Freezer meal plan (January 2012)

Chicken Gravy and Biscuits recipe
Chicken Gravy and Biscuits (from Eliyahu's birthday meal this weekend!)

Last week I mapped out my freezer meal plan. I love having meals in the freezer, because it makes menu planning (and dinner prep!) so much easier!

My problem is that I like using the meals more than I like making them. ;) So if they're there, I tend to use them... unless I'm planning ahead for a specific event (like the birth of a new baby) and making myself be a good girl and save the freezer meals for later. :)

Our new baby isn't due until the end of March, so normally I wouldn't have started my freezer meals quite yet. But, as it happens, Joshua will be having two major surgeries (craniotomies) before that time, so I decided to jump-start my freezer meal cooking and hopefully be ready for whatever happens post-surgery. :) (The surgeries are to treat two different conditions -- Trigeminal Neuralgia and Superior Canal Dehiscence. This You Tube video describes what Joshua experiences from having SCD.)

Anyway, my freezer meals will certainly come in handy over the next few months! I'm looking forward to getting the freezer stocked with prepared (homemade!) foods again. :)

My favorite freezer meal resources/tips:

My FoodSaver. We've had ours for 10+ years and it's so handy for storing food compactly and fighting freezer burn. I wrote more about why I like having a FoodSaver here! :)

The "mold" technique -- freezing casseroles and then removing from the dish. (I then use the FoodSaver to seal the "squares" of food.) Same size = easy stacking! Plus, I'm not wasting space by storing dishes in the freezer (not to mention the cost of disposable dishes!).

The "straw" technique. For softer foods like cookies or burritos, or individually-wrapped foods (like burritos, chimichangas, egg rolls, etc.), I double-Ziplock-freezer-bag them, using a straw to suck out the air in each bag. My freezer burritos stay fresh a long time in the freezer this way!

Life As Mom's freezer tips. Check out her site for lots more variety -- she's an expert! ;)

Yehoshua helping with the quiche
Yehoshua helped weigh and wash spinach for our quiche last Friday

My freezer meal plan includes mostly main dish meals. If I have time, I'll do some of the make-ahead pantry foods (like granola!). Most likely I won't do any desserts, due to time and expense. For breads, I'll just use my bread machine as-needed. We actually haven't been eating a lot of bread these days. (We often have fish and rice is a good side for that. Joshua takes beans or leftovers in his lunch rather than sandwiches.)

And the best part of my plan? I'm planning these meals into our weekly dinner menus so I can just make a super big batch and freeze the extras (hopefully 2-4 meals' worth). I'll be spending extra time on "dinner prep" each night, but I won't be spending the whole day in the kitchen. Well, okay, I will -- because we do our school work and everything else in the kitchen too. ;)

Playing with boxes from Costco
The kids in their box tower after last week's Costco trip :)

Main dish freezer meals I'm making (frozen before baking unless noted):

Quiche (I made this crustless to save time)
Beef and Bean Enchiladas (add extra sauce)
Easy lasagna (add extra sauce)
Saucy Broccoli Chicken Bake (under-cook the broccoli, put a layer of rice in the bottom)
Chicken gravy (to serve with biscuits or rice)
Spinach rice casserole
Italian Beef and Beans (to serve with pasta)
Cheesy Chicken Vermicelli
Tuna Noodle Casserole
Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
Freezer-friendly bean and rice burritos
Breakfast burritos
Three-cheese baked spaghetti (add extra sauce)

Other easy meals from my freezer:

Crock pot BBQ chicken (serve with buns or over rice)
Salmon burgers
Pan-fried pollock (serve with rice)

Soups for the freezer:

Beef Vegetable Soup
White Chili
My Mom's Chili
Veggie Bean Soup with Spinach

Breakfasts or other:

Whole wheat berry pancakes (cooked; re-warm in toaster)
My mom's granola
Cinnamon Crunch Granola
Chewy oatmeal chocolate chip granola bars
Easy baked apple oatmeal
Maple Rosemary Bean Salad
Grilled chicken breast (for on pizza, quesadillas, etc.)
Cooked pinto beans

See also: My freezer meal plan and updates from before Moshe was born! :)

I'll be using lots of the groceries we got last week -- starting with the more perishable things like spinach and broccoli. For my weekly menu plans, I'm just picking things from these lists that I haven't made yet, and then making as large a batch as possible. :)

This freezer cooking is going to be my "big" project over the next 2 weeks! I hope to get the majority of it done in that time, and then in late February after both surgeries are over I'll evaluate what I want to make/add before the new baby's born! :)

Grocery shopping - January 2012 (H Mart & Costco)

Groceries from H Mart
Groceries from H Mart

A friend took me shopping this week and we stopped at H Mart, an Asian grocery store. I got the last few things needed to make egg rolls and sushi. :)

Spring roll wrappers $1.99
Spring roll wrappers $1.29
Dried mung beans (to sprout) $3.99/lb.
Fresh ginger $0.18
Red cabbage $1.83
Rice vinegar $2.49
Green onions $0.39
Baby bok choy $0.57
Rice vermicelli $1.29

Total at H Mart $14.02

Then last night, we went to Costco. It had been 3 1/2 weeks since our last Costco trip, with just one QFC trip in-between to get eggs and oranges.

My fridge was getting pretty empty:

Fridge before shopping

The freezers still had frozen fish, chicken, veggies, fruits, and butter. :) AND 3 pounds of ground beef that I found when I organized everything! :)

Now, about Costco. I spent over $400! Before we went, I planned out my freezer cooking plan for this month. I realized that I was going to need extra eggs, milk, cheese, meat, and veggies if I was going to put a bunch of dinners in the freezer (hopefully a couple months' worth) AND still feed everyone for the next ~2.5 weeks until our next shopping trip.

I've tried stretching shopping trips or "eating from the pantry" without planning for it (i.e. BUYING FOOD!) and it was a disaster. I mean, we do need to eat. ;) The only reason we can wait 2 weeks (or longer) between shopping trips is because I buy EXTRA milk, extra veggies, extra fruits.

Shopping less frequently saves time, cuts the urge to impulse-spend, and helps me make sure I use up my whole 10-pound bag of carrots from Costco... but we don't actually eat less food. ;)

Fresh produce from Costco

Fresh produce:

Organic carrots (10#) $5.99
Celery (3pk.) $2.99 (x2)
Broccoli (3#) $4.29 (x2)
Brussels Sprouts (2#) $4.79
Grape tomatoes (2#) $5.99 -- item requested by Eliyahu for his b-day meal :)
Mini cucumbers (2#) $4.59 -- same as above :)
Bananas (3#) $1.39
Mini peppers (2#) $3.99
Anjou pears (6#) $3.99
Spinach (3#) $4.59
Clementines (5#) $5.99 -- another of Eliyahu's requests :)

Meat and dairy from Costco

Meat and dairy:

Milk ($2.53/gal.) $25.30 -- I froze 2 gallons of this
Sour cream (3#) $3.89
Ground beef ($2.99/lb.) $19.08
Ground turkey ($2.29/lb.) $15.02
Shredded mozzarella cheese (5#) $11.99 (x2)
Turkey breast lunch meat (2#) $6.14 (x2) -- new item we're trying :)
Heavy whipping cream (1/2 gal.) $6.99
Shredded cheddar jack cheese (5#) $12.45 (x2)
Sliced American cheese (5#) $10.99

Other food

Eggs (5doz.) $7.89 (x3)
Burrito-size tortillas (40 ct.) $5.59 -- for freezer burritos
Corn tortillas (100 ct.) $3.32 -- for enchiladas (for the freezer)
Pasta (6#) $7.89

Frozen food

Frozen food:

Organic corn (5#) $5.59 (x2) -- this corn is the best!! :)
Organic peas (5#) $5.89 (x2)
Organic green beans (5#) $5.99 (x2)
Strawberries (6#) $8.99
Blueberries (5#) $13.99
Sweet potato fries (4#) $4.49 (x3) -- trying these w/the coupon this month!

Pantry staples

Pantry items:

Prego sauce (134oz.) $5.64 (x2)
Applesauce $7.85 -- I use this in Joshua's lunches
Baking potatoes (20#) $6.99
Cheerios (37.5oz.) $5.69 (x2)
Chunk pineapple (#10can) $4.65 (x2)
Peaches (#10can) $3.99
Pears (#10can) $4.19
Rolled oats (10#) $7.39
Craisins (48oz.) $3.98
Organic raisins (2#) $7.79
Special K cereal bars (35ct.) $5.38 (x2)
Sugar (10#) $6.59
Ziplock sandwich bags (500ct.) $6.59 (x2) -- probably should have just got 1 of these

My very full fridge
The fridge is very full now!! :)

And... I think that's everything! I did need to buy postage stamps, but I'm not sure if that should count as my "grocery budget"... and I also spent $12.95 at Target this week for night light light bulbs, duct tape, body wash, and a tongue cleaner.

Note on light bulbs:

Our Costco has energy-efficient light bulbs for a super good deal (instant rebate), making them as low as $0.49 for a package of 4!!!! They've had this deal for quite a while, but I haven't seen it advertised. There are several kinds to choose from (I love the "daylight" ones!), and a few have a limit of 4 packages, but some are unlimited.

Anyway, I usually skip the light bulb aisle at Costco, but this deal is worth stocking up! :)

I will share my freezer meal plan next (hopefully later today!), which is basically lists of my favorite freezer-friendly meals that I want to make over the next month or so. :)

Pantry Challenge

As you can see, it's not "eating from the pantry" for us right now! That will come in the next few months... :)

For me, this pantry challenge is a continuation of fewer shopping trips, getting my freezers organized, and starting to make and store some freezer meals.

Be sure to visit the other bloggers who will be chronicling their January pantry challenges:

Balancing Beauty and Bedlam
The Finer Things in Life
Getting Freedom from Debt
Good Cheap Eats

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Homemade chili tips

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

Happy new year! :) We enjoyed having Joshua home from work today and having one last day off from our school work. Plus, I got to go out for coffee and new-baby shopping with a friend! I am not ready for a "normal" week to resume early tomorrow morning! ;)

It's cold and windy outside, and I'm putting chili on our menu plan this week. I'll probably make White Chili since I'm out of beef. I love how chili is easy, filling, and affordable! It freezes well, too.

Here are a couple chili tips! :)

Quickly thicken chili

To quickly thicken chili, stir in a can of refried beans or a small can of tomato paste.

Frozen peppers

Buy fresh peppers on sale (I like to use bell peppers) and freeze them. I usually freeze the peppers in halves and then dice as needed! That way it's easy to get a little of whatever color(s) you need for your meal and they're not frozen together in a frosty lump.

Using dried beans

If you're cooking for more than just 1 or 2 people, using dried beans can be well worth the little hands-on time it takes. I think dried beans taste better than canned, and cooking them in my crock pot is nearly effortless! Beans (or lentils!) are an affordable way to stretch chili, and leftover cooked beans can be frozen for later use.

Flavor options

Try adding a little ground cinnamon or a few semi-sweet chocolate chips to your chili!

Personally, I like adding a bit of brown sugar to tomato-based chili. I also love freshly-ground cumin in chili! Fresh spices are the best. :D

My mom's chili recipe

Dip it

Serve thick leftover chili as a dip with corn chips, or as a "relish" for hot dogs.

Wrap it

You can also serve chili in a warm flour tortilla. Sprinkle in some cheese, dab on sour cream, and even crumble in a few corn chips for a tasty chili cheese burrito!

See also: Tips for cheaper chili

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please!

In order to keep the kitchen tips more easily accessible, posts not adhering to these guidelines will be removed. We need to be able to easily find/see what your kitchen/cooking tip is. :) Thanks for your participation! :)

Leave your tip links in a comment. I'll manually add them to this post!

1. Tips for homemade baby food (Willa at Armstrong Family Fare)
2. Baking tip (Rachel at Trial and Error Home Ec)
3. Salad making tips (The Local Cook)
4. Tips for fluffy mashed sweet potatoes (Living So Abundantly)
5. Saving money on lunch meat (Heather at Feel Good About Dinner)
6. Softening coconut oil in the winter (Stacy at Stacy Makes Cents)
7. Cooking with lentils (Finding Joy in my Kitchen)
8. Using frozen eggs (Anna at Kolfinna's Korner)

Homemade soft pretzels and cheese dip (new recipe)

I've tried so many homemade pretzel recipes.

At first, I thought I'd go for a non-boiled version, since that's easier. If they still tasted like pretzels, then why bother with boiling them?

Well, the ones I've made that aren't boiled tasted pretty good but tasted a lot more like soft bread sticks than a soft pretzel. (And in my experience, boiling is such a simple step for the amazing texture and flavor it imparts to both pretzels and bagels, it's completely worth the extra pot to wash.)

I've also experimented with whole wheat soft pretzels. Using white whole wheat bread flour (made from hard white wheat berries in my grain mill) and adding some natural dough conditioners, the whole wheat pretzels were good, and had a very good texture... but lacked that really-good-just-not-really-healthy flavor of a white soft pretzel dipped in cheese. ;)

My conclusion? When I take the time to make homemade soft pretzels, I'm going to boil them and I'm going to use white bread flour. For something that's such a special treat, I'm not going to worry about making them super healthy!

The kids love playing with pretzel dough and making their own "baby pretzels". With my oversight, Yehoshua (7) is able to form, boil, and bake his own pretzels. Eliyahu (5) and Ruth (3) had my assistance for theirs, and Moshe (almost 2) ate his dough raw. ;)

For dipping, I love Joshua's homemade cheese sauce. But really, these pretzels are so good we don't even feel like we need a dip for them! :)

Grocery shopping and menu plan for the rest of December 2011

This week's menu plan and groceries

Okay, so I know there are only 3 days left in December. ;) But so far this week we've eaten leftovers, fish sticks and veggies, and an oven-roasted chicken and potato wedges. I've had headaches and have taken our week "off" to just be lazy, play, and take naps. ;)

Monday was our two-weeks-since-shopping day, but we didn't want to venture out in the after-Christmas crowds. So, Joshua went to QFC right down the road and picked up a few things on sale:

The rest of December's groceries

8 lbs of oranges -- $4.99
5.77 lbs of bananas -- $3.98
18 Lg eggs -- $1.99 (x3)
Ginger Ale -- $1 (x2)
Tums -- $3.49

Total: $20.43

I still have enough milk, frozen veggies, carrots, and potatoes from Costco, so I think we'll wait until after New Year's and then make a big trip there for "everything". In all, I'm so happy with our grocery spending for December! I've had variety to try new things, but we've also eaten quite a few cheaper things like pinto beans, cooked carrots, potatoes, and oatmeal. :)

The ginger ale was Joshua's idea, and he made some homemade egg nog and added ginger ale to it. Yummy! Then, he put some of the homemade egg nog into his ice cream maker and we had some delicious egg nog ice cream! The kids had ginger ale/egg nog "floats". I guess it's the winter version of a "root beer float". ;)

In January, I'll be continuing my bi-weekly grocery shopping! Planning a menu and then shopping bi-weekly at Costco seems to be the easiest and most time-efficient way for me to save money on our groceries. :)

Pantry Challenge

I'm also joining Jessica at Good Cheap Eats for her January Pantry Challenge!

As Jessica says, this freezer challenge is NOT:

It is NOT a total abstinence of grocery shopping.
It is NOT putting stockpiling on hold.
It is NOT oatmeal and rice and beans until the cows come home.

For me, this challenge will be a continuation of fewer shopping trips, getting my freezers organized, and starting to make and store some freezer meals. I'll share more details on my freezer meal plans soon! :)

Be sure to visit the other bloggers who will be chronicling their January pantry challenges:

Balancing Beauty and Bedlam
The Finer Things in Life
Getting Freedom from Debt
Good Cheap Eats

Ruth

To boost myself out of "lazy mode", I've made a goal for each day the rest of this week/year. :)

This week's goals:

Today (Thursday): Clean up the house. We did some cleaning over the weekend, but I have a few things left: 1 bathroom, 1 load of laundry, and windows.

Friday: Organize our homeschool shelves, and anywhere else that's "overflowing". ;)

Saturday: Rest. :) Then, Saturday evening, write out my freezer meal ideas/plan/schedule.

My menu plan for the rest of the week:

Thursday: Pan-fried cod, green beans, black beans and rice

Friday: Spaghetti and meatballs, homemade garlic bread, green beans

Saturday: Leftovers, freezer-friendly bean and rice burritos, or something in the crock pot

Sunday: Eggs and oatmeal for breakfast, and then spending the day with friends (no cooking required from me!!) :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Cookie and cookie dough tips

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

I've enjoyed having a relaxing 4-day weekend with Joshua at home. We both love to cook, so with his extra time off we made gingerbread men with the kids, grilled some salmon, and I went through some cooking magazines from a friend.

Having no electricity on Sunday afternoon threw a wrinkle into my plan for chicken gravy and biscuits, so we had a snack lunch of cheese and crackers instead. Eliyahu made us laugh by his many comments along the lines of "This is the best lunch ever!! I mean, it's too bad we have no electricity, but I really love this cheese and crackers!!!" ;)

Old-Fashioned Cloves Cookies recipe
Old-Fashioned Cloves Cookies recipe (my family's favorite -- and makes great cut-outs, too!)

And now tomorrow feels like it should be Monday, but it's Tuesday! I didn't make a menu plan for this week yet, but I'll make a partial one and give a shopping update. (Hint: We got eggs and bananas and are going to hold off until after the holidays to go to Costco.)

Kitchen tips! Here a few shortcuts when you're baking cookies. :)

Rolling cookies in sugar:

When making a cookie recipe that requires the balls of dough to be rolled in sugar, put some sugar in a container with a tight-fitting lid and place dough balls in a single layer in the container. Put the lid on and gently shake to coat the balls with sugar! :)

Marking tops of peanut butter cookies:

To quickly mark the tops of peanut butter cookies, use a potato masher to mark a grid on each cookie. Dip the masher in flour first so it doesn't stick. My friend Tanya says she dips her fork in flour before marking peanut butter cookies, too. :)

Cookie dough chilling tip:

To save time waiting for cut-out cookie dough to chill, roll your just-made dough between two layers of waxed paper or parchment paper, to desired thickness. Chill the layers (fridge or freezer) and then cut cookies from each layer.

See also: Tips for cutting out cookies and softening butter

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please!

In order to keep the kitchen tips more easily accessible, posts not adhering to these guidelines will be removed. We need to be able to easily find/see what your kitchen/cooking tip is. :) Thanks for your participation! :)

Leave your tip links in a comment. I'll manually add them to this post!

1. Cinnamon-sugar blends/tips (Adrienne at Whole New Mom)
2. Remembering griddle temps & setting the table (Stacy at Stacy Makes Cents)
3. Tips for making successful deviled eggs (Heather at Feel Good About Dinner)
4. Veggie pizza tips (Cheryl B. at The Bz House That Love Built)
5. Christmas cookie tips (Christy at One Little Word She Knew)

Quick chocolate fix: Chocolate No-Bake Cookies

My energy and motivation seems to have been zapped this week. I am so ready for a nice little Winter break from homeschooling! Instead of cleaning the house (or doing much of anything productive) this week, I've been taking naps and just doing a lot of thinking. :)

I woke up from one of my naps and before I even got up from the couch, "Chocolate No-Bake Cookies!" had popped into my head and I decided to just make some, right then.

Growing up, we often made no-bake cookies for parties and gatherings or just an evening snack. I had kind of forgotten about them, perhaps somewhat purposely since they do have a ton of sugar in them. ;)

Start-to-finish (minus the dishes), I had made a batch of chocolate no-bake cookies in 25 minutes. I had no waxed paper to drop the cookies onto, so I used one of my silicone baking sheets. I LOVE my silicone baking sheets. I can't believe how useful they are for practically anything baked!!

By the way, do not do what I did when making delicious-scented winter play dough. I let the kids use my silicone mats for "play dough mats" and the oils have been difficult to wash off! I should have known that things like peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, and clove oil are really super potent! The same things applies to my wooden rolling pin. ;)

And now, I hear Joshua and the kids getting home from a quick trip to the park. Time to pick up, have a snack, and get ready for bed! :)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: Softened butter, and what to do with extra butter slices

My kitchen tip this week is from the archive. These cookies? Still yummy. :)

As I was baking molasses spice cookies yesterday, I thought of a couple butter tips to share! :)

I have two Rubbermaid butter dishes (so handy, with a lid that snaps tightly!) and I keep them both filled and not refrigerated, so that we never run out of soft butter to spread on bread, etc.

Ever open the butter dish to realize that it's almost empty, and the rest of the butter is in the fridge? This happened to me way too many times growing up, so I have always kept two butter dishes out in our home!

Having extra butter at room temperature is also handy for those last-minute cooking-baking frenzies. Without a microwave to soften butter, I've frequently raided one or both butter dishes for some soft butter for whatever baking project I hadn't planned ahead!

And finally, when I'm cutting a stick of butter for a recipe and there's, say, 3 tablespoons left over, rather than wrapping the little piece and putting it back in the fridge, I check to see if it can fit on a partly-empty butter dish. If so, I add it to the butter dish, and avoid all the random pieces in the fridge. :)

Molasses Spice Cookies with Raisins recipe

By the way, these cookies are so delicious! My mom has made molasses spice cookies with raisins for as long as I can remember, and they're one of my dad's favorites. Now, I make them especially for Joshua -- although we all really like them! :)

To Participate in Kitchen Tip Tuesdays:

Post a kitchen tip in your blog. Link to this post, and then leave your link here, so we know where to find YOU! :) No giveaways or non-tip posts, please!

In order to keep the kitchen tips more easily accessible, posts not adhering to these guidelines will be removed. We need to be able to easily find/see what your kitchen/cooking tip is. :) Thanks for your participation! :)

Leave your tip links in a comment. I'll manually add them to this post!

1. Cold/softening butter tips (Rachel at Trial and Error Home Ec)
2. Removing baked-on grease (Annie at Annie's Home)
3. Cleaning cookware (Kirstin at Loving Life)
4. Ground beef in bulk (Money Saving Habits)
5. Making powdered sugar (Cammie at Life...More Abundantly)
6. Using sour milk (Rachel at Trial and Error Home Ec)
7. Help -- homemade hollandaise tips (The Local Cook)
8. Cutting/packaging fudge for gifts/parties (Heather at Feel Good About Dinner)
9. Drinking glasses tip for families (Adrienne at Whole New Mom)
10. How to cut a pineapple -- tips (Stacy at Stacy Makes Cents)
11. Adding eggs to a hot recipe (Cheryl at The Bz House That Love Built)
12. How to freeze unbaked apple pie (An Oregon Cottage)

Homemade Special-Occasion Food Favorites

Having "a day off" from school or normal work always puts me in the mood to cook or bake something special.

I'll be honest: on our normal weekdays, I don't find much time for playing in the kitchen. I keep things quite simple and am usually doing good to just get dinner ready on time, despite how simple a meal it is. ;)

But on the weekend, when the kids wake up at their normal (early) time, and the day stretches ahead? I've picked out 3 recipes to make before it's even 7:00. Yes, I am more of a morning person. ;) Of course, usually by the time I've finished one of my "projects", too much time has slipped by and I am busy with meals and other tasks and end up shelving the other plans for another weekend. :)

Having company is my favorite excuse to make a more elaborate meal and do some extra special cooking! I have served very simple meals to guests (I am not superwoman, and have plenty of embarrassing flops in the kitchen, too!). But, if I can make the time, I like to make a nice meal with things we might not normally have.

Like this Natural Fruit Cake. It's so good!! I think the slices are similar to a good fruit and nut granola bar... and with ingredients like whole wheat flour, honey, and eggs, it ranks as a fairly healthy dessert in my book. (I do realize the dried fruit has sugar added to it...)

And with a food processor, Natural Fruit Cake is pretty quick and easy. It won't, however, be cheap. Even with buying our honey, nuts and fruits in bulk, Natural Fruit Cake is about $3 per small-ish loaf. That's acceptable for a special occasion, coupled with the fact that it's so rich and filling that a small slice is a perfect serving size. :)

My mom's homemade cheese ball is a long-time family favorite! I buy cheese and cream cheese in bulk to make this one a little more affordable. We've given cheese balls as gifts and had many compliments on this cheese ball recipe.

I try not to make cheese balls unless we're having company or taking it to a potluck, because I love cheeseball and crackers!! :)

I've not found any good, affordable sources for serving crackers to a crowd, unless I make my own, such as homemade "Wheat Thins" style crackers or Homemade Rosemary Crackers -- pictured at the top of this post. 

This summer, we bought crackers at Costco (discounted) which made cheese, smoked salmon, and crackers into an easy "special" snack option. Homemade crackers are not difficult, especially with a food processor (which I don't currently have). :)

I love hot snacks! And hot + cheese? Mmmmm. These easy baked jalapeno poppers are super good. They can also be made only mildly hot by removing the stems and seeds of the jalapenos, so even people who are "afraid" of hot things can enjoy them. :)

Homemade hummus is one of my favorite frugal (but still kinda fancy!) appetizers/dips. We like hummus a lot, so when I make it, I cook at least a pound of garbanzo beans (chick peas) in my crock pot for the hummus. The slow-cooked beans make a perfect, creamy hummus!

Cream cheese apple dip with fresh apple slices is my go-to fruit or dessert to make when we're having guests and I haven't made anything "special".

In the fall, I almost always have apples on hand, and I usually have cream cheese in the fridge. Cream cheese apple dip takes 5 minutes to mix up, and the apples can be washed and sliced even after company has arrived. Everyone loves this fruit/dessert! :)

Maple-glazed walnuts take about 5 minutes to make, and turn into an irresistible "candy" nut snack. This is another one of those really-good-but-not-cheap snacks, but ranks a little bit healthy with ingredients like walnuts, cinnamon, maple syrup, and butter. ;)

Dill Dip is another from-scratch dip option (along with the hummus above). I haven't tried this with my homemade kefir (or yogurt) cheese yet, but I want to! This dip doesn't taste just like Hidden Valley dip packets, but IS the best homemade dill or ranch-type dip I've found (and without the MSG).

And a little off-topic... cold weather gets me in the mood for sewing. :) I have some bags of flannel fabric that were given to me, and made time to sew new pillow cases for the children a couple weeks ago.

Homemade snowman pillow cases for the kids

These snowman pillow cases are soft and warm and so cute! I use an old pillow case as a "pattern" to make my own. They're quick to make (with a sewing machine) and it's nice to have fresh, new ones to use. :)

We haven't gotten any snow yet here in the Seattle area... Joshua (who commutes to work every morning) says that's perfectly fine with him. ;) I know the kids and I will enjoy it if/when we get some snow this winter, though! Snow is way better than mud for playing outside, in my opinion. ;)

Delicious winter holiday food on a budget (Eat Well, Spend Less)

This month's Eat Well, Spend Less series posts are holiday-themed (of course!). For practical inspiration, check out:

Easy Appetizers for the Holidays -- I LOVE Jessica's ideas. Appetizers are one of the highlights of a fancy meal/party for me, and I know I'll be coming back to this post next time I'm brainstorming good appetizers to serve! :)

Stocking up for the Holidays -- Shaina from Food for My Family gives a rundown of what to have on hand for the holidays and reminds us to shop now! (I can totally miss the traffic and lines this weekend and next... yay!) :)

Make-Ahead Breakfasts for Christmas Morning -- Mandi at Life...Your Way shares her favorite mouth-watering extra-special make-ahead breakfasts!

Homemade Substitutes for Holiday Favorites -- Aimee from Simple Bites rounds up some of the best from-scratch versions of everyone's favorite holiday foods!! :)

Cheap and Easy Party Foods -- Katie at Kitchen Stewardship shares her tips and recipes for healthy homemade party foods. Her cooked spelt salad looks amazing! (Scroll down to see it here.)

10 Easy Homemade Food Gifts -- Amy at Keeping the Kingdom First shares her favorite festive homemade food gifts. I love all the extra-fancy treats like no-bake snowball cookies! (Scroll down to see them here.)

Coping with Lackluster Holiday Grocery Sales -- Carrie at Denver Bargains blogs about the absence of rock-bottom sale prices and some creative ways to get more groceries for less budget, despite the obstacles.

My own post for this week is Frugal Cold-Weather Comfort Foods. I'll also be doing a roundup of some of my favorite splurge-a-little company foods on Monday! Having guests is always a great excuse to turn the heat up a little and bake something extra special. ;)

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