Wake up to granola's golden goodness

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

When made with top-notch ingredients, granola served with milk or yogurt can be a tasty, nutritious start for your day. Commercial brands, whether boxed or sold in bulk, tend to be loaded with sugar – up to 30 percent sugar, the same as cookies – and scrimp on the more costly, flavorful ingredients, such as nuts and seeds. By making your own granola, you can control the quality and include more of your favorite things. You can also adjust the sweetness to your taste using honey or brown sugar.

Is it easy to make? Yes – and it's perfect for fall. Does it take a little time? Yes. (For good food, there is rarely a shortcut.) To make this honey-granola recipe, it takes about 20 minutes to collect and prepare ingredients and about 30 minutes to bake. Then you add dried fruit or raisins and mix everything together. That's a little over an hour.But after it's made, granola stays fresh for six to eight months if kept in the refrigerator.

I should mention muesli, the first cousin of granola. Some people love it, but most, including myself, favor granola over muesli. Granola is baked. Muesli is a raw mixture of similar ingredients. In granola, heat activates the flavor-producing browning reaction. Oatmeal, nuts, and seeds improve tremendously in the oven. Because muesli isn't roasted, it tastes bland.

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Regarding ingredients: Make sure the nuts and seeds you buy are the freshest possible. If they're stale, they will ruin your granola. Stores that sell them in bulk are good choices, but so are nuts and seeds sold in vacuum-sealed bags. Your raisins or dried fruits should also be the freshest possible.

Granola is traditionally for breakfast, but it's an excellent portable snack in place of trail mix, too. It also can be used to top fruit cobblers and yogurt.

Roasted honey-granola cereal

In this recipe, you can substitute as you wish, but keep the ratio of oats to nuts/seeds about the same. Use any dried fruit you choose, or a mixture. You may vary the sugar to your taste, too. (This recipe doesn't have as much sugar as commercial brands.)

3 cups regular (not quick- cooking) rolled oats

1-1/2 cups walnuts or pecan halves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup grated, unsweetened dried coconut, or coarsely chopped almonds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup plain hulled sunflower seeds
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup honey or brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup raisins, dried cherries, or other dried fruit

Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix oats, nuts, seeds, and wheat germ.

In a small pan, warm the oil. Add honey (or brown sugar), and stir until well blended. Add vanilla, cinnamon, and salt. Stir until blended.

Drizzle the oil mixture over the dry ingredients in the bowl, and mix thoroughly by hand.

Spread granola in a thin layer on one or two baking sheets. Roast in the oven on middle rack for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden and crunchy, stirring every 10 minutes.

Remove granola from the oven and let it cool for 30 minutes. Stir in the raisins or dried fruit and then spoon granola into an airtight storage container. For best results, store in the refrigerator or a cool place.

Makes about nine servings. Keeps for six to eight months in the refrigerator.

Granola with fresh berries and apples

For a special breakfast, mix your homemade granola with berries and grated apples.

1 cup plain yogurt

2 apples, peeled, cored, and grated
1-1/2 cups fresh berries of your choice
2 cups granola
mint leaves, for garnish (optional)

In a medium bowl, mix freshly grated apples and whole berries into the yogurt using a rubber spatula. Put half cup of granola into each of four bowls and evenly spoon yogurt-fruit mixture on top of granola. If desired, garnish each with a mint leaf. Serves four.

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