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updated: 4/3/2013 11:09 AM

Frugal living: Food baskets a practical gift for any occasion

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Recipe gifts are wonderful because all the ingredients are included. While many recipe gifts are for baked goods, you can make a gift basket that includes ingredients for almost anything. Make a food basket with snack items or ingredients for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Don't wait for a special occasion; surprise a busy friend or family member anytime.

The first reader tip shares a recipe gift idea:

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Recipe gift: My son gave a great one that I'll never forget. I coveted his girlfriend's mother's pasta sauce, so he got the recipe and reprinted it, then put it and all of the ingredients in a basket. Very thoughtful!

Cheryl, Massachusetts

Replace tomatoes when they are out of season: I love tomato powder. I get mine from the Spice House. I've used it for homemade barbecue sauce and a ketchup substitute. I've added it to soup and sauces, too. You can find recipes for using it at the Spice House website, as well at Emergency Essentials.

The small jar at the Spice House will give you enough to test without spending a lot of money, so you can see if it works for you. I now keep a No. 10 can of tomato powder on hand. I keep the jar stored in the refrigerator, because it's a dry environment due to the frost-free feature. There are NO anti-caking ingredients in the powder; it's pure tomato powder. I also put a silica gel packet in the jar to absorb moisture. Make sure you don't leave the jar open in a humid kitchen.

Here are a few uses for tomato powder:

• For thick tomato paste, mix three parts water with one part tomato powder.

• For tomato sauce, mix four parts water with one part tomato powder.

• For pizza sauce: I mix three teaspoons tomato powder with three tablespoons water. I add a shot of vinegar and a little sweetener (for me, that's agave nectar or honey), as well as some Italian or pizza spices.

Karen, Kansas

Baked-on foods: I have 40-year-old stainless pots that have survived several bouts of burned-on food without being cleaned with noxious-fume cleansers, even after a inch of chili was inadvertently left in one on a low-cook setting. They look and cook as if brand new!

My tip: Simply cover the gunk lightly with baking soda, add about a half-inch of water, put it on the stove on low heat and watch as the simmering solution lifts the particles. You must watch to make sure it doesn't boil over. After a few minutes, set aside to cool somewhat, then gently scrape off with a spoon or spatula. Repeat as needed until you can easily remove any remainder with a plastic scrubber.

B. Fender, email

Reuse plastic ice-cream tubs: I love these containers! I use a couple for compost, holding kitchen scraps until I can carry them to my compost heap.

Michele, email

Dilute juice: Having worked as a chair-side dental assistant, I can tell you that it's good to water down juice for kids. The citric acid and sugar are too much for their little teeth. My 5-year-old grandson still drinks watered-down juice at my house.

Diana, email

Taco tip: When making tacos, use hamburger patties for the meat. Cut the hamburger patty in half and place it cut-side-down on the fold of the taco shell. The meat won't squirt out the other end of the taco when you bite down.

C.L., Mississippi

Cooking tip: If fixing something like a fried egg or grilled cheese on the stovetop, completely cook on one side, then turn the stove off to cook the other side.

Niko, Florida

Stretch ground beef with celery: Cut the celery very thin and cook it up with the ground beef. It will take on the texture and flavor of the beef, and you will have a hard time telling the difference.

Sabrel, Indiana

• 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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