Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Good Excuse to Turn the Oven On

I live in an old New England house and it is 20 degrees outside, so needless to say it is cold inside too. Despite our best efforts to insulate and weather proof, the cold still seeps through cracks, the overhangs, roof eves and basement walls. The price of heating forces us to keep our thermostat pretty low, so we have good slippers and wear scarves and sweaters indoors. I love bundling up, it's cozy, but my other great tactic for warming up in frigid temperatures is cooking. A pot of simmering soup, reducing cider or baking bread all call for turning on the oven or stove for extended periods of time, resulting in a warm house and some tasty results.

Many of you have asked me recently about making granola, which is high on the list of house warming recipes since it bakes for a nice long while. It's also high on the list of wholesome unprocessed breakfast foods and very inexpensive if you make it at home rather than buy it at the store.  I will do my best to lay out this recipe for you, but I have to admit that I never measure when I'm making granola. Essentially, I mix oats, a sweetener and a little oil until the oats are well coated and then add whatever spices I'm in the mood for, bake, add nuts or dried fruit and enjoy. That's it.
3 pounds or 10 cups oats (I like to use a mix of rolled and quick oats)
1 to 2 cups sweetener to taste (sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, etc)*
1/2 cup oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
dried fruit, nuts, seeds of your choice.

*Because cost is a major factor for me, I tend to use sugar instead of honey or maple syrup to make my granola. I usually make about 6 pounds of oats at a time which would call for a lot of honey, and unfortunately, sugar is much cheaper. I don't make my granola very sweet, and when I can I use part honey,agave, maple syrup or other less refined sweetener. 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. If you are using sugar to sweeten your granola, place it in a heat proof bowl or jar and add a few tablespoons of boiling water at a time, just enough to dissolve the sugar.

In a large bowl, mix together oats, sweetener, oil, salt and spices until thoroughly coated. Taste and adjust the flavor to your liking. You can add any spices, citrus zest or extracts that you like at this point.

Spread the oat mixture onto 2 baking sheets or  a roasting pan. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove pan from oven and mix the granola so that it gets evenly browned in baking. Return the pan to the oven. Your granola is done when it is golden brown and dried, total baking time is about 60 minutes, depending on the depth of your pan. If it takes longer, don't worry, just cook it until it is lightly brown and dry.

If you want to add nuts, seeds or coconut to your granola, do so about 10 minutes before the granola is done baking. This will give them a few minutes to roast, bringing out their best flavor.

Remove granola from the oven and add any dried fruit that you like. Cool granola completely before storing in an air tight container. A ziploc bag or large jar works well.
    Here I made a double batch of granola with the base recipe above. 10 minutes before it was done I added flax seed and unsweetened shredded coconut to half the granola (jar on the left). The other half I finished in the oven and then added raisins and some cashew pieces and a little extra cinnamon (jar on the right).

    Thoughts on Cereal
    If you are trying to feed a family or even just one hungry person in the USA, cereal is a likely a central part of your diet, and possibly not just for breakfast.  While my family tries to eat a pretty healthy diet, 3 out of four members of my family are quite partial to carbs, especially cereal. It is not unusual to see a bowl of yogurt and granola for dessert or a late night bowl of cereal before bed. A few years ago I realized that with all the hard work I was doing to remove as much processed food from our diet as possible, we still had a lot of cereal in our cabinet. Granted it was the healthier, low sugar brands, but when I started paying more attention I realized that they are still a fairly processed food. Puffed grains like corn, rice or kamut have always been a staple, but it was time to cut back on the puffins, the O's and the like. Granola has always been a favorite too, and we certainly don't mind the super sweet ones from the grocery store, but even in bulk, the cheapest ones run about $2.99 a pound, and many of them have wheat, natural flavorings and about 10 or more ingredients. So, when the weather permits, I happily crank up my oven and make a big, simple, cheap batch of homemade granola.

    Approximate cost of making homemade granola:
    3 pounds oats in bulk - $3 (this is the cost of organic oats at my local health food store)
    sugar - .40 cents
    oil - .40 cents
    spices - .25 cents
    nuts, seeds, dried fruit: $1 to $2 dollars

    Total= 14 cups or 3.5 pounds granola
    about $1.58/pound, about half the price of store bought.

    So, what do you think? Are you going to fire up the oven and make granola? 
    please share your ideas in a comment below!


    1. I knew you would get around to granola eventually ;)
      Sadly I am the only one in my house who eats it but I eat it every day. I'm going to give this a try (in a much smaller batch).
      Thanks for braking it all down for me!

    2. Hey, how did it turn out? I hope well!

    3. This sounds great! Excited to make it. What kind of oil do you recommend? Also, did you add whole or ground flax seeds? Thanks!

    4. you can use any neutral tasting oil. I used a safflower oil, but any canola, vegetable or light olive oil could also work. I used whole flax seed, but you can grind them too.

    5. whats the trick to getting it to stick together into clumps??? my kids (and me) always want the big chunks.

    6. Big chunks come from more sweetener and moisture holding the oats together. you can add, sugar, honey agave, maple syrup whatever you like, I'd also add a little water and use more quick oats and less rolled oats because they clump easier. You might even try adding something like oat bran, wheat germ or even a little flour which will help it stick together more and make clusters. Sometimes i just put the oats in a pan as instructed above and then drizzle honey over them without mixing and that helps make clusters without a ton of extra sugar.-T