Don't throw away those tasty end-of-the-box bits.
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Credit: Photo by Anna Kurzaeva via Getty Images

You head to the pantry for cereal, mull over the selection, and pull out a box, which seems scarily light. The next one too, a mere shell of its former abundant self. Some quick investigation reveals that not just that box, but all of your stash has been reduced to about an inch of broken bits or small pieces and cereal dust, having been decimated by people (one of which is probably you) who have forgotten to indicate that you are “almost” out of cereal. It isn’t all crumbs, not really, but there is nothing worth filling up your breakfast bowl. You can make a blend, but let’s be honest, it will be mostly dust and will sog out before you finish your first bite, as its likely to have started to stale. It’s sad, really, that detritus, and for those who cook, a challenge. Other than picking up the box and shaking the bits into your face—and we’ve all gone that route—is there anything to be done with the collected leftovers?

There is a well-known cook's trick called “bottom of the jar” salad dressing. When your jams, jellies, mustards or really any condiment gets down to about a half inch in the bottom of the jar or bottle, you add in one-part acid (like vinegar or citrus juice or leftover wine) and three-parts oil, a bit of salt and pepper and a good shake right in the vessel and you have a quick easy and often really interesting and delicious salad dressing. Which begs the question, what would be the bottom of the bag or box of ceereal equivalent?

The answer is granola. You can granolafy almost anything in the crispy section of your larder. I’ve done it with leftover chips and snack mix, and crumbled crackers left from a cheese platter. But cereal is particularly well suited. Oats, dried fruit and nuts are very friendly folks and cereal is happy to come to the granola party if invited, providing more crunch and texture, and often a bit more sweetness meaning you can reduce the amount of sugar you need to glue it all together. A simple technique that once learned, lifts up these bits and bobs, which often just end up in the garbage, to their higher power. Even better, that dreaded crumb dust at the bottom actually helps create some mortar-like bonding between all the other goodies, which is especially helpful for those of us who like a chunkier stuck-together style of granola.

Watch: How to Make No-Bake Chewy Granola Bars

Don’t have a gathering of sad staling cereals on hand? Never fear. When you get down to the last inch in the bag or box where the small bits live, dump them in a Ziploc bag and stash in your freezer until you have enough to make a batch. What you need to make about seven too eight cups of granola is about threee cups leftoover cereal, whatever you've got, one cup chopped nuts of your choice (or a mix of nuts and shredded unsweetened coconut), two cups rolled oats, half a teaspoon kosher salt, half a cup canola oil, and half cup liquid sticky stuff (maple syrup or honey are traditional, but date syrup, agave, and even pomegranate molasses work well.) You also need one egg white, beaten until frothy, and about a cup to a cup and a half add-ins like dried fruit or chocolate chips, to your taste

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix the oil and syrup together and stir into the dry ingredients. Pro-tip: measure your oil into your measuring cup first, then add the sticky, which now will slide out of the cup instead of sticking. Stir in the beaten egg white, being sure that everything is well mixed. Pour the granola mix onto the sheet pan and spread into an even layer. If you like a granola with chunks, press it down firmly. If you prefer a looser granola texture, just spread it out lightly.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden brown and crispy, and dried out. If you like loose texture, give it a gentle stir a couple of times during the bake, if you like chunks, leave it be. Be sure to lift up some of the center to ensure it is dried all the way through and not just crisp on top. Let cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and break up into your desired texture with a spatula or wooden spoon. Stir in your add-ins, and return the granola to the sheet pan, spreading it back out again loosely, and let sit on a rack at room temp until completely cooled, at least 2 hours. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks, or in the freezer for up to three months.

Depending on the leftover cereals you are working with, you can add seasonings or other flavors. If mostly you have neutral items like Chex, plain Cheerios, Grape Nuts and the like, you can add some heat with curry powder or sweet with vanilla. If you have a few punchier things like Froot Loops or Cap’n Crunch, you might want to just let their flavor lead the way.