Thursday, June 9, 2011

Homemade granola

Meet my latest cooking kick: homemade granola.

Like so many other foods, once you've tasted the wonder of your own, personally customized, homemade granola, you'll find it hard to return to the boxed packages on the grocery shelf.

This isn't the first time I've had homemade granola, but it's my first attempt of making it myself. The process started in 2008 when Mom and I ventured to Colorado to visit Chase during his summer outside of Steamboat Springs. On our one full day with him, he took us to his favorite restaurant in Steamboat, Freshies, a place that offered house-made granola on the menu.

It was incredible. When we returned from that trip, Mom spent quite a bit of time researching recipes and tweaking multiple batches, trying to replicate the wonder of the Freshies granola. She's passed the recipe on to me, but this summer is the first time I've tried making it myself.

I honestly had forgotten that I already had the recipe in my possession, so I pored over several recipes before jumping in. One thing that makes Mom's granola unique is the fact that it's cooked in the crock pot. You'll find many recipes out there for crockpot granola, but it's more common to find recipes carried out in the oven.

But for as many recipes that there are, you'll find just as many stories of, "Woe is me, you won't believe how many batches of granola I've burned before finally figuring out how to do it in my own oven." I wanted to avoid this learning curve as much as I could, and having seen how easy it is to do in the crockpot (even though the whole process takes longer), that's what I wanted to do.

Alas, woe is me, it's still easy to burn granola in the crockpot.


If you search for crockpot granola recipes, you'll find widely varying temperature and cooking time recommendations (Some will tell you 5-7 hours on high. Huh?!). After having made about four complete batches in the last month (two in one weekend), I can tell you that when it comes to my crockpot, two hours on low is all it takes.

Once you know that, this is an incredibly easy thing to make, and the recipe is entirely flexible. Dump everything in, stir it up, cook it on low, and stir it every 30 minutes. That's it. The result is a looser granola than you might be used to; it's not clumpy, though there may be a way to do it. The flavor is great, though, so I don't really miss the clusters.

I made a batch this past weekend that has been my best yet. This version was loosely based on a recipe from Smitten Kitchen (great cooking blog, by the way), with some of Mom's tried-and-true flair thrown in. Here's my latest version:

Homemade Granola
Loosely based on Smitten Kitchen and Mom's Amazing Personal Recipe
Serving size: 1/2 cup

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup flaked coconut (I used unsweetened)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Approximately 1 cup of your choice mix of chopped nuts and seeds (this version used almonds, walnuts, pecans, and sunflower seeds)
1/4 cup maple syrup (or honey)
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1 Tablespoon frozen OJ concentrate

I sprayed the inside of my crockpot with cooking spray first, but I'm not sure that it really did anything.

Dump everything into your crockpot. Stir to mix well and distribute the wet ingredients.

Cover, placing a paper towel across the top between the crock and the lid to catch condensation and keep it from getting back into your granola. Cook on low for two hours or so, depending on your crockpot, stirring every 30 minutes.

It's done when the granola is fragrant and golden brown. After you've turned off the crock pot, it will continue to dry and crisp up, getting a little bit darker (so it's okay to think you may have slightly undercooked it). Let it cool, then store in an airtight container at room temperature for a couple weeks or in the freezer indefinitely.

As you can see from these photos, the pre-cooking and post-cooking visual difference isn't huge.

Many recipes call for adding dried fruit after the granola has cooled, but I haven't done that yet. It doesn't really need it, though I know it would be wonderful, and honestly, I find myself forgetting to add it!

I love having this for breakfast with Greek yogurt and fresh fruit. We've had some unseasonably hot weather recently, so I've been enjoying more cold smoothies for breakfast -- and I've found that pouring the smoothie into a bowl (a very basic, bare-bones fruit smoothie), topping it with granola and eating it with a spoon is wonderful. You can also eat it like cold cereal with your favorite milk, or add some milk and warm it up in the microwave.

Now I just have to eat through this batch so I can start making some more...

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