Saturday, April 14, 2012

Granola Greatness . . . in progress

After the holidays, my parents joined a gym and committed themselves to a regime of sensible eating in order to lose some weight. They started eating more soups and salads, and even incorporated some smoothies into their diet. I did a little Zumba dance of joy as I noticed the swift disappearance -- and non-replacement -- of the junk food snacks that are sadly de rigeur in this house much of the time.

I applaud my parents' efforts and happily report that they are both losing weight. But old habits and stubbornly trained taste buds are hard to change. My dad thought it would be a good idea to buy a large, BJ's sized box of granola bars. 'Cause granola bars are healthy, right? Most granola bars on the market are little better than candy bars. They give off the aroma of healthiness with their "whole grain" oats and dried fruit, but many bars have only a notional relationship to the goals of a healthy diet. I won't give away the brand my father bought, but let's just say it's a popular supermarket brand represented by a member of a religious organization that was despised by the Puritans. These "healthy" snacks contain some form of sugar listed eight times in the ingredients list. I keep trying to tell him that the reason he's not losing weight as fast as he'd like to is because he eats too much sugar (and too much alcohol, which essentially becomes sugar).

Today, I developed two recipes for some really delicious granola. One is a blueberry-almond flavor and the other, I'm calling "The Four C's" -- cherries, cashews, coconut and cacao. Dad was curious about what I was doing -- the heavenly smell of baked oats, nuts and spices must have lured him to the kitchen -- so he sampled the product. Right away, he says, "It needs just a little something sweet . . . ." How exasperating -- there's 1/2 cup of coconut crystals in the total batch, and I can definitely taste the difference. But, when a person is used to processed foods, it's hard to convince them that they might learn to like the food better without so much sugar and assorted junk.

So, I caved a bit, but I am calling out to the blogosphere for help with this one. I'm experimenting with turning each batch into granola bars, but, of course, that means adding a substantial portion of honey, which I didn't really want to do. I've recently reconsidered my affection for agave and other processed fructoses, so I went with honey, which, according to ayurvedic tradition is "warming" instead of "cooling" and therefore better for suppressing Kapha dosha. I went ahead and did it anyway because I don't have date paste on hand, which is what I would have preferred. I did take a peek at this recipe for some help. Please send your suggestions for making the bars stick without adding much more sweetener than the base recipe below. My goal -- which might be impossible -- is to make a granola bar that I "approve" of that my French-Canadian, sugar-addicted father will eat.

Here's the base recipe:

Preheat oven to 400. Add to a baking dish/cookie sheet and warm for 10 minutes:

  • 1/4 cup of coconut oil

Add and stir:

  • 2 cups of rolled (not quick) oats

Toast this for 15 minutes, reducing the heat to 350 and stirring frequently.
Prepare "sticky" mixture. In a saucepan, melt:

  • 2 tsp. of coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup of coconut crystals
  • 1/4 cup of almond butter (I might reverse the amounts of the crystals and the butter here next time)

Set aside. Prepare nut and fruit mixtures for the recipe you want. Add the nut mixture to the oats and toast for a few minutes more.

Nut mixture for Blueberry-Almond flavor

  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 tbs. sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg

Nut mixture for "The Four C's": Cherries, Cashews, Coconut and Cacao flavor

  • 1/2 cup chopped cashews
  • 1 tbs. sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup ground flax seeds
  • 1/4-1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
  • 1/4-1/2 cup cacao nibs
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • dash of nutmeg

Once the granola has been toasted, remove it and add the fruit mixture:

Fruit mixture for Blueberry-Almond flavor

  • 1/2 cup dried blueberries, apple juice sweetened
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla

Fruit mixture for "The Four C's" flavor

  • up to a cup of dried, tart, unsweetened cherries
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla
The Four C's: Cherry, Cashew, Coconut, and Cacao Granola

Toss in the sticky mixture to coat. If you store this in the fridge, it should last a month.

* About bars: So, at this point, I added honey enough to make the mixture sticky and pressed it down firmly into the baking dish. I then baked for about 20 minutes. The mixture must cool before cutting. These bars will be delicate and will want to fall apart, so keeping them in the fridge helps keep them firm.

Blueberry-Almond Granola
P.S.: Please forgive the crappiness of these pictures. Photography just isn't my thing, so most of the time, the pics here are marginal. Unless I marry a photographer, I don't think they'll get better, either. I hope you can deal.

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