By Emily Paster
Eating breakfast is a struggle for me. While I love traditional breakfast foods like eggs and pancakes, those are more of a weekend breakfast treat. Weekdays mornings are too rushed for that kind of cooking. Sadly, most quick breakfast foods — cereal, fruit and the like — don't appeal to me. And I hate eating something just for the sake of eating something. I insist that all of my calories be delicious ones. So, the truth is, most days my breakfast is a Grande nonfat, no foam, no water chai tea latte from Starbucks. And that's pretty delicious, but it has some drawbacks. Like, I have to go to Starbucks to get one and it costs $4.
But thanks to the Chicago Food Swap, I recently discovered a breakfast that is delicious, healthy and satisfying enough to carry me until lunch. It consists of vanilla Greek yogurt sweetened with homemade jam or fruit syrup and spiked with copious amounts of granola. Before the Chicago Food Swap, the very idea of homemade granola was new to me. I did not realize that granola was something one could make at home nor did I have the foggiest notion of how to do so. But it seemed that every food swap I was introduced to a new kind of granola: some with nuts, some without, some vegan, some gluten-free. The variety was impressive and taught me that one of the biggest benefits of homemade granola is the ability to customize it to your own taste and dietary restrictions.
I've never been a fan of the store-bought granola in particular. It always seemed dry and tasteless or, on the other end of the spectrum, loaded with sugar. Homemade granola blows the store-bought version out of the water. It's far less expensive, healthier – because you know exactly what is in it and can control the amount of sugar — and much more flavorful to boot. Yet, at the same time, making granola is an incredibly easy DIY kitchen project. It's barely even cooking. Thus, it's a terrific project for a novice cook or to do with young kids.
Most granola have some common elements: rolled oats, a sweetener of some kind — like honey, sugar, agave nectar or maple syrup — nuts, dried fruits or seeds to add nutrition and texture, spices, and a little bit of fat like oil or melted butter. With those basic elements, you can come up with a million different combinations to satisfy your family's needs. And you will never get bored.
I created this granola after my trip to Georgia for the Type-A Parent Conference. While I was in Atlanta, I got to see my friend Kelly and her delightful family. (Kelly's husband, Mickey, is a very talented website developer and helps me with the tech side of my blog.) When I left, Kelly gave me a bag of Georgia pecans to take home as a souvenir. I love pecans for their creamy texture and have had fun experimenting with them. (It helps that this month's Saveur has a long article on pecans.) The dried cherries are an unusual touch that reflects my proximity to the wonderful fruit orchards of Michigan. Feel free to substitute another fruit if you are unable to find dried cherries. Using egg whites to create crunchy clusters of granola is a trick I learned from my friend Marisa McClellan of the wildly popular food blog and cookbook Food in Jars. But please view this recipe as a guide, nothing more. Your homemade granola can and should be different from mine.
Maple Pecan Cherry Granola
Makes two quarts. Granola will last several weeks in a airtight jar.
- 3 cups rolled oats
- 1 ½ cups chopped pecans*
- 1 cup maple sugar (or brown sugar)
- 1 tsp. each ground ginger and cinnamon
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 cup chopped dried cherries
- 2 egg whites, beaten
- Preheat the oven to 325. Lightly oil a large rimmed baking sheet or spray it with nonstick cooking spray.
- Mix the rolled oats, pecans, sugar, salt, spices and cherries in a large bowl until well combined.
- Pour the beaten egg whites over the other ingredients and toss.
- Pour the contents of the bowl onto the oiled baking sheet and flatten into an even layer.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, tossing the granola every ten minutes or so, until lightly browned and fragrant.
- Place the baking sheet on a wire rack and allow the granola to cool thoroughly so that it will form into clusters.
*Pecans, like all nuts, are high in oil and therefore can become rancid. If you don't intend to use up your pecans quickly, I recommend storing them in the freezer.