One Mug, One Serving

As a follow up to the previous Small Batch, One Bowl, today’s post further down-sizes.

Think of this small personal cake the next time the need hits for a minimal-mess-quick-fix.  You can’t go wrong with the satisfying combination of sweet ripe banana and quick hearty oats. If time permits finish it with a honey-oat topping.

Simply mix all the ingredients in a microwaveable mug and pop it into a microwave oven for 1½ minutes. It’s just that easy.

But wait!  If you haven’t used the microwave for baking before, there are a few things to keep in mind.  In small scale baking such as this, details matter and every second counts.

  • The microwave draws moisture out of food. 
    With our small cake, the size and ripeness of the banana become a key factor. To lighten the cake and provide additional liquid, use either one beaten egg white or 1 egg yolk plus 1-2 teaspoons liquid. When all ingredients have been combined, if the batter is quite heavy adjust by adding a dash at a time of additional liquid to reach a thick cake-like batter.
  • For the optional honey-oat topping Old fashioned oats provide an interesting nut-like quality. Because they are very dry, a bit of milk or water added to the oats will help to moisturize them before adding the honey.  (The honey will soak into the dry oats and become a sticky mess without moisturizing the oats first.)
  • For the cake to rise evenly, turn the cup once half way through baking.
    It is cooked when the cake begins to shrink away from the edges of the mug.
  • When done, let the cake rest for 5 minutes.
    The cake will continue to cook and release moisture.
  • Unmold by running a knife around the edge of the cake.
    If pretty is important, dress it up with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, a dollop of whipped cream, or a drizzle of warmed local honey.
  • Enjoy!
    For breakfast, snacking, or individual dessert.

Banana Oat Mug Cake with Honey-Oat Topping

Inspired by Quaker Oats Banana Oat Mug Cake


  • 2 ½ tablespoons quick oats
  • 2 tablespoons AP flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar, packed
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ ripe banana, well mashed
  • 1 egg white lightly beaten; or 1 egg yolk + 2 tsp milk, water or other liquid, lightly beaten
  • Topping
  • 1½ teaspoons old fashioned oats moistened with 1 tsp milk or other liquid
  • 1 teaspoon honey, agave or syrup
  • Pinch each cinnamon and salt


  1. In microwaveable mug, blend together oats, flour, baking powder, sugar and nutmeg.
  2. Add the banana and egg white or egg yolk mixture and combine evenly to form a batter. If quite thick, thin with a dash of milk or water.  Scrape bottom and sides with a spatula.
  3. Combine the topping mixture and distribute over the top.
  4. Microwave on HIGH 80 to 90 seconds until risen and just firm to the touch. Half way through, stop and rotate the mug. Let stand 3 to 5 minutes to further cook and set up before serving.  Yield: 1 serving

Shaken and not stirred

It took an early summer of unbending heat and some very persuasive food writers to turn me into a believer.   Highly unlikely, since I am such a lover of creamy cooked oats and grains, a crunchy, chewy uncooked muesli just seemed wrong.

I have been reading Grain Power, an informative cookbook on ancient grains and seeds by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming, a boon to those looking for gluten-free alternatives. The two sisters simplify and demystify the care and handling of popular varieties like quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, oats, spelt, faro, teff, and chia.  They provide plenty of current information on these grains and seeds and do a nice job of explaining each one’s unique attributes and follow up with plenty of imaginative recipes―from raw to cooked.

Their Mason Jar Ancient Grain Breakfast really caught my attention because it is quite similar to my own cooked version discussed here.  Essentially, you put a combination of your favorite grains in a mason jar (for 2 servings I used about 6 tablespoons), add a few raisins, a teaspoonful of chia seeds if available, a pinch of cinnamon, and measure in twice as much water as grains.  You shake that up, let it rest about 20 minutes, shake it again, and refrigerate it for 7 hours or longer.  The up-shot: NO COOKING, an attractive solution during our days of record-breaking heat.

Morning Muesli
Muesli AM

I gave the mason jar approach a try last night.  Early this morning I took a peak and was not happy with the results.There was a lot of water floating on the top and the mixture was still very crunchy.  I theorized that the steel-cut oats, buckwheat groats, and millet, were all slow to absorb water.  Did I forget the bulgur wheat?  Who knows, I didn’t see any…  and that would certainly help the situation.  Biggest issue for me: there were no rolled oats.  I added a couple of tablespoonfuls and within a couple of hours, things were looking better.

Meanwhile, I went online and pulled up Felicty Cloake’s fascinating Guardian article on muesli.  She revisits Maximilian Bircher-Benner, the Swiss doctor and nutritionist who started it all at his sanatorium.   Felicity points out his belief in the natural approach to food, especially the healing qualities of fruits and vegetables.  His ideal breakfast would feature plenty of fruit, grated apple was a favorite, plus the addition of a small handful of oats soaked overnight.

Of course, times have changed.   Since then, the trend to reduce the soaking time has caught on and the amount of grains to fruit has increased.  Felicity maintains assorted grains are fine, but oats should remain the standard base.   At this point, I couldn’t agree more.

muesli and apple
Morning Muesli

For my test breakfast this morning I ladled half of my amended blend into a bowl, still a bit watery, but acceptable. I swirled in a few spoonfuls of yogurt, topped it with part of a grated Granny Smith apple, a few blueberries, and swirled a little agave syrup over the whole thing.  It was so good it didn’t even make it to the table!muesli with spoon

With thanks to Patricia and Carolyn’s Grain Power and Felicity Cloake, here is my revised version, which is all about using what’s on hand.   For now, that will include rolled oats… shaken, and not stirred in the pot.

Overnight Muesli in a Mason Jar

Inspired by Grain Power by Patricia Green and Carolyn Hemming;  Felicity Cloake, How to make the perfect bircher muesli, at the Guardian

2 Tbsp rolled oats
2 Tbsp steel cut oats
1 Tbsp buckwheat groats
1 Tbsp millet
1 Tbsp bulgur wheat
1 Tbsp quinoa, rinsed
1 tsp chia seeds
2 Tbsp raisins
Pinch cinnamon
1 cup boiling water or juice
To Finish
2 Tbsp yogurt or milk
2Tbsp fresh fruit or nuts:  grated apple, blueberries, raspberries, etc
Sweetener to taste:  honey, agave etc.


  1. In a mason jar measure grains of choice equaling about 8 tbsp.
  2. Add raisins or other dried fruit, chia seeds (optional), cinnamon and pour boiling water over all. Seal the top with lid and shake well.  Let stand 15 to 20 minutes and shake again.  Store in refrigerator overnight, or for about 8 hours or longer.
  3. Spoon from jar into bowl or reheat if desired. Add topping of choice and serve:  Yield 2 servings.

Breakfast of Champions

muesli with oranges

I was a non-believer before this cereal.

For years the idea of consuming anything beyond coffee before 10AM was downright repulsive and I saw no reason to aimlessly stuff food down my gullet without seriously enjoying it.   On the weekends, brunch was a civilized concept that I could wrap my brain around:  a well presented tasty meal, designed for leisurely pleasure.  Now we’re talking.

When my schedule shifted and I needed high energy and all the smarts I could muster first thing in the morning― with little hope for food until late afternoon― I knew I had to adjust my eating habits.  For a while I relied on homemade breakfast bars.  Although that wasn’t enough to make it until 3PM or later, it did get my stomach programmed to tolerate early AM food.

I considered a lot of breakfast options and kept returning to a cereal of some sort―more out of convenience, but I wasn’t happy. Ready-made cereal was out of the question, and most cooked cereals were heavy and uninteresting.  I needed food with staying power.  I liked muesli, the European cereal with whole grains that are soaked, perhaps toasted, but not cooked. It’s probably the precursor to granola, but sadly most granola sinks into a disappointing sugar/fat saturated imitation of the real thing.

So this is the point where original muesli and I parted ways.  I opted for a similar ingredient profile, but headed toward a cooked version that would provide some of the enticing creaminess I yearned for. I love oats, so they would serve as my base.  I continued to tinker.  Over time, I hammered out what worked for me and developed a simple method to bring it all together.  My local market’s bulk food section became a regular hangout.

My standard grain combination is based on a good quality oat multi-grain blend―essentially 5 grains featuring rolled oats, flaxseed, rye, barley, triticale and whole wheat.  I beef that up further with my own five grains:  equal amounts of steel-cut oats to reinforce the oats, bulghur wheat, and buckwheat groats―for their nutty, musky, flavor. (I learned that buckwheat is unrelated to wheat, and even more nutritious; it is a great substitute for those who are gluten intolerant). Finally, millet is included for the creaminess component, I discovered mild-mannered millet has great binding qualities when thoroughly cooked.

Dried fruit is a regular in my muesli; golden raisins are a superb addition for their natural sweetness.  Other favorites:  dried cranberries, apricots, and even prunes (dried plums).   On occasion, I cut up an apple with skin on and add it with the dried fruit at the end of cooking.

hot cereal in pot
A variation including quinoa, dried apricots and cranberries

There’s no getting around it, cooking whole grains takes time, but I have learned I can make up a big pot once a week.  I have an electric kettle that I fire up with plenty of water.  In a 2-3 quart pot I heat 3-4 cups salted boiling water.  The grains are divided into 2 groups, the first batch cooks for about 20 minutes, with a couple more cups water added to thin.  The 5-grain oats are added and cooked for an additional 10-15 minutes.  Then, the dried fruit, perhaps an apple, plus a bit of cinnamon or other sweet spice are  stirred in, they continue to cook until the fruit is softened,  another minutes. As the cereal cooks I stir in more hot water to thin as needed since the cereal continues to thicken as it cools.  In all, I allow about 30 to 40 minutes total cooking time.

muesli and berries
Hot muesli with custard sauce and berries

A batch will store for up to a week in a sealed container in the fridge.  In the morning, I spoon the day’s portion into a microwaveable bowl.  When ready, I pop it into the microwave and heat until it is piping hot, about 2 minutes, and top it with a large dollop of plain yogurt and a spoonful of marmalade, jam, honey or agave. For a very special treat, it is delicious topped with homemade Custard Sauce and perhaps a few fresh berries.

I have to finally admit it, cereal really can be a great way to start the day.  I am no longer threatened by those extreme highs and lows, I can remain focused, my appetite stays in check, and I get the job done without becoming completely frazzled. It’s all built on a breakfast of champions.

CB’s Hot Muesli     

Named after the European cereal of soaked or toasted whole grains, my cooked version is still full of fiber and texture, but its creaminess adds another satisfying dimension.   Consider other grains like barley, triticale, quinoa, etc.  It can be stored well covered in the refrigerator for several days.


8 cups boiling water, divided
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup steel-cut oats
1/3 cup bulghur wheat
1/3 cup buckwheat groats
1/3 cup millet
1 cup 5- grain whole oats or any other oat-based blend
1/3 cup golden raisins, or dried apricots, currants or cranberries
1 apple, cut into large dice
½ tsp cinnamon, allspice, or nutmeg or a combination


  1. In 2-3 qt pot, bring 3 cups salted water to a boil. Stir in the steel-cut oats, bughur wheat, buckwheat groats, and millet.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes.  Add 1-2 cups hot water to thin as it thickens.
  2. Stir in the 5-grain oat blend and cook an additional 10-15 minutes; add hot water if it becomes too thick.
  3. Stir in the dried fruit, apple and spice and simmer another 5 minutes to soften the fruit.