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Make yourself $10 dinners, Vail Valley

Tucker Shaw
The Denver Post
Vail, CO Colorado
Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver PostIngredients: Baked Orzo with Shrimp, Lemon and Feta: 1 head garlic: $0.59, 1 pound orzo: $1.25, 6 ounces crumbled feta cheese: $1.99, 1 pund medium shrimp, on sale: $4.84, 10 ounces spinach: $1.69, 1 organic lemon: $0.60. Total $10.96.
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VAIL, Colorado –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.)

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.

Ingredients

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.

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.

Ingredients

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

BROCCOLI

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.

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.

Ingredients

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.

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.

Ingredients

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

Directions

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.


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