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Colorado Livin' / Health

$10 Dinners: The Denver Post’s third annual economical recipe list

Save money at home. Looking for specials, clipping coupons, buying veggies in season (think asparagus) and being flexible are just a few ways to put your grocery bill on a diet.

The top tips for saving money are the things you already know but might not follow: Buy what’s on special. Clip coupons (really). Shop for food at drugstores, discount grocery stores and big-box stores, where you may find a smaller selection, but cheaper goods (although we found all of our ingredients for these recipes at a Denver-area Safeway). Hit the bulk aisle; you can save half or more on staples like rice, beans and spices. Buy what’s in season — asparagus is cheap and beautiful right now for a reason; tomatoes are not.

Most of all, be flexible: If you’re planning on grilled rib-eyes, but you see that London broil is on sale, forgo the more expensive meat. You can make do: London broil, like many other cheap cuts, is flavorful and easy to handle, and, if you slice and season correctly, just as tender and irresistible.

Go heavy on the vegetables, light on the meat. And buy local, organic, sustainable foods whenever possible. It’s better for the environment, better for the future, better for you. (But if your budget simply doesn’t allow it, don’t beat yourself up over conventional ingredients.)

We assume you have a few of the basics on hand already, such as olive oil, salt and pepper, perhaps a few dried herbs and spices. Beyond that, all you’ll need for dinner is about $10 and a little bit of time. (Bonus: Some of the recipes make enough for leftovers — hello, free lunch.) Tucker Shaw


Baked Orzo With Shrimp, Lemon and Feta

The original recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh thyme. If you have some in your herb garden, go for it. But if all you have is dried thyme in the cupboard, decrease the amount to 1 teaspoon. For added savings, substitute about 3/4 cup frozen, thawed spinach for the 5 ounces of fresh spinach called for in the original recipe. It works nicely (and can save you a couple of bucks at least). If you can afford it, spring for the 3/4 cup of panko bread crumbs that the original recipe calls for. Or, make your own bread crumbs by blitzing three slices of bread (you’ll find this in your pantry) in the food processor until crumbly, then baking on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for about 4 minutes. Adapted from “Big Buy Cooking,” by the editors of Fine Cooking. Serves 6-8.

5      tablespoons olive oil (pantry)
1      pound medium shrimp
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (pantry)
1      large clove garlic
3/4   cup frozen organic leaf spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1      pound orzo
6      ounces crumbled feta cheese
2      teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried (pantry)
Finely grated zest of 1 organic lemon
3/4   cup bread crumbs (pantry)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Lightly coat a 2-quart baking dish with oil.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the shrimp, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the shrimp start to lose their raw color (but don’t cook through), about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in the spinach and cook, tossing, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions until al dente. Drain well and toss with the shrimp mixture, feta, 2 tablespoons oil, half the thyme and lemon zest. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. In a small bowl, toss the bread crumbs with the remaining tablespoon oil, the remaining thyme and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Sprinkle on top of the pasta.
Bake the pasta until the bread crumbs brown, about 20 minutes (cover with foil if the top browns too quickly). Let cool for a couple of minutes and then serve.

Whole Wheat Pasta Bake With Garlicky Broccoli (vegetarian)

This is one of those all-in recipes, where you check out what’s in the fridge and toss things in accordingly. Got some leftover cheddar or jack cheese? Shred it and toss it in. Got some parmesan? Grate it over the top. Got a can of chickpeas? Toss ’em in. A handful of pitted olives? Chop them up and stir them in with the tomatoes. And if you have a half-cup of bread crumbs lying around, sprinkle them over the top before you bake. Serves 4 with lunch leftovers for 2.

1    pound whole wheat pasta
1    teaspoon olive oil (pantry)
1    green pepper, chopped
1    medium organic onion, chopped
2    cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1    can (28 ounces) crushed organic tomatoes
1    cup (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella
1    teaspoon olive oil (pantry)
2    cloves garlic, smashed and minced (pantry)
1    bunch organic broccoli, florets and stems chopped
Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain. Preheat oven to 350.

Meanwhile, in a large, deep oven-proof skillet over medium heat, cook olive oil, green pepper and onion until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, and cook until just heated through. Stir in the cooked pasta and 3/4 cup of the shredded cheese. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top.

Slide skillet into the oven and bake until cheese is brown and bubbly on the top, about 20 minutes.

Faux-Palomilla With Rice, Beans and Greens

By adapting the traditional palomilla flavors (lime and garlic) to a London broil, rather than a flank steak, the tally for this dinner came in much cheaper. The key to making this recipe work is in the slicing: Create very thin slices against the grain of the meat for tender bites. Otherwise, you’ll be chewing aimlessly all night. Serves 4 with leftovers for 2. Total spent: $10.06

1    head garlic
1    London broil steak, about 1 1/2 pounds
Salt and pepper (pantry)
3    limes, cut into wedges
1    large juice orange, cut into wedges
2    tablespoons olive oil (pantry)
1    large organic onion, sliced
1    bunch organic parsley

2    cups uncooked rice
Drizzle olive oil (pantry)
1 (2 5-ounce) can black or kidney beans

1    package frozen turnip or mustard greens, thawed and squeezed dry
Drizzle olive oil (pantry)
Drizzle red wine vinegar (pantry)
A  few red pepper flakes (pantry)

Marinate steak: Separate garlic cloves, and smash and peel six cloves. Make six small slits in the steak, about 1 inch deep, and stuff the garlic into them. Salt and pepper the steak thoroughly, rubbing seasoning into the meat, and place in plastic Ziploc bag. Squeeze wedges from two limes into the bag, and toss the wedges in after. Do the same with the orange. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Seal bag and marinate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Make rice and beans: Cook rice according to package directions. Stir in beans and keep warm.

Cook the steak: Remove steak from marinade, reserving marinade. In large, ovenproof skillet over high heat, sear steak on both sides until browned, about 3 minutes on each side. Remove steak to plate. Add remaining tablespoon olive oil and onions to same skillet (do not clean skillet) and cook until beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add reserved marinade to skillet and cook until reduced by half. Return steak to pan, placing on top of onions. Turn heat down to low and cover the pan to finish cooking steak through, about 5 more minutes. Remove to cutting board, and allow to rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Make the greens: In medium skillet, stir together greens, olive oil, red wine vinegar and pepper flakes, cooking until heated through. Keep warm.

Serve: Slice steak thinly against the grain. Pile rice and beans onto serving plate, place greens around sides of plate, then lay steak slices on top of rice and pour onions and reduced marinade over all. Garnish with remaining lime wedges and parsley, and serve.

Kusherie (Egyptian Lentils)

This vegetarian recipe is adapted from “The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook,” by Erin Chase. Prices are as recorded by the author, and reflect coupon savings and bulk purchases.

1    cup elbow macaroni (49 cents)
1    cup brown rice (40 cents)
1    cup green lentils (40 cents)
1    green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced (79 cents)
4    tablespoons canola or vegetable oil (16 cents)
1    can (15 ounces) organic tomato sauce (24 cents)
1    can (6 ounces) tomato paste ($0.33)
1    tablespoon brown sugar (5 cents)
2    tablespoons ground cumin (20 cents)
Salt and pepper
1    teaspoon garlic powder (5 cents)
1    white onion (30 cents)
Clear off stovetop. You will need to use several saucepans and skillets to prepare this meal.

In a saucepan, cook the elbow macaroni according to the package directions. Drain and set aside.

In another saucepan, cook the brown rice according to the package directions.

In another saucepan, cook the lentils, with about 4 cups of water, on medium-high heat for 20 minutes. If the water levels get too low, add a cup or so more of water. The lentils are ready when they are soft. Drain off any excess water. Combine the cooked brown rice and lentils in the pot the lentils are cooked in.

In a small skillet, saute the diced bell peppers in 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the tomato sauce, and stir in the brown sugar, ground cumin, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Let simmer about 10 minutes. When the sauce has finished cooking, pour it into a bowl. Rinse skillet and reuse to brown the onions.

Slice the onions into strips, and place in a skillet with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Fry over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until browned and caramelized.

Add a few spoonfulls of sauce to the cooked macaroni. Place in large serving dish. Add the brown rice and lentil mixture next to the macaroni in the serving dish. Top with the remaining tomato sauce and the caramelized onions. Serve with carrot sticks.

Succulent Braised Pork

Recipe from Melissa d’Arabian, from the Food Network Series “Ten Dollar Dinners,” available at The recipe doesn’t include prices, but you’ll likely have enough left over after buying ingredients to spend on sweet potatoes or some whole-grain barley tossed with chickpeas and thawed frozen spinach.

2       pounds pork shoulder, cut into 6 large chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2       tablespoons olive oil
1       onion, chopped
2       celery stalks, chopped
1       carrot, chopped
1       clove garlic, roughly chopped
2       tablespoons tomato paste
2       tablespoons all-purpose flour
1       cup red wine
1 1/2   cups beef stock or broth
1       bunch parsley stems, tied with string
2       bay leaves
1       cup water
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Pat the pork dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brown the meat on all sides until a golden crust forms. Transfer the pork to a plate. To the pan add the onion, celery and carrot, and sweat until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, and sweat another 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, and cook for 3 minutes to cook off the raw flavor and caramelize it. Sprinkle with the flour and cook another 2 minutes to cook off its raw flavor. Whisk in the wine and reduce it by half. Return the pork to the Dutch oven, then stir in the beef stock, parsley stems and bay leaves. Add the water if liquid does not come up to the top of the pork. Do not cover the pork with liquid. Cover the pan and place it in the oven to braise until the meat is fork-tender, about 3 hours. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if needed. Transfer to a serving platter and serve.

Weekday Cassoulet w/ Garlic Bread Crumbs

Recipe from Melissa d’Arabian, available at The recipe doesn’t include prices but using chicken thighs instead of breasts keeps it cheap, leaving you enough for a baguette to sop up the sauce. Makes 4 servings.

4      bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, cut in half through the bone
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2    pound slab bacon, sliced into large lardons (if your butcher does not carry slab bacon, use bacon that you’ve chopped into 1/2-inch pieces)
1      large onion, chopped
3      celery stalks, chopped
2      carrots, chopped
4      cloves garlic, minced
1/2    cup white wine
2      cups cooked Northern white beans (or one can, about 15.5 ounces)
1      bay leaf
2      teaspoons dried thyme
1/2   cup chicken stock
1      tomato, sliced very thinly
garlic bread crumbs, (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Rinse and dry the chicken well and season with salt and pepper. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes.

In a large Dutch oven, over medium-low heat, add the bacon and slowly render the fat. Remove the bacon to a plate when crispy, leaving the fat in the pan. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the chicken, skin side down. Brown the chicken on both sides and then remove to a plate. Add the onion, celery, carrots and garlic and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with white wine and reduce by half. Stir in the beans, bay leaf and thyme. Nestle the chicken thighs and bacon into the pot. Add the chicken stock, cover and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the lid and top the cassoulet with sliced tomatoes and the garlic bread crumbs. Return to the oven and bake, uncovered, 15 minutes longer.

Garlic Bread Crumbs

2    tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1    clove garlic, minced
3    slices slightly stale or dried bread, pulsed into crumbs in food processor
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


In a small saute pan over low heat, add the oil and the garlic. Stir until the oil is fragrant, about 1 minute. Toss in the bread crumbs and cook until the bread crumbs start to turn golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and remove from heat.

Curried Chicken and Rice Casserole

From “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Well on a Budget,” by Lucy Beale and Jessica Partridge (Alpha). The original recipe calls for chicken breasts, which would be delicious, but we’ve substituted chicken thighs because they are cheaper. Prices are not included in the recipe, but you’ll have enough left over for a side of frozen spinach, thawed and sauteed. Serves 4.

2      tablespoons olive oil
8      boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
1/4   cup water
1      cup apple juice
1      tablespoon curry powder
3/4   cup uncooked brown rice
1/2   cup raisins
1      carrot, shredded
1      apple, seeded and peeled and diced
1      cup low-fat plain yogurt
Preheat oven to 350. Lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange chicken in a single layer in the baking dish.

In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, water, apple juice and curry powder.

Add rice, raisins, carrots and apples to the baking dish and cover with apple juice mixture. Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes. Top with yogurt. Serve immediately.

Honey-Mustard Salmon with Brown Rice and Asparagus

This recipe is adapted from “The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook,” by Erin Chase. Prices are as recorded by the author, and reflect coupon savings and bulk purchases.

3    tablespoons honey ($0.20)
3    tablespoons yellow mustard ($0.05)
4    frozen salmon fillets, 4 to 6 ounces each, thawed ($3.00)
1    cup brown rice ($0.40)
1    pound asparagus ($0.99)
2    tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil ($0.20)
In a small bowl, whisk together the honey and mustard until well blended.

Place the salmon fillets in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pour the honey- mustard sauce over the salmon. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

In medium saucepan, bring 2 1/2 cups of water to a boil, add the brown rice, and bring back to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 40 to 50 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork before serving.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the salmon for 10 to 15 minutes or until the fillets flake easily. The cooking time may vary depending on the thickness of the fillets.

In a skillet, saute the asparagus in olive oil for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring every other minute. The asparagus will be tender-crisp and turn bright green when it is ready. Remove the asparagus from the heat immediately to prevent overcooking.

Apricot Glazed Turkey Thighs

From “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Eating Well on a Budget,” by Lucy Beale and Jessica Partridge (Alpha). Prices are not included in the recipe, but turkey thighs are cheap, so you should have enough left over for roasted sweet potatoes to go with this. Serves 4.

2     tablespoons olive oil
2     turkey thighs, about 2 1/2pounds total
1     green bell pepper, diced
1     cup frozen green beans
1/2   cup apricot jam
1     teaspoon salt
1     tablespoon lemon pepper (or 1 tablespoon pepper plus a few gratings of fresh lemon peel)
1/4   cup water
1/4   cup apple juice


Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium- high heat. Brown turkey for 5 minutes on each side.

Reduce heat to medium. Add bell pepper, green beans, jam, salt, lemon pepper, water and apple juice. Stir well. Simmer about 15 minutes. Serve hot.

-Article by Tucker Shaw. Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon | The Denver Post

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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