.
Oat-Standing Dietary Benefits
Oats are simply teeming with major dietary benefits. As stated earlier, even eating just one bowl a day will provide you with most of you daily nutritional requirements. Imagine that!
“Oatmeal,” Sam says, “is heart healthy, nutrient dense, and contains a lot of fiber. And it’s packed with antioxidants. It’s really the original superfood. Even if eaten once a day, all of these benefits kick-in, and will have positive effects on your daily activities. “Getting oatmeal into your diet in any fashion that works for your lifestyle is the goal.”
The possibilities of modifying oatmeal to suit your desires are as boundless as your imagination. “At home,” Sam muses, “I love toasting my oatmeal with olive oil, shallots, and garlic, and then slow cooking it in chicken or beef stock. It’s great implementing oatmeal as a savory side dish to accompany meats & fish for a super hearty, yet nutritious dinner.”
As Sam continues to explain the multiple benefits of oatmeal, it becomes clear to see how an oatmeal-based diet can help keep weight down and energy up. She says that “having oatmeal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner will keep you feeling full longer and prevent you from snacking between meals. It really worked for my weight loss years ago and is why I developed the OatMeals concept.”
“We change our menu often at OatMeals,”
Sam tells us, “to incorporate seasonal fruits and veggies. We have a Spring Pea & Parmesan bowl we’re introducing now for springtime and we get lovely fresh cherries and other stone fruits in summertime. Our Pumpkin Pie bowl is always a favorite in the fall.”
OatMeals Recipes Are By No Means Ordinary. They take a classic taste and add complimentary flavors to tantalize your taste buds; bacon for saltiness, cheese for a creamy texture, and even gourmet ingredients like truffle can be found in OatMeals bowls.
“I’m a big fan of my savory oatmeal bowls,” she tells us. “I love our Truffle RisOATto bowl which is oatmeal topped with shaved parmesan cheese, truffle oil, sea salt & cracked black pepper. I top with a poached egg & bacon to really step it up a notch into a hearty meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It’s really like risotto.”
“Our “Hot Date” bowl is our best seller at the moment,” Sam reveals. “It features peanut butter, pitted dates, raw pecans, our house-made granola blend, and a drizzle of honey. We love to add bananas to this one.”
Excess sugars have detrimental effects on health, and for some, they can be disastrous. Oatmeal may not seem all that appetizing to some but people might feel as though these ‘frivolous’ additions to their contemporary oats might seem untraditional, and therefore a deterrence. Sam says there’s nothing wrong with “keeping it simple. Nutritious toppings such as nuts and seeds, fresh fruits and berries, seasonal vegetables, Greek yogurt, goat, or cottage cheeses are great to have.”
However, that does not mean that one can blithely load on the sugar to compensate for “bland flavor” or “no taste”. Sam agrees. “Limit sweeteners,” she says as she nods in approval, “and incorporate other spices such as cinnamon, cardamon, or nutmeg for flavor enhancers.” In any case, too much sugar will only act against the purpose of eating healthy oats in the first place.
Have To Dash?
The idea of getting oatmeal incorporated into your daily routine seems like a wonderful idea to start being more mindful of nutrition, but unfortunately, some of us do not have the time to stand at the stove early in the morning to stir hot oatmeal before dashing out the door. Sam has found a solution to this plight.
“Overnight oats are a great way to get in your oatmeal on the go,” she says. “You can easily prepare a few days breakfasts ahead of time by simply mixing rolled oats, yogurt, chia seeds, milk of your choice, berries or nut butters and dividing among mason jars to refrigerate. I also suggest small rice cookers to make steel cut oats easily without fuss. You can set your rice cooker oats to cook, hop in the shower, and have breakfast ready when you’re out.”
Children Are The Fussiest Eaters
One minute it’s nothing but PB&J, the next it’s Chicken Nuggets. This is what makes oatmeal the perfect dish to start introducing into their routine; they can have their sweets while parents can rest assured that they’re getting a nutritious snack/meal.
There are so many fun oatmeal toppings which children can enjoy,” Sam tells us. “Get them involved by teaching them to cook oatmeal and giving them a “build your own” oatmeal bar option. They’ll have fun creating their own favorite combinations of fruits, nuts & seeds, spices, sweet drizzles, and maybe even a few chocolate chips or marshmallows.” Even something as simple as arranging a fun design with the toppings is a great method to use when working oats into your kids diet, as it keeps them entertained.
Sam also says that oatmeal cookies (made properly and mindful of nutrition) can be a wonderful snack for all ages. She even shares a secret technique of hers to bring out the best possible flavor of the raisins in her freshly baked OatMeals cookies. “For our famous Classic Oatmeal Raisin Cookie,” she revealed, “we plump our raisins overnight by soaking them in a mix of hot water, bourbon & vanilla. This infuses a wonderful flavor and texture which carries throughout the whole cookie.”
The Last Few Mouthfuls
Oatmeal is not to be discounted as an “underdog” when thinking about healthy alternatives to our daily intakes. Given the multiple health benefits and the mutability quality of oatmeal, it can be seen as being a truly ideal food.
OatMeals is a model for everyone to follow when it comes to being mindful and looking for unexpected meal options. Just because oats are a plain food does not make them a plain meal option (given all the possible additives one can mix in).
As we conclude our afternoon with Sam, we ask her if there are any more thoughts she would like to share on what to add to your oats at home to give them that special something. “It’s all about your own palate preferences but just try to get in those oats,” she replies. Overall, being mindful of nutrition is what truly matters, and making slight modifications to our daily diets can lead to better health and peace of mind.