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February 6, 2014

Best granola ever!

Close-up of pan of granola, with nuts and coconut

If you don't believe me, ask my grand-daughter Jocie. She'll back me up.

I started making this stuff after embarrassing myself during a visit with our friend Molly in Durango, Colorado. She had a big glass canister of homemade granola on her kitchen counter. It was so good I couldn't stop eating it. I took a handful every time I passed by, until the jar was nearly empty. A rather piggish house guest.

But Molly forgave me, and said that she used this 4-star recipe by Food Network chef Alton Brown.

I've been experimenting with it, changing a few things, adding a little cinnamon and/or vanilla, reducing the sugar, and it's better than ever. I've given containers of granola to family and friends as Xmas gifts for the past two years, and it always gets raves.

Bowl, nuts, coconut, knifeMake it yourself

Be sure you have the ingredients. A few, like raw nuts and real maple syrup, might be harder to find than others. A good supermarket or health food store will have them.

When you have all the ingredients on hand, give yourself some time. It takes only 10 minutes to mix things up, but you need to toast the mix slowly in the oven for an hour and 15 minutes.

This is where the toasty magic happens, so don't rush things.

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2 cups rolled oats ("old-fashioned" or "quick," not "instant")
1 cup bran flakes or other crunchy whole grain cereal
(NOTE: original recipe calls for all oats but I switched to 1 cup bran to reduce the calories, plus I prefer the crunchier texture)
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup walnuts or cashews or a mixture of both. Use raw, not salted and/or roasted nuts. (I chop 'em into chunks but leave them whole if you prefer)
3/4 cup shredded sweet coconut
4 tablespoons brown sugar
6 tablespoons maple syrup (the real thing, not Log Cabin maple-flavored corn syrup)
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
1 cup dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, etc.)

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, coconut, brown sugar and cinnamon (if used). Mix well.

In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, salt, oil and vanilla (if used).

Dump the dry mixture into the liquid, mix very well and pour onto 2 sheet pans (I use one big one).

Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color. Don't forget to stir or you'll end up burning the shredded coconut. ! I usually read or watch TV nearby and set a timer so I don't forget.

Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl.

Add raisins and mix until evenly distributed.

Enjoy! It's especially good with a handful of chopped apple and plain yogurt.

Makes about nine 3/4 cup servings.

Hand-written nutrition chart for granolaNutrition & such

My rough calculations put this at 400-500 calories per serving, higher than most commercial granolas.

Before you panic, though, consider that there's lots of healthy stuff in those calories:

Oats, good for the heart/arteries.
Cashews, chock-full of antioxidants and monounsaturated fat.
Walnuts, similar to cashews plus Vitamin E

In fact, the Mayo Clinic says "Eating nuts as part of a healthy diet can be good for your heart."   

Now make it your own

Like any recipe, consider this a starting point. Healthwise, it may have too much sugar. I've already reduced the brown sugar from 6 tablespoons to 4 and will try cutting back more.

I usually add cinnamon and sometimes a bit of vanilla to perk up the flavor. If you prefer a more natural flavor, leave these out. Or you may want to use more!

I like dried cranberries better than raisins, but any dried fruit is good, so try cherries, apples or whatever you like best.

Think of this as a chemistry experiment but way more fun. If you come up with an even more delicious version, please share it in the "Comments" section below.

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