One thing people ask when I’m cooking is “How can you tell when it’s done?” And sadly, the answer is “When it’s done.” I mean, obviously, you can take a temperature or set a timer. But what about for more nebulous things? Like a sauce? There is a magic moment when a sauce is done. When the ingredients have reached the point of cookedness and mixedness and whatever-else-ness, and the sauce is ready. Recognizing that moment is something that comes from making the sauce, tasting the sauce, ruining the sauce, then making the sauce again. It takes practice.
Same with measuring and timing. “How much do you use?” “Enough.” “How long does it cook?” “Until it’s done.”
I know it’s frustrating.
But unless I’m making food for a paying customer, I generally don’t really kill myself to make sure the measurements are exactly right. “Ish?” is kind of my go-to measurement.
This is all to say: I haven’t posted many recipes because I don’t really use them. I mean, I read them. And I draw inspiration from them. But more often than not, I find a recipe that looks interesting and I use it as a jumping-off point. As long as I’m not changing any of the major ratios or doing anything that will render the recipe useless (like adding fat to egg whites for a meringue, or making any major flavor substitutions) it usually works out ok.
And I’m going to give you a recipe today. But I don’t want you to stress if you don’t have one of the components, or make a special trip to the store because I said walnuts and all you have are pecans. It’s fine. Use pumpkin seeds, or hazelnuts, or whatever you have. It’s not going to make a huge difference.
So. My secret dream is to live on a farm and be self-sufficient and only buy things I can’t make, like toilet paper and batteries. I want to raise chickens and goats and have 12 dogs and 6 cats and maybe a cow one day and my husband will make art in the studio we have on the other side of the barn while I write and cook and play the ukelele in the main house. We will eat delicious home-grown foods that I have harvested from our garden and I will have a braid and be wise and patient and quirky but also beloved and I will drive my Jeep into town and Scottie will drive his beat-up pickup and we’ll wear lots of plaid.
One of my BFFs bought me an awesome cookbook a few years ago for my birthday and I want you guys to know about it and possibly procure a copy for yourself. I can’t remember where I saw it first, but I did and I knew I had to have it because Alana Chernila, the author of The Homemade Pantry, kind of does the thing I want to do. She also teaches cooking classes and writes a blog (sigh).
I love the book, and I have definitely drawn inspiration from the book and the blog. One recipe of hers that I love and have used (in the way that I use recipes) is for granola.
Granola is one of those things that, by definition, should be simple. It’s oats and nuts and maybe a little oil and sweetener and that’s kind of it. It shouldn’t be complicated, and it sure as hack should not be EXPENSIVE. But it is! Quality granola is SPENDY, people. You’re paying upwards of four dollars for less than a pound. That’s CRAZY.
And. AND! Here’s the other nutty (ha!) thing: YOU DON’T EVEN GET TO CONTROL WHAT IS IN IT. So here you are, shelling out piles of cash for this stuff, and it could very have things in that you don’t want. Like tons of fat. Or loads of refined sugar. (When I was in college I worked in a bakery and we sold a bran muffin that was literally the least healthy thing on the menu. You could get a full chicken salad sandwich and it would have less fat and calories in it than these muffins. But people bought them every day and were super smug about it because they thought they were being “healthy.” And we would just laaaaugh and laaaaugh about it, because we knew exactly what was in them and how bad they actually were for you.)
But if you make your own granola–which is SO EASY I PROMISE YOU–you can know EXACTLY what goes in it. You can control how sweet it is, or whether it’s got almonds or coconut or sunflower seeds or whatever. And you will save so much of the moneys.
Granola, based (very loosely) on the recipe from The Homemade Pantry
- 8 (ish) cups rolled oats
- 3 cups nuts: use a mix of sunflower seeds, almonds, chopped walnuts, chopped pecans, hazelnuts… whatever you like or whatever you have
- 1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut (or leave it out, if you don’t like coconut. Add another half cup or so of oats)
- 1 heaping tablespoon cinnamon
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil (I don’t use canola oil; I use corn oil, but you can use whatever you want. Coconut oil would also work fine)
- 3/4 to 1 cup liquid sweetener (I use a mix of maple syrup, honey, and molasses. I don’t recommend using all molasses, but it does add a nice depth to the flavor)
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon (ish) kosher salt
Heat the oven to 250. Line 2 baking pans with parchment or nonstick foil. (Or use a Silpat.)
In a big bowl, mix the oats, nuts, coconut, cinnamon. Measure the oil in a 2-cup measuring cup, then add the sweetener to the same measuring cup. (So if you’re using 1 cup sweetener, your total liquid will be 1 3/4 cups. If you’re using 3/4 cup sweetener, your measure will be 1 1/2 cups. Does that make sense?) (That way your sweetener will slide out of the measuring cup with the oil instead of sticking to the cup.) Add the extract on top and mix the liquids together. Pour over the dry stuff and stir until it’s all coated.
Divide the mix between the pans and spread it out evenly. Sprinkle with kosher salt.
Bake for 1.5 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. Once it’s baked, turn the oven off and go live your life for a while (seriously, go see a movie or something). Then when it’s cool, transfer it to jars or bags or whatever. Freeze it or give as gifts if you aren’t going to eat it all within a couple of weeks.