Simple advice for a better life.

Christmas Bark Recipe

christmas-bark-web3I really enjoy trying new recipes, especially if I am expecting a large family gathering.  Feedback from multiple samplers helps me decide on winning recipes.  This Christmas Bark recipe, really sparked my interest, because it is very easy to make, and turns a simple saltine cracker into a scrumptious delicacy.  I am sure your family and friends will love it as well.

Christmas Bark Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 sleeve saltine crackers
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 12 oz. semisweet chocolate morsels
  • 1cup chopped pecans

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Line bottom and sides of baking sheet with parchment paper (not waxed paper).
  3. Arrange one layer of saltines to cover the whole bottom of pan.
  4. Melt butter and brown sugar in medium saucepan. Cook for 3 min. stirring continuously.
  5. Pour butter-sugar mixture (caramel) over the crackers. Spread evenly.
  6. Bake for 15 min.
  7. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chocolate morsels. When they start to melt, spread evenly over the entire layer of crackers.
  8. Sprinkle with chopped pecans.
  9. Refrigerate 1hour.
  10. Remove from refrigerator, peel off the parchment paper, and crack the bark into serving pieces.

(Makes approx. 40 pieces)

When I tried this recipe for the first time, I ran out of parchment paper, and decided to use waxed paper instead……BIG mistake……..since the butter-sugar mixture caramelizes during baking time, then STICKS to the waxed paper as it cools and hardens, making it VERY difficult to peel off.  I hope you read this comment, to spare yourself of the mess I got myself into.

Kitchen Gadget – Chef’n Garlic Zoom

garlic-chopper-view-22While shopping for stocking stuffer for Christmas, I visited a Kitchen Specialty Shop, and among other very interesting items, I came upon one that I was always wishing for….a reliable garlic chopper.  I already have several onion choppers, but do not have a garlic chopping gadget.

Many of my dishes call for chopped garlic, but I really dread chopping it.  It seems like its pungent odor gets into the skin of my fingers, under my finger nails, and lingers for much longer than I care to be reminded of it.  I have several garlic presses, but none of them really stand up to my expectations, since I am striving to minimize the garlic handling time as much as possible.

As you would probably agree, from viewing the attached pictures, it is very simply constructed, but works wonderfully.  The main part opens up at the top, to feed the garlic cloves into the chopper.  It also opens into two halves, at the middle, for easy removal of the final product, and for blade removal for cleaning.

Operating instructions:

  1. Place 1-3 garlic cloves inside the chopper
  2. Close the lid
  3. While pressing downward with the wheels on the counter top (I place it on a dish towel to increase friction)
  4. Rub it back and forth several times, until finely chopped garlic fills the cavity of the chopper.
  5. Add more garlic if needed, and repeat the above steps
  6. Open the unit (in half) and scrape out the chopped garlic with a tip of a knife
  7. Remove the blade, clean and dry all parts before  storage

garlic-chopper2

I was so pleased with the results of this gadget (and it’s priced under $10), that I went back and purchased several more units, for my friends and family.  If you are not pleased with your present garlic press/masher/chopper, this one will win you over!!!

The major energy users in your home are:

  • The heating/cooling system
  • Electric water heater
  • Refrigerator
  • Dryer
  • Lighting

Based on the KWH usage you can calculate the $$ it will cost you to operate these:

appliances-kwh-usage

This information is very helpful in planning your utility budget, since even though you do not have control over the rates being charged, you can control the total KWH usage in your home.  Also, replacing old appliances with new energy efficient ones, rather than repairing these, is a wiser decision, and saves you money in a long run.  Even on a tight budget, you can find very reasonably priced brand new appliances in outlet stores, and scratch-n-dent outlets.

Oreo Chocolate Truffles Recipe

oreo-chocolate-trufflesIf you love chocolate, and want to impress your guests with very yummy looking, yet easy to make truffles, this is a recipe for you!

It requires very few ingredients and not much fuss to prepare.

This recipe yields 40 truffles.

Ingredients:

  • 1 regular size package of Oreo cookies (NOT double-stuffed), finely crushed in a food processor
  • 8 oz of cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 12 oz bag of chocolate morsels, melted

Directions:

  1. Mix the crushed Oreo cookies with the cream cheese to form cookie dough.
  2. Use a teaspoon, or small meatball scoop, and form into balls of 1 inch in diameter, until all mixture is used up.
  3. Line couple of cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  4. Melt the chocolate morsels in a pot on the stove top (or in the microwave), and keep it warm at all time during the dipping process.
  5. Place one ball at a time on a teaspoon, roll it in warm chocolate mixture to coat.
  6. Place each ball on the lined cookie sheet, spaced out so they do not touch.
  7. Sprinkle tops of truffles with colored sugar, or colorful sprinkles.
  8. Cool completely before serving.
  9. Store truffles in a cool place, in a covered container, separating each layer  with parchment.

No need to worry about having these out at room temperature throughout your entertaining time, since they still keep their great taste and shape.

These also make a wonderful addition to a cookie tin to share with friends and coworkers.

 

Tip:  I would not recommend the Double Stuffed Oreo cookies, as they make the mixture too rich, thus much more difficult to coat them with chocolate.  At least, that is what I found out and experienced.

Household natural gas usage in Colorado Springs

Creative Commons License photo credit: pmsyyz

With utility bills constantly going up, there is not much you can do about the rates, but you can be creative about conserving energy, and cutting the usage cost of your everyday appliances, and lighting, plus doing some comparison shopping when planning to purchase major appliances.

Here are some tips on saving energy and cutting the cost of utility bills throughout the year, and during Christmas time:

  1. Washer and Dryer
    • Use warm water for washing and cold for rinsing, or cold for both cycles.
    • Install clothes lines in your garage or basement to semi-dry heavy clothing, then completing it in the dryer to cut drying time in half
    • Hang-dry permanent press items on hangers on a clothes line
  2. Hot Water Heater
    • Lower the water temperature to 120 degrees or less
    • Wrap an energy saver blanket around your tank, and hot water pipes (this will save you $10-$20 per year)
  3. Shower
    • Take showers rather then tub baths
    • Limit shower time and water flow
    • Install water-flow controller in the pipe at the showerhead to save on hot water
  4. Countertop Appliances & Computers
    • Unplug these appliances after each use (this will save energy, and prevent possible electrical fire)
    • Turn off the main water supply valve when going away for an extended period of time, to prevent flooding in case a pipe bursts, or washer hose cracks
    • Turn off your computer when not in use. Computer that runs 24/7 may easily increase your energy bill by $35/month.
  5. Light Bulbs
    • Replace your standard incandescent light bulbs with the energy saver fluorescent ones (three 60 watts bulbs will save you about $141 in energy cost over their lifetime, and they last 10 times longer)
    • Use halogen bulbs for outdoor and some indoor lighting (these use 25% less energy)
    • Install solid-state dimmers when appropriate
  6. Heat Registers, Doors & Windows
    • Cover up your heat registers, in unused rooms, with magnetic mats to keep heat from entering the room
    • Keep doors closed to unused rooms
    • Prevent under door draft by placing a rolled up towel, or blanket under the doors
    • Winterize you entry doors, and all windows, by caulking and weather-stripping (this will save you 10% or more on your annual energy usage
    • Replace any cracked window panes, and install storm windows
    • Attach a weather-strip at the bottom of the double-hung windows for a tighter fit, and to cut down on draft and loss of heat/cool air
    • Install storm doors wherever possible (front, back, and side entries)
  7. Oven
    • I takes only 10 minutes to preheat your over to the desired temperature
    • Space you baking and preparations time accordingly
    • Utilize already hot oven from baking for other food preparation (casseroles, roasts, etc)
  8. Dishwasher
    • Air dry your dishes rather than heat dry
    • Run your dishwasher when full
    • Select proper wash cycle setting, according to your load
  9. Iron
    • Do your ironing in batches, avoid piecemeal ironing
    • Start with light weight fabrics first, then gradually increase the temperature for heavier items
  10. Timers
    • Install timers for outdoor lighting (front and back of the house)
    • Have a timer in at least one room for security reasons when you are away
    • Set a timer for your outdoor and indoor Christmas decorations

When shopping for new appliances, pay attention to their energy saving labels, to calculate your energy saving. When landscaping, strategically plant shade trees around your house, which can save you at least $80 annually on your electric bill. For additional energy saving tips you can always contact your energy provider in your area, or visit their web site.

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