A Malvern Hills Ramble – Sustained by Hearty Granola

Earthworks at British Camp, Malvern Hills

Earthworks at the British Camp, Malvern Hills, England

If the word “ramble” brings to mind someone droning on without focus, you are probably not English.  In England and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, a “ramble” is a walk. One “rambles” the public rights of way that lace through the UK countryside – paths established before the days of Downton Abbey.  And, like many things English, time has done little to change them.  Thanks to diligent efforts by local British Ramblers groups to protect the routes and ensure that owners allow passage through their lands, these beautiful and convenient footpaths remain for all to enjoy.

Stiles - Passage for Ramblers; Barrier for Livestock

Stiles – Passage for Ramblers; Barrier for Livestock

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On our recent visit to the UK. we met up with the Worcester Ramblers, our local Ramblers group when we lived in England.  We met our friends at the car park for the  British Camp, an Iron Age (800 BC) Fort on the Herefordshire Beacon in the Malvern Hills.  From there, we climbed past the ancient British Camp earthworks and then navigated a lovely 11-mile walk through the Malverns.  Traversing farms and grazing fields, passing through villages and churchyards, we were treated to panoramic views of Worcestershire, Herefordshire, the Cotswolds and beyond – gorgeous even on a cloudy morning.

Views From The Beacon

View from the Herefordshire Beacon

Funneling Through The Trees

Funneling through the Trees

Village Church

Village Church along the Way

I knew from past experience that the length of the walk would get my stomach growling well before the lunch stop in Ledbury.  So, a good breakfast was a must.  And nothing sticks to my ribs like some hearty granola along with a bit of fruit and dairy.   So, we were lucky were we that our hotel had excellent homemade granola.

Granola, a toasted mix of oats, nuts, sweeteners, coconut and other ingredients, is a great breakfast (and snack) food.  Loaded with nutrients, fiber and flavor, it also stores and travels well.  And, because granola has a good source of protein, carbohydrate and fats, it keeps me going on an 11-mile hike.

But what is the perfect granola??  An individual preference certainly, but I was curious about why the process for making granola was so varied. You would think that some basic steps would hold true for all granolas.  So, I did a bit of testing to come up with my ideal formula.

Granola - Appropriately Served In

Granola – Appropriately displayed in Royal Worcester Porcelain, hand-crafted in Worcestershire, not far from the Malvern Hills.


COOKING TIPS AND TOOLS:  GRANOLA

  • TOASTING.   Granola is almost always toasted, for good reason – to add texture and blend ingredients.  But why do some recipes have you toast the individual ingredients (e.g., nuts)?  No reason that I can see – other than extra work.  So, I’m going with mixing ingredients and then toasting the combined mixture.  
  • BAKING TEMPERATURE.  And what about the proper baking temperature?  While I’ve seen a range of oven temperatures from 200 deg F to 350 deg F, after some trial and error, I settled on 300 F.  This is sufficient for good crispness, doesn’t prolong the process and is low enough to avoid scorching the granola.
  • FAT.  Most granolas contain added fat (in addition to the fat in the nuts and coconut).  The fat adds flavor, improves texture and serves as a vehicle to meld ingredients.  But which one?  And is fat really necessary??  Butter and oil are both common, so I tried both of those.  And I decided to use “no fat” as my baseline – using fruit juice instead, taking a cue from some “low-fat” granola recipes.  Here are my results:

BUTTER

OIL

JUICE

TASTE

TEXTURE

X

   

BEST

EXTRA CRISP

 

X

 

GOOD

LIGHT, CRISP

   

X

MEDIOCRE

DRY

Bottom line is that I loved both the butter and oil variations.  I thought the butter provided the best flavor as well as good texture;  the oil, while not providing much flavor, produced a nice light and crisp texture. I thought the fruit juice version was dry and generally lacking the crunch and taste that I like so much in granola.


After trying at least 16 batches of granola, comparing fats, oven temperatures and flavors, I settled on the basic recipe below.   I’ve also included two variations on the basic recipe.  The first is my overall favorite: butter and honey base with star anise and cranberry.   The second is more traditional:  oil and maple base with raisin and cinnamon.  But if you like the basic recipe below, don’t let my suggestions limit your choices.  There are plenty of ingredient and seasoning mixes that work.

Granola and Fresh Blackberries

Granola and Fresh Blackberries

Granola – Basic Recipe
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Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC
Yield: makes about 3 quarts

6 tablespoons butter, or olive oil
1/3 cup honey, or maple syrup
1 cinnamon stick , or star anise
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon orange zest
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups oats, rolled, (about 12 ounces)
1 cup pepitas, or sunflower seeds or a mix of both (about 4 ounces)
1 1/2 cup almonds, slivered, or pecans or a mix of both (about 6 ounces)
1/2 cup sugar, brown, (about 3 ounces)
1 cup shredded sweet coconut, (about 4 ounces)
1 cup raisins , or dried cranberries

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  (I find convection provides a better texture)

2. In a small saucepan, combine butter, honey, cinnamon stick, cinnamon, zest and salt. Heat until melted, combined and at a low simmer.  Remove from heat and let mixture sit about 5-10 minutes while mixing dry ingredients.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, seeds (pepitas or sunflower), nuts, coconut, and brown sugar.

4. Remove cinnamon stick from butter mixture.  Combine butter and oat mixtures and pour onto a jelly roll pan. I prefer to line the pan with a Silpat for easy stirring and cleaning.

Bake about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color.

5. Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl. Add raisins and mix until evenly distributed.

Granola in Sheet Pan (Jelly Roll Pan)

Granola Ready to Toast in Sheet Pan (Jelly Roll Pan)

Granola – Honey, Star Anise and Cranberry
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Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC
Yield: makes about 3 quarts

6 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup honey
4 star anise
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon orange zest
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups oats, rolled, (about 12 ounes)
1/2 cup pepitas, (about 2 ounces)
1/2 cup sunflower seeds, (about 2 ounces)
3/4 cup almonds, slivered, (about 3 ounces)
3/4 cup pecans, (about 3 ounces)
1/2 cup sugar, brown, (about 3 ounces)
1 cup shredded sweet coconut, (about 4 ounces)
1 cup cranberries, dried

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. (I find convection provides a better texture).

2. In a small saucepan, combine butter, honey, star anise, cinnamon, zest and salt. Heat until melted, combined and at a low simmer.  Remove from heat and let mixture sit about 5-10 minutes while mixing dry ingredients.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, seeds (pepitas and sunflower), nuts, coconut, and brown sugar.

4. Remove star anise from butter mixture.  Combine butter and oat mixtures and pour on a jelly roll pan. I prefer to line the pan with a Silpat for easy stirring and cleaning.

Bake about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color.

5. Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl. Add cranberries and mix until evenly distributed.

DO-AHEAD DIRECTIONS:  Prepare granola through the final step. When cool, store in an air-tight container.  Keeps for about a month.

Granola – Maple, Raisin and Cinnamon
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Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC
Yield: makes about 3 quarts

6 tablespoons oil, olive
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 cinnamon stick
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon orange zest
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups oats, rolled, (about 12 ounes)
1 cup sunflower seeds, (about 4 ounces)
3/4 cup almonds, slivered, (about 3 ounces)
3/4  cup pecans, (about 3 ounces)
1/2 cup sugar, brown, (about 3 ounces)
1 cup shredded sweet coconut, (about 4 ounces)
1 cup raisins

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. (I find convection provides a better texture)

2. In a small saucepan, combine oil, honey, cinnamon stick, cinnamon, zest and salt. Heat until melted, combined and at a low simmer.  Remove from heat and let mixture sit about 5-10 minutes while mixing dry ingredients.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, seeds (sunflower), nuts, coconut, and brown sugar.

4. Remove cinnamon stick from oil mixture.  Combine butter and oat mixtures and pour onto a jelly roll pan. I prefer to line the pan with a Silpat for easy stirring and cleaning.

Bake about 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color.

5. Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl. Add raisins and mix until evenly distributed.

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Lille – A Macaron Mecca

Lille, France

Lille, France

Wandering the streets of Lille, you begin to wonder how this small French city sustains a patisserie on virtually every corner. Are the locals required to eat in a patisserie as least once daily? Or is it because the window displays look so good that it is impossible to resist the treats within??  Or is it that Lille is the home of Paul, the famous French pastry shop? Or is it the colorful and ubiquitous macaron that weakens ones resolve?? Continue reading

Rural England at its Best – Including a Shepherd’s Pie

Worcestershire from The Malverns (AKA The Shire)

Worcestershire (AKA The Shire) from the Malvern Hills

When I lived in England, my American friends often inquired about our home across the pond.  My response was that “I live in the Shire” – J.R.R. Tolkien’s magical green land, bordered by rivers and fertile valleys.  The statement, inspired by my mental image of the land of the Hobbits, was in fact remarkably close to the truth.  I later discovered that Tolkien modeled his Shire after rural Worcestershire, where he spent his childhood and where I lived more than a century later.

Mr. Tolkien, you were so right – it was and still is a lovely green land. Continue reading

Easy Outdoor Party with Seasonal Produce (Part 3 of 3)

Summer Berries

Summer Berries

What could be a better finish to our seasonal party than a shortcake with peak-of-season local berries?   Since our party was in June, strawberries were just the ticket. It is August now and, at least here in Michigan, local strawberries have moved over to make room for our luscious blueberries and blackberries.  No worries.  You can use any seasonal berry or mix of berries in this easy dessert.

There are a number of reasons why this dessert is so easy for a party menu: Continue reading

Easy Outdoor Party with Seasonal Produce (Part 2 of 3)

Sangrias at the Drinks Table

Sangrias at the Drinks Table

This summer party was a group effort – a beautiful backyard provided by our hosts, menu by A Global Garnish and food/drink contributions from all attendees.  Don’t confuse this group effort with a potluck, which has the emphasis on luck.  If you’re lucky, a potluck party will have a good distribution of appetizers, main dishes and desserts as well as a mix of ingredients/flavors.  But why leave all this to chance??  If you give out menu assignments, you KNOW the final meal will all come together.  Further, you save your guests the trouble of wondering:  “what should I make?”. Continue reading

Easy Outdoor Party With Seasonal Produce (Part 1 of 3)

Israeli Couscous with Sweet Red Peppers and Asparagus

Israeli Couscous with Sweet Red Peppers and Asparagus

Summer solstice – time to enjoy the glorious evening daylight, the early summer climate, lush gardens and early seasonal produce. Could there be a better time for an outdoor party?  My clever friends thought not. Continue reading

Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemons, Olives and Artichokes

Chicken with Preserved Lemons, Olives and Artichokes

Chicken with Preserved Lemons, Olives and Artichokes

Memories can be tricky.   My sister and I recently compared childhood memories only to find that, while some matched, many did not and a few were completely contradictory.  So, when I returned to Morocco after a 40-year hiatus, I feared the food would not live up to my seemingly indelible memories of magical scents and flavors. I was wrong.  It was better. Continue reading

Cuban-Style Citrus – Mojo and Mojito (Part 2 of 2)

Mojito Ingredients

Mojito Ingredients

My Mojito in La Bodeguita, My Daiquiri in El Floridita.” … Ernest Hemingway.

La Bodeguita and El Floridita were favorite Ernest Hemingway haunts in Havana.  If you’ve read anything by or about Hemingway, you won’t be surprised that he lingered as regularly as possible in the proximity of his favorite drinks. La Bodeguita was his place for Mojitos. Continue reading