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Cooking for One: Homemade granola made with ease

Thursday, October 12, 2000

By Marlene Parrish

For years I wouldn't admit to making my own cereal for fear of being branded a "granola head" -- one of the herbal tea- drinking, hippie-dippie types in wire-rim glasses and tie-dyed shirts who roamed the earth in the '60s.

I got over it. I happen to prefer the taste and crunch of my custom-made cereal formula to anything I can buy.

Most super-sweet, supermarket granolas are cavity-activating and loaded with a lot of the worst kind of fat, such as coconut and palm oil. They are also expensive.

Granola is so easy to make at home, it doesn't even fall into the category of cooking. Since a little effort goes a long way, solo cooks with limited time and experience might want give it a go. If you need granola lessons, read on.

First, try it as a bowl of cereal with milk, orange juice or sweetened coffee poured over. Add sliced fresh fruit if you like. Granola also has multiple roles as a topping. A dish of cottage cheese or a carton of fruit yogurt topped with a half cup of granola makes a light but filling dinner or power breakfast or desk lunch. Granola is good sprinkled on applesauce or ice cream. I've even put a sprinkling over a baked sweet potato. And, except for the few inevitable crumbs that could really bollix up a computer keyboard, it's easy to eat out of hand. The downside: It's calorie-rich and hard to stop eating.

The granola-making drill goes like this. Buy rolled oats -- you know, oatmeal -- but not quick-cooking or instant. Dump the dry oats in a bowl with other cereal-friendly ingredients. Toss with a fat and a sweetener and bake until golden and clumpy.

There are lots of cook's-choice options. Shredded or flaked coconut is always good, unsweetened preferred. Various seeds and nuts are good partners, too.

The fat in granola recipes is there to coat the oatmeal and make it crisp as the cereal bakes, just the way fat is tossed on bread cubes when making croutons to make them crisp and toasty. Many recipes call for melted butter or margarine. I use light olive oil instead. It does the coating job just as well, is better nutritionally and has no lactose, an ongoing no-no for me.

Honey is the usual sweetener. I warm the honey in the microwave to make it pourable and then stir it into the oil. This method allows you to combine the liquids and drizzle the mixture over the dry cereal ingredients and get them well-coated.

Most recipes call for raisins or some sort of chewy dried fruit. I've used dried cranberries, currants, chopped dates or a handful of mixed dried fruit. Here's a word of warning. Do NOT add them to the cereal mixture before baking or they will further dehydrate and get so hard you could bite down and crack a filling. Spare me embarrassment, and don't ask how I know this. Point is, stir in the dried fruit when you remove the granola from the oven.

Same thing goes for wheat germ, which adds a good dose of nutrition. The tiny, thin flakes can over-toast or even burn if not closely watched. Stir it in after the granola has baked. Most recipes don't tell you to do this.

Chopped nuts add flavor and crunch. Almonds are most often included, but if you like pecans or walnuts and have them in the pantry, use them. Some recipes call for sunflower or pumpkin seeds. I find them both sharp on the gullet and nearly indigestible.

Cinnamon is a natural partner, and most recipes call for it. Sneak in a titch of nutmeg -- about a quarter of a teaspoon -- for a rather exotic taste. Salt is usually not called for, but I always add a pinch to bring out the flavor in the other ingredients and also because by using olive oil as my fat of choice, there's a loss of the salt component usually found in butters and margarines.

Pan size will affect the baking time. Most granolas are baked in a 9-by-3-inch baking pan. But if the cereal is dumped onto a cookie sheet, it will bake and brown faster. Color and type of metal also affect the baking time. It's best to turn on the oven light and keep a watchful eye on the baking. When you begin to smell it, the cereal is about done.

Not to fret if the recipes make big quantities. You'll end up putting some in Baggies and giving it away. In any case, granola keeps for a long time stored in a jar with a screwtop lid and even longer, I think, in the fridge. I usually eat it so fast, I've never put that to the test.

Baked Honey Granola

2 cups rolled oats, uncooked
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt
1/3 cup slivered almonds, chopped
1/4 cup honey, warmed to liquid
1/4 cup light olive oil (or 4 tablespoons butter, melted)
1/2 cup golden raisins or other dried fruit

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, combine oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and almonds. In a glass measure, warm honey until it is no longer viscous. Add olive oil (or melted butter) to the honey and stir.

Drizzle the honey-oil over the dry ingredients and mix to combine. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet or in a 9-by-3-inch pan.

Bake granola until golden and crunchy, stirring once, anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes. It will depend on your pan. Stir in the raisins. Makes about 3 cups.

Big Batch Granola

1 box (6 cups) rolled oats
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup wheat germ
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup honey (or honey mixed with maple syrup)
1/3 cup oil, any kind
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup dried fruit, optional

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Combine the first 5 ingredients. Warm the honey, add the oil and vanilla. Drizzle the honey-oil over the dry ingredients and toss to coat. Spread the mixture onto 2 cookie sheets. Bake about 30 minutes until golden, stirring every 10 minutes.

When done, remove from oven and stir in dried fruit if used. As the granola cools, it will lose its stickiness and become crunchy. Makes about 9 cups.

Adele Davis' Grandaddy of Granolas

5 cups rolled oats
1 cup each of chopped almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, shredded coconut, soy flour, powdered milk (preferably non-instant), and wheat germ.
1 cup warmed honey
1 cup oil, any kind

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Combine dry ingredients. Combine honey and oil and drizzle over the dry ingredients tossing and coating. Spread the mixture on 2 cookie sheets and bake for 30 to 45 minutes until golden. Makes up to 12 cups, depending what you add or leave out.

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