I’ll be the first to describe oatmeal as foolproof. That doesn’t mean that you can’t make mistakes; instead, it means that it’s exceptionally easy to fix the mistakes! Overcooked? Easy fix. Soupy oatmeal (like the picture below)? Easy fix. Poor flavor? Easy fix.
Here are some common problems I’ve encountered, and the easy ways to respond to them:
1. You overcooked the oatmeal, and now it’s all dry and clumpy. This is absolutely my most common error, and it’s easy to make! Luckily, it’s also easy to fix. Remove from heat, add more liquid (OR yogurt), and stir. The oatmeal will probably not reach the perfect consistency you were originally going for, but it should regain most of its creamy charm!
2. For some reason unknown to man, your oatmeal looks more like soupy oats. You’ve let it simmer for way over five minutes, but the liquid just isn’t going anywhere, and the oats are starting to look overcooked. No worries; I’ve been there. Dozens of times. There are a few options. First of all, if there’s a LOT of liquid left, consider carefully removing some of the extra liquid using a spoon. Second, you could add a spoonful or two of oat flour, which you can either buy in a store or make yourself by grinding up your regular oats. This will thicken up your oatmeal without having to be cooked for a long time. The other option, and my personal favorite, is to simply remove the oatmeal from heat and let it sit for a few minutes. Amazingly, it just thickens up on its own.
If, however, you have made refrigerator oatmeal, and the porridge that greets you in the morning is essentially a lake of liquid, this is also an easy fix. Pour the oatmeal into a bowl and microwave for 1-2 minutes. It will have to suck up the extra liquid as it cooks! I intentionally add extra liquid when I make refrigerator oatmeal because I know it will be the perfect consistency after being microwaved.
3. You poured your heart into making a baked oatmeal recipe, waited twenty minutes, and taken your first bite, only to discover that it has the flavor profile of a rice cake. The easy thing about stove-top oatmeal is that you can taste-and-go, constantly adjusting the flavors until it’s perfect. With baked oatmeal, you have to put faith into your judgment and hope it turns out alright. Most of the time, it does. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t. If you find yourself with a bland baked oatmeal, don’t despair; just dress it up with toppings. If you didn’t season the batter enough, sprinkle on some cinnamon or nutmeg as a topping! If it didn’t turn out as sweet as you would have liked, drizzle on some maple syrup or honey. If it’s just plain dull, smear on some peanut butter or throw some chocolate chips on top. Another great option is to add fruit, which packs a huge flavor punch, particularly strawberries and bananas.
4. You accidentally dumped half a container of cinnamon into the saucepan instead of the suggested 1/4 teaspoon. Ah yes, you had great intentions. You’ve become a confident master of the oats, and you freely toss in the ingredients without measuring them. But then, with your preferred curse words, you mistakenly dump an entire mountain of cinnamon into your cooking oats. Rest easy, fellow porridge lovers, you’re not alone! I’ve been there. There are two options. First of all, you can immediately spoon out the load of undesired spices. You probably won’t be able to salvage it, unfortunately, but at least you can save your oatmeal from being tragically overspiced! Second (and this may just create a bigger mess), you could attempt to double (or triple) the rest of the recipe by adding more liquid and oats so that the heavy dose of cinnamon is proportionate to the rest of the recipe. You could then either share your oatmeal or store the leftovers in the fridge for another day.
5. You started boiling the liquid, and you measure out the oats, only to discover that you don’t have enough to create a full serving. Oops! Before you panic, check your pantry. You may have other grains–like rice, quinoa, buckwheat, or millet–that you could use. The cooking times will probably be different, but it won’t be too hard to adjust. As you can see from my Oat-Quinoa Porridge, mixing grains can create a very desirable breakfast! If you don’t have any of those on hand, try removing a bit of the liquid (set it aside for later so you don’t have to waste it; you could use it as a topping if you like adding milk at the end). Then, compensate for the smaller serving by adding lots of mix-ins, like bananas, yogurt, peanut butter, granola, dried fruit, etc. For more ideas, check out my Loaded Banana Oatmeal post.
There’s one flub that I cannot fix, unfortunately. If you dump cumin into your Apple Pie Oatmeal instead of nutmeg…well…just throw it away. It’s a lost cause. Ahem, not that that’s ever happened to me or anything…