May 26, 2010

The toasty goodness that is . . .


Homemade granola is something I've always wanted to try my hand at, something that my mother used to make way back when, in her vegetarian days, a very healthful rendering, one which she's recently started making again, pared back a bit. Apart from hers, I've come across several granola recipes over the years, clipped from newspapers, jotted onto 3 x 5 cards, sourced online, copied and pasted for printing, but they've never made it from my computer to the printer, from my recipe box to the kitchen. Not until now, that is, when the latest issue of Bon Appétit arrived in the mail the other day featuring an intriguing write-up for an unfussy, uncomplicated granola just suited to my taste buds. Don't get me wrong, my mom's recipe is not unappealing.  It's a really good one, actually, but very bulky and filling, and I wanted a lighter version, one more easily digested in the mornings. Michael loves her granola, with good reason. Apart from enjoying the granola's flavor, he has a crazy fast metabolism that needs bulky foods, whereas my appetite does not thrive so well on such hearty breakfasts. Call it dainty, if you will, but my stomach can only handle so much food at a time.

Many of those saved recipes were intriguing in their own right, with tasty-looking ingredient lists and combinations I wouldn't have otherwise thought of, which I'm kind of sad about not trying. When it comes down to raiding the pantry, though, and making the stuff, who wants to mess around with a list so long you feel like giving up before even starting, not to mention the need for somewhat uncommon pantry items that would require an extra grocery store trip. At least, said items are uncommon in my humble opinion. Brown rice syrup is great in theory, but I'd much prefer using what's already in the cupboard, a sweetener we use on a regular basis: honey. Breakfast should not be complicated. Besides, who's to say if those bypassed granolas are any good or not? Using a lot of ingredients on the unknown is rather daunting, with the possibility of the results not panning out. But you be the judge -- everybody has different tastes, to some degree or another. This is just my preference for eyeing recipes and judging on first glance whether they're iffy or worth the effort. If they're somewhere in-between, then they're saved for re-evaluation later on, which, through the test of time, reveals one of two things: either the initial appeal lasted, or it simply faded away. Sometimes, though, it's just a matter of what's in the pantry and what isn't.

This particular version appealed to me because of its simplicity and adaptability, plus the fact that the author described her travels through granola making and seemed to have acquired along the way the expertise to craft a quality bowl of breakfast material. It's been tested, and after eating a bowl every morning for the past three days, been approved as well.

Toasty with pecans, spiced with a touch of cinnamon and ginger, and ever-so-slightly sweet, it's satisfies several cravings at once. Normally, I'm more of a toast person in the mornings, but this has a chance of sneaking in and becoming the preferred choice, especially since it's so versatile. The basic recipe, ingredient proportions, and decent time spent in the oven are what make it good and toasty. The pecans can be swapped out for walnuts or almonds, the dried fruit is your preference (I happen to like the combination of apricots and dates, but dried cherries would work well, too, or anything you like), and you could possibly even make a maple version, switching the honey for maple syrup. Now I know that I said simple is best and all that, but this is a granola you can change around a bit and expect good results while still keeping it simple. Only changing the type of dried fruit you use with each batch is enough to keep it from becoming boring. Just keep the proportions as written and adjust the flavors to your taste.

The original in the magazine called for 1/2 cup unsweetened flaked coconut, which would have been nice to use if there had been any in the house. Since there wasn't, I substituted ground flaxseed and was perfectly content, but if you have a thing for coconut, by all means, use coconut. Often the unsweetened flaked type can be found in bulk in natural foods stores so you can buy as much or as little as you need. If you don't like coconut, flaxseed has a mild, nutty taste, so it won't detract from the other flavors here and works very well.

Everyday Granola
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg, via Bon Appétit, June 2010

3 cups old-fashioned oats (not instant)
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
½ cup flaxseed (or ½ cup unsweetened flaked coconut)
3 Tbsp (packed) brown sugar
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp salt
⅓ cup honey
2 Tbsp safflower oil
1 cup assorted dried fruit

Preheat oven to 300° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix oats, pecans, flaxseed, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a large bowl.

Stir together honey and oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until smooth. Pour over oat mixture and toss with a wooden spoon. Spread on prepared sheet and bake until golden, stirring every 10 minutes, about 40 minutes total (or a tad less if your oven runs hot).

Place sheet on a wire rack to cool, and stir granola. Mix in dried fruit. Store in an airtight container once cooled completely.

Makes about 5 cups.

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