Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Multitasker: Granola and Baked Oatmeal


As you can see, the Pasta Burner is very excited about the spinach we've been recently getting from the Clark Park Farmer's Market. She wanted me to write a blog entry about it, but I've got a few posts back-logged before I can write an entry on just how freaking delicious it is. In fact, we just signed up for a CSA (or "farm share") with a local grower, so we'll be getting lots of great leafy greens and other locally produced food all winter, and, believe me, a lot of those recipes will end up here. So consider this photo a preview of sorts.

On to today's, wait...two recipes.


Just look at those ingredients: Quick-cooking oats, coconut, black sesame seeds, toasted peanuts, medjool dates, whole figs, a healthy knob of ginger root. How couldn't this be delicious?

In truth, only the oats are truly required, because that's all you really need to get started with the two recipes we have for you today. Well, a handful of oats and a decent imagination.

This time of year, when you forget your gloves and the wind raps your knuckles, when the radiator's blasting but you still have the windows open, when every child on the street comes pre-packaged with cleats and a pair of shin guards, this is the time for a breakfast that sticks to your ribs.

But when you don't want to get out of bed in the morning, much less cook, who really has the time or inclination to make breakfast? Well, the beauty of these recipes is, you don't have to. Both can be prepared long in advance, and use almost exactly the same ingredients.


The first recipe is for granola. A little boring? Perhaps. That being said, homemade granola is the perfect graduate student food -- it's easy to make, a great way to clean out your pantry, inexpensive, portable, can double as breakfast or a snack, and it keeps forever. How can anyone complain about that?

The key ingredients in granola are oats and a liquid sweetener, which serves as a binding ingredient (honey or maple syrup are classic choices). The oats provide structure and density, while the binding ingredient creates "clusters," providing essential crunch and texture.

How easy is granola to make? All you need to remember is this:

8 Parts Oats, 2 Parts Liquid Sweetener, 1 part vegetable oil, baked at 400 degrees.

That's about it! From there, your imagination can run wild. Great granola combines both contrasting textures and flavors. It should be chewy and crunchy, sweet and savory, satisfying yet bright.

Still looking for ideas? Follow the photos. Incidentally, this is one blog entry that really benefits from viewing the photos at full-scale -- the different textures are pretty neat to check out. Just click on them, and they'll expand!

So, in the above bowl, we have everything from the first photo but the dried fruit. The measuring cup has 1/2 cup maple syrup in it. Note the ginger-root has been micro-planed into a paste -- this will allow it to combine and coat the other ingredients in a more uniform manner. You don't want to add the fruit until after the baking process because, while the other ingredients need the heat to cook, that much time in the oven will turn even the tastiest fig into a burnt, rubbery mess.

As for the vegetable oil, it's in the recipe to help the oat-toasting process along once everything's in the oven. I like doing it, but it's entirely optional. I'd try making it with the oil once, and then deciding for yourself. A little tip: If you do add the oil, put it into the measuring cup before the maple syrup/honey -- it will help lubricate the cup (which, in turn, makes pouring the sweetener a breeze).

Here's a nice close-up of the mixed ingredients:

From here, it's easy -- stir well, spread the mixture into a thin layer on a cookie sheet, and pop everything into a pre-heated 400 degree oven.

You'll want to stir it a few times during the toasting process. Keep baking it until you get a golden brown color, remove from the oven, and stir in the dried fruit.

Looks good, eh? The granola should keep up to about a month if refrigerated and stored in a sealed container. That being said, I bet it will disappear a lot faster than that.


Believe it or not, making baked oatmeal is even easier. Sure, oatmeal is an old warhorse. Few foods are considered less exciting than it. But you see, by making your oatmeal in the oven -- as opposed to standing bleary-eyed over a hot stove, endlessly stirring a pot -- you get a crispy on top, creamy in the middle concoction sure to shake away the morning chills.

On top of all that, the real beauty of Baked Oatmeal is that it can be prepped the night before, refrigerated in a baking dish, and then, the next morning, at the last minute, popped into the oven. Twenty minutes (and a cup of strong coffee) later, you have hot, flavorful, delicious breakfast -- and you've barely lifted a finger.

The process is much the same. Start with 8 parts quick oats, and two parts sweetener. You'll need more liquid than we had in the granola recipe, and a binding ingredient, to preserve the structural integrity of everything. Add in two parts milk, two parts applesauce, and one egg per two cups of oats. Here's an example recipe, that I made last week:

2 Cups Quick Oats
1/2 Cup Honey
1/2 Cup Milk
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
One large egg, lightly mixed

Baked Oatmeal also needs a teaspoon of baking powder, to help it rise as it bakes. Those looking for moister baked oatmeal may also want to mix in two tablespoons of melted butter.

From here, as with the granola, let your imagination run wild. Last week, I used a quarter-cup of black sesame seeds, a quarter-cup of golden raisins, a handful of nuts, three or four plump dates, cinnamon, and the zest of an orange.

The cooking process is simple -- throw everything into a bowl, mix well, pour into a lightly buttered baking dish, and cook at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until the top of the oatmeal is golden brown. Alternatively, place the dish into the fridge, and bake it off the next morning! I tried to take a picture of the final product as it came out of the oven, but as you see, the Pasta Burner and I were so hungry that, well...:

So there you have it -- two recipes, nearly identical in their use of ingredients, both of which can be made the night before (or, in the case of the granola, weeks before). Let your imagination go wild, and think outside the box. Fresh herbs often add a lovely note to granola and oatmeal. Think about candied orangepeel, fresh rosemary, and pecans in a batch. What about using powdered lemongrass, or anise-seed? Is your mouth watering yet?

Granola and Baked Oatmeal present the amateur cook with a blank canvas, a chance to affordably experiment. Quick, easy, fast, cheap, versatile. Go for it.

Music: Neil Diamond (I know, forgive me) -- "Crunchy Granola Suite"


  1. Instant oats???? Who are you and what have you done with Neal???


  2. Ha! Quick oats, not instant.

    Still, I know, there should be a little shame involved. The Pasta Burner loves McCann's steel-cut oats, but some mornings there just isn't time.

    I figure a little cheating can't hurt, right?


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