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$10 recipes for a family of four & tips for spending less

You’ve noticed: Food prices are creeping back up. The timing couldn’t be worse — tax day looms, and gas prices are sky-high.

Don’t resign yourself to freeze-dried noodles! Choose one of these cheap suppers instead. If you shop carefully and spend wisely, each of these recipes will serve four people for around $10 — give or take a buck or two.

Note:To hit the $10(ish) mark, we assume you’ll have a few items on hand — a drizzle of oil, a tablespoon of butter, a few dried herbs and spices, salt and pepper. One bunch of parsley or head of garlic can be used across several recipes. Buy individual carrots, not bags. Look for pasta on sale. Buy couscous in bulk, not a box. Swap chuck for cheaper top round. Vegetable stock was homemade with parings. Bread was day-old. Shrimp was on special.

Food prices change — sometimes by the day — so the $10 target moves fast. What’s cheap now may be pricey later, or the other way around. Below, you will find eight recipes for feeding a family of four for under $10. Scroll down to the bottom to find our fifteen tips for spending less.


Chicken With Couscous, Honey and Cinnamon

Reprinted with permission from “River Cottage Every Day” by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, copyright 2009 (Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.) Serves 4. Photo: Simon Wheeler, 2009, provided by Ten Speed Press.

1 cup blanched almonds
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups couscous
2 tablespoons honey
About 2 1/4cups boiling water or stock
About 2 cups chopped cold cooked chicken
Zest of 1 lemon
A good squeeze or two of lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or mint

Put the almonds in a dry frying pan, and toast over medium heat, tossing occasionally, until golden brown. Let cool, then chop very coarsely.

Heat the oil in a small saucepan, add the onion, garlic and some salt and pepper, and cook gently for about 10 minutes, until softened. Add the cinnamon, then take off the heat and stir in couscous.

Stir the honey into the boiling water or stock until dissolved, then pour over the couscous (it should just cover it), and put a tight-fitting lid on the pan. Let stand for 10 minutes, until the couscous has absorbed all the liquid. Fluff with a fork, transfer to a bowl, and let cool. Toss the chicken pieces, almonds, lemon zest and lemon juice into the couscous and season to taste. Finish with a sprinkling of parsley or mint and a good grinding of black pepper.


Shredded Beef (Machaca)
Recipe from “Quick & Easy Mexican Cooking,” by Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee (Chronicle). Look for specials and substitute London Broil, top round or another cheap cut of beef. Makes 5 cups, enough for 4 servings plus leftovers.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds chuck roast or top round, cut into 3-inch chunks (look for specials)
1 onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeño pepper, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat vegetable oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Sear beef until it’s browned on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper, jalapeño and garlic, and saute until fragrant, an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Add 2 quarts of water, the lime juice, oregano, cumin and chili powder, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and cook for 1 hour.

Strain the broth, reserving 1 cup and saving the rest for another use.

In a large bowl, carefully shred the meat with two forks. Pour in the 1 cup broth, add the cilantro, and toss. Serve with tortillas or taco shells.

Tilapia With Peppers and Olives

From “Dinner Tonight: Done.” (Real Simple). Serves 4. Photo by Jose Picayo, Provided by Real Simple

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tilapia fillets (6 ounces each)
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup pitted green olives
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Season the tilapia with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and cook until opaque throughout, 4 to 5 minutes per side.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a second large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the bell peppers and onion, stirring often, until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the olives, parsley, lime juice and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Serve with the fish.

Pasta Cacciatore

Adapted from “The Woman’s Day Everyday Cookbook,” by the editors of Woman’s Day (Filipacchi). The original recipe calls for chicken breast; substitute thighs to save a few bucks. Serves 6.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut in bite-sized pieces
12 ounces short fusilli pasta
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper, cut in 3/4-inch pieces
1 package (10 ounces) sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3/4 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 can diced tomatoes in sauce
1 cup mixed marinated olives, pitted and chopped
1/3 cup chopped parsley
Grated parmesan or similar hard, salty cheese for garnish
1 teaspoon salt

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium- high heat. Sprinkle the chicken with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add to skillet and saute 2 to 3 minutes until lightly browned but not fully cooked. Remove to a plate.

Stir pasta into boiling water; cook as package directs.

Meanwhile, add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, the onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, garlic, seasoning, crushed red pepper and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt to skillet. Cook, stirring often, 5 minutes or until liquid evaporates and vegetables begin to brown. Add 3/4 cup cooking water from pasta pot to skillet. Stir in tomatoes and olives. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, 8 minutes.

Drain pasta. Add parsley and chicken to skillet, and simmer 2 to 3 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Return pasta to pot, add chicken sauce, and toss to coat. Serve with grated cheese.

Per serving: Calories 480, fat 17g (Sat fat 2g), cholesterol 44mg, sodium 1586mg, carbs 55g, fiber 4g, protein 27g


Penne Puttanesca

From “Woman’s Day Everyday Cookbook,” by the editors of Woman’s Day Magazine (Fili- pacchi). Serves 4 with leftovers.

1 pound penne pasta
1 can (5 ounces) tuna in olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup pitted olives, halved
2 tablespoons drained capers
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Chopped parsley for garnish

Cook pasta in lightly salted boiling water as package directs.

Meanwhile, pour 2 teaspoons oil from tuna into a large nonstick skillet, and heat over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute until fragrant.

Stir in tomatoes, olives, capers and pepper; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat; simmer 5 minutes for flavors to blend. Stir in tuna.

Drain pasta, return to pot. Add sauce and parsley; toss.

Calories 403, Total Fat 7g (Sat fat 1g), Cholesterol 15mg, Sodium 611mg, Carbs 66g, Protein 18g


Ribollita (vegetarian)

From “Tuscany,” (Phaidon). Save time by using canned beans; you’ll need two cans. If kale or collards are cheaper at your store, substitute those for chard. Serves 4-6. Photo by Edward Park, provided by Phaidon.

2 3/4 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight in water to cover and drained
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2-3 carrots, chopped
2 potatoes, diced
1-2 zucchini, sliced
1 bunch Swiss chard leaves, shredded
1 Savoy or green cabbage, shredded
1 sprig flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 day-old loaf rustic bread, very thinly sliced
Salt and pepper

Put the beans into a large pan, pour in water to cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in another large pan. Add the onion, celery, carrots, potatoes and zucchini, and cook over very low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Season with salt, add the Swiss chard and cabbage, and cook, stirring, for a few minutes. Cover the pan.

Drain beans, reserving half the cooking liquid. Press half the beans through a sieve into a bowl, then stir the puree into the pan of vegetables. Add the reserved cooking liquid, and simmer for 1 hour. Add the remaining whole beans and parsley and simmer for another 1-1 1/2 hours.

Remove soup from heat, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Make a layer of bread slices in a tureen, and ladle some soup over it. Continue making alternate layers of bread and soup until all ingredients have been used, then let stand until bread is completely soaked. Serve immediately.

Paprika Chicken With Hummus

Adapted from “Chicken and Egg,” by Janice Cole (Chronicle Books). The original recipe calls for chicken breast, but chicken thighs are generally cheaper. Check the cupboard for the spices — if they aren’t fresh, you may want to use more than called for here. If you don’t find any, visit a specialty spice store and purchase only what you need. Serves 4. Photo by Alex Farnum, provided by Chronicle Books.

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 6-8)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup prepared hummus
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Put the chicken between two sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Pound with the flat side of a meat mallet, a heavy pan, or a rolling pin until the chicken is flattened evenly and about 1/2-inch thick. Stir together the cumin, smoked paprika, salt and pepper, and rub over both sides of the chicken.

Stir together hummus, sweet paprika and turmeric in a small microwave-safe bowl until well mixed. Stir in water (this helps lighten the mixture).

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and heat the oil. Saute the chicken, in batches if necessary, for 6 to 8 minutes, reducing the heat to medium if cooking too fast, until the chicken is golden brown and no longer pink in the center, turning once.

Meanwhile, cover the hummus mixture, and microwave on high for 45-60 seconds, or until warm.

To serve, spoon the hummus onto individual plates or a platter. Place the chicken on top.


Cajun Shrimp and Rice

From “Food Network Magazine: Great Easy Meals,” by the editors of Food Network Magazine (Hyperion). This dish is a great way to use up leftover rice. Serves 4. Photo: Antonis Achilleos, provided by Food Network Magazine


1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
2 bunches scallions, chopped
3 cups cooked white rice
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Lemon wedges for serving (optional)

Heat the butter, olive oil and garlic in a large skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the Cajun seasoning and shrimp, and cook, stirring, until the shrimp begin to curl, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the tomatoes and scallions to the skillet and cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Add the rice and 1/4 cup water, and continue to cook until the rice is warmed through and the shrimp are opaque, about 3 more minutes. Stir in the parsley, and serve with lemon, if desired.

Calories 357, Fat 11g (Sat fat 3g), Cholesterol 176mg, Sodium 537mg, Carbohydrate 40g, Fiber 3g, Protein 23g.

Fifteen tips for spending less

Shop the bulk aisle:

Nuts, grains, beans and rice are generally much cheaper when purchased in bulk. Ditto spices, honey and salt. Plus, you pay for only what you need.

Choose the cheap cuts:

Shoulder cuts, chuck roasts, chicken thighs are still cheaper than marquee cuts like sirloins and breasts. In general (not always), cheap cuts are more flavorful, but require longer cook times.

Eat seasonally:

Asparagus is crazy-cheap right now because it’s in season. Ditto artichokes. If you’re determined to eat a butternut squash in April, you’ll pay for it.

Buy generic:

This doesn’t apply to every product in the store, but many store- brand basics like sugar and rice are much cheaper than big names — and not much different.

Don’t ignore organic:

The price discrepancy among some organic foods is beginning to flatten out. Shop around — you may be able to save money and buy more conscientiously too.

Go green:

Green peppers are way cheaper than red or yellow peppers. They may not be as pretty but they’re just as flavorful and healthful.

Flavor first, specifics second:

Craving a spicy beef salad? Stick to your spice-guns, but be willing to swap out beef for pork or chicken, if it’s cheaper. Ditto produce: If your recipe calls for chard, but kale’s on sale, be nimble.

Plan, and re-plan:

Unused groceries and uneaten leftovers are major drags on your bottom line. Plan for exactly how you’ll use that entire bag of carrots or pint of sour cream, before you put it in your cart.


Roast a chicken for Sunday dinner. Turn the leftovers into a chicken salad for Monday lunch. Make a stock with the carcass for risotto midweek. One chicken, three meals.

Get in the (grocery) pool:

Single folks can shop with a buddy — splitting up cartons of eggs, bags of onions or too-big jars of dried spices — so nothing goes to waste.

Make stock:

Use peelings and offcuts of carrots, onions, celery, garlic, greens and so forth to make a quick and tasty vegetable stock, rather than buying a pre-fab quart.


Before you go out and buy a new jar of Italian seasoning, check the recesses of your cupboards. If you have old spices, don’t toss them — just use a little more.

Cheese cheats:

Parmigiano-Reggiano is delicious, but many other hard, salty cheeses will work in its place, like pecorino romano, piave, asiago. Shop around: These cheeses aren’t always cheaper, but sometimes they are. Also, many cheese displays now have an off-cuts bin, where you can grab 1 or 2-ounce portions for a steal.

Go farm-fresh:

Most area farmers markets won’t gear up until June, but a few — Boulder and Cherry Creek among them— are either underway now or will be by early May. On some items you’ll get a good bang for your buck; and fresh goods always taste better.

Take coupons seriously:

Go old-school, and clip coupons, or go new-school, and search for coupons online. (Tip: Visit your supermarket’s website — e.g. or — and look for a “coupon” link.) They really can save you money.

Tucker Shaw

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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