I love giving edible gifts, particularly when they're homemade, and especially at the holidays. We've written about this in the past, with recipes including peppermint bark, homemade vanilla extract, sunflower brittle and last week's featured toffee recipe.
As delectable as these confections may be, it's nice to have something in your gift arsenal that's not only delicious to eat, but also nutritious, and this week's Homemade Granola hits all the right notes.
Tony is a granola enthusiast, and I began experimenting with making our own at home about a year ago. After trying several versions, we settled on this one as our favorite. Packaged granola can be expensive, especially if it is a regular part of a breakfast routine, and I was delighted to discover how affordable it can be when made from scratch.
Granola is also surprisingly easy to make and incredibly versatile, with a range of possible ingredient add-ins including nuts, dried fruits, seeds, grains and chocolate. This version features dried cranberries and lightly toasted sliced almonds, which bring color and a diversity in textures to the granola.
The base of the recipe consists of old-fashioned rolled oats (never instant), brown sugar, cinnamon and salt, and these dry ingredients are tossed with a mixture of cooking oil (canola, vegetable, olive or coconut all work), honey, maple syrup and vanilla extract.
I've used a wooden spoon and a rubber spatula to mix the dry and wet ingredients together, but I never get the same results as when I use my hands. It may seem a bit messy at first, but it's quick going. Once all the ingredients are incorporated, I use a rubber spatula to press the granola into an even layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Raw granola is sticky and can harden onto the sheet as it bakes, but the parchment papers makes for easy removal and clean up. Granola bakes best at low temperatures, and I prefer to bake ours in a 300-degree oven for 15 minutes, at which point I remove it and give it a good stir with a rubber spatula before returning it to the oven for another 5 to 15 minutes, until it is lightly golden brown.
Some recipes I initially tried recommended adding the nuts to the granola before baking it, but nuts can be delicate and mine would over-brown more often than not, or even burn. So I toast them on their own sheet in a 325-degree oven as the granola cools, and then add them to the cooled granola along with the dried cranberries.
I store our granola in an airtight glass jar, and it keeps well for at least a month at room temperature, and up to at least two months in the freezer. It's great to use as a base for trail mix, and to make ours I add a half-cup each of diced dried pineapple, banana chips, salted peanuts and M&M candies in addition to the sliced almonds and dried cranberries.
As I was preparing for this week's photo shoot, I opened the oven door and inhaled deeply, in search of the best way to describe the heavenly smells that were wafting through my kitchen. Oddly, the first thought that wandered into my mind was, "This must be what Laura Ingalls's kitchen smelled like." Wholesome, natural, warm and delicious were my next thoughts. Enjoy!
Sarah's Homemade Granola
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
3 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon sea or kosher salt
¼ cup cooking oil (canola, vegetable, olive or coconut)
⅓ cup honey
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup dried cranberries
½ to 1 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
Preheat oven to 300 degrees, with rack in the center position.
Place the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl and stir to combine; set aside.
Place the oil, honey, syrup and vanilla in a small bowl and whisk until combined. Pour onto the oat mixture and use your hands to mix until all ingredients are incorporated.
Pour the mixture out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and use a rubber spatula to press the oats into an even, single layer. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from oven and stir thoroughly, spreading back into an even layer before returning to oven. Bake until the granola is a light golden brown, about 5 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool sheet on a wire rack until room temperature.
Meanwhile, increase oven temperature to 325 degrees. Place sliced almonds in a single layer on another parchment-lined baking sheet, and toast for about 4 to 5 minutes until lightly golden brown. Remove and transfer almonds to a medium bowl to cool.
Once the granola has cooled, add the dried cranberries and toasted almonds and toss lightly to combine. Store in an airtight container for 3 to 4 weeks, or freeze for up to 2 months.
- Make your own trail mix by mixing the granola with a half-cup each of any of the following ingredients; 2 additional dried fruits, toasted coconut, a hearty nut like peanuts or cashews, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, pretzels and chocolate candies or dark chocolate chips.
- Package in decorative jars to give as gifts.
- Granola can become quite sticky as it bakes, but parchment paper will make stirring it easier and prevent a messy clean-up.
- When cooking with honey, coat the measuring cup with oil or cooking spray to keep it from sticking to the cup.
- Sliced almonds toast quickly, so we prefer to toast them separate from the granola to prevent burning.
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 12-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All previous recipes can be found at thelostitalian.areavoices.com.