Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Hurricane Comfort

Saturday, when the pre-Hurricane Irene gray skies rolled in, my summer-long plan to eat more healthy went out the window.

I’ve been trying hard to eat more fruit, avoid fried food, and limit my trips to our ice cream store to once a day. Some days, I even succeed.

But when I woke up to fog and drizzle—plus the dread that comes from knowing that 40 or even 60 mile-per-hour winds and torrential rains are a day away—all I could think about was pancakes.

Based on the ingredients I had in my pantry (damn, out of Bisquick) I selected a recipe for Oatmeal Pancakes by Kathy Brown from the September 2010 issue of Cooking Light. The only thing I changed was that I used skim milk—which I had a whole gallon of—instead of buttermilk, which would have required a three-block walk to Hanningan’s market. Too much trouble to go through for just a batch of pancakes.

The pancakes turned out great, but something was missing—and it wasn’t fresh fruit for the top. The problem was that one of my favorite food groups wasn’t represented adequately: chocolate.

Instantly, my mind jumped to oatmeal chocolate chips cookies from my past. My mind zoomed in like an artsy food photograph. The background was a blur—I had no idea who made the cookies, when or where. But the cookies themselves were in sharp focus: I felt the cookies’ gooey texture and the tooth of oatmeal. I tasted melty bittersweet chocolate. I smelled caramelized brown sugar.

This was no longer just a batch of pancakes, it was a mission: Figure out how to make Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Pancakes. I searched oatmeal cookie recipes online and made notes, leaning heavily on Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies.  Then I flipped through numerous cookbooks to research brown sugar pecan syrups.

Next off to Hannigans for more oats, chocolate chips and pecans. Suddenly I had the energy to make it to the store—now that I had something “important” to do. That’s the way I am about projects. I can ignore the ones that relate to cleaning and home organization for months and years, but others–the fun ones–hit me with the urgency of a tornado.  Gotta figure out these pancakes NOW!

The next day, Sunday, I whipped up a trial batch of Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Pancakes against a backdrop of pre-hurricane rain and gloom. Toasty brown pancakes, al dente oatmeal, molassesy brown sugar and bitter-sweet chocolate drizzled with brown sugar syrup and toasted pecans. Total comfort food.

I admit that the pancakes still don’t taste quite as good as an oatmeal cookie—there’s only so close you can get to the flavor of creamed sugar and butter without actually adding creamed sugar and butter. But they were a lot more cookie-tasting than anything that ever came out of the Bisquick box.

As I chewed a perfect bite of chocolate, oat and pecan, I experienced a moment of guilt.  I’d taken healthy pancakes and turned them into candy. But my guilt only lasted for a second. Healthy is relative. My pancakes might be sweet, but at least I didn’t add more butter and sugar to the recipe–and I did use skim milk. Plus, I restrained myself from enhancing the syrup with calorie and flavor-adding tablespoons of butter and bourbon (hint, hint). And the pancakes do contain whole grain oats…

I guess this is about as healthy as I get…

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Pancakes with Toasted Pecan Syrup

Adapted from a recipe by Kathy Brown that appeared in Cooking Light—with heavy influence from a cookie recipe on Smitten Kitchen.

Makes three modest servings or two generous ones

Save steps by using store-bought syrup

¼ cup flour

1 cup quick cooking oats

1 tablespoon brown sugar

½ teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon salt

½ cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips plus more to sprinkle on top

1 large egg

1 cup skim milk

2 tablespoons melted butter

 

Pecan Brown Sugar Syrup Ingredients:

½ cup chopped pecans

2/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup water

 

1. Mix dry ingredients (flour through chips) in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

2. Heat a skillet or frying pan (I used non-stick) over medium heat. Melt butter in the pan.

3. Combine milk and egg in a small bowl. Mix in melted butter from pan.

4. Return pan to heat in preparation for pancakes. Mix wet ingredients into dry—just until wet. Don’t over-mix as something awful will happen. I have no idea what, but all the cookbooks warn you…

5. Spoon small dollops of batter onto the pan. Flip when the bottom gets brown. Remove from pan when brown on both sides. Serve with Pecan Brown Sugar Syrup and a sprinkling of more chocolate chips.

 

Syrup:

1. Lightly toast the pecans.*

2. Mix brown sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over low heat stirring occasionally. Continue to simmer until about half of the water boils away and the syrup gets body. Do not boil—if the syrup gets too hot it will reach soft ball or hard crack or one of those other candy stages and turn gooey when you pour it on the pancakes.

3. Stir pecans into syrup. Drizzle over pancakes.

 

*I roasted the pecans by spreading them on a sheet of aluminum foil and toasting them on the lowest setting of my toaster over. When the toaster completed its cycle, I stirred the nuts and returned them to the hot toaster oven for a couple more minutes. You can also toast them on the stovetop or in the oven—just watch them carefully. They go from toasty to black almost instantly.

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