Saturday, July 16, 2011

Experiment #2: Homemade Granola

With my husband's plunge into graduate school this past year and his constant 12+ hour days away from home, I have had to learn how to cook. I do not like to cook. Growing up, I did lots of baking with my mom. Baking is therapeutic. Relaxing. Fun.

But cooking? Ugh.

I realize now that my hefty disdain for cooking is primarily because I just never learned how to cook. I have absolutely no clue what I'm doing and have no innate cooking sense to guide me. As you might imagine, I am not very good at it. And, childish though it may seem, I do not like doing things I can't do well.

But, one cannot raise a healthy family on cheesy eggs, tuna melts and spaghetti (the three meals I "cooked" before this year). So in an attempt to remedy my complete lack of culinary knowledge, I started reading (gasp!) cookbooks and cooking magazines. Amid the tedious steps for creating perfect pastas, pizzas, peanut sauce and potstickers, I stumbled upon Bobby Flay's fantastic recipe for "mango agave granola" in Food Network magazine. My beautiful baking gem among the cooking chaos.

Therefore, in an effort to ignore the fact that I have yet to master even one cooking recipe, I am going to blog about something I get to bake.

So a big, sloppy thanks, Bobby Flay, for inspiring this recipe - a reward for my efforts, however pathetic, to better myself and my "cooking."

Oh, and don't tell Nick, but sometimes I actually find myself enjoying those darn cookbooks.

Why Granola?
I love cereal. I could eat it for all three meals and all three snacks (yes, I eat like a toddler). It's easy, tasty, filling, and often healthy. But darn it all, it is expensive, especially if you want the awesome, dried fruit, nutty and whole grain yumminess.

As I have passed this love of cereal onto my daughter, I decided it would benefit our bodies and our budget to come up with a delicious recipe that I could make myself. Enter Bobby Flay. I found his recipe and tweaked it just a bit to create the perfect mix of sweet and salty, filling and healthy. It's great with Greek yogurt, regular yogurt, milk and just out of the container. And it's fast and easy with very little cleanup.

Tasty and Healthy
The recipe uses primarily common pantry foods. It also uses some rather unconventional ingredients for the upper midwestern Scandinavian lot to give it an "exotic" kick. Here are some taste and health benefits of a few of the ingredients:
Oatmeal. Oatmeal has been noted as a famous way to lower cholesterol, but a search on Mayo clinic's website also reveals it as a source of fiber, an itch remedy and apparently a good food to eat before bed.
Sweeteners. Agave syrup adds a little different flavor zip. It is supposedly sweeter than sugar and honey so you can theoretically use less of it and get the same sweetness. But in the end, as Mayo clinic states, they're all just calories, so use it because you like the taste. Honey is one of my favorite sweeteners. It's been used for thousands of years for culinary and health purposes, including gastrointestinal remedies. It actually has antibacterial properties! And, it's just awesome. Were it not for my husband's life threatening allergy to bees, we'd totally have our own hive.
Wheat germ. This is the center of the grain of wheat and is extremely healthy - a good source of zinc, fiber and folate.
Nuts. Almonds, like most all nuts, are a healthy way to get protein in your diet. They are also a good source of fiber, "good" fats, vitamin E and Omega-3 fatty acids and can provide a whole host of health benefits, including improved heart health and lowered cholesterol.
Oils and Seeds. According to Mayo clinic, while still unhealthy in large amounts, peanut oil, olive oil and flaxseeds have a higher concentration of omega-3 fatty acids and "good" fats, both of which help lower cholesterol and keep those arteries healthy.

Time to Completion: 60 minutes total, including cool down and cleanup. 15 minutes of active time (with kids).
Very kid-compatible (especially for the tactile child!) and highly multi-taskable.

Cost Comparison:
NOTE: Cost is figure for the recipe as given. You can substitute other items if they are cheaper for you to make it even more cost-effective. One cup of cereal (which is a unit of volume) is generally considered a serving, but cereal is sold in ounces (a unit of weight). So different "serving sizes" of cereal will be denser than others. I find that personally, I eat less of the denser cereal and more of the lighter cereal, so going by ounces is probably a better cost comparison.

  • 16 oz of store-bought granola costs $2.50 - $5.00, depending on the brand (averaged sized boxed cereal typically has about 8 cups/servings per box).
  • 16 oz of my homemade granola costs approximately $3.60 (this recipe yields approximately 24 oz or 4 cups - I eat about 1/2 c for one serving).

Equipment and Ingredients:
2 bowls, one large and one medium
1 cookie sheet (or 2 if doubling the recipe)
parchment paper
Wire whisk or fork
Large spoon

1/8 cup peanut oil ($0.05)
1/8 cup olive oil ($0.05)
1/4 cup agave syrup (I've also just used honey)($1.00)
1/4 cup honey ($0.75)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon ($0.10)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar (or dark if that's what you have) ($0.05)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract ($0.10)
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats (not instant) ($0.50)
3/4 cup raw slivered almonds (or your favorite nut) ($2.00)
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds ($0.25)
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds ($0.50)
2 tablespoons wheat germ (I have also used additional flax seeds instead - once I ground up flax seeds and used the "flax seed flour" instead) ($0.25)
2 tablespoons flax seeds ($0.05)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried mango (or raisins or chopped dates or figs or apricots or blueberries or leave these out completely...the possibilities are endless!) ($1.75)

The beauty of this recipe is that you can be creative. Since I snagged the ratio of sweeteners, oils and dry ingredients from Mr. Flay, I found that as long as I maintain this ratio, I can mix and match ingredients of the same texture and consistency to make it my own and create some variety. Also, while you have to make a little bit of an investment in the more "exotic" and unusual ingredients, I find that I can make this recipe at least 4 times (sometimes many more than that) with the typical amount of ingredient you buy in the store (including the nuts and seeds). I always double this recipe and store in an airtight container in the fridge. It stays fresh tasting for a long time (the longest it's lasted before we ate it all was 2 weeks).

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and cover your cookie sheet(s) with parchment paper.

2. Dump the oils, honey, agave, cinnamon, brown sugar and vanilla into the medium bowl and whisk until nicely uniform. Nora likes this part (especially "testing" the mix to make sure it tastes ok).

3. Dump everything else except the dried fruit into the large bowl. Mix it up well. Nora loves doing this part with her hands - it is an excellent sensory experience that leaves very little (if any) mess on the hands.

4. Pour the wet stuff into the dry stuff and stir with the spoon until everything is well coated (check the bottom of the bowl - things tend to settle there).

5. Dump the mixture onto the cookie sheet and spread evenly. Throw the cookie sheet into the oven for approximately 35 minutes, or until it's turned golden brown. Stir and rotate the cookie sheet about every 10 - 15 minutes.

6. Take out the granola and let it cool until it starts to get a little crisp. Break it into pieces before it's completely cooled (or it gets really hard). Once it's completely cooled, add the fruit and put into your storage container.


  1. 2 quick preliminary questions:

    1. I assume that the time it takes you to make these dishes is negligible, because part of it is to have an activity to entertain the kids anyway, correct?

    2. Have you looked into the energy usage for baking/cooking on stove top for these at all? I would guess that they are fairly negligible as well, but just a thought. Keep up the posts!

  2. Excellent questions, sir Drew.

    1. I think time is a relative measurement, being valued at different amounts for different people. And I don't think all time can be judged as equal. So rather than put a score on it, I just report how long it takes and how much of that time can involve the kiddos. Things that require lots and lots of time AND cannot involve the kids, is not worth it to me unless it's something I really love...

    2. I haven't looked into costs, although I'd imagine it depends on the type of appliance you have. I definitely should though. At the beginning, I decided I would only include energy cost if I use an exceptional amount of it. Generally speaking, I think anything requiring over two hours of cooking to be exceptional (since most everything you bake/cook can be done in that time). Although shorter times at really high temps might count in the equation...

  3. Agreed on both counts, and if it requires you to go out and purchase the items at a store on a more regular basis, therefore burning fuel/time etc, rather than having the raw ingredients at home already, then it probably works out.