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Strawberry-and-almond baked oatmeal is quick, eye-catching, and easily serves a crowd. [Photograph: Yvonne Ruperti]

When one thinks of cooking oatmeal, it's often either on the stovetop or in a microwave. Add water to your oats, and cook until they've softened. I've been doing it this way all my life, never giving the process much thought, because it always worked. And to be honest, when you're just cooking for one or two, and you want it fast, stovetop or microwave is ideal.

But there's another, lesser known way to make oatmeal, and though it takes a little longer, it's super easy and great for entertaining: baked oatmeal. If you never thought oatmeal could be "hands off," let alone considered fit for guests, then you're in luck, because we've got not one, but three great ways to do it.

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Maple-banana baked oatmeal

Over the years I've created more than my fair share of oatmeal volcanoes in the microwave. And standing over the stove stirring the pot is not really what I want to be doing first thing in the morning. With baked oatmeal, all you have to do is toss it all in a baking dish and slide it into the oven. In about 30 minutes, you've got a dish of steaming, tender oats. To enrich it, I use milk instead of water, and just one egg lightens the texture. It's the perfect stress-free hot breakfast to serve to guests. Why? There's no à la minute cooking: the oven does all the work.

Because oats on their own are rather plain, oatmeal benefits tremendously from a few add-ins to dress it up. A juicy strawberries-and-almond baked oatmeal is bursting with fresh sweet-tart flavor. In my maple-banana baked oatmeal with walnuts, sugar is swapped out for delicious maple syrup. And, for the last recipe, cinnamon-apple baked oatmeal, tart Granny Smith apples provide contrast to the sweet oatmeal. Pre-cooking the apples first in the baking dish gives the apples a head start on softening before baking with the oats. For optimum texture, be sure to serve immediately, piping hot, as any oatmeal will continue to thicken as it cools.

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