Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Better Living with OATS! {4 Great #Recipes}

My family costs an arm and a leg when it comes to breakfast. No, I don't cook pancakes, bacon, sausage, and eggs every morning. I don't buy fancy pastries or anything like that, either. Breakfast around here consists of two choices: cold cereal or oatmeal.

I used to buy the "good" cereals. You know, the organic, whole-grain stuff? I stopped when the price went up to $4 for a small box. I moved on to the name brand healthy stuff in the regular cereal section. It still cost more, but I wanted cereal that was good for my family and with an ingredients list that didn't read like a chemistry book. Then, my oldest hit a growth spurt that hasn't slowed. In fact, it's gotten worse by the day. The kid was putting away a box of cereal and a gallon of milk a day! I resorted to the cereal that comes in bags and has names like "Fruity O's". It was the only way I could keep the kid full without starving the rest of us.

There had to be a better way to feed this kid. I mean, he's growing at an alarming rate. All of the food he puts into his body is being used to its fullest potential. I really didn't want the makeup of his body (for the rest of his life!) to be based on Fruity O's ingredients! I decided to go back to the fancy healthy cereals I was buying in the first place, only I wanted to make them myself. I knew that the proper ingredients for growing a man would be in the granola and it would fill him up much faster and for much longer and using a much smaller amount.

And then there was the oatmeal problem. Since he could feed himself with a spoon, Little Guy has been eating oatmeal for breakfast every day. At first, it was organic baby oatmeal. Then he moved up to Better Oats instant oatmeal. (The stuff is fantastic, by the way!) Now, I rely on instant oatmeal in the morning for him. I usually mix it with hot water for him, then set it on the counter to soak up the water and cool while I get that first pot of coffee brewing. By the time I pour my cup of coffee, his oatmeal is ready, and we quietly wake up at the table together - him with his oats and me with my cup of coffee.

Then my husband, who always had sworn off oats as "yucky" decided that he really liked Little Guy's Better Oats. He started eating two packages at once a couple of times a day for a snack. Do you have any idea how much those things cost?! And there are only 5 packets in a box! The last straw came when, for the third time in a week, I went to make Little Guy's breakfast and there weren't any packets left - just an empty box. ARGH!!! I started hiding Little Guy's breakfast in weird places so hubby wouldn't eat it all - at one point, I had four boxes of oatmeal in my underwear drawer. I was inspired by THIS POST to create my own instant oatmeal packets. This way, hubby can eat as much as he likes and I know that Little Guy's breakfast won't disappear!

So, here are some of the recipes I've come up with. At the very bottom of this post, I'm linking to the recipes that have inspired me or that helped me get the ingredient amounts and cooking processes figured out. I suggest that you check those link out because they may prove to be very helpful!

Instant Oatmeal Packets
  • 3c. whole rolled oats
  • instant baby oatmeal (if you like thicker oatmeal)
  • non-fat dried milk
  • flax seed
  • wheat germ
  • brown sugar
  • dried fruit, coconut, sunflower seeds, nuts, whatever you want
  1. Put the oats, 1 cup at a time, into the blender and process using the ice crush setting on pulse. If you don't have this, just turn the blender on and off. Pulse 5-7 times, until it looks as if the oats have all been cut at least once. Kind of hard to describe now that I'm trying! Empty the blender canister into a bowl after each session.
  2. Divide your oats into sandwich bags, 1/4 to 1/3 cup per bag. It just depends on how large a serving you or your kids will eat. Little Guy just moved up to 1/3 cup... must be growing again! Now, you don't have to use sandwich bags for this - small plastic containers or even glass jars would be great. I don't happen to have those. I reuse the plastic bags when I make more instant oatmeal, anyway. I just have my husband and son put the emptied bags into a re-purposed coffee can on the counter.
  3. Into each bag, measure: 1 Tbsp. baby oatmeal, 1 Tbsp. dried milk, 1 tsp. flax seeds, 1/2 Tbsp. wheat germ, 1 Tbsp. brown sugar. Add the goodies! I put about 2 Tbsp. dried fruit (freeze-dried fruit works well, too) and 1 tsp. sunflower seeds into Little Guy's because that's what he likes.
  4. Seal all of the baggies and then get the kids into the kitchen to help you. The ingredients in the bags need to be mixed up, particularly the brown sugar. If you don't mix that up, it'll end up becoming a rock of brown sugar that won't dissolve!
  5. To make oatmeal my way: Heat up 1/4 c. of water to boiling or near-boiling. Empty oatmeal packet into a bowl and pour hot water over it. Stir well and let sit for about 5 minutes (just long enough to get the coffee pot going!) Stir once more and add honey to taste.
  6. To make in the microwave: Cereal in bowl, 1/4 c. water mixed in, cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute. You may need to add some more water or a little milk because cooking it this way seems to result in a much thicker oatmeal.

Do you burn granola when you attempt to make it in the oven? Just a little too much heat or cooking time can ruin an entire batch of granola. The burnt flavor permeates every oat. And the ingredients in this stuff are too expensive to just toss when it burns. After my first experience of making (and burning) granola, I've been hesitant to try again. Until I learned you can make it in the crock pot. Now, using a crock pot to make granola doesn't mean you're exempt from burning! You still have to keep an eye on it and stir often. But, if you have different heat settings on your crock pot, you can relax a little.When I know I'll be busy and won't remember to stir, I turn the crock pot to "warm". When I'm in the kitchen cooking or cleaning and can be right on top of the granola, I set it to "high". And, when I'm on the computer or just hanging out with the kids, I put it on "low".

I have 1 7qt. crock pot. The amounts listed in the recipes fill it about 1/2 way. This gives me plenty of room for stirring without making a huge mess. If your crock pot is smaller, try cutting down on some of the ingredients. These recipes do not need to be followed exactly as written. If you don't like sunflower seeds, omit them. If you'd rather use coconut oil instead of butter, go for it. Just make sure the flavors of the things you add will meld together well. You don't want to use a strong-flavored olive oil, for instance. And don't add melty things (like chocolate chips) until after the granola is made and cooled. You'll just wind up with a huge mess if you add them before cooking!

Now, I made two batches of granola. My first batch failed the family taste test. First, I didn't add any salt. I didn't even think of adding it. When my husband and oldest said it was "missing something", it was the only thing I could think of. Salt brings out the flavor if the other ingredients, and you really don't need much of it for that boost. Second, it wasn't sweet enough for them. They tried adding sugar, honey, and brown sugar on top of the cereal, but it made it "taste funny". These guys are used to the colorful cereals in boxes on the store shelf, so I can see where it would be a problem for them. I used the first batch to make chewy granola bars (recipe below) and then changed some of the ingredients and amounts in the second batch (last recipe on this post), which they both love.

Crock Pot Granola #1 
(The not-so-sweet version)
  • 5 c. rolled oats (not instant or quick-cooking)
  • 2 Tbsp. flax seeds
  • 1/4 c. raw sunflower seeds, unsalted
  • 1/4 c. flaked coconut (I used sweetened, you don't have to)
  • 1/4 c. slivered almonds (get the ones that still have the brown husk - it's way healthier!)
  • 4 Tbsp. wheat germ
  • 1/4 c. EACH: finely chopped pecans and walnuts
  • 1/2 c. honey
  • 1/2 c. melted butter, unsalted
  1. Mix all of the dry ingredients in your crock pot.
  2. Melt butter and pour it and the honey over the granola mixture. Fold together with a large spoon until everything is coated well.
  3. Turn crock pot on LOW. You want to cover the crock pot to keep the heat in, but you also need to leave it vented so the moisture can escape. I just leave my wooden spoon in the crock pot. It sticks out enough to hold the lid off enough for venting. You could also use chopsticks or simply put the lid n askew to leave an opening. If you notice a lot of condensation inside the lid, you need to leave a larger opening. 
  4. Stir every 20 to 30 minutes. Make sure you are getting into the corners, sides, and bottom of the crock. Make sure to stir it thoroughly each time. The parts of the granola that are touching the crock will, obviously heat up faster and are more prone to burning. (If you have it set to high, stir every 5 or 10 minutes. Set to low? Stir 30 to 40 minutes.)
  5. Keep an eye on the color of your granola. It can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours to cook, depending on your heat setting. You'll know it's done when it's a nice golden brown. Don't base doneness on how crisp the cereal is. Cooling time will make it crunchier.
  6. Pour granola onto a baking sheet (or two, depending on how quickly you want it to cool) and spread evenly. Let cool for 30 to 45 minutes. You want to make sure it's completely cool before putting it away.
  7. I keep my granola in gallon-sized food storage bags. Just like with the instant oatmeal, I reuse these bags over and over. You can use whatever you'd like to store your granola. Just make sure it's airtight. And, as I said above, make sure it's completely cool before packaging it. If it's still warm, it can still have moisture in it. Putting warm granola into an air-tight container will result in soggy granola and it will spoil quickly.
  8. To serve: Just pour into a bowl, add a little milk, and munch away! You can also heat it up a little in the microwave. I love eating slightly warmed granola. Add to yogurt, top muffins with it, whatever you like!

It took me a lot of searching to understand how to make a good chewy granola bar. There are millions of recipes for them, but I wanted a particular texture. I like the texture of the Quaker Chewy Granola Bars. Toothy, a little crunch, easy to pull apart, won't crumble into a bunch of little pieces that I have to vacuum up. There were a lot of chewy recipes that called for flour, eggs, baking soda... To cake-like for me. Then there were the ones that relied on corn syrup. I'm not going into the corn syrup debate here, just know that I like to keep away from the stuff. I finally found a handful of recipes that use sweetened condensed milk. I checked out the ingredients list on the can I had in the cupboard (for years!), and this is what it had to say: Milk, Sugar. That's it. I don't know what kind of sugar, I still have to look it up.Anyway, it passed my requirements - for now.

The recipe below was made using my Crock Pot Granola #1 recipe. If you don't want to go through all of that, you can just mix 4 cups of oats and 3 cups of dried fruits and other add-ins together for this. You're going to want to toast them until they're brown. You can just mix them together, put them on a baking sheet, and pop them into a 200 F oven (stirring very often) until they start to brown (about 15 minutes or so?)

Chewy Granola Bars
  • 7 c. Crock Pot Granola #1 (see the paragraph above if you don't have any)
  • 1/4 tsp. Kosher salt (optional, use less if you use table salt)
  • 1 can (oz.) sweetened condensed milk (make sure your can does NOT say: evaporated milk!!!)
  • 1 c. chocolate chips (Optional - I added them for the kids)
  1. Heat oven to 325 F. Line a jellyroll pan (baking sheet - 15"X10"X1") with parchment paper. You could also spray, butter, or oil the pan. However, I found that this can leave the bars somewhat greasy. Plus, using parchment allows you to lift the baked bars out of the pan and onto a flat surface for easier cutting.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients together very well. Fold and fold and fold until every bit is coated with the milk.
  3. Pour the mixture onto the pan and press it down firmly. This is important because if you don't have it all packed tightly, the bars will fall apart on you. Now, this part can be very sticky. I usually coat my hands in oil (avoid strong-flavored oils) to keep the stickiness down a little. I've also found that you can lay a sheet of waxed paper or parchment over the top of the granola and the use a rolling pin to press it all down. I just hate wasting the paper for that one job, you know?
  4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Because my oven's heat is not evenly distributed, I rotate the pan halfway through cooking to even out the baking.
  5. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes.
  6. Cut into bars. You must do this while it is still warm. You don't have to separate the bars just yet. But, if you don't cut them now, you will find it near impossible to cut them. I can get 24 bars that are approx. 2"X3.5" - the perfect size for my family's snacking needs.
  7. Let cool completely. Completely. This is going to take about 30-45 minutes, maybe more. As with the granola, you need to make sure these aren't holding any moisture before wrapping. 
  8. I wrap my bars individually using small pieces of plastic wrap. I do this because these bars are often grabbed by my oldest as he's on his way out the door. You can just put them into a food storage container, if you prefer. Just make sure the layers of bars are separated by waxed paper or something else because they will slowly meld together into a gigantic hunk of granola bar (trust me - I know this one!)

And, finally, here's my granola recipe that passed muster with my oldest and my husband. It is very sweet and crunchy. I've just copied and pasted the instructions from the Crock Pot Granola #1 recipe above, since the procedure is the same. Any changes I have made in the instructions below are in italics. I also added some pumpkin seeds to this one. I didn't have them when I made the first recipe. Oh, and I only had 4 cups of oats left, so that's what I used. I'd have put in five if I had them.

Crock Pot Granola #2 
(The sweet stuff)
  • 4 c. rolled oats (not instant or quick-cooking)
  • 1/4 tsp. Kosher salt (if you use table salt, use less!)
  • 1/2 c. slivered almonds
  • 1/2 c. raw sunflower seeds, unsalted
  • 1/2 c. pumpkin seeds, unsalted and shelled
  • 1/4 c. EACH: finely chopped pecans and walnuts
  • 2 Tb. flax seeds
  • 1/4 c. wheat germ
  • 1/2 c. flaked coconut
  • 1/2 c. dried cranberries
  • 3/4 c. honey
  • 1/2 c. melted butter
  • 1/4 c. dark brown sugar, packed
  1. Mix all of the dry ingredients in your crock pot.
  2. Melt butter and mix in the brown sugar. It won't completely dissolve the sugar, but it will make it easier to make sure that the sugar is evenly dispersed throughout the granola. Pour butter mixture and honey over granola mixture. Fold together with a large spoon until everything is coated well.
  3. Turn crock pot on LOW. You want to cover the crock pot to keep the heat in, but you also need to leave it vented so the moisture can escape. I just leave my wooden spoon in the crock pot. It sticks out enough to hold the lid off enough for venting. You could also use chopsticks or simply put the lid n askew to leave an opening. If you notice a lot of condensation inside the lid, you need to leave a larger opening. 
  4. Stir every 20 to 30 minutes. Make sure you are getting into the corners, sides, and bottom of the crock. Make sure to stir it thoroughly each time. The parts of the granola that are touching the crock will, obviously heat up faster and are more prone to burning. (If you have it set to high, stir every 5 or 10 minutes. Set to low? Stir 30 to 40 minutes.)
  5. Keep an eye on the color of your granola. It can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours to cook, depending on your heat setting. You'll know it's done when it's a nice golden brown. Don't base doneness on how crisp the cereal is. Cooling time will make it crunchier.
  6. Pour granola onto a baking sheet (or two, depending on how quickly you want it to cool) and spread evenly. Let cool for 30 to 45 minutes. You want to make sure it's completely cool before putting it away.
  7. I keep my granola in gallon-sized food storage bags. Just like with the instant oatmeal, I reuse these bags over and over. You can use whatever you'd like to store your granola. Just make sure it's airtight. And, as I said above, make sure it's completely cool before packaging it. If it's still warm, it can still have moisture in it. Putting warm granola into an air-tight container will result in soggy granola and it will spoil quickly. The granola will be chunked together in this recipe after cooling. You can break it into whatever size pieces you prefer.
  8. To serve: Just pour into a bowl, add a little milk, and munch away! You can also heat it up a little in the microwave. I love eating slightly warmed granola. Add to yogurt, top muffins with it, whatever you like!
 Inspiration and how-to links:
Homemade Granola at Simplify, Life, Love
Granola at Crock Pot Recipe Exchange
Homemade Oatmeal Packets at The Frugal Girls
Homemade Chewy Granola Bars at Framed Cooks

Enjoy! 
I'd love to know what ingredients you like in your granola. Do you add anything to give it some UMPH, or to make it super healthy? Oh, and I would love any ideas you might have for wrapping the granola bars individually without making a heap of plastic wrap trash. It needs to be disposable because I'm not about to send my oldest out of the house with a $7 reusable snack bag that will inevitable get lost!

13 comments:

Carrie said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

What great recipes!! It is always better to make them on your own. Thank you so much for sharing at Sharing Saturday!

April said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

These look great! I've decided I want to make my own granola soon as a healthy breakfast - even the sweet stuff is probably better than store bought!

Classified Mom said... Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Great recipes. I am so proud of my kids - I got them to eat Flax seed oil in there food. Now I have to work on oats! Thank you for sharing your ideas with us on The Sunday Showcase

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