Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Holiday Baking: Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter Balls

This is the first year in a while that I will be staying home for Christmas. I decided to start off my holiday baking with ironically a no-bake cookie. This recipe for Peanut Butter Balls came from one of the cookbooks I got this year for my birthday, Home Cooking with Trisha Yearwood.

This recipe couldn't be easier - you just heat some sugar and corn syrup together until blended, add gobs of crunchy peanut butter (or in my case, extra crunchy peanut butter) and some Rice Krispies cereal, form into balls and chill. Easy, addictively tasty, and I didn't even have to turn the oven on.

Extra Crunchy Peanut Butter Balls, slightly adapted from Home Cooking with Trisha Yearwood

makes about 35-40 pieces

1/2 cup dark corn syup
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups extra crunchy peanut butter (this was an entire medium jar)
4 cups Rice Krispies cereal

In a large pot, heat together sugar and both syrups over medium heat just until blended and smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the peanut butter until blended. Add the Rice Krispies next and be ready to work out your arm muscles - this will get very stiff.

Once the cereal is well coated with the peanut butter mixture, lightly grease your hands and start forming balls about the size of a ping pong ball. Place the peanut butter balls on wax paper. Place inside an airtight container and set in a cool place to firm up. 

*NOTE: These may be left at room temperature, but if your house is as hot as mine, I recommend storing them in the fridge.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Organizing Re-usable Grocery Bags

I got into the habit of using re-usable shopping bags when I lived in Europe, where I was often expected to not only pack up my own groceries, but provide my own bags. Usually, my only method of transportation was either riding a bike, the local bus, or my own two feet.

Can you imagine having to carry all your groceries home using those horrible plastic bags with the tiny, thin straps that cut into your fingers? Or paper sacks that tend to tear?

I learned pretty quickly that having several sizes and types of sturdy bags was the most efficient way to not only fit all of my food into a compact space, but that would also keep my cold foods from melting on the way home.

I know a huge problem many people have with using re-usable grocery bags is that you buy them, and then forget about them next time you go to the store. I can't tell you how many times I would show up at the store and groan, realizing I'd once again forgotten the bags at home.

I keep a large trunk organizer in the back of my car at all times. It was designed to hold several bags upright so they don't fall over when you come to a quick stop. I found mine at either Walmart or Target in the automotive department.  I stash most of my grocery bags in the organizer, so that they are easy to grab when I get to the store.

Inside the organizer, I keep one large fabric cooler bag, which also contains two smaller cooler bags that are designated for specific items. The larger dark blue cooler bag is handy when I buy a lot of frozen foods or something bulky like a turkey or a huge bag of ice.  I don't bring these bags into the store with me - I just load the food inside them when I get back to the parking lot with my cart.

The large blue shiny bag is the only one I have found yet that is large enough to hold a frozen pizza.

The light green bag is for ice cream and other frozen treats, or sometimes candy that might otherwise melt in the Florida heat. Of course they sometimes get used for other foods too, if needed.

Next to the cooler bags is where I keep my large shopping totes, each filled with more bags. I actually have two identical grocery bag "kits" (one hangs in the garage near the door, easy to grab on the way out), the other goes into the trunk. This way I always have a spare set, clean and ready to go, just in case I need more bags or if my regular set is dirty. The large orange bag contains one compact freezer bag with a shoulder strap, as well as two more regular bags folded up. I only drag a grocery kit into the store when I am planning to do a full grocery run.

The last bag is my fabric tote, strong enough to store my heavy coupon binder, as well as a few of the smaller size shopping bags. I always try to remember to bring this tote into the store with me, even if I am not buying a lot of food. This way I still have some re-usable bags with me, and I feel less like a crazy coupon lady with my binder hidden neatly inside the tote.

How to Organize Your Re-Usable Shopping Bags

  • Gather up all of your bags from anywhere you have them stashed (check your kitchen pantry, garage, and car)
  • Clean them - empty out any old coupons and other stray bits of paper you may have left inside them, then wash using a non-toxic cleanser. I usually wash most of my bags inside out in the hand wash setting of my washing machine, then leave them on a drying rack overnight. The ones that can't go into the washer get hand washed with kitchen soap and hot water.
  • Throw out or recycle any excess bags or the ones you never use because they don't work for you.
  • Make a kit by stashing your coupon organizer, a cooler bag, and enough bags for one shopping trip inside a larger sized bag and keep it in your car or near the door.
  • You will be more likely to remember to use your bags if they are handy, clean, and are the right style and type for your needs.