i heart (real) granola


Ah, granola. A favorite food of mine for always, in its various forms as breakfast cereal, bars, crumbled on top of yogurt (both frozen and not!), a midnight snack-y version, and so on. Though I'm not one to count calories, and never have been, granola can be a bit tricky when it comes to the ratio of calories and (pretty much loads) of fat per serving, when a serving is usually rather skimpy. Think about one third of a cup. And please, girl, whoever can stop themselves at that teensy amount when there are glorious combinations of oats or almonds or cinnamon or golden raisins to be had?

Though some fat is totally necessary for a balanced diet, who wouldn't want a more figure-friendly version of a granola bar so that you can a. have more, of course, without feeling bad or b. improve the overall health benefits of your bar, which is easy enough when you eliminate the preservatives and additives that usually come with a store-bought variety. Ick.

The recipe I have built upon comes from a beloved and equally sassy Food Network star, Mr. Alton Brown. LOVE his ever-changing glasses frames and mad scientist hair combo. Still, fashion tips aside, Alton's recipes tend to, after that first try, become kitchen staples. Here is the ingredient list, complete with additions:

8 ounces old-fashioned rolled oats, about 2 cups
1 1/2 ounces raw sunflower seeds, about 1/2 cup
3 ounces sliced almonds, about 1 cup
1 1/2 ounces wheat germ, about 1/2 cup
1/2 cup honey (we only had about 1/4, so we countered the rest with molasses)
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 ounce unsalted butter, plus extra for the pan
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 1/2 ounces chopped dried fruit (we used raisins and cranberries)

We also added about 1/2 cup of chopped pecans and about two tablespoons of ground flaxseed. Just because.

Okay. So after you've set your oven to preheat at 350 degrees, it's time to (thoroughly) butter your 9 x 9 inch baking pan. I stress thoroughly because otherwise you will have one hell of a mess to deal with when your one massive granola bar refuses to come clean from the pan. All the pan-soaking in the world won't save you from that dilemma.

SO, pan buttered, you will now want to gather all of your dry ingredients (minus the sugar): oats, seeds, almonds, wheat germ, and in this rendition, pecans and flaxseed, and spread them out evenly over a baking sheet.

Put these ingredients in the oven to toast for about fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally. Without stirring, these ingredients can easily burn. So don't be like me, and forget. I was lucky this time, and remembered to take the tray out a few minutes early, which will (sort of) compensate for a lack of stirring.

Meanwhile, combine the brown sugar, the butter, the honey (and molasses, which gave these bars a much darker color than a honey-only variety would have), and the vanilla in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the brown sugar is completely dissolved.

When the toasted ingredients come out of the oven, let them cool for a moment before tossing in your dried fruit, a method best done by hand so that everything appears evenly dispersed.

Next, pour your sugar mixture over the dry ingredients. The sheer volume of oats compared to the smallish amount of sugar and honey is going to make the task of combining them seem nearly impossible: never fear. Work quickly, aiming to coat all of the ingredients evenly, and you will be surprised.

With everything mixed together, it is now time to press your granola into the well-greased pan. Do your best to make sure they are level and even, paying special attention to the corners of the pan.

Now put the granola BACK into the oven, now lowered to 300 degrees, for about 25 minutes. The cooking time can vary slightly depending on your preference for chewy or crunchy bars. We went for the full cooking time, and the crunch.

Now for the hardest part, letting the bars cool completely. I am the WORST at this step in any process, and have more often than not burnt my mouth AND hands on food I couldn't wait to eat. Nottt worth it in this case. Cutting too soon will result in a sticky mess. Alton, apparently, knows best.

When you DO get to dig in, however, you will be more than pleased that you found a way to distract yourself for thirty or forty minutes. I knowww, I knowww, but when you slice out a chunk of this trail-mix granola and crumble it over Greek yogurt and mango slices (cubes?), you just may forget about all that waiting. Maybe. Just maybe.

P.S. I would like to add that I revisited my favorite banana bread recipe, yet again, this past weekend, this time adding chopped walnuts to one of the loaves. A more traditional spin, sure, and presently my favorite food in life. Though my dear Colin, little walnut hater that he is, would be quick to disagree. Good thing this recipe produces two completely separate loaves. Love.