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updated: 9/7/2011 12:02 PM

Make handy holiday mixes

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Homemade mixes are frugal and easy to make. You can make them to stock your pantry or give them as gifts. You can find a large variety of homemade mixes and gifts-in-a-jar recipes on my community forums ( Just search "mixes." Recipes include: master baking mixes, spice blends, dips, flavored coffees, soups, brownies, stuffing, popcorn flavoring, salad dressings and chicken coating. The first reader tip shares a taco seasoning mix to get you started.

Homemade taco seasoning: I recently was out of taco seasoning mix. I had been using ⅓ of an envelope package per batch of tacos. So I made my own using 1 tablespoon chili powder and ⅛ tablespoon ground cumin. I browned 1 pound of ground meat and cup chopped onion. I added the seasonings and ⅓ cup water to the browned meat and onion. I let it simmer for 10 minutes. Voila! I had tacos that tasted good, cost less than the $1.29 packet of taco mix, and did not have any chemical additives.

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Jane S., Iowa

Frugal wedding favor: My favorite cheap wedding favor is a small bag of the couple's favorite trail mix with a tag that says "perfect mix." Here are some more great ideas: individual boxes with ingredients to "make your own smores"; plastic cake decorating bags filled with hot chocolate and topped with just the right amount of marshmallows; premade drink mix of any kind, such as iced tea or lemonade, and a decorative stirrer or a plastic light-up ice cube at the top of the bag. Happy favoring!

Renee, email

Storage method: My neighbor introduced me to her recipe for homemade ground whole-wheat bread. She also taught me how to store the ingredients. She used the dry ice method. I had a large, broken-down freezer chest in which I placed sacks of grain and other dry baking supplies. I just placed the sacks in the chest with dry ice on top and closed the lid. By using more dry ice every six months, or each time I purchased new supplies, I never had any problem with weevils or other insect infestations again. With smaller purchases, I use square glass or plastic bottles and break up the dry ice and place a small piece in each bottle. I cover the bottle with a tight-fitting lid. The bottles fit nicely in my cupboard and seem to keep fresh forever.

Peggy, Washington

Office munchies: If your co-workers like to eat out together, suggest a potluck. One reader, Libby from Canada, shares: "To have a change or switch-up for lunch, a few of the girls at work and I do a potluck. One person will bring enough food for all three of us to share and we take turns doing this.

It's fun to eat something that you didn't make; it makes you feel like you got out and tried something different and you didn't have to pay for it."

• Send tips or questions to Sara Noel at or 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

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