'The true cook is the perfect blend, the only perfect blend, of artist and philosopher. He knows his worth: he holds in his palm the happiness of mankind, the welfare of generations yet unborn.'

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

My granola

For as long as I have lived,  I have never been a morning person (maybe I'm not alone here?). It is only natural  that I have never been fond of breakfast either. We all carry the memories of the food we ate in childhood throughout our lives, and one of the most dreadful food memories that will continue to haunt me till my very last day is being forced to eat oatmeal for breakfast at 6am when I was in primary school. It was cooked in water rather than milk and with an egg mixed in. Maybe it doesn't sound that bad to you, but to me it was horror. I was constantly told that one needs to eat a full breakfast because you need energy, and that it's the most important meal of the day and so on. But the thing is, it's just so difficult to have an appetite when your body hasn't truly woken up yet! Why force-feed yourself like a goose destined for foie gras when you are still half asleep?

Another breakfast item that I absolutely hated was congee. Ugh! Who wants to eat a boiling soup of plain rice first thing in the morning to burn your tongue? What I do like, though, is soya milk with fried doughnut (油炸鬼) - kind of like churros. That aside, one of my first love affairs with food was going to a tofu shop in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong before my piano lesson on Sunday mornings when I was in primary school. I would go there on my own and order pan-fried stuffed tofu (煎釀豆腐), tofu pudding (豆腐花) and fresh soya milk. I must have been ecstatic when I was eating since the staff offered to show me their kitchen and the soya milk-making process! As a Chinese, I liked dim sum too, but it's more brunch than breakfast I suppose. In any case it's not something you can eat on a daily basis...

Moving to England when I was 16, I hated this thing called full English breakfast (sorry!). I abhor tomatoes and beans, so obviously I found baked beans very challenging. The sausages were of a consistently terrible quality and the eggs unfailingly overcooked. There's of course that piece of oily fried bread too. To this day I still cannot understand the English nation's addiction to this admonition...

One breakfast item that I did come to like is cereal. I loved Coco Pops as a kid, and one of my first use of alcohol was to add a splash of Baileys into my bowl of Coco Pops when I was studying at Wells, England. I had to hide my bottle of alcohol in my locker and risk being scolded at, but it was worth it. I also loved how the Coco Pops dye the milk to a chocolatey colour - didn't you?

Fast forward many years, in my first year in America, a friend of mine by the name of Trevor Manor made me some homemade granola using his grandma's heirloom recipe, and it was a revelation. There's none of the excessive sweetness and dreadful artificial chemicals of commercial cereals. It was good, honest flavours. I then found out that making granola at home is much easier than you think, and I came up with my own version to suit my taste. Breakfast is still my least favourite meal of the day, but I find granola quite tolerable, especially when it has a hearty dose of chopped dark chocolate!

Granola, my style

This makes quite a lot, but it's really worth making more since it stores for a few weeks easily.

400g rolled oats (old-fashioned oatmeal)
180ml maple syrup or honey
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
2 egg whites
60ml oil
50g wheat germ (optional)
100g toasted sesame seeds, black or white or a mixture of both (optional)

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat to 180C/350F.
Line a large baking tray with parchment paper.

1. In a big bowl, mix together the maple syrup or honey, salt, egg whites, oil and ground cinnamon (if using) with a fork or whisk until homogeneous.

2. Add all the dry ingredients - oats and wheat germs and sesame seeds if you are using - and stir through the mixture with a spatula until all the dry ingredients are evenly moistened.

3. Pour the mixture on the the baking tray and even out to a layer with your spatula. Bake for 20 minutes.

4. Take the tray out from the oven and flip the mixture upside down little by little, leaving the clumps as they are and don't try to break them. Bake for another 10 minutes or so, until the mixture is a golden brown.

Flip the oats so that they bake evenly

Slide it all in!
5. Remove from the oven and let cool. Using the parchment paper, slide the oats into a large tin or container.

Just the oats - still looks a bit plain

6. Here comes the fun part. I always add roasted nuts to the oats. Depending on what I have in my pantry, I like to add almonds, cashew nuts or brazil nuts. I also add either raisins or chocolate chips (but not both). They add a sharp focus in flavour to the oats. It's entirely up to you how much of these 'frills' you add - you know better than anybody you much you like. Personalise!

Chopping the chocolate into submission

Add the nuts and chocolate to the mix

Voilà! Weeks of breakfast happiness secured.
7. Cover tightly until you want your bowl of granola. Eat with whole, rather than skimmed, milk (of course!).


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for visiting - I hope you're not English though... (oops!)

  2. my childhood breakfast memory is satay beef noodles. the kind that you can only get in 大排DONG。<<< i can't find the word again !!!
    I was searching for the authentic satay beef noodels though CA and I can tell you none of the Hk restaurant can make the most easy and cheap one!!! they added all sort of things like peppers and onion and made it way too fancy. Come on i just need the beef +satay sauce and the instand noodels :( why is that so hard to find the right one...

  3. I can't believe anyone would enjoy noodles for breakfast :P