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From-scratch snack: Homemade pita chips and creamy guacamole

Since both Joshua and I are trying to focus on healthy eating, our house has been void of most processed snacks for quite some time now. Our grocery shopping trips are full of real, whole foods -- ingredients to use in cooking from scratch.

The snack foods we generally have available are things like apples, bananas, pears, or a green salad.

And those things are all good! But sometimes I just want a salty, crunchy, fatty snack!!

Good thing crunchy, salty, and fatty can still be healthy... like these homemade whole wheat pita chips with creamy guacamole dip!

Whole wheat pita chips

I make my own whole wheat pitas when we have them, since it's cheaper and they're much more delicious than the cheap pita pockets from the store.

Once the pita bread is made, these chips just require two quick ingredients: olive oil and salt. (This has got to be the first time I've ever shared a three-ingredient recipe that takes less than 10 minutes to make!)

Whole wheat pita chips

Having never made pita chips before, I was a bit skeptical as to how great they could be. I mean, don't the yummy chips in the grocery store have lots of fancy ingredients (like MSG!) to help satisfy my taste buds? How could my homemade whole wheat pita breads, some olive oil, and a little salt compare to a "real" chip?!

I was pleasantly surprised that we all loved these chips! They have the crunch, they have the salt, and when dipped into some creamy guacamole, they are downright awesome!

Creamy guacamole

And about the guacamole. I like guacamole, but I LOVE this creamy guacamole. Joshua, who hates cilantro and rarely tolerates avocado, sampled this guacamole at my request and declared it to be "one of the best dips I've ever had... and I hate guacamole!"

Whole wheat pita chips served with creamy guacamole

Many thanks to my friend Jennifer for the idea of adding some sour cream into the guacamole. It lends a smooth, creamy, and almost... sweet taste to the guacamole and is truly the difference between a so-so guac and a "Can I just eat the whole bowl?!" guac!

Your Questions Answered: Cost analysis of recipes

Michael wrote,

Our family is trying to really watch our p's and q's. I was wondering if in the future you could compare costs of your recipes to going out to eat the same thing. Maybe you have someone that has already done this that partners with you? Thank you for your time and thank you for your website.

I have done a cost analysis of a few of my most-used recipes:

Our favorite beans and rice

Homemade pizza

Homemade wheat bread

Italian Cheese Bread

Baked beans (cost analysis from a reader)

This post describes how I calculate the cost of a from-scratch meal.

Since I buy everything in bulk and generally don't enjoy math, that is why I don't usually figure out exactly how much it cost me to make a certain recipe. (As a side note, I would totally love it if any of you math-lovers wanted to figure out the cost of some of my recipes!) :)

I always figure it's cheaper to cook at home than to go out to eat when quality is a consideration! We buy most things in bulk and focus on eating as healthfully as possible on the budget we have (about $100/week for our family of 6) rather than trying to maintain a barebones food budget.

You might enjoy Erin's website, 5 Dollar Dinners. She does a cost analysis of every recipe! Her recipes serve 4 for $5 or less, but I find we eat about double her amounts of food (for dinner, our largest meal of the day). Just for reference, our family right now includes two adults and children ages 6, 4, 2, and newborn (nursing). We have dinner guests several times a month and rarely go out to eat. :)

Head over to Jessica's blog for lots of Frugal Fridays tips today, as well! :)

Dandelion season, just ahead!

Have any of you been enjoying dandelion salads this Spring? I called my mom (back in Ohio) earlier this week and she was outside gathering dandelions for dinner. Growing up, we had dandelion salads every day in the Springtime!

When picked young and tender, dandelions make a delicious salad. Here is my mom's recipe for Dandelion Salad with Vinegar and Oil Dressing. Since we live in an apartment in the city, I won't have any opportunities to gather fresh dandelions this year, but maybe again some day I will! :)

Stephanie has a great post about using dandelions as food, including a few recipe links.

Making homemade vanilla extract

About 15 months ago now, we embarked on a new "make our own" adventure: Vanilla Extract!

Making homemade vanilla extract is simple, and can save significant money long-term, especially if you do a lot of baking!

(Read more for the recipe and pictures...)

Fresh whole wheat pancakes (without a grain mill)

Whole wheat berry pancakes with blueberries

When Joshua and I were first married (almost 8 years ago), a friend introduced us to Whole Wheat Berry Pancakes, an easy whole wheat recipe that doesn't require a grain mill. We've made these pancakes ever since, and they're Joshua's favorite pancakes!

The whole grain wheat is put into a blender with some milk and blended until smooth. Add a couple eggs, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt and blend for another minute before pouring the batter on a hot griddle to cook. So easy and so delicious! :)

Whole wheat berry pancakes with blueberries

I added some frozen blueberries to the pancakes in these pictures. We ate them hot with a little butter! The brown sugar in the pancake batter makes them sweet enough for our tastes, so we rarely use syrup.

For anyone interested in using fresh whole grains, but not wishing to purchase a grain mill for heavy use, these blender pancakes are a fun and easy way to start! :)

Free mailing supplies

Okay, first, this is not a link to sign up for free mailing supplies. (If it were, you'd probably be seeing it over at Money Saving Mom, and not here!) ;)

However, I have been requesting lots of free samples for all kinds of other things, and another perk is that some of the freebies come in little boxes or bubble envelopes.

I open them carefully, and then I can re-use the bubble envelopes (I just tape a paper with the recipient's address over the spot that had my address). Bubble envelopes are so nice for mailing things! :)

One handy little box became my children's crayon box. And the boys have had loads of fun playing with countless other little boxes that I didn't plan to re-use. :)

In the course of the past 4 months of receiving free samples, I now have a nice little stash of mailing supplies, mostly bubble envelopes. Those are like an "extra" freebie, right? :)

And while we're on the topic of freebies (can you tell I'm addicted?!), the free sample-size packets of granola bars, snacks, or other food items are just perfect for sending in Joshua's lunch. It's even more fun when he didn't see them come in the mail, and I get to surprise him with something new to try! :)

Now, head on over to Jessica's blog for more frugal ideas and tips! :)

This post was originally published in 2008.

Edited to add: When we moved last year, I used many of my free bubble envelopes to pack breakable items for our move! :) I still maintain a nice little stash of bubble envelopes, and it's so handy to have whatever size I need for mailing things! :)

New/unused postage stamps for less than face value

I just ordered some new (unused) 41-cent postage stamps for 34 cents each. That means that the roll of 100 stamps cost $34.00 instead of $41.00 (includes shipping). How is this possible? Ebay. :)

For some time now (at least 2 years), my younger brother Phillip has been ordering unused postage stamps from eBay for less than face value. Often, the stamps are a cent or two below the current first-class postage rate. For example, my last roll was 39-cent stamps, and I had to add a 2-cent stamp each time I mailed something. However, the stamps were cheap enough that I was still saving several cents on each mailing.

Since I've never ordered anything from eBay myself, I interviewed Phillip to get the scoop on how he finds these great deals (which he passes on to me!). Read more...

Frugal potluck choices: Our favorite beans and rice

Our favorite beans and rice!

I grew up in a home where beans were rarely served (and then, it was either baked beans or my mom's chili).

Joshua grew up eating lots of beans and rice, and when we got married he told me that beans really weren't his favorite... especially not beans and rice.

We've been married 7 years now and I've really expanded my recipe collection when it comes to beans! I've been able to find lots of yummy meals that include beans and satisfy my husband's taste buds! :)

One such recipe from the past year has been the dreaded... beans and rice. The first night I served beans and rice, I didn't even tell Joshua what I had made for dinner! I just served it up. ;) And as I had hoped... my version of beans and rice was acceptable to him! He actually said it was good!! I was so delighted, since the children and I all love it! :)

I don't have a "real" recipe, but here is how I make my beans and rice:

I cook pinto beans following this recipe. We like our beans nice and tender! :) Adding the salt and Tapatio hot sauce called for in that recipe makes for some fabulous tasting beans!

I cook some rice. Our favorite is basmati rice, which I get in bulk at Costco. But any rice will work! For some extra color in the rice, I sometimes add chives or paprika.

Then I layer the cooked rice, cooked beans, and shredded cheeses. If I'm taking the dish to a potluck, I can easily re-warm this part in the oven.

When serving, I add some sour cream to the top and serve with tortilla chips on the side.

We all love this way of making beans and rice, and I've taken it to our church potlucks many times, since it is affordable and everyone loves it! :)

Our favorite beans and rice!

Here's my price breakdown when making beans and rice for a crowd. And these amounts really will make about 16 servings. :) Prices are from Costco.

2.5 pounds C+F pinto beans      $1.29
Salt and Tapatio hot sauce       $0.05
2.5 cups dry (7.5 cups cooked) Basmati rice      $1.10
4 cups (1 pound) Tillamook shredded cheddar cheese    $2.20
2 cups (16 ounces) Darigold sour cream       $0.90
16 ounces Mission tortilla strips        $1.11

Total cost for 16 servings: $6.65

Reasons we love this beans and rice:

It's easy.
It's affordable.
It's yummy! :)

I don't take this to every potluck though... I still make my cheesy bread for potlucks, and have recently taken homemade pizza (re-warmed in the oven) which was eaten in a flash!! :) I like variety, so it's fun making various things to take. :)

Be sure to visit Jessica's blog for more Frugal Fridays tips and ideas! :)

This recipe was included in my freezer meal plan of main dishes when preparing for the birth of my fourth child. Read my update on how this recipe and the others turned out after freezing!

Fun and frugal things to see and do in the Seattle/Tacoma area

Pike Place Market in Seattle

As I finished up my previous posts about sightseeing in the Seattle area, I wanted to get some reader input on more fun and frugal things to do in the Seattle/Tacoma area!

Peggy asked:

I was wondering if you could make some recommendations on things to do and sites to see while in Seattle. Can you recommend places to shop as well? I enjoy flea markets and farmers markets. We all enjoy Living History museums so we will probably go to Ft. Nisqually.

I loved Pike Place Market in Seattle, which is somewhat like a farmer's market, live musicians, and lots of little shops (used bookstores, tea, musical instruments, spices, and probably a hundred more things we didn't have time to see!). After paying for parking, you can basically explore all over. :) I've bought bananas and some wonderful huge apples for snacking while there... and if you love tea be sure to check out the Vital Leaf tea shop there! :) (Read more here)

The Columbia Center in Seattle was another favorite, with a beautiful view (plus the fun of being transported to the top of a skyscraper!).

The Farmer's Market in Ballard (a north Seattle neighborhood) is well-loved by many but we haven't been there yet.

I've also heard that the Museum of Flight (on the south side of Seattle) is a great one!

We enjoy riding on a ferry (since it's something we have only done a couple times!) and after touring the battleship in Bremerton, we took the Bremerton ferry across to Seattle. (The ferry is cheaper that direction.) You can find all the ferry schedules and fares here. :)

There are lots of nice parks and hiking trails, though we've only explored ones north of Seattle for the most part. :)

So, dear local readers, what do you recommend for the Seattle area? :)

How to figure ingredient costs for from-scratch recipes

After reading my price breakdown for homemade pizza, a reader asked if I'd be willing to share more about how to figure out the cost of food.

Really, it's all in the math. (Why does one of my least favorite things have to be such a part of everyday life?) ;)

1. Figure out the price per ounce/pound/cup/etc.

This is done by dividing the cost of the item by the units in the package/item.

Example: Package of 3 romaine lettuce hearts costs $1.99. Divide by 3 to figure the unit cost of one romaine heart, which would be $0.66.

2. Figure out the price of the amount used in your recipe.

This is done by multiplying the unit cost by the number of units your recipe calls for.

Example: If your recipe calls for one romaine heart, then the cost of the lettuce in your recipe will be $0.66.

Let's do another example:

(Read more...)