Why Stealing is Wrong

recipe book

Well, I wouldn’t say it was exactly stealing. But last time I was in the states, I was going through one of my frighteningly-full storage lockers (there’s your glimpse into the glamorous life of international living…) and while rifling through cookbooks, I came across my own personal book of handwritten recipes, a fat mess of pages, stained with butter, eggs, almond paste, and lord-knows what else, that I compiled during my years working in restaurants.

It really is a treasure trove of recipes and I was thinking I should start a “working my way through the book” blog, dedicated to doing each-and-every recipe in there. Then I thought the better of it and got that idea out of my mind—fast.

The main reason being that most of the recipes make a hundred servings and call for things like 80 egg yolks or 5 1/2 cups of honey or 8 quarts of heavy cream.

I don’t know about you, but my kitchen ain’t that big and my dining table can barely seat four comfortably—let alone a hundred.


But there was one recipe I was going to present on the site, without naming where it was from. If a recipe isn’t mine, I let you know where I got it. Except here, I was conflicted since this one is from a famous place and I was pretty sure they wouldn’t want me to reveal where it was from.

The friend who helped develop the famous cereal gave it to me and I thought it’d be fun to share. But that was my dilemma: If I didn’t say where it was from, that wouldn’t be cool. Yet if I did, was I stealing a company secret?

Oh, the things that keep me awake at night…

Anyhow, as I pondered my predicament, I gathered ingredients: whole milk powder, wheat germ, and a few other things on my wild scavenger hunt across Paris.

Back home, when I started mixing everything together, I felt something was amiss. For one thing, I’d never made granola that had whole wheat flour in it. Flour in granola? And the recipe also called for a whopping two cups of oil. I don’t mind oil, but two cups? If I’m going to eat that much oil, I’m going to do it in the form of fried chicken, not wheat germ. Yet I forged ahead, dumping and mixing ingredients, including a hefty cup of dried milk powder.

bag of granola

(I hadn’t seen dried milk powder since my forty-eight hour foray camping as a Boy Scout, where I learned that a flimsy aluminum pot is the worst thing to cook popcorn in over an open fire because it burns like there’s no tomorrow. And the new boys were expected to do all the “grunt” work, like scrub those pots in the river for the entire weekend, and service the latrine. Activities like that, we were told, were going to “build character.” Which no doubt explains a lot about me today…)

While it was cooking, my apartment began to smell like scalded milk and when I checked the mix at the midway point, the “granola” was in ugly, monstrous clumps, which I broke apart. After giving it sufficient time, I realized it was never going to get crispy (with all that oil, unless I deep-fried it, how could it?) and I just let it cool.

bad bag of granola

So now a bag of what looks like Mighty Dog, a very, very expensive bag of Mighty Dog, is sitting in a zip-top bag in my freezer awaiting its fate, which will likely be the base for a summer crisp topping—one that will feed…oh, I don’t know…like a hundred people or so.

I’m not sure what happened, or what went wrong. I mean, I had good intentions. I was trying to do the right thing but I suppose this is my punishment. But I’m not anxious to give it another try, which is a good thing. Because that means I don’t have the mind of a serial criminal. Or I guess I should say, a cereal criminal.


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  • April 11, 2009 2:50am

    cereal criminal! hahaha! thats really funny!
    good luck on your next try =) im excited to see the finished product!

  • Dani
    April 11, 2009 3:28am

    This is one of your best entries! I’ve got tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. In general I love granola but not all kinds (I also have a weakness for crisp fried chicken). Now when I peruse the different varieties of granola, I will hold it up to see if it passes the Mighty Dog test!!

  • April 11, 2009 4:56am

    As they say, things come back to bite you in the you-know-what. But it may just have been the result of guilt, you know, when you feel so bad about something it is just bound to screw up! :-) was fun to read, anyway!

  • April 11, 2009 5:08am

    Does the recipe book travel with you or do you leave it in the states?

  • April 11, 2009 6:05am

    Two cups of oil ? huh, 4100 kcalories in the granola just from oil ?
    that’s “breakfast of the champions” for sure :D

    i’d love to see scanned pages with the edges sketches and remarks, in that book of handwritten recipes :)

  • April 11, 2009 7:10am

    You had me at the headline. And then I couldn’t wait to read the post. How funny!

  • April 11, 2009 7:34am

    That was too funny! I actually have made granola with flour (it was amaranth flour) and it was absolutely delicious, but definitely clumpy because of the oil and flour.
    Good Luck!

  • April 11, 2009 7:45am

    it does look aaaaaaaawfully good though ! the 2nd photo, mmmm. and the 3rd – it makes me want to stick out my arm and grab a handful ! …. cue loud BANG, as knuckles hit computer screen ! ;)

  • April 11, 2009 7:48am

    Maybe you had written the measurements down wrong…’

    I heart granola.

  • April 11, 2009 9:04am

    yuk, yuk. Cereal criminal! I bet it will be great as a crisp topping!

  • JB
    April 11, 2009 9:14am


    I was really hoping for a granola recipe, a particular granola recipe (which one, I won’t say, so as to protect your company secret.) Let us know if you get it working.

  • April 11, 2009 9:44am

    This “granola”? Yuck. “Cereal criminal”? Yuk yuk yuk.

  • April 11, 2009 10:13am

    You have it all in one book?!? How organized! I have stacks of pocket-sized notebooks filled with recipes and prep lists from years ago, recipes jotted down on paper towels or parchment paper, at least 3 different methods of recipe notation… One day I’ll sit down and type it all up. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. :)

  • April 11, 2009 10:17am

    I have yet to make a delicious granola recipe. Don’t know why, perhaps its really does benefit from too muc processing.

    It’s always disappointing when recipes go bad. I always try to think of a way to use them as well, I hate to throw anything away.

  • good enough cook
    April 11, 2009 10:30am

    Clearly the only way to expatiate this sin (and expunge the Mighty Dog image from your reader’s brains, where it is now indelibly imprinted) is to develop an awesome Matzoh Granola recipe–something nourishing enough to fuel the flight from Egypt and delicious enough to make the family look forward to eating it every year. Needless to say, the recipe I’ve been using meets neither of these criteria. The bread of affliction indeed.

    Great post!

  • Annie
    April 11, 2009 10:52am

    Great reading on a dreary, rainy Saturday.

    If you haven’t permanently sworn off making a homemade granola, you should try Nigella Lawson’s chocolate peanut version of Andy’s Fairfield Granola http://www.nigella.com/recipe/recipe_detail.aspx?rid=216 I add twice the amount of cocoa because of comments that it wasn’t chocolatey enough. So few things are.

  • April 11, 2009 11:33am

    You’re not a cereal criminal, you’re a cereal killer!

    (Sorry, I just had to :) )


  • Heather
    April 11, 2009 12:00pm

    Too funny!! But don’t you hate it when you spend so much money and effort to make something that just doesn’t turn out right? There is the benefit of learning and being able to improve upon the recipes, but usually I’m like you and just don’t want to think about that recipe ever again! At least you have a way to use the mess of clumpy granola. :) Thanks for sharing!

  • AlexC
    April 11, 2009 12:09pm

    I know whence that granola comes. Go Bears!

  • AlexC
    April 11, 2009 12:13pm

    Also, take a load off Fanny.

  • April 11, 2009 12:48pm

    Heather: Yes, I do. But that’s the name of the game around here, sometimes. I’m working on a recipe for a book that I’ve made fourteen times. (!) And each time, it comes out completely different. I can’t quite believe it. So I sent it to a friend in the states, who made it twice, and it came out completely different both times for her, too!

    I never did figure out how to get it to work right consistently, so I nixed it. But I hate thinking about the receipts for all those ingredients, for a dessert that never came to pass…

    Annie: I usually make the Honey Crunch Granola in my ice cream book (and how can you not love a recipe for granola introduced by a story about me meeting women online?), although I have made a version of that recipe, which is v. good, too.

  • C and C
    April 11, 2009 1:18pm

    Smiled broadly while reading, understood your deliemma, baking from an old recipe, not the other part. Tried making healthy granola bars, imagine when i read the part about putting another pan a size smaller over the baked granola bars and standing on top of the pan. Worked though, but the healthy part tasted like sawdust.

  • April 11, 2009 1:45pm

    If you’re going to hell for that, then I’ll be in front of you for spending some Sundays at the book store with my iPhone snapping pictures of recipes out of cookbooks…well, except yours…

  • Mark
    April 11, 2009 3:12pm

    Great post. I love that one of the tags you used for it was FAIL.


  • Annalynn
    April 11, 2009 7:58pm

    This is absolutely one of my favorite posts. Maybe you should also create a “fail blog.” :)

  • Chaitali
    April 11, 2009 8:13pm

    Hilarious post! It was so fun to read.
    But seriously…2 cups of oil in granola??
    Wow..so much for a ‘healthy wholesome breakfast.

  • wendy baschkopf
    April 11, 2009 9:20pm

    Thanks for the very humorous and well crafted post. I’m converting your Honey Crunch Granola for Passover by swapping matzo farfel for the rolled oats. I’ll also use maple syrup with pecans for the honey and almonds. Any other suggestions most welcomed!

  • April 11, 2009 9:25pm

    O I recognize that book! Funny how it has that unmistakable quality.

    My own experience is that I am rarely able to follow someone else’s recipe exactly anyway. I’m not sure I believe in owning or claiming ownership to them, but I do have firm beliefs about what one can do with a recipe one uses from a previous job.

  • wow gold
    April 11, 2009 9:44pm

    Thanks for this funny post cereal criminal! :) But I think you still need to divulge where the recipe came from if you’ll feature it here, just like giving credit or change it a bit, you’ll never know, the update you made might be better. This way you can avoid the “stealing”. By the way, the 2 cups of oil in granola is very unhealthy!

  • Skippy
    April 11, 2009 11:01pm

    This reminds me of how when you’re making something and it’s coming out poorly, you have a turning point where you have to decide, “How much more am I going to do to try to save this?” On one hand, when a recipe looks like it’s not working, I feel like, “Oh, I’ve already put in x number of perfectly good ingredients into this, I can’t just toss this out.” But then on the other, if I keep trying to fix it in some way, I can find myself saying, “Wait…you not only used all the original ingredients, but you just ran out and blew more money on chocolate and butter and it’s still not great…” Know what I mean? You have to weigh sometimes whether you should put more money and effort into a project or if it’s just better to cut your losses and get out. Sigh. That applies to so many more things in life than just baking, doesn’t it?

    In terms of posting the recipe without credit–I’m sure David knows this better than me, but isn’t it true that with recipes, the copyright is for the actual writing of it, not the specific item? As in, you can’t be infringing on someone else’s rights by putting up a recipe for a butter cake with chocolate frosting, but you are in trouble if you copy word for word someone’s recipe for that cake. I think that’s how it works. Not like the granola recipe is particularly appealing at this point anyway (unless you’re into Mighty Dog sculpture).

    (oops, sorry to be so long…I type fast and get out of hand sometimes)

  • April 12, 2009 12:04am

    You are so funny! You should write a colunm (did I spell that right?) in some newspaper. I love your sense of humor and wit! Hmmm, just as you have Janice Dickinson, you just may become my religion. ( And I mean that in a very good way!) LOL

  • April 12, 2009 12:22am

    I love your blog and have been making recipes from it, much to the pleasure of my dentist! Latest was Matzo Toffee. Sent it to my niece in college in Maine, to help her survive finals during Passover.

    I posted a recipe for granola, recently. It uses whole wheat flour, strangely enough. It doesn’t have any milk powder in it. And, it doesn’t have a printed source (other than my Mom’s friend’s daughters, in the ’70s – I credit them in the post). Here’s the link: Bay City Granolas

    Thanks for such great recipes!

  • Carrie
    April 12, 2009 12:34am

    Ha, it’s somewhat relieving to know that even the pros get it wrong sometimes. I hate that feeling of knowing something about the recipe just isn’t right, but you have so much faith in it and have already invested so much anyway, and then it becomes increasingly apparent that it REALLY is not right. Hope the Mighty Dog chow becomes useful for something else!

  • April 12, 2009 1:31am

    Get me a bowl!

  • April 12, 2009 2:43am

    Skippy: Recipes and ideas themselves aren’t copyrightable but ethically (and legally), I don’t know if it’s okay if the person who developed Nabisco’s Chips Ahoy gives someone the recipe and they reprint it (or win a recipe contest), saying it’s Nabisco’s Chips Ahoy cookie recipe. I don’t think Nabisco would be too pleased!

    Shuna: It was funny because we all have those books, don’t we? I had an assistant who the other cooks told me was photocopying my book when I wasn’t around. I told that person that they were welcome to use and write down my recipes in their own notebook, if they was making them (as my book has recipes from others), but the unspoken “rule” is that you have to make the recipe in order to copy it down.

    That person eventually went to work elsewhere, and was let go after two weeks. The chef called and said that they were sure that the desserts that person had brought in for their trial tasting were bought elsewhere. Crime doesn’t pay!

    Eden: I am obsessed with her. She is out-of-control and I’m sure she’s actually French since she’ll say any thing to anybody. I wonder if she needs a personal pastry chef?

    Janice..if you’re reading—give me a call!

    Suzanne: Someone tipped me off that this recipe was based on one from a health food magazine. I tried to look it up online, to link to and verify it, but couldn’t. So I think it’s best if this recipe is just relegated to purgatory, aka: the back of my freezer.

  • April 12, 2009 4:11am

    As an expat myself for the last 10 years I love the side note you made – “there’s your glimpse into the glamorous life of international living”. Oh yeah, it’s easy for friends and readers to envy your jaunts in the French countryside, your ability to have foie gras and champagne for lunch any day of the week – but rarely do they realize the darker side of expat life, i.e. those giant storage bins back in the USA! I’ve recently moved to Berlin and as you may know the Germans don’t do closets OF ANY KIND, and so one entire room of my 133m2 apartment is storage (containing racks for closets, boxes, boxes and boxes of all those things you keep but usually tuck away, the vacuum, etc, etc)… the rest of the apartment is quite glam, with gorgeous chandeliers (there is even one in the bathroom) but if a guest accidentally opens the last door on the right they see the DARKER side of expat life – my dirty little secret!

  • April 12, 2009 6:22am

    how i’d love to browse through that book. a treasure that is!

  • April 12, 2009 10:54am

    Good god what an odd sounding recipe! Sorry it didn’t work out for you…Nigella’s got a great granola recipe if you want to give a more sure thing a try…

  • April 12, 2009 11:06am

    How funny! I’m sorry your granola flopped, but it’s comforting to know that even professionals experience recipe failure sometimes!

    I make granola pretty regularly, and my recipe uses only 3 TB of oil. I cannot imagine what a hot mess a whole cup of oil would produce! The problem I have is that I cannot get my granola to form large clumps. I generally eat granola out-of-hand, and big clumps would be ideal.

    I’ve never considered using flour to help form clumps. At what point in your recipe do you add it? I’d like to give this idea a whirl.

  • Daph
    April 12, 2009 4:31pm

    What I recognize is the printing that OUR school taught us. I learned it in Class VII. But my handwriting is terrible now.

  • ritanyc
    April 12, 2009 6:13pm

    I think that if I were on a long hike in the wilderness, a baggie of that granola and a (full) canteen of water would be Mighty Fine!
    What a touching piece of writing, David, so human.
    Maybe we can obtain world peace via this blog…once hooked, it is impossible to get anything else done!

  • April 12, 2009 11:24pm

    Such a funny story. Too bad all that time and energy didn’t prove so fruitful (and yikes to 2 c. of oil!!). Cereal criminal reminded me of a sweatshirt I saw recently that said cereal killer on it with a skull and 2 spoons as crossbones. I laughed out loud when I saw it. I only regret I didn’t snatch it up for my teen-age son who has a silly sense of humor when I saw it. Bet that notebook of yours is a true treasure. Thanks for the laugh today!

  • April 12, 2009 11:48pm

    David, you crack me up! What a great blog post. Thanks. :)

  • April 13, 2009 2:16am

    It must be a recipe from the Philippines with those quantities of oil involved! I’m there at the moment holidaying simultaneously dismayed by the sheer amount of oil they use – and in everything. But their fried chicken is might fine :)

    Shame about your kitchen mishap, but your post might be worth the wasted ingredients – hilarious!

  • Eileen@Passions to Pastry
    April 13, 2009 7:36am

    There’s almost nothing that makes me feel worse than spending big bucks on ingredients and ending up with less than desirable results. Hope this granola finds a second life.

  • April 13, 2009 10:27am

    I really enjoyed this post. Makes me feel normal to know other people have kitchen disasters once in awhile, too…….:)

  • Kathy
    April 13, 2009 10:27am

    Ah, bummer. I say that not just for you, David, but for those of us who love making our own granola and enjoy trying others’ recipes.

    I, too, have a (small) notebook full of recipes from a restaurant that once employed me. Oddly, though, I have never tried my hand at their granola. I think it’s time to remedy that!

  • April 13, 2009 10:57am

    I briefly worked in a bakery that made the most delicious homemade granola. I was always tasked with making buttercream and brownies but it would have been easy enough to steal the granola recipe. However, the thing the kept me from doing it was the knowledge that there was a TON of butter involved (that’s why it was so good!) and I knew it wouldn’t be in my best interest to have access to such an addictive but fattening recipe!

  • anonymousmuncher
    April 13, 2009 10:58am

    I can’t say I’m surprised at the 2 cups of oil. First, I doubt the entire recipe is meant to make a single serving (as the calorie-counter above seemed to be implying), and second, if you look at the calorie content of most pre-made granola, it is loaded with calories, many of them from fat, and that is because it has a lot of oil in it. Granola has an image of being a health food but the reality is that unless you are either seeking out a low-fat version of it or making your own, it is not much better for you than potato crisps. Most people don’t use a ton of granola on their yogurt (whereas it is very easy to eat a lot of crisps), but still, it is better to make your own. Museli tends to have less oil in it but it often has more dried fruit, and dried fruit is very high in calories. You would never eat 6 whole apricots at once, for example, but if they are dried it is much easier. The calories are the same though, and the dried ones may have added sugar. This stuff isn’t complicated or illogical; it just requires a little thought.

  • Ann K.
    April 13, 2009 11:16am

    David—Too funny! But rather than having the granola take up valuable freezer space, why not offer it to the one audience that might really appreciate it: BIRDS! You could surreptitiously feed it by the pocketful to the Parisian pigeons…

  • Charissa
    April 13, 2009 12:39pm

    Well, I’m totally biased, but I think that this granola (which uses a cup of oil for a big batch) is as good as most candy.


    What it brings to mind, however, is how to “credit” recipes. It was given to me by someone who “invented” it…and then I changed it but kept the sugar formula…so is it mine? or there? or did they just photocopy it from Cooking Light at the dentist’s office?

    How can you tell? What sort of courtesies are requirred when you do credit recipes and when is it actually STEALING?

    Recently I asked the owner of a little take out cafe I go to ALL THE TIME (I’m a serious regular) for her crab cake recipe. She had stopped making it (used to be on the menu regularly) and they were divine. She told me that her recipes were her product and she didn’t ever share. I’m SURE that I wouldn’t have suddenly stopped eating there if I had access to all her recipes…but it raises some questions.

    The fact that I use your books and that everything turns out great doesn’t mean, for instance, that I wouldn’t drive across several state lines if I heard you opened an ice cream shop in North Dakota.

    Hi Charissa: I recently wrote an article on Recipe Attribution for another website which explains some of the whys and ways one should attribute recipes. It will likely answer some of your questions. -dl

  • April 13, 2009 1:21pm

    That’s is funny, cereal criminal..

  • moe
    April 13, 2009 1:43pm

    Ack! Gag! Thanks for the pun!

  • April 13, 2009 3:57pm

    Thanks for the giggle, seriously amusing story.

  • April 13, 2009 4:15pm

    What a shame to waste those ingredients. But 2 cups of oil? Blech. I will say I have seen granola recipes that call for that much fat. But again, blech.

    However, for the record, I love powdered dry milk in granola. But nonfat powdered milk, just for heft.

  • April 13, 2009 9:27pm

    I used to bring Clif Bars into work to stave off late-hours hunger, and one of my officemates described them as “dog food.” With your Mighty Dog impression and those photos, I’m thinking that you have the makings of an energy bar instead of granola.

    Mark Bittman’s has a super simple granola recipe here:

    One notable thing about the recipe is that it uses no oil at all — and you’ll see that people razz him about it in the comments — but I’ve made it and thought it was pretty good, although for what it’s worth the texture isn’t as clumpy as some of the store-bought granolas. So now I’m curious: why does granola need oil at all? What function does it serve? While we’re at it, what about the milk powder?

  • April 13, 2009 9:36pm

    I have an excellent recipe for granola, developed back in the ’70s, when I was doing that sort of thing (making granola). Now I’d rather just have a piece of fruit and a pastry with my morning cocoa or tea. It calls for 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup hot water – but that is in proportion to 4 cups rolled oats, etc. You’re supposed to turn often while baking (2-3 hrs.) to break up the lumps. Then when cool add raisins and nuts if desired. Made this lots of times with no problem.

  • eg
    April 14, 2009 7:27am

    A couple of years ago, Mark Bittman had a recipe for granola that I tried. It was awful. Absolutely awful. I was so sad at the amount of time and money I had wasted. However, the neighborhood cardinals and squirrels seem to like it well enough….

  • April 14, 2009 10:27am

    Hmm…would you mind pointing me to Bittman’s older recipe (or at least the ingredients list, which is not copyrightable)? Because, as I mentioned, I thought his NYT granola from earlier this year was pretty good, so I wonder if or how the two versions differed.

  • Caitlin
    April 14, 2009 2:36pm

    Those of us living in Northern California may recognize this mix (at least I think I do), which I buy at The Good Life or Whole Foods. Even if you had shared the full recipe, I would continue to purchase (but is she really using 2 cups of oil? Wow…) Granola is fun to make occasionally, but I would rather spend my culinary time on other creative challenges. Loved the story and moral dilemma though!

  • April 14, 2009 6:41pm

    Hilarious post! I have a similar quandary about an incredibly good & incredibly easy brownie recipe, which I got when I worked back-of-house at a restaurant/caterer. I’d really love to share it, but it just feels wrong.

  • eg
    April 15, 2009 8:01am

    I found the recipe that I used and it has no oil. So that wasn’t the problem with it…or at least not the only problem.

    6 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant)
    2 cups mixed nuts and seeds: sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, chopped walnuts, pecans, almonds or cashews.
    1 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut, optional
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
    Dash salt
    1/2 to 1 cup honey or maple syrup, or to taste
    1 cup raisins or chopped dried fruit, optional

    It looks like the one from 2007 is the same as the one from 2009. I guess it is just me who doesn’t like it.

  • April 16, 2009 12:03am

    Geez… I figured that jet setting lifestyle might have turned you into a stuffy pants snob. It made me snort with laughter to find out you are fun and human just like the rest of us!

    I’ll come back and read your blog much more often now. Hopefully you find a fun use for that granola! :-)

  • April 16, 2009 2:51pm

    My grandmother who was an amazing cook and very elegant used to liven things up by saying, “well I don’t know about you but I think everything is better if it is stolen………” Just maybe not this….. And I’m with you about the two cups of oil and wheat germ!

  • Evelyn
    November 8, 2009 3:51pm

    It’s November in Seattle, the first day without torrential rain in a week and this is a great way to celebrate! I used homemade apple butter and added dried cranberries – yumm!

  • December 4, 2009 11:32am

    I’m in a granola mood myself today.
    Too bad the recipe didn’t work. Yummy granola would have made the stealing worth the effort!

  • December 4, 2009 11:38am

    Cheryl: Well, the good news is that my Top Granola Recipe has come to the rescue. Again, and again…