Monday, February 18, 2008

A guilt free granola. Praise be to the breakfast Gods.

Toasty, delicious, guilt-free granola.

Today I woke up early and made a batch of homemade granola. Everything about it is delicious - the color, the aroma, the crunch, the slightly spicy sweetness, and most of all the wholesome, feel good aura that comes with a big bowl of the stuff. The truth is, I adore granola. It is one of those breakfasts that fills you up, sticks to your ribs, and really makes a girl feel like she is eating something legitimate yet healthful for her first day's meal. However, granola is also one of the few foods that gives me incredible guilt.

I have a small list of foods that I simply cannot consume without feeling a guilt strong enough to override the pleasure of consumption. Oddly enough Ben and Jerry's ice cream, triple creme cheeses, and flourless chocolate cake are not on this list, even though I know they should be. I can't say there is a rhyme or reason to my "guilty foods," but even without explanations they make me feel incredibly guilty nonetheless. My guilty foods include: donuts, whipped cream on any type of coffee beverage, and the aforementioned granola.

I think the guilt comes from a combination of understanding just how fattening these foods are, and also knowing that my quality of life is not significantly diminished by avoiding them. Ask me to say no to a piece of flourless chocolate cake, and certainly I will regret the decision to abstain. But ask me to eat Special K or a bowl of plain oatmeal for breakfast, and I know my day will go forward as planned.

Granola, you see, gives me guilt because it is typically full of oil. Most recipes call for at least 1/4 cup vegetable oil, if not more. And that is the cruel reality of granola. While it appears to be a wholesome, healthy breakfast, in truth it is a vehicle for fat and sugar disguised as a hippie food.

The good news is that the granola recipe I whipped up this morning uses only 2 tablespoons of oil, yielding ten cups of granola! That's a guilt-free oil to granola ratio if you ask me. I am not totally delusional, I know of course that there are other fat sources in the mix, primarily in the form of almonds and pecans, but the good news is that these fatty nuts carry LDH cholesterol, which is actually healthy in moderation.

I am tickled to know that I will be enjoying my homemade granola in moderation, totally guilt-free, for the next week. Maybe next I will try deep frying donuts in olive oil and call them a healthy treat!

Daily Granola

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast by Orangette

NOTES: Tweak as you will. For example, feel free to use whatever type of nut you like best - just one, or a variety. You could add some flax seeds, if you like, or some shredded coconut. If you like your granola with dried fruit, go ahead and add some - but after baking, not before. And about the applesauce: I like to buy it in those single-serving cups, the kind made to go in kids’ lunch boxes. I used to buy it in bigger glass jars, but I found that it started to go moldy before I could use it all. The smaller containers are very handy that way; there’s less waste, except of course the waste produced by packaging goods in small containers which generate more garbage. So recycle it, please.

Dry ingredients:
5 cups rolled oats
2 to 3 cups raw almonds or pecan halves, or a mixture
1 cup hulled raw sunflower seeds
¾ cup sesame seeds (I omited these, they stick in the teeth)
¾ cup light brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. salt

Wet ingredients:
¾ cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
¼ cup honey
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, such as canola or safflower

Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 300°F.

The Dry Ingredients

In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. Stir to mix well. In a small bowl, combine all of the wet ingredients. Stir to mix well. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ones, and stir well.

The Wet Ingredients

Spread the mixture evenly on two rimmed baking sheets. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until evenly golden brown. Set a timer to go off every ten minutes while the granola bakes, so you can rotate the pans and give the granola a good stir; this helps it to cook evenly. When it’s ready, remove the pans from the oven, stir well – this will keep it from cooling into a hard, solid sheet – and set aside to cool. The finished granola may still feel slightly soft when it comes out of the oven, but it will crisp as it cools.

Scoop cooled granola into to a large zipper-lock plastic bag or other airtight container. Store in the refrigerator indefinitely.

Yield: about 10 cups

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