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. ;)

Weekly menu plan (December 19-25, 2011)

After I made last week's menu plan, we did a big grocery shopping trip, with plans to wait at least 2 weeks before shopping again. (For groceries. As I type this, Joshua is out with the boys getting some much-needed tires for our van and some much-needed tennis shoes for Eliyahu...)

I'm actually hoping we can wait longer than 2 weeks between shopping trips again, because we end up eating everything (like every last bit of the 10-pound bag of organic carrots from Costco, which is possibly the cheapest vegetable side dish ever!). Plus, I'd like to avoid the crazy holiday traffic and busy stores. I'm a homebody. But, we'll see. :)

"Lasagna"
My Easy Lasagna from last week, which wasn't really lasagna due to not having lasagna noodles and using fettuccine instead! It was still delicious. I made one dish as written and one dish with spinach and eggplant instead of meat... I forgot how much I love veggie lasagna!! :)

Here is my menu plan for this week!

Monday

Spinach Rice Casserole (love this!!) with leftover chicken added for some protein, steamed broccoli, cooked carrots

Tuesday

Baked Teriyaki Salmon, rice, steamed broccoli, cooked carrots

Wednesday

Pan-fried pollock, rice, green beans

Thursday

Oven-roasted chicken, seasoned baked potato wedges, cooked peas and carrots

Friday

Spaghetti and meatballs, green beans, salad, and Italian garlic bread

Spaghetti and meatballs with homemade garlic bread
Spaghetti and meatballs with Italian garlic bread
(I so rarely make this, my pictures of it are 5+ years old!)

Saturday

Beans and rice, and any available leftovers

Sunday

Chicken gravy (using leftover chicken from Thursday) with drop biscuits, fruit

Ruth drinking kefir
Ruth drinking kefir

Lunches this week:

Beans or grilled cheese sandwiches or leftovers, fruit (oranges, bananas)

Breakfasts this week:

Whole wheat Swedish pancakes (crepes) (x2)
Regular old oatmeal (x3)
Fruit smoothies (including blackberries from our freezer and homemade kefir) (x2)

Other cooking/baking I want to do this week:

Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
Creamy pear pie (haven't gotten this made from last week!)
Homemade egg nog (for the weekend)

What Moshe thinks about playing in the sink!
This is what Moshe (23 months) thinks about playing in a sink with water! :)

Visit Organizing Junkie for more menu plans! :)

All of my weekly menu plans can be found here.

Weekend Breakfast: Whole Wheat Swedish Pancakes (Crepes)

I love finding out that I was wrong about not liking a certain food.

I thought I didn't like crepes. I'd only had them a few times, at restaurants, and despite their beautiful appearance, I didn't care for them at all. We'd made homemade crepes once, several years ago, with disastrous results.

If something is drizzled with fruit syrup and topped with whipped cream and I still don't enjoy it? That's pretty bad. Fruit and whipped cream is supposed to redeem practically anything! ;)

What possessed me to try making crepes again? I'm not sure, but I bookmarked this recipe months ago at Roots of Simplicity.

First, she uses whole wheat flour. I almost always like whole grain pancakes and waffles better than the pasty white ones. And secondly, she knows what a good Swedish pancake should taste like.

So, I gave it a try... and was amazed by the results! In fact, everyone was really impressed. We were eating these whole wheat crepes hot off the skillet without any syrup or fruit sauce or anything... because they are that good, all by themselves!

Then, we did finally sit down for our breakfast of scrambled eggs and crepes with the maple-sweetened kefir/yogurt and strawberry sauce I'd made. What a great breakfast! I ended up making crepes again the next day... and the following day for lunch... they're just so easy and yummy.

I had soft white wheat berries, which I used to make white whole wheat pastry flour for our crepes. Hard white wheat would also work ("white whole wheat flour"), but the original recipe warns against using red wheat (or "regular" whole wheat flour) for crepes, lest you turn out soggy-cardboard-tasting crepes.

I've been using my 10-inch stainless steel skillet to fry the crepes in either butter or coconut oil. It works perfectly, and nothing sticks to the skillet, at all. (I do the trick of heating the skillet before adding oil and cooking on it.)

These Whole Wheat Swedish Pancakes are super quick to make (5 ingredients!) and cook quickly, too, but they are also thin so I found it took longer to make them one-by-one in a skillet than it takes me to make regular pancakes on our two-burner griddle.

The kids ate a lot of these, too. I made a triple batch my first time, and we had no leftovers! I wondered what I was thinking, trying a triple batch of a new recipe for something I haven't liked in the past. But I was glad I'd made that much after all!

In all, I'm delighted to have a new breakfast recipe that's healthy and easy and we'll definitely be making these whole wheat crepes again and again! (And I will probably never, ever try a restaurant version of crepes again.)

See more of our favorite breakfast recipes here! :)

Smart Sweets Giveaway Winners!

Oh, I'm way behind in announcing the giveaway winners for last week's Smart Sweets giveaway!

Thanks so much to Katie, who is giving a copy of Smart Sweets to these 5 winners:

lilyofthevalleyt@
ronngc@
hsmamafl@
saharaneeley@
theburns.fam@

If you were one of the winners, you'll be contacted by email soon with your free ebook! :)

There is still a discount code for this book. Use this code to receive 25% off your order: Tammy25

Discount code is good now through December 19, 2011.

Grocery Shopping - December (Costco, QFC)

Groceries from QFC

We went grocery shopping this week! I am excited to be getting back into grocery shopping every 2 weeks (instead of every 7-10 days), and I must say... I was the only one at our house who complained as the variety got slim last week! :O I don't usually complain, but caught myself wishing aloud that we could go shopping as soon as the 2 weeks was up, because I was tired of not having whatever I wanted on hand!

But then I stopped and realized how blessed I am that my family was happy to eat whatever I made and that there had been no complaints from anyone, about any of the meals, and we were still eating lots of good food. :)

Anyway, Joshua went to the stores with my detailed list and did a great job of sticking to the list (and pushing a very heavy cart at Costco!). Here is what we got, which will allow us to wait at least another two weeks before going shopping again!

At QFC, a few sale items and some bananas (pictured above). There are 3 whole chickens in the bag for $0.88/lb, and the butter was $2/lb. I thought the butter was a good price, so we got 12 packages, but turns out it was only $0.05/lb. cheaper than butter at Costco, anyway. The chickens, however, were $0.11/lb. cheaper than Costco's chickens, so we saved a little on those. :)

QFC total: $50.99

Groceries from Costco

Most of our groceries are from Costco, as you can see. ;) We spent over $250 there.

Groceries from Costco

Bananas (3#)  $1.39
String cheese (60oz.) $10.55
Romaine lettuce (6ct.) $3.49
Shredded cheddar jack cheese (5#) $12.99
Broccoli florets, fresh (3#) $4.29
Applesauce (181oz.) $7.85
Shredded mozzarella cheese (10#) $21.98
Pears (6#) $3.99
Rolled oats (20#) $14.78
Whole milk (8 gal.) $20.24
Toilet paper $17.99
Instant oatmeal (104ct.) $13.98
Yellow onions (10#) $2.89
Canned pineapple (3kg.) $4.65
Yukon Gold potatoes (15#) $8.49
Oranges (13#) $8.99
Greek yogurt (2qt.) $6.99
Organic carrots (10#) $5.99
Frozen fruit blend (5#) $8.79
Frozen strawberries (6#) $8.99
Frozen berry blend (5#) $10.59
Organic frozen green beans (15#) $17.97
Organic frozen peas (10#) $11.78
Xlg eggs (10 dozen) $15.78
Dried cherries (20oz.) $6.99
Organic baby spinach (1#) $3.89

Costco total: $257.63

Groceries from Costco

We'll be using meat from our freezer (fish and chicken). A few of these items are especially for Joshua (easy to chew) -- like the applesauce and instant oatmeal.

We'll eat the fresh fruit this week (oranges, bananas, kiwi, pears) and the frozen fruit (hopefully not all of it, of course!) next week. :) Same with the veggies -- fresh broccoli, spinach, and lettuce this week; frozen veggies and carrots next week. :)

Here is what our fridge looked like after QFC but before Costco:

Empty-ish fridge

And after:

Full fridge

And I actually still had some room in the fridge :O I did put some of the cheese in the freezer. :)

And if you feel like weighing in... how do the prices at Costco compare to what you've been paying? :) I spent about 20 minutes making out my menu plan and list for Costco, and Joshua was gone 90 minutes total, shopping (he only took 1 child along). ;)

Frugal Cold-Weather Comfort Foods (Eat Well, Spend Less)

One of the great things about winter is that so many of our favorite comfort foods happen to be really frugal, too. If I can contain most of my baking urges to breads and main dishes and skip the buttery, sugary desserts, we're all set! ;)

I'm partial to some of these foods because they remind me of my childhood -- cold Ohio winters, sitting in the kitchen of my parents' old farmhouse, eating foods we'd grown and preserved throughout the warmer months. But before that starts sounding too rosy -- I do remember all the hard WORK involved... ;)

Eat Well, Spend Less series

My family "did things" very simply. Special events were a bit rare and a big deal, and holidays were special because special stuff just didn't happen that often. We didn't have elaborate celebrations or gift exchanges, but that was okay. A day off school because of snowfall, or family gatherings -- it was special because it was our family... and I like that.

...and, our favorite cold-weather comfort foods are pretty simple, too.

Beans! Oh, all right, you already know I love beans... filling, delicious, and frugal. I almost always cook my beans from dried beans. I either cook a big batch and freeze some of them, or cook a big batch and we eat all of them!

On a chilly day, some freshly cooked beans waiting in the crock pot is a perfect meal. And not many perfect meals are that cheap. ;)

What do I like besides pinto beans (and some toppings)? Here are a few easy from-dried-grains recipes for variety:

White chili is so easy, and a welcome change if you eat "regular" chili often. We love this soup!

Hearty Beef and Lentil Chili is one of my newer discoveries. If you've never cooked with lentils, this is a great place to start!

Lentils don't get any easier than this Easy Lentil Soup recipe! Despite its simplicity, it's delicious. Our whole family likes it. I got lentils in bulk (25#) and this is one of the ways I serve them! :)

This veggie bean soup with spinach is one of my personal favorites. I can't get over how good it is -- when I follow the recipe. ;) It's meatless, colorful, and affordable. I like to buy the big 3-pound bags of spinach at Costco and make several meals with spinach, including this soup! (Leftovers freeze great, as well.)

This Gourmet Bean Soup is really as easy as 1, 2, and 3. You may end up standing at the stove wondering if you really did everything you were supposed to do for this recipe! Start it early, and then get busy doing other fun stuff (or make some dinner rolls and a salad while the soup cooks). :)

Beef and Barley Soup is one of my childhood favorites. I have a similar version made using wheat: Wheat Berry Soup.

My mom's vegetable soup... one of the common Sunday lunches after church. My mom would make this in the morning, leave it to simmer, and we'd come home to a hot lunch (only we called it dinner, of course). Having vegetable soup in the crock pot (or in the fridge, waiting to be warmed up) is one of my best tactics for affordably filling hungry tummies after a day (or part of a day) away from home. :)

While this one won't save you time (compared to making loaves of bread), it really ups the presentation of your pennies-per-cup soup when you serve it in a homemade bread bowl! Everyone LOVES these bread bowls when I make them. :)

Easier beans or soups during busy days and weeks:

Make large batches and freeze leftovers for a quick meal later.

Bread or rolls (made and then frozen) are a great side with soup.

Most soup recipes can be easily adapted for the crock pot.

Have a plan! My downfall is that soups need to be started early, despite the little hands-on time required. Having a menu plan is a huge help! :)

A favorite winter tradition: Sunday night popcorn! Dark before 5 in the evening, and we'd pull out the air popper and pop lots and lots of popcorn. My mom usually served home-canned apple juice or grape juice with our popcorn. Popcorn is a great frugal snack (even though I don't grow my own). :)

I don't usually get too fancy with beverages, but here are a couple I turn to when a friend comes over (or it's just been One Of Those Mornings).

Chai Tea Latte (pictured above) -- or this from-scratch spiced chai tea! Mmm... cardamom... :)

Hot cocoa on demand. This stuff totally saves my morning some days. :)

Since this is rather decadent (hello, eggs and cream and maple syrup!), I've been saving it to make when we're having company. No one can refuse homemade egg nog -- what a treat! :)

Joshua's specialty is making homemade sparkling grape juice (or other juice) when we have company. It adds a festive touch without costing much! :)

What do you like to make from-scratch this time of year? I'm sure I'm forgetting things. We have a more relaxed December than most... and hang out at home a lot. ;)

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays: 11 Unusual Things You Can Wash in the Dishwasher

Kitchen Tip Tuesdays

I love having a dishwasher! I stuff mine as full as possible (yes, I've practiced this technique!) and these days it gets a run once a day, after dinner.

I have the heat-dry setting turned off, so before I go to bed I open the dishwasher door, pull out the racks, and shake off any excess water from the plastics.

Everything is dry by morning and those early risers (aka my 4 kids!) who are awake at 5am help put things away while I pack Joshua's lunch for work. (This post has some of my dishwasher tips!)

Toothbrushes in the dishwasher

I also like washing some unconventional things in the dishwasher. Here are a few I've done:

1. Toothbrushes! This is especially helpful when the toddler has gotten into the other kids' toothbrushes and done something unsanitary with them (before we started keeping them on the kitchen windowsill for easier access and less mess). My dishwasher detergent has chlorine in it, so it's definitely killing some germs! (Home dishwashers don't get hot enough to sterilize by heat.)

2. Plastic hair brushes and combs. I don't need to wash mine very often, but putting them in the dishwasher is an almost effortless way to clean them! :)

3. Plastic kitchen scrub brushes or vegetable brushes. I use my plastic scrub brush all the time, since I hand-wash my wooden utensils and my cookware. Running it through the dishwasher (usually weekly, for me) gets it nice and clean.

4. Soap dishes, toothbrush holders, and any other small "containers" that end up needing a good Spring cleaning once a year or so.

5. Kids plastic toys (or the plastic containers for them). We also wash toys in the bath tub. That's even more fun for the kids! :)

6. Plastic clothes hangers. If they're really dusty from being in the back of the closet, or dirty from hanging outside on the clothesline, I do a big load of them in my dishwasher. They come out shiny clean!

7. Stove burner pans. Mine don't come 100% clean in the dishwasher, but they do pretty well when I catch spills and wash the pan the same day if possible! :)

8. Glass tray from the microwave. Although normally, I don't let it get bad enough to need more than a quick wipe with the dish rag...

9. Lids for my plastic bean or grain-storage buckets.

10. Metal mesh screen from the kitchen stove hood. You know that screen that gets clogged with grease and dirt? :) I love getting it CLEAN. :)

11. Plastic dust pans. I put these in when I do a load of plastic clothes hangers.

Tips:

I like to put the non-food, non-mouth items in a separate cycle from our dishes if possible.

I also do not use the heated-dry setting (instead, I open the door and allow to air dry). I've never had anything melt on the bottom rack (like plastic hangers, scrub brushes, etc.).

What do you like to add to your dishwasher that's on the unconventional side? :)

A full dishwasher load

Related:

Figuring out how to efficiently load a dishwasher 

Poll: How often do you run your dishwasher?

Help! How do I use a dishwasher?

2 tricks for washing small stuff in the dishwasher

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, 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. Making hamburger patties without mess (Heather at Feel Good About Dinner)
2. Tea from pine trees (The Local Cook)
3. Easy wheat-free lunch ideas (Jenna at Blessed Roots)
4. Canned "cream of" soup substitute (Willa at Armstrong Family Fare)
5. Cutting dried fruit (Finding Joy in My Kitchen)
6. Turning pan handles in (Kolfinna's Korner) 
7. Croutons tip (Alea at Premeditated Leftovers)
8.

Weekly menu plan (December 12-18, 2011)

Would you believe we still haven't gone grocery shopping yet this month?! Yesterday was 16 days since buying any groceries, and Joshua made a quick run to the nearby QFC for a couple sale items and bananas. I'm totally out of vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned except tomatoes), down to just frozen strawberries for fruit, 1 egg left (out of the 10 dozen we bought 17 days ago), 3 cups of milk left, no cheese, no potatoes, etc...

Tonight, Joshua's going to Costco (yay!), and we'll have a full fridge and freezer again. (I'll post about our shopping trip tomorrow.)

I had fun planning this week's menu! And I do like bi-weekly grocery shopping. It saves time and we spend less because we end up eating cheaper things like carrots and extra beans. ;)

Monday

Lentil chili (I have 1/2 an onion left for this!), corn bread (1/2 the recipe since I have 1 egg), and strawberry slushies

Tuesday

Oven-roasted chicken, seasoned baked potato wedges, steamed broccoli

Wednesday

Beef vegetable soup, hearty herb bread

Thursday

Veggie Burgers (recipe from a friend), cooked peas and carrots

Friday

Pan-fried Halibut (new thing I'm trying), oven fries, green beans

Saturday

Easy lasagna, homemade garlic bread, green beans

Sunday

Beef enchiladas (from the freezer), and any leftover veggies, etc. from the fridge

Extras I want to do this week:

Mix up herbs for pregnancy tea (I didn't get that done yet)
Make homemade yogurt
Make creamy pear pie

Breakfasts:

Regular old oatmeal (x3)
Fruit smoothies (including blackberries from our freezer and homemade kefir) (x2)
Crepes and scrambled eggs (x2)

Lunches:

Beans with hot sauce and cheese (I will send this in Joshua's lunches too) or leftovers, bananas

Visit Organizing Junkie for more menu plans! :)

All of my weekly menu plans can be found here.

The Ultimate Guide to Homemade Play Dough in Winter-Themed Scents and Colors

Homemade play dough in winter-themed colors and scents

I've been wanting to make my own scented play dough ever since my friend Melissa gave us some of her homemade holiday-scented play dough 2 years ago. Melissa had the creative idea of using flavored/scented teas in place of the water called for in basic play dough, and it works fabulously, adding more variety to the extracts and oils I already have on hand.

In fact, I didn't buy anything special to make any of these kinds of play dough! The ingredients, coloring, spices, oils, extracts, and teas were all things I already had sitting around.

Ruth (3)

Homemade scented play dough is very versatile and flexible. There are a variety of ways to achieve the desired "flavors", so you can pick and choose based on what you have in your cupboards. (I resisted scraping seeds out of a real vanilla bean for my "sugar cookie dough" play dough... I mean, it's just play dough, after all.) ;)

Here is the basic homemade play dough recipe. This is the one my mom made, and is very popular in books and online -- and no wonder, because it's easy and good. :) It's safe and easy enough for the kids to do most of the making, non-toxic (but not tasty), and kind of addictive to make once you get started! ;)

Gingerbread Spice Play Dough

Basic Homemade Play Dough (makes 2 cups)
takes 5-10 minutes to mix up and 5 minutes to heat

1 cup all-purpose flour (sift if lumpy)
1/2 cup salt
2 teaspoons cream of tarter
1 cup water or cooled tea (for flavors -- see below)
1 1/2 tablespoons oil (vegetable or canola)
Food coloring, as desired

Directions:

1. In a 2-quart sauce pan, whisk together the flour, salt and cream of tarter. Add the water and oil and whisk until smooth. Add desired food coloring. (Keep in mind that the color will get slightly darker after it's heated.)

2. Place pan over low heat and cook and stir until it thickens and forms a ball (about 5 minutes for a single recipe). When it's impossible to stir and looks like a bug sticky lump, it's done! :)

3. Turn out onto the counter or a mat, scraping pan clean with a spatula. Knead the warm dough a couple times, and place in a loosely-covered container to cool. (Or, let the kids play with it right away!) Store in a sealed container or ziplock bag when not in use.

For gluten-free homemade play dough, check out Michele's recipe at Frugal Granola! :)

Hot Cocoa Play Dough

Now comes the fun part: picking out some spices, teas, oils, or extracts to add to the basic recipe above and making some holiday-themed play dough that looks and smells awesome! Seriously, if you're like me, you won't be able to stop opening the lids to smell your play doughs when you're done making them.

I'll tell you about the (successful) flavors/scents I've created, and include my as-yet-untested ideas for even more winter flavors at the bottom of this post.

Do NOT worry if you don't have everything listed for the flavor you want to make. Get creative and use whatever you have!! For example, I didn't have all of these teas on hand so I used vanilla or vanilla caramel tea in a number of the recipes. I like to buy Bigelow's holiday teas on clearance or on sale with a coupon, but it's also okay to use something else!

Think of these recipes as a starting point to get you going, okay? :)

Eliyahu (5)

Ready? Here is:

Fir Tree / Evergreen (green)
Sugar Cookie Dough (tan)
Peppermint Stick / Candy Cane (pink)
Egg Nog (yellow)
Gingerbread Spice (brown)
Orange / Orange Spice (orange)
Hot Cocoa (dark brown)
Cinnamon Stick (red)

More ideas for holiday-themed play doughs

Tips for making homemade play dough

How cheap is homemade play dough?

Fir Tree / Evergreen Play Dough

Fir Tree / Evergreen Play Dough

This evergreen tree scented play dough is one of my favorites. It just smells SO GOOD! If you only have rosemary on hand, it will still smell wonderful, but I had pine and fir oils which put it over the top. I could smell this all day! It's like a walk in the woods...

Water: Use 2 tablespoons of dried rosemary and just over 8 ounces of boiling water to make a "tea"/infusion. Let steep for 20+ minutes. Strain out the rosemary and use 1 cup of your rosemary "tea" in place of the water in the basic recipe.

Spices: Add powdered rosemary

Oils and extracts: Pine oil, fir needle oil, or rosemary oil

Coloring: As green as you want it! :)

Sugar Cookie Dough Play Dough

Sugar Cookie Dough Play Dough

I love how this scent turned out, and Joshua says it's his favorite. It smells good enough to eat! I wanted to scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean to add to this play dough, but didn't. ;) It's still amazing. (Coconut extract is awesome.)

Water: Use Bigelow's vanilla tea or vanilla caramel tea. Steep teabag in just over 8 ounces of boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Remove tea bag and use 1 cup of the tea (cooled or warm, but not hot) in place of the water in the basic recipe.

Spices: None

Oils and extracts: 2 teaspoons vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon coconut extract

Coloring: None needed, especially if you're using dark tea and dark vanilla extract! :)

Peppermint Stick / Candy Cane Play Dough

Peppermint Stick / Candy Cane Play Dough

This one's easy, affordable (peppermint oil is one of the cheapest!), and Ruth's personal favorite since it's PINK. I love the smell. Peppermint is always a winner.

Water: Brew some peppermint tea, allow to cool, and use 1 cup of peppermint tea in place of the water in the basic recipe.

Spices: None

Oils and extracts: Use a tablespoon of peppermint extract, OR about 10 drops of peppermint oil (and 2 drops of spearmint oil, optional)

Coloring: Any shade of pink! If you're not making Fir/Pine play dough, you could make this one green instead of pink.

Egg Nog Play Dough

Egg Nog Play Dough

I think this one smells just like real egg nog! Yummy. :)

Water: Use Bigelow's EggNogg'n flavored tea. Steep teabag in just over 8 ounces of boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Remove tea bag and use 1 cup of the tea (cooled or warm, but not hot) in place of the water in the basic recipe.

If you have everything else for this flavor, you can just use plain water and it will still be GREAT.

Spices: 1 tablespoon ground nutmeg and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Oils and extracts: 1 teaspoon rum extract and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Coloring: Yellow!

Gingerbread Spice Play Dough

Gingerbread Spice Play Dough

This is Eliyahu's favorite. He calls it "the one that looks like sand" because he keeps forgetting the word "gingerbread". Mmmmm....

Water: Use Bigelow's Ginger Snappish flavored tea. Steep teabag in just over 8 ounces of boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Remove tea bag and use 1 cup of the tea (cooled or warm, but not hot) in place of the water in the basic recipe.

Spices: 1+ tablespoon powdered ginger, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Oils and extracts: 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/4 teaspoon maple flavoring

Coloring: None needed! :)

Orange Spice Play Dough

Orange Spice Play Dough

Having good quality orange oil on hand made this one a no-brainer. We love this Boyajian pure orange oil, and it's cheaper than buying the little bottles of orange extract at the grocery store (plus it's way better).

Water: Use orange spice tea (lots of brands have this flavor!). Steep teabag in just over 8 ounces of boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Remove tea bag and use 1 cup of the tea (cooled or warm, but not hot) in place of the water in the basic recipe.

Spices: 1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Oils and extracts: Orange extract or oil (quite a bit -- until it smells really orange-y), cinnamon oil (3 drops), and clove oil (2 drops)

Coloring: Orange! Due to the ground spices I added, my orange spice play dough is a darker shade.

Hot Cocoa Play Dough

Hot Cocoa Play Dough

I used dark cocoa powder to make this hot cocoa play dough super chocolate-y. Yum!

Water: Use plain water as called for in the basic recipe, but add an additional tablespoon of oil to the recipe (2 1/2 tablespoons of oil total).

Spices: 1/3 cup cocoa powder (baking cocoa, NOT sweetened)

Oils and extracts: 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Coloring: None needed

Cinnamon Stick Play Dough

Cinnamon Stick Play Dough

I love the cinnamon scent, but couldn't get the red shade I was after. Brown may be a better color for cinnamon play dough, allowing you to add plenty of ground cinnamon! :)

Water: Use Cinnamon Spice tea or herbal tea (any brand). Steep teabag in just over 8 ounces of boiling water for at least 5 minutes. Remove tea bag and use 1 cup of the tea (cooled or warm, but not hot) in place of the water in the basic recipe.

Spices: 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (or more, if making brown play dough)

Oils and extracts: Cinnamon oil

Coloring: I used red, but will probably go with brown next time.

Yehoshua (7), making play dough
Yehoshua (7) stirs the play dough for a couple minutes, until it's too thick for him

When I get time to try new flavors, I'll update this post! Here are more of my ideas:

Chai Tea Play Dough -- Using chai tea, chai spices, and/or spice oils

Mocha / Cappuccino Play Dough -- Use strong instant coffee, cocoa powder, and vanilla extract

Caramel Apple Play Dough -- Use caramel and apple flavored teas, ground cinnamon, and vanilla extract

Pumpkin Pie Play Dough -- Use Bigelow's Pumpkin Spice tea and ground pumpkin pie spices

Chocolate Mint Play Dough -- Like the Hot Cocoa Play Dough above, but add mint extract or oil

Sugar Plum Fairy Play Dough -- Use Celestial Seasonings Sugar Plum tea or Bigelow's Cherry Almond tea, vanilla and almond extracts, and color it purple!

As you can see, the possibilities are practically endless! :) I'd love to hear your flavor ideas in the comments section below! :)

Fir Tree / Evergreen Play Dough

Tips for making homemade play dough:

Adding the oils and extracts:

I added most of my oils or extracts at the beginning, before heating the play dough. You can stir them in at the end, but I found the dough thickened so quickly (and I had little helpers!) that it was easier to just add at the beginning. In the event that you forget to add them at the end, you could also carefully knead them into the play dough (I've done that, and it worked okay).

Cream of tarter:

Find an affordable source for cream of tarter, since that is the most expensive main ingredient. I got mine at a bulk food store. It's worth checking at your health food store, bulk food store, or bulk section of your grocery store for the best price, especially if you want to make lots of play dough and give as affordable gifts! :)

Adding glitter:

You can also add glitter to your play dough after it's made (just knead it in). Note: It will take a lot of glitter. :)

Storing the play dough:

Jars are nice (and affordable and reusable!), and you can dress them up with fabric, ribbons, and cute tags. I've found that packing the play dough into a jar can make it difficult to pull out easily, though. I prefer shallow, wide jars or else plastic containers instead for ease of use. :)

Sugar Cookie Dough Play Dough

How cheap is homemade play dough?

Just for fun, Joshua and I figured out how much it costs to make a batch of homemade play dough. I used the prices we pay at Costco for our ingredients.

For 2 cups of play dough (basic recipe):

1 cup all-purpose flour -- $0.09 (50#/$14.95)
1/2 cup salt -- $0.05 (25#/$3.95)
2 teaspoons cream of tarter -- $0.10 ($5.45/lb)
1 cup water -- $0.00
1 1/2 tablespoons oil -- $0.03 ($9.59/5qt)

Total cost for basic play dough: $0.27 for 2 cups

The expensive part comes in when you start adding all the "extras" like oils and extracts, or buying special containers or supplies to "dress it up" as gifts. ;)

Extracts for Egg Nog Play Dough
Vanilla, rum, and nutmeg made Egg Nog Play Dough smell just like real egg nog!

By the way...

Moshe's version of "helping"

...this is what Moshe did yesterday to "help" while we made play dough in the kitchen. The contents of our recycling trash can are just so exciting... ;)

From scratch: Perfect chewy oatmeal chocolate chip granola bars (new recipe)

I love granola bars. But most of the ones from the store (unless you're spending an arm and a leg and getting the super duper healthy ones) are like an on-the-go cookie in my opinion. :)

I tried Christy's recipe for "Perfect Granola Bars" this week. And this recipe does taste like a really good chewy oatmeal chocolate chip cookie! So, I tend to think of these as more of a dessert than something that could be regularly called "breakfast".

The kids and I loved these granola bars. We made two batches and they were all eaten in less than 24 hours, if that's saying anything. (Actually, it's probably saying something about my lack of self-control and bad parenting if we ate 36 granola bars in 24 hours' time!!)

What I like about these Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Granola Bars:

They're easy to make. Really, 15 minutes and they're ready to go into the oven.

The recipe seems foolproof. Perfect results --yes, all two times I've made them this week. ;) But really, after dealing with fall-apart granola bars and takes-too-many-special-ingredients granola bars, these are like magic.

They're cooked enough. The oats don't taste raw to me. :) I love the hearty flavor of the oats, whole wheat, and honey. Joshua said he prefers his granola bars without much of a honey taste; I couldn't really even taste the honey. At any rate, they're much better than the gooey "chewy" granola bars from the store, in my opinion. :)

They have chocolate.

...and they're easy to make. If you have 15 minutes, you can pop a dish of these in the oven! (FYI, if you're seven years old like my son, it might take twice as long as that.) :)

I adapted Christy's recipe to use slightly less butter, and expanded the instructions a little so you don't end up smearing chocolate chips everywhere. But really, I hardly changed a thing -- her recipe is excellent! :)


I thought it would be interesting to do a cost breakdown for these granola bars. My kitchen scale was helpful for this since I buy everything in bulk quantities. (And my math skills are up to speed since Yehoshua is doing multiplication and division now.) ;)

Cost breakdown for Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Granola Bars:
I purchased my ingredients at Costco, so I'm using the prices I paid there.

1 1/2 sticks butter -- $0.83 (at $2.20/lb.)

1/2 cup honey -- $0.78 (5.4 oz. at $13.99/96oz.)

1/3 cup (packed) brown sugar -- $0.12 (at $3.39 for 9 1/3 cups)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract -- $0.07 (from my 16oz. Costco bottle)

1 cup freshly ground whole wheat flour -- $0.20 (.28 lb at $0.60/lb. from WinCo)

1 teaspoon baking soda -- ? It came in a 10# bag at Costco! :)

4 1/2 cups rolled oats -- $0.63 (.91lb. at $0.69lb.)

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips -- $0.58 ($6.99/72oz. w/coupon at Costco)

Total cost for 18 granola bars: $3.21 ($0.18 per bar)

My granola bars weighed an average of 2.3 ounces each with a calorie count of 261 per bar (~50% larger than the average store-bought granola bar). Obviously, these granola bars aren't made with puffed rice or other "light" ingredients! ;)

My next quest? Create a healthier protein- and fiber-rich chewy granola bar (without using peanut butter). Any ideas? :)

Related: My mom's Energy Bars recipe is really good (and chewy), but I don't always have corn syrup on hand (it uses 1/2 cup). In fact, I basically never have corn syrup on hand. And they're not quite as good (chewy + holding together) made with honey instead of corn syrup. But if you do have corn syrup, Energy Bars are a great on-the-go granola bar recipe, as well! :)

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