Growing up, I was always a big breakfast eater, even when I had little time (which was often the case). I would never skip breakfast, whether it was a bowl of rice with whatever we had from the previous supper, or an occasional piece of toast or two. What I never had, though, was breakfast cereals. Cornflakes and Rice Krispies were never really part of my diet, breakfast or otherwise.
That was, not at least until I was in high school, when I started picking up an odd carton of All-Bran, which to this day I still have a soft spot for.
Now muesli may be considered healthy, but when you gorge yourself on the stuff every day for breakfast, afternoon snack, and even late-night nibbles, all those nuts and dried fruits do add up fast (do you have any idea how small their 'recommended' serving sizes actually are??), and soon I realized I was eating way too much and stopped buying it.
You can find lots of recipes out there, but here my reference was the ingredient list for Tesco Fruit And Nut Muesli - the one I used to bring home with me.
[oat flakes / almonds, brazil nuts / raisins, prunes, apricots, papaya]
...Okay, my fruit and nut muesli wasn't quite the same as Tesco's, but this would have to do for now, and it did. On a side note, brazil nut was another thing I got hooked on on my first visits to England, along with - and actually, in - museli. Brazil nuts are really hard to come by in Japan even today, but I love muesli with them in it.
Now, if muesli was my old addiction, granola would be my flavor of the week - or in fact, flavor of the year, to be more precise.
And then about a year ago, it struck my fancy all of a sudden, and I found myself craving for granola - more to bake a batch of my own, than to eat it, though the former would surely be succeeded by the latter.
So here goes!
When cooled, my fruit and nut granola was ready to serve!
[rolled oats / almonds, walnuts, cashews / raisins, figs, apricots, cranberries, mango, melon, banana / honey / sea salt]
While it does involve a lot of chopping (depending on the type of nuts and fruits you are using) and occasional stirring, other than that little work is required, and your reward is huge. Quite economical too, when you think of how much you pay for the store-bought stuff.
There are countless granola recipes out there, but the one I used here was by Kerrin, of blog My Kugelhopf. Delicious and straightforward and endlessly versatile, this is officially my go-to granola recipe that I've been using over and over again for the past year.
The best tip I learned from this recipe of Kerrin's was that you mix in your dried fruits after the oat-nut mixture has been baked, not before; this way you don't have to worry about your raisins getting burned and charred. And by stirring them in the oat-nut mixture hot straight out of oven, you can help the dried fruits plump up nicely. On a side note, while it is best to use raw, unsalted nuts, if you do use store-bought roasted nuts, make sure you add them to the mixture about the last 15-20 minutes of baking, or they will have been burned.
Once you have a batch of granola, you've got your breakfast all set for the next week or so.
Speaking of serving granola with yogurt and fresh fruits, there is a prettier way to do it than throwing everything together in a bowl:
Le Pain Quotidien in Paris some years ago, and have wanted to do it at home ever since. Done!
If you have ever made your own granola, I think you agree that granola can be highly habit-forming, not only the eating part but the making part as well. I've baked up quite a few batches (though usually half or one-third a regular recipe) over the years, and along the way I've tried my hands at a bunch of different recipes. The following are among the good ones.
[rolled oats / almonds, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds / figs, cranberries, blueberries, goji berries / honey / olive oil / cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla / sea salt]
I was looking for an olive oil granola recipe, and this was what I settled on. The recipe leaves the choice of nuts and fruits to you, and I used what I had at hand at the time.
Another sweet 'n' spicy granola...
[rolled oats / almonds, walnuts, pecans / pumpkin seeds / raisins, cranberries / honey / butter / cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, orange zest / sea salt]
This was what I made a lot around Christmas time last year, called, well, Christmas granola. I more or less followed this recipe, using whatever nuts I happened to have. It was the mix of spices that gave the granola an unmistakable Christmas flavor; the orange zest helped too, and so did the Christmas colors of red and green from cranberries and pumpkin seeds (or pistachios).
While we are (sort of) on the topic of winter holidays, here's another recipe that I did often during the cold months:
[rolled oats / almonds, walnuts, cashews / (raisins, cranberries, figs) / maple syrup / canola oil / cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, vanilla / sea salt]
From late fall and well into spring, or practically three-thirds of the year, we need room heating on up here in the mountains. And in the middle of the winter when daytime temperatures hardly reach 0C/33F for days on end, we often leave the heating on all day, and while doing so we take advantage of our small space heater by get some cooking done on top of it, rather than the stove or oven. That was when I wondered if I could bake a batch of granola on the heater, and found a few stove-top/skillet granola recipes on the Internet.
Among them I used this recipe, more for the techniques than the actual list of ingredients. Basically, you dry toast the oats first, then toss them with nuts and flavorings, and cook further. You can turn pretty much any oven-baked granola recipe into a skillet version I think, though their color tend to be on the lighter side.
Skillet granola is a little 'different' in that it involves an unconventional (for granola) technique, and the following are also something different - in terms of the ingredients used.
mugi gohan in Japan, this is what's in it, cooked together with rice.
Commonly called oshi-mugi in Japanese, this is essentially rolled barley, but apparently different from the kind you get in the US, which seems to be softer and flakier.
|top: rolled oats; bottom: oshi-mugi (rolled barley)
Oshi-mugi has been around for a very long time in Japan, usually added to white rice when you cook it. When I decided to bake up a batch of granola last year, I was a little baffled by the fact that I couldn't find rolled oats in my neighborhood; all they carried was oat flakes. I ended up buying bags of rolled oats online, but couldn't help wish they were more readily available. That was when my thoughts drifted over to oshi-mugi, which is ubiquitous here. I mean, they are both kinds of grains that have been rolled, right?
So I did a bit of research online, and found I wasn't the only one who thought of it. In fact, some people were apparently trying to make granola using oshi-mugi in place of rolled oats, without realizing the two were not the same. Well, they do resemble each other. Kind of.
So I set out to make a batch of oshi-mugi granola myself, based on my go-to recipe by Kerrin I've mentioned earlier, but baked my batch at a slightly lower temperature and for a longer time than specified.
Anyways, I now at least know you can make granola with oshi-mugi in place of oatmeal, should you find it necessary.
This idea of par-boiling oshi-mugi and adding to rolled oats occurred to me later when I was making another type of granola.
[rolled oats / millet / pistachios, coconut / cranberries / honey / canola oil / sea salt]
Or rather, toasted muesli as it is called - toasted muesli with millet, coconut, pistachios, and cranberries to be precise. The recipe was created by Aran of Cannelle et Vanille; as the name suggests, this recipe uses millet in addition to oats, and tells you to soak whole millet in boiling water before you drain and add it to the other ingredients, which makes sense as millet takes longer to cook than oats do.
While millets are part of traditional Japanese diet, having been grown for thousands of years, it just never occurred to me to have them as breakfast cereals. So I was curious to give it a try.
Now, back to classic oat granola...
[rolled oats / walnuts / strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, red raisins / honey / butter / dried rose petals / black pepper / sea salt]
Well, perhaps not so classic, but looking certainly classy, right? Laced with plenty of rose petals and loaded with red berries, this rose and berry granola was made based on the beautiful rose petal granola recipe created by Heidi of 101 Cookbooks. She shared this recipe on her blog about a year ago when I was eagerly looking for promising granola recipes, so I had to try straight away.
To set off the whole thing nicely, I served the granola with fresh strawberries and raspberries.
Granola Ispahan from Pierre Herme, but just as scrumptious I assure you!
So it was about a year ago when I first made the rose petal granola, and just this week I made another flower-scented granola...
[rolled oats / coconut, cashews, pistachios / apricots, pineapple, apple, green raisins / honey, brown sugar / canola oil / dried chamomile flowers / cardamom, vanilla, juice of lemon / sea salt]
Like roses, chamomile flower is a widely used in food and drinks. Last summer I was lucky enough to pick a large bunch of chamomile flowers in the corner of a family friend's vegetable patch, and played around with the fresh chamomile flowers. This year, having just received a bunch grown in the same patch, and I was pondering what to do with them this time when it occurred to me to make a granola flavored with chamomile. Because, why not?
this recipe. Starting from there, I made additions and modifications according to my taste and what I think would go well with chamomile; honey and lemon because they have an affinity with chamomile, apple which has a scent chamomile reminds you of, and pistachios and green raisins whose green colors should evoke an image of fresh chamomile plant.
Now I did have fresh chamomile flowers to spare, but I decided to stick to the original recipe and used dried chamomile flowers - which, by the way, were some of the last of a batch I dried myself last year. Smelled still lovely! I made a point of adding green raisins and dried apples after the granola was baked, as they are both prone to browning and tend to dry up quickly.
So these are some of the more memorable batches of granola I've made over the past year. Like I said (twice), the recipe I come back to the most is this one by Kerrin, who was actually one of the people who inspired - and definitely encouraged - me to bake my own granola in the first place.
here, which she aptly named Kerrin's crunchy granola with dark chocolate and sea salt. The name says it all; crunchy! dark chocolate! sea salt! Who can resist it? I know I can't.
So when Kerrin posted a picture of her batch of granola with coffee-flavored chocolate on Instagram earlier this year, I went overboard and flipped out over it. And Kerrin, either because she wanted to shut me up or was simply amused by my enthusiasm, kindly offered to share her homemade granola with me(!!!), and she did.
This particular batch contained dark chocolate chips and chunks of coffee-flavored white chocolate, and a generous dose of salt rounded the whole thing out beautifully.
Kerrin's own homemade granola disappeared much too fast, before I could catch whoever finished it (did I? never!!). On the upside, I still have her recipe for chocolate and sea salt granola, so I can whip up a batch of goodness when I want, over and over again.
But more importantly, this one does not use dried fruits. Kerrin prefers to have the crunchy chocolate-y granola with whole dried fruits (especially dates) on the side, she explained. Me, I do love loads of dried fruits in my granola, and am too lazy to take a bag of dried fruits every time I eat granola (which happens often over the course of a day), so I take the liberty of replacing some of the seeds in the recipe with some dried fruits that I think go well with dark chocolate.
[rolled oats / rye flakes, buckwheat, poppy seeds / almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews, brazil nuts / dates, figs, cranberries / dark chocolate, cacao nibs / maple syrup, brown sugar / apple sauce / sea salt]
In case you wondered, the picture above was of another batch than the one shown in the previous photo. I've made this granola several times, each time with a slightly different mix of nuts, seeds, and fruits, and all came out excellent. Here I threw in a handful of cacao nibs to boost the chocolate element and additional crunch.
As Kerrin taught me in her other recipe, I stir in an assortment of dried fruits after the granola has been baked. Once the mixture is completely cool, I add dark chocolate chunks, and finish by a generous sprinkle of fleur de sel.
But good news is, this granola - and many others - is quick to whip up, too.
But really, it is incredibly handy a jar or two of homemade granola. It's good all year round, but personally I find it particularly desirable when the weather is warm enough for me to want to reach for cold milk or yogurt. Arrivals of a wide variety of fresh summer fruits help, too.