Some mornings I feel like I have nothing edible in my kitchen, usually after a missed grocery run. This time, my options were my sometimes-nemesis, oatmeal, or the dregs of Raisin Bran. (Not all cereal is bland and flavorless, but Raisin Bran really toes the line.) To save myself from a morning of chomping while holding my breath, I leaned on a solid granola trick: You can improve any cereal with quick pan-toasted nuts.
Pan-toasting is the same as dry roasting. It’s simple, and usually finished in a matter of minutes. Dry roasting requires the application of heat and nothing else. No oil necessary, it’s completely dry, as the name suggests. It’s easy to assume roasting nuts requires an oven, lots of waiting, and frequent flipping to cook the nuts evenly, but that’s only true if you’re roasting a large quantity of nuts. For the purposes of improving cereal, you only need a handful, and a frying pan makes quick work of dry-roasting. Every cereal, from Grape Nuts to Fruity Pebbles, will benefit from the hearty texture and toasty, bitter-sweet flavors nuts have to offer. My favorite part of adding freshly toasted nuts to cereal isn’t just the bulky crunch, but how they infuse the milk with their flavor. Roasted pecans make themselves known even during those last sips or cereal milk.
Prepare the nuts with a rough chop, or break them into pieces. I use about a quarter cup of nuts pre-chop. The work is already done for you if you have walnut baking pieces or slivered almonds, but breaking up a fistful of cashews or peanuts only takes a minute. Heat a frying pan over medium heat, no oil or water needed, and add the nuts in an even layer. Every minute or so, shake the pan to toss the nuts and get a visual of how the color is changing. You’re looking for areas of browning, but not blackening. If you see the latter, turn down the heat and flip more frequently. It’s okay if one side of a nut fragment is toastier than the other, look for overall toasting. Be sure to switch on your olfactory bulb, as the smell of toasted nuts is another big helper to identifying doneness. After a few minutes you’ll whiff the strong, unmistakable fragrance of the nuts you’re toasting. Depending on the pan, the type, size, and shape of the nuts, this could take as little as three minutes or as many as ten. Keep an eye on it, and continue shaking and tossing until you get those signals.
Cool the nuts on a cutting board or quickly add the nuts directly to the cereal bowl after toasting. Hot nuts make an exciting crackling noise when doused with cold milk, and heat up the milk to a comforting temperature. Give it a stir to mix in all of those fantastic nutty flavors and oils, and enjoy a way better breakfast than the original bowl of cardboard you were dreading.