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Slow-Cooked Peanut Butter Granola can be enjoyed any time of day. Here it's served with dried apricots and yogurt. Photo by Sue Doeden

Slow-Cooked Peanut Butter Granola good any time of day

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The mention of granola often brings visions of health. All those oats tumbled together with nuts, seeds, sometimes honey and often some dried fruits -- how could it be anything but health food, right?

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It's worth a closer look. When you mix up your own granola, you know exactly what is in it as far as sugar, salt and fat. When you purchase commercially produced granola, it's a good idea to check out the nutritional information on the package before you take it home and make it a daily meal. Granola can often be very high in calories, fat, sodium and sugar.

If granola is just an occasional snack in your house, that might be perfectly acceptable. But if you keep granola in a jar on your kitchen counter like I do, convenient to dig into any time of day, any day, you probably want granola that is a little more healthful.

The large jar of granola on my counter gets opened often. I enjoy a bowl of the crunchy concoction for breakfast with an addition of dried fruit, doused with almond milk. When I'm feeling indulgent, I eat granola with thick and creamy honey-flavored Greek yogurt. My husband finds a bowl of granola with milk is a quick and convenient morning meal before he heads to work. My grandchildren eat it dry from a cup as a snack. For this reason, I seldom add nuts to my granola, making it more kid-friendly. This means the rest of us pull the jars of dried cherries, cranberries, apricots and pecans from the pantry to create a customized bowl of granola.

I've had a favorite granola recipe that I've been making for a few years, but not long ago my daughter-in-law sent me a recipe for peanut butter granola made in a slow cooker. I was intrigued, to say the least. I'd never heard of this method of making granola. I wondered if this slow-cooked technique could possibly produce a crunchy, toasty mixture that is what I expect from a good granola.

I started experimenting and, after much tasting, finally developed a satisfying version of peanut butter granola I could call my own.

Calcium-rich sesame seeds add a nutty flavor and almost invisible crunch to Slow-Cooked Peanut Butter Granola. Flax seeds are the most concentrated plant source of the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a heart-healthy nutrient.

I grind flax seeds in a coffee grinder reserved only for seeds and spices, but ground flax seeds are available in most grocery and health food stores.

Honey is a whole food that replaces some of the sugar in this rendition of granola.

Slow-Cooked Peanut Butter Granola is not very sweet, but the small amount of peanut butter is just enough to satisfy all those who love that sticky stuff.

You can say good-bye to clumsy stirring on a sheet pan in the oven with oats flying all over the place. But just because this granola is baked in a slow cooker does not mean you can toss it in and take off. It requires occasional stirring, so you'll need to stick around for a few hours.

As long as you insert the handle of a wooden spoon or a chopstick between the lid and the pot so moisture can escape, the granola will stay dry. As it cools on a baking sheet, the granola becomes crunchy. It has a very low clump-factor though, so if you are only happy eating chunky granola, you probably need a recipe with more fat and sugar.

Because dried fruits tend to burn, add them during the last half of the cooking time. I prefer to serve dried fruit on the side at serving time so everyone can add what they like.

Slow-Cooked Peanut Butter Granola is my new favorite. Made with healthful ingredients, crunchy and not very sweet with lots of flavor, this granola deserves a spot on my kitchen counter.

Slow-Cooked Peanut Butter Granola

5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, uncooked

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1/4 cup ground flax seeds

1/4 cup coconut, toasted

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup honey

1/3 cup canola oil

1/3 cup creamy peanut butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

In a slow cooker, stir together the oats, sesame seeds, ground flax seeds, toasted coconut and salt.

In a microwave-safe bowl or small saucepan, blend honey, oil, peanut butter and brown sugar. Heat mixture and stir until peanut butter melts and mixture is smooth. Pour mixture over the ingredients in the slow cooker. Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture until all of the oats are coated with the peanut butter mixture.

Set slow cooker to low. Place the cover on top and wedge the handle of a wooden spoon or a chopstick under the lid to hold it open a bit to create a vent to allow steam to escape. Cook for about 3 hours, stirring every 30 minutes. When the granola becomes a deep golden brown, turn it out onto a large baking sheet with sides to cool completely. Store cooled granola at room temperature in airtight container. Makes about 8 cups granola.

Tips from the cook

--Temperature settings on slow cookers do not seem to be universal. The low setting on my slow cooker is quite hot. I need to stir about every 15 minutes to avoid burned granola and it is ready to turn out of the crock after just two hours.

--Toast coconut in a small skillet on the stove over medium-low heat. Stir constantly until coconut begins to turn golden brown. Immediately dump the coconut into the slow cooker.

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