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updated: 1/18/2012 1:15 PM

Dehyrating foods and no-bake cookies

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Q. I want to make no-bake cookies with oatmeal and peanut butter, cooked on the stovetop. Other people make them and they are moist, with a glossy sheen. Mine are dry and dull. I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong. Any tips or suggestions?

Anny, forums

A. There are quite a few different no-bake cookie recipes that contain oatmeal, peanut butter and chocolate in various quantities, and some include maple syrup, honey, milk and/or chocolate powder. The difference in ingredients can make the end result look considerably different and taste quite a bit different, too.

One problem with some no-bake cookie recipes is that if you don't cook the chocolate long enough, the cookies fall apart and end up a crumbled dry mess. They can also become dry if you use the wrong kind of oats (most recipes call for quick-cooking oats).

When I make mine, I use an electric skillet rather than the stovetop. I opt for a medium setting so the chocolate isn't boiling on high. You don't want to over-boil or under-boil the chocolate. You need to boil exactly 1 minute from the time it hits a rolling boil, stirring constantly, then remove from heat and mix in the other ingredients. Rather than simply dropping them by the tablespoon, I shape them a bit to form a more uniform cookie shape, too.

Q. I would like to use my oven to dehydrate foods like celery, peas, etc. What temperature should I use, and for how long?

A.D., forums

A. To dehydrate whole celery stalks in your oven, you would need a temperature of around 135 degrees for six to eight hours. The lowest temperature setting on most ovens is 150 degrees, so you would need to prop the door open a bit to get the lowered temperature. Keep in mind that you would need to blanch your celery beforehand and shouldn't use a cookie sheet (mesh screen is preferable), too. In other words, it can be done, but using your oven would be pretty costly.

If you don't own a dehydrator, even buying it already dried would be more cost-effective.

Another option is to freeze your celery. You can freeze it as-is or blanch it for 3 minutes before freezing (chopped rather than whole stalks would be best).

As for peas, they need about 120-140 degrees to dry. So again, you'd need to prop your oven door open and they can require six to 14 hours to dehydrate, so they can end up being even less cost-effective than drying celery. Not to mention the nutrient loss associated with using your oven.

Q. When freezing leftover bagged baby carrots, do I need to do anything to them or can I just put them in a freezer bag and freeze them?

Carol, Maine

A. You can't freeze them raw and then thaw and eat them raw. But you can freeze them to use for cooking later.

You need to blanch them for 3-5 minutes and then plunge them into ice water and let them cool for 5 minutes. The cold water prevents the carrots from overcooking, which would result in mushy carrots once thawed and cooked later.

Once the carrots have cooled, place them into freezer bags, removing as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn. I'd eat them within nine months.

Q. I'm looking for gift ideas for a family of four (two parents and two children). I'd like to purchase something that isn't just for the parents and costs less than $100.

Linda H., New York

A. I have lots of ideas, but here are just a few. You could buy them an ice-cream maker, movie tickets, an Original Whirley Pop stovetop popcorn popper set, a restaurant gift card, a karaoke machine, board games, video games or a Boochie or BlongoBall set. You can gift a membership or annual pass to an attraction such as the beach, museum, aquarium, nature center, etc., too.

• Sara Noel owns Frugal Village (frugalvillage.com), a website that offers practical, money-saving strategies for everyday living. Send tips, comments or questions to Sara Noel, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106 or sara@frugalvillage.com.

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