A few years ago I had my world blown open when I started reading the labels on packaged foods. A born and raised cereal addict, this was especially difficult for me in the breakfast aisle—practically every cereal I enjoyed (even the supposed healthy ones!) were full of preservatives, sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup, and mystery ingredients with unpronounceable names. Up until that point, I wasn’t much of a home cook and it honestly had never occurred to me that breakfast could come from anything but a box, but then I happened upon a recipe for homemade granola. When I pulled that first batch out of the oven and ate a spoonful of the still-warm granola straight from the pan, the clouds parted and the angels began singing—lo, I had created food! And it was good!
Because the recipe was easy, quick, and adaptable, homemade granola quickly became part of my regular breakfast rotation. That year, when the holidays arrived, I whipped up a quadruple batch, packed it into quart-size canning jars, and gave it out as gifts to family and co-workers. And I’ve continued the tradition every year since, not only because I believe homemade gifts are the best, but also because it makes me feel like a culinary rock star when people call me clamoring for the recipe. (“Oh really, it’s so simple,” I say, feigning modesty. But really, it’s so simple.)
Now, I know that purists will tell you that there’s nothing better than something like a green superfood smoothie or an egg white omelet for breakfast, but here’s what I say: in the winter, I don’t want to eat raw, whirred-up kale first thing in the morning, and I usually don’t have time to stand over the stove and scramble my breakfast. When it’s cold and gray, my body just craves something crunchy and sweet and slightly salty. A touch of this granola with yogurt and some fresh fruit fills me up, tides me over, and makes me happy—and isn’t that what balanced eating is all about?
The following recipe is my tried-and-true formula. The basic recipe can be easily changed up by playing with the flavorings, fruit, and nuts: try dried apples with a little cinnamon, or dried cherries with pistachios. For a nutritional boost, you can also add in a couple tablespoons of ground flax seed (for the omega-3 fatty acids) and wheat germ (packed with vitamin E and folic acid, an essential B vitamin). It makes a great gift, and this time of year, can be made in big batches if you’re hosting out-of-town guests; simply set out in the morning with milk or almond milk, yogurt, fresh fruit and tea for a simple no-cook breakfast. (Note: For health reasons, I usually reduce the sweeteners here. But since everyone’s taste buds are different, I’ve left the recipe’s original proportions so you can tweak as you please.)
Makes about 5 cups
1/2 cup honey
(raw is best)
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup dried blueberries
1 cup slivered almonds
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon almond extract
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine oats, almonds, coconut, and salt. Set aside. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the honey, maple syrup, butter, and brown sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often. While the mixture simmers, add the almond extract. After 5 minutes, pour honey mixture over oat mixture and gently stir to combine. Lightly oil a rimmed baking sheet and spread granola evenly over it. Bake for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the dried blueberries and bake up to 10 minutes more, or until granola is fragrant and golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on pan, stirring occasionally to keep the granola from sticking together. Keeps in an airtight container for a few days.