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I don't know which came first. Was it the granola bar or granola cereal? It's one of those chicken-and-egg questions. It really doesn't matter, but it was just one of those thoughts that came through my head as I was making homemade granola for the first time. I don't know why I've never made it before. Perhaps it's because it's so easy to go to the store and grab a box to throw in my grocery cart.

I've been eating granola every morning for breakfast for the past few years with about a half cup of plain, nonfat Greek yogurt. On occasion, I'll switch out my granola flavors from granola with fruit to granola with nuts or just bare naked.

After using up my last bit of granola recently, it occurred to me that I should try making my own, so I started searching for a good recipe that would use things I already had on hand — staples from the pantry, fridge and freezer.

Eight easy ingredients and an hour in the oven and there it was: granola that was as good, if not better, than some of those purchased in the past and cost dollars more. I felt good about it too because I knew there were no preservatives in it. Oh, and the fact that I could use up some old pumpkin pie spice made it even better. I'm not a big fan of pumpkin spice, but when mixed with maple syrup, brown sugar, nuts and oats, it blends in nicely without overwhelming.

A few words about making this granola:

— Baking: Once you've mixed everything together and spread it out on a parchment-sheet-lined cookie sheet, put it in the oven and don't do anything to it until you're ready to take it out, except test it after about 45 minutes. You don't want to overbake this granola. Otherwise it will be too crunchy — like a cracker.

— Add-ins: Raisins, dried cranberries and dried apricots are delicious additions once you pull the granola out of the oven.

— The right oatmeal: Don't use instant oatmeal. Try to find oatmeal with the largest flakes you can find. This will help prevent the aforementioned overbaking.

The price of granola, like everything else, keeps going up, so if nothing else, this will make your pocketbook happy, but it should please your taste buds as well. Put some in a bag, and tie it with a bow. Granola makes a lovely gift from your kitchen Christmas as well.

 

Fruity Pumpkin Granola

1/3 cup coconut oil, melted

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups large-flake rolled oats (not instant oats)

1 cup chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts or almonds)

2 tablespoons brown sugar

4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup raisins, dried cranberries or dried chopped apricots

Heat oven to 300 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, add melted coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla; stir to combine. Add the oats, nuts, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice and salt, and stir together.

Spread the granola out on the prepared baking sheet, and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour without stirring. Check and taste after about 45 minutes. When it's done, remove it from the oven, and stir in the fruit.

Allow to cool, and store in resealable bags or an airtight container for up to 3 weeks at room temperature, up to 6 weeks in the refrigerator.

 

FOR THE KIDS

If you're looking for something different for the children this year, gift them with a taste from around the world rather than a present with 100 pieces they scatter across your house.

Eat2explore's holiday treat boxes, which are new this holiday season, provide kids and their families a chance to cook together while learning about different countries and cultures at the same time.

The boxes include either sweet or savory ingredients to make dishes from Turkey, Greece, Colombia, Italy and other countries around the globe.

Kids will gain knowledge of things that make us different, as well as those things that make us alike — like our love of food, though the foods may be quite unfamiliar to their American palates.

Eat2explore kits are available online at eat2explore.com or from Amazon, Williams-Sonoma and Kohl's.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com or annebraly.com.

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Anne Braly
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