Friday, June 3, 2011

Crunch away

The Beet


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Granola is the blue jeans of the food world. Like that perfect pair of Levis, granola is adaptable to almost any occasion, taste or diet. Dress it up or dress it down, it's always going to be good.

Granola at its core is very basic, made up of rolled oats or other grains coated with honey or brown sugar and oil. Usually it contains nuts and dried fruit and is baked until crunchy, then eaten with milk, used as a topping for fruit and yogurt or eaten alone out of a sandwich bag on long, exhausting hikes.

But those are its only requirements: grain, sweetener and crunch. It can be adapted to be vegan, sugar-free, nut-free or gluten free—or none of those things.

Replacing the honey or brown sugar with strawberry jam and peanut butter can give you a delicious spin on a PB&J that, when eaten on top of vanilla yogurt, is one of life's best and simplest pleasures.

If you are feeling especially virtuous, you can add a few tablespoons of wheat germ, which will add fiber and protein, or sunflower seeds, which will add a nice crunch, and a little salt. If you're feeling crazy, replace the oil with a quarter of a cup of pumpkin and add a dash of cloves along with your cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg for a granola that will remind you of Thanksgiving.

Chocolate junkies are more than welcome to skip the spices, add a dash of salt and some extra vanilla and stir in M&Ms after the granola cools. Gourmet chocolate lovers could replace the spices with orange zest and maybe a touch of cayenne pepper or cinnamon for a Mexican-style bite.

Whatever you add to your granola, remember that it's very hard to screw this recipe up. Stir with a fork rather than a spoon, as a spoon might make the mixture too smooth, and try not to over-bake it! Remember, it won't get crispy in the oven, but only crisps as it cools.

Once you've made your fabulous creation, don't stop there. While it's awesome as a topper for any dairy product, you can use it to top pies and cobblers, or sprinkle some on top next time you make muffins. Or, slice up a banana, spread the slices with a little peanut butter, and top with a few pieces of granola—like a fancy breakfast hors d'oeuvre.

Happy crunching!

Basic Granola

Adapted from the food blog Chocolate and Zucchini

3 cups rolled oats

1 1/2 cups nuts, roughly chopped—walnuts, pecans, peanuts or cashews work well

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil or applesauce

¼ cup liquid sweetener, such as honey (if you use jam, use more like 1/3 cup)

2 tsp. of spices, such as cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg

5 Tbsp. ground flaxseeds, soaked in 5 Tbsp. water for 15 minutes

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Optional:

¼ cup chocolate, roughly chopped

¼ cup wheat germ

3/4 cup dried fruit, such as raisins, cranberries, blueberries or anything else your heart desires.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Place all ingredients except the dried fruit and chocolate in a medium mixing bowl and stir until combined. It should start to clump together. If it doesn't, add a little more of one of the liquids.

Spread on the prepared baking sheet and place in the middle of the oven. Bake the granola for about 30 minutes, checking and stirring religiously every 10 minutes, until the mixture is browned to your liking. Don't wait for it to get crisp, though! This only happens later.

Let the granola cool on the baking sheet. Once it's cool—and crisp—stir in the optional dried fruit or chocolate.

Transfer to an airtight container and keep at cool room temperature for up to a month or so.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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