It's Fall already! And the weather outside isn't the poetic nip in the air' kind, its the kind that sends you rummaging deep into your closet for that heavy winter coat! The leaves have been changing color really fast, and I cannot wait for the rain to stop, so I can go out with my camera. Now the dear camera has been on a long rest, no recent dinners or lunches were offered to it first, instead it sat, neatly tucked in its bag. With the last weekend being a little cold I wanted to make amends, and bake something special. Most blogs I visited were serving bowls of delicious roasted stone fruit and muffins with cinnamon and spices....all of them ushering in the new season and the warm flavors it brings with it.
My apartment though was filled with the warm fragrance of vanilla and roasted nuts. For the longest time I've been planning to make my own granola mix/bars. I get a mini snack attack at 3 in the afternoon, and having something healthy and crunchy scores high. I tried making granola bars once, but failed miserably. I really don't know how I managed to do that! So I decided to made my own granola mix this weekend, and it really is one of the easiest things you can make, and one of the best too. I was soo excited after the first taste that I've put them on my Christmas gift list for friends. Its that good! You will want to share it with everyone you know....uh, or may be not, after the second bite...
Apart from being easy to make, you are also in full control. I usually have atleast one kind of nut or fruit that I don't like in the store bought granola mix. Most mixes either have too many peanuts & cashews or sun flower seeds. Now, I like these, but they need to be balanced with the rest. At home though, I am the boss. I can choose the quality of ingredients that go into it, the quantity and also the combination of flavors. The recipe below is more a method for you to experiment with, my only request will be that you come back and share your combination with me :-)
I shopped for all the ingredients at our local organic store which has a pretty good bulk section. For recipes such as this that need a long list of ingredients, but in small quantities, the bulk bin is your friend. You can buy small amounts of a variety of nuts and still not spend a fortune. I used hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans (my current fav), dried cherries and plump golden raisins. Almonds were a huge favorite in most of the recipes I found online, so while digging deep into my refrigerator looking for them, I found a bag of ruby red Goji berries instead! Looking thru the refrigerator is almost like a treasure hunt sometimes ;-) Most recipes also used Wheat germ, I could barely recollect that at the store. I found some Wheat bran next to the flax seed I was buying and so got some of it too. Wheat bran is the outer cover of the wheat kernel and is a source of magnesium and iron, about a quarter cup also has about 6gms of fiber. Some wild flower honey, and locally made maple syrup added the sweetness to the enticing mix.
The smell of warm vanilla and the nuts that was filling the kitchen while baking the granola, is in itself a great reason to make this at home! Seriously! I was amazed by how good this turned out. the chunks of nuts and fruits were a delight to bite into. I have been eating it not just at 3 in the afternoon, but at every excuse I can find to get into the kitchen. I have a bag of it in my desk at work too. When I looked at the amount of granola I had, I expected it to last a few weeks, but I might have to make another batch this weekend. The honey and maple syrup on their own do not contribute to the needed sweetness, its the dried fruit added at the end that complete it. The raisins and cherries I used were tart and sweet and along with the chunks of nuts and crispy oats, you will not want to stop munchin & crunchin. I purposely left the nuts in bigger chunks so you can taste the individual flavors when biting into them. The butter and oil help in crisping the oats, you could substitute the quantity with either one too.Home-made Granola mixIngredients:
- 2 cups - old fashioned Rolled oats
- 1/4 cup each (unsalted)- Walnuts, Pecans, Hazelnuts - coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup - Wheat bran
- 2 Tbsp - Flax seeds
- 1/4 cup each (packed) - dried Cherries, plump Golden raisins - coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup - Goji berries
- 1 Tbsp - Butter
- 2 Tbsp - Oil (I had olive oil, but any vegetable oil works too)
- 2 Tbsp - *Maple Syrup
- 2 Tbsp - *Honey
- 1/2 tsp - pure Vanilla extract
Notes: * You can also use a combination of brown sugar and honey for sweetening the mix. Add the sugar while microwaving the rest, so it melts into liquid mix. or simply use only honey or maple syrup, instead of both.
- Pre-heat the oven to 325F
- In a microwave safe bowl, combine the butter, oil, honey and maple syrup. Microwave for a minute and whisk them all together. Add the vanilla extract and mix.
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spread the oats, chopped nuts, flax seed and wheat bran. Slowly add the liquid mix and combine with your hand, coating all the ingredients. Use just enough of the liquid mix to help form a rough ball of the mixture when held firmly within your fist.
- Spread the mix evenly on the baking sheet and place in the center rack of the oven. Bake for 25-30 mins, flipping it every 10mins.
- The nuts will soon fill the kitchen with the smells of their roasted goodness, and the oats will turn a slight orange-brown color. Bring the baking tray out, mix the chopped dried fruits and allow to cool. The oats will not appear to be crunchy when brought out of the oven, but they will get there on cooling.
- Store in an clean and dry air tight container for upto 2 weeks, it won't last that long though :-))
Any combination of nuts and dried fruits can be used. I added some chopped crystalized ginger to a tiny portion. Dried apricots, papaya, mango, pineapple, candied orange peel, coconut flakes, sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, cashews, pistachios.....this list is endless!
If using dates or prunes add them during the final 5mins of baking time to dry them out a bit. Or the moisture in them could soften the oats during storage.
You can also add a tsp of cinnamon or ground cloves or nutmeg to spice things up a bit.
You can top some on your yogurt or cooked oats porridge for breakfast, or eat them as is for a snack. While baking the granola I also tossed in a few bowls of chopped plums and apricot drizzled with a little of the extra liquid mix I had, into the oven. After the oats were out, I let them roast for an additional 10 mins. Out they came oozing out all their sweet juices, topped with some of the fresh granola it was a perfect end to the cold weekend :) Happy Fall season!