Friday, May 1, 2009

Crunchy Cooking: Granola time!

Here we go with another edition of crunchy cooking at the Diaper Diaries! Please don't forget about my giveaway - entries are open through Mother's Day, Sunday May 10th!

Granola is delicious and basically good for you. It's high in fiber, and you can boost the nutritional content by adding different things to it. It's great for breakfast, as cereal with either milk or yogurt. Actually, granola and dried cranberries in milk is probably one of mine and Husband's all-time favorite cereals. Granola is a fun topping for ice cream or frozen yogurt, and it's delicious to just eat a few handfuls by themselves as a snack. Obviously, my recipe is for "loose" granola rather than bars. I've yet to try a good granola bar recipe at home, they always taste raw in the center to me.

Here we go! Get out your wet and dry ingredients: lowfat sweetened condensed milk, canola oil (I use canola rather than vegetable oil, which is produced from soybeans, which I try very hard to keep out of my family's diet), vanilla flavoring; oats, sliced almonds, and sunflower kernels. I also put in three optional dry ingredients: powdered milk, toasted wheat germ, and flax seed. (Now remember, this is a post about a healthy recipe, so pay no attention to the pizza box in the background. It's optical illusion.)

Start by whisking - either by hand or in an electric mixer - 1 cup of oil with sweetened condensed milk. It's much faster to do it with a mixer, but I have only a stand mixer and don't feel like washing it for something as small as this. I usually use one can of lowfat milk, and one can of regular, just to keep the granola from drying too quickly in the oven, but you could probably use 2 cans of lowfat if you stay close to your oven the whole time. When you begin to whisk, the oil and milk will resist incorporating...

...but be patient, and go slowly, or you will slop oil over the sides of your bowl! Soon it will come together and look smooth. At this point, whisk in vanilla (if desired, it's optional). I just use "some" vanilla. When I pour it in, it looks like it's about a tablespoon.

In a separate large bowl, mix half of your dry ingredients: one half of a large can of old-fashioned (NOT QUICK!!) oats, half a bag of sliced raw (not toasted) almonds, half a bag of sunflower kernels. Make sure you buy the bag (6 oz) of sunflower kernels, and not the 7.25 oz jar, because the jarred kernels are tossed in a spice mixture for tasty snacking and salad topping. Here is my super high-tech way of estimating half a bag: I flatten it out, put my hand about halfway down, and then pour out the nuts to where my hand is.

You can also add your optional dry ingredients at this time if you wish. I use powdered milk for vitamins A and D, calcium, and potassium. I use wheat germ for vitamin E and folic acid, and flax seed for extra fiber and omega 3 fatty acids. I just use a scant 1/4 cup of each.

Mix half your dry ingredients together, pour half of your milk mixture over oat mixture and toss to mix well.

Grease and flour (or spray ^ with cooking/baking spray) 2 to 3 large cookie sheets or jelly roll pans. Has everyone heard this tip before? When you're using spray, open your dishwasher and place pans on the inside of the dishwasher door, so that the excess spray goes inside the dishwasher instead all over your counter or stovetop. Although don't do this if the dishes in your dishwasher are clean. Remember, I wouldn't tell you something like that unless I had done it.

How large your pans are will determine how many you need. I use 3. Be careful! If you use 3 pans, the granola will not be as deep in the pans, and may brown much more quickly!

Anyway, after you've mixed half your granola, put into prepared pans.

Repeat with remaining half of dry ingredients. This is what a scant 1/4 cup looks like, by the way.

Mix dry, toss with milk mixture, put into remaining prepared pans. Put pans into preheated oven (anywhere from 225* to 300* F), and bake for up to 3 hours, tossing every 30 minutes.

If you're baking the granola at 225* F, which I recommend, your total baking time will end up being around 3 hours. Baking it lower and slower allows the oats and nuts to really cook, and baking low and slow brings out a delicious nutty flavor in the sunflower kernels that lends a peanut-buttery flavor to the granola. If you're in a hurry, you can bake it at a higher temp, but I would stir it every 20 minutes instead, and your total bake time will end up being more like 2 hours. When you stir and toss it, rotate your pans around in your oven, because all ovens have hot spots!

Anyway, 2 or 3 hours is a long time to wait for something to cook. So you could clean the kitchen and be really productive...

Or you could be less so.

For tossing the granola, I like to use a heat-resistant rubber scoopula (concave spatula). It's gentle on my pans, and effective at scooping, stirring, and redistributing the granola around. You want to scrape the granola from the outside of the pan to the inside, pushing what was inside out to the edges. Toss it well, and check for browning. Return the pans to the oven. Find something else to do.

This does not make the time go faster.

Still waiting, two hours in.

Last half hour! I think it's going to be ready this time!

Mmmmm, see how rich and brown this looks compared to the picture of when I was stirring it?

The top right pan actually got a little too done, but it still tastes great. When you have multiple pans in the oven, it may be that one pan is ready to come out before the others. You'll know when it's done. Pay attention to your nose, too, because right when it's ready, you'll kind of suddenly smell the sunflower kernels.

Let cool completely, and then put into storage of your choice. I usually use this tupperware thing, which will hold an entire batch of granola, but it's home to Little Lady's "oh-oh's" right now.

So instead, I put half the granola right back in the oatmeal canister, and half into a clean, reusable animal cracker jar. You could also use gallon ziploc bags. Enjoy!

Granola (one more time, so you don't have to sift through everything):

1 large can old-fashioned oats
1 6 oz bag sliced raw almonds
1 6 oz bag sunflower kernels
about 1/2 c EACH powdered milk, wheat germ, and flax seed, optional
2 cans sweetened, condensed milk
1 cup oil
about 1 tbsp vanilla, optional

Whisk oil, milk, and vanilla if using. In separate large bowl, mix half of dry ingredients, and toss with half of milk mixture. Pour into greased and floured jelly roll pans. Repeat with remaining half. Bake at 225-300 F for up to 3 hours, tossing every 30 minutes.

Make it your own! If you like cinnamon, add some cinnamon. Or nutmeg. You could experiment with different flavor extracts and oils. I wonder if cocount oil would be really tasty...? Or in what proportion to put peanut butter into the wet ingredients? Let me know what you do to make the granola a perfect fit for you!

(One of my good friends told me she used coconut oil in place of vegetable oil, a bit of orange zest, and almond extract in place of the vanilla - yum central! She also added dried cranberries into the cooked and cooled granola. Please be sure to leave a comment and share with us some delicious variations on how you made the granola your own!)


Jenney said...

hey! It is may...and if you haven't sold those diapers I was eyeing can you e-mail me so I can find out how to buy them?

Julia said...

this looks awesome!! i'm so going to try it! found your blog through someone on twitter!!