[UPDATE: To see all of my 'gift in a jar' ideas, click here. Have fun with all the gifting!]
Yesterday for book club, I made granola. Pretty exciting. For the small amount of time you put in, the results are satisfying and impressive (not to mention abundant -- a couple cups of oats gives you granola for days).
I've run out of ziploc bags, so I decided to carry it in one of the charming wire-bail canning jars I bought to store a gift I plan to make. As I was pouring the dark amber mix into the jar, I realized that it's gorgeous, and would make a great homemade gift in its own right. What sets this granola apart from other seasonal gifts is its wholesomeness. While I'd never turn down Christmas cookies (and chocolates and rum cakes and bouches de noel and pannetone and pie and...), the amount of sweets eaten during the winter holiday season can get downright oppressive. This granola is delicious -- with lots of maple flavor and tangy dried cranberries, but it's not too sweet, and has lots of fiber and a little flax meal to show your recipients that you care about their hearts as well as their tastebuds. It also happens to be vegetarian, vegan, and parve.
To make it as a gift: the recipe makes enough for a 1 liter jar (you can get great Italian canning jars from Cost Plus stores for a few dollars), with a little left over to reward the generous cook. You can vary the ingredients to your tastes, but the dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds add some festive color (pistachios would be very pretty as well).
Maple Vanilla Granola with Dried Cranberries
This base recipe is great, but lends itself to much improvisation. Vary the nuts and dried fruit, try nutmeg, powdered dried ginger, or even Chinese five-spice powder or cardamom. Use honey instead of the maple syrup, or try a combination of fruit juice with 1/4 cup sugar. Orange zest would add some fresh flavor, too. I like serving it with unsweetened vanilla soy milk, but it'd be great with any milk or yogurt, or straight from the jar.
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/2 cup pecan pieces
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vegetable oil (or olive oil)
1 teaspoon water
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup dried cranberries
Line a baking sheet with foil and grease the foil (nonstick cooking spray would also work fine here). Preheat oven to 325F.
In a large bowl, combine oats, nuts, flax seeds, and cinnamon.
In a small pot, heat maple syrup, oil and water over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thin enough to pour easily, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla extract.
Pour syrup mixture over oat mixture and stir to combine. Spread granola across prepared baking sheet. Try to get a single thin layer. Bake at 350 until the granola reaches the desired color. I like a dark, browned granola, which takes about 20 minutes. Stir the granola arounda bit about 10 minutes in. Lower heat to 250, and bake until granola is mostly dry, about 20-30 minutes.
Remove from heat, and allow to cool before packing in jar or bag (the last bit of moisture dries out as it cools). Stir in cranberries.