If I'm being honest, most of what I do in the kitchen is recreate really delicious things I've eaten somewhere else. No, it never tastes the same, but it's a useful way to get cooking inspiration, and also to not spend $10 on something it takes $2 to make yourself.
The most recent example is a granola from Bandit Coffee Co. in St. Petersburg, Fla. One day when I was in for a latte, I ordered the granola for breakfast. It was sweet but also very savory, with warm spices and salt. They served it in a bowl with steamed milk, which was a total revelation. Granola on top of cold yogurt is usually my preferred method, and when I do eat it like cereal it's with cold milk. But this cereal-oatmeal hybrid changed my granola perspective.
It also made me crave it every morning, so I concocted a version of my own.
I tried it a couple different ways, the only requirements being oats and spices and some sort of nut. The recipe below is the one I liked best. When it comes to the oats, you can use either quick-cooking, which are broken down to create a finer, more flaky oat, or rolled, which are thicker and more whole. After making this version with the quick-cooking oats I had in my cupboard, I think I'll use rolled oats going forward, as they're sturdier and will probably hold up better to roasting.
That is the first and most crucial step: roasting the oats to develop a richer flavor. Doing so with a generous drizzle of olive oil adds some good fat and also helps the oats turn a deep golden color. I then roasted a medley of nuts and seeds: raw sunflower seeds, raw cashews and raw slivered almonds. (Sesame seeds would not be a bad addition here, but you're better off roasting those in a skillet for just a couple minutes.) Roasting the nuts separately from the oats allows you to more carefully control how much each cooks - one time I left my nuts in the oven about a minute too long. And even though I ended up liking the slightly burnt flavor enough to work it into that batch of granola, in general they won't need as long as the oats.
At this point, you combine your dry ingredients and hit them with some flavor: maple syrup for sweetness, cardamom and cinnamon and even turmeric for a savory edge, plus some salt and more olive oil to hold it all together. This is when you can add anything else you have in your pantry that may be a good fit. I went with sweetened coconut flakes; dried fruit or any other nut would be great, too.
Then it's back in the oven for just a bit to allow everything to meld. Your nose will help detect when it's done: a wonderfully nutty aroma will fill your kitchen.
More likely than not, I'm still sprinkling this granola on my daily bowl of plain Greek yogurt. But it's also there for when I want a bowl to start my morning, and don't have time (or excess funds) to stop at the local coffee shop.
Maple Cashew Granola
2 cups rolled or quick-cooking oats
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup raw cashews
¼ cup raw sunflower seeds
¼ cup raw slivered almonds
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon allspice
Pinch of salt
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
Place oats on a dry baking sheet and drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Roast for about 20 minutes, stirring after 10 minutes. If oats look pretty brown, keep an eye on them. Cook until light brown and fragrant.
Remove from oven and scoop into a medium bowl. Set aside.
Wipe off baking sheet so it's pretty dry. Add cashews, sunflower seeds and almonds. Roast in oven for about 10 minutes. Keep an eye on them; if they start to smell too fragrant or turn dark brown, remove from oven even sooner. When nuts are done, scoop into the same bowl as the oats.
Add maple syrup and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to bowl and toss immediately to coat the mixture. Add cinnamon, cardamom, allspice and salt and toss again until thoroughly mixed. Taste granola and adjust seasonings as desired.
Lay a piece of parchment paper on the same baking sheet you've been using, and add contents of bowl back to sheet. Return to the oven for 5 minutes, and cook, stirring once. Remove from oven, let cool, then eat or store in an airtight container in the fridge.
Makes about 3 cups granola.