photo by drewzak

DEAR SARA: My sister drew my name for the family Secret Santa and asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I was thinking about working on our stockpile and asking for some of the more expensive stock items, and providing a bunch of ideas. We cook mostly from scratch, and I don't want to ask for anything (like meat) that would need to be refrigerated. What other suggestions could I add to this list of ideas or suggestions? -- Maggie, New England

DEAR MAGGIE: People have their own preferences on what they consider to be pantry staples, but some common higher-priced pantry items include extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, spices, real maple syrup, pure vanilla extract, chocolate, dried fruit, peppercorns, sea salt, fresh herbs, cooking wine, quality honey, coffee, tea and yeast. Here's a standard pantry list you can look over, too. http://frugalvillage.com/pantry-list-othermenu.html The mixes can be homemade.

DEAR SARA: I made a rotisserie chicken tonight. I was wondering whether I could use the leftovers and carcass to make broth for a chicken soup tomorrow. I wouldn't use the skin: It's heavily flavored and pretty dang crispy. But I would like to make a second meal from this. Think it can be done? -- Mickee, Kentucky

DEAR MICKEE: Yes, you can make soup. Think of it as a shortcut from making it from your cooked whole chicken. Separate the meat from the bone, and set it aside. Use a couple of quarts of chicken broth and about a quart of water, and add the chicken carcass and some chopped onion (1 to 2 cups) and celery into the broth, and simmer on low for about 30 minutes. Strain the broth into a large bowl to remove bones. In a stockpot, add a bit of oil and add chopped vegetables of your choice, such as carrots and celery, and saute until they're tender. Add reserved broth to the pot. Add your preferred seasonings, such as thyme or poultry seasoning, egg noodles and chicken meat. Simmer until noodles are cooked.

DEAR SARA: I am new to the frugal lifestyle, so if this seems like an "amateur" question, well, it is. My husband and I have to get our grocery budget down to almost nothing. We are looking at about $45 a week for our groceries. This means that I need to make just about everything from scratch, which I do not mind. My question is, since I can buy a loaf of bread for 99 cents, isn't it cheaper for me to buy that instead of making my own? Every recipe I have seen calls for milk and eggs, and those are both expensive items. I rarely find coupons for either milk or eggs, and I have never been good at slicing up homemade bread, so I doubt I would get anywhere near the same amount of slices. Maybe if I froze the bread and tried slicing it that way, I could get some smaller slices. But I'm still not sure it would save me money. -- Amanda, Washington

DEAR AMANDA: It depends. You'll have to price it out in your area and decide whether it's worth it for you. For some people, homemade bread is best for health and financial reasons; but for others, the savings are minimal. If you buy ingredients in bulk or on sale and make multiple loaves at a time, it will help keep the costs down. But you can look for a bread outlet in your area to pay less for store bread, too. You can control the ingredients in your homemade bread, but you'll also have to take time to make it. A bread machine works out nicely for many people. Homemade bread doesn't require milk and eggs. As far as slicing goes, I wouldn't try to slice it frozen. You need a sharp, serrated knife or an electric knife to cut it thin.