Money School

5 Dollar Dinner

Posted by Jean

istock_000008901281xsmallThere are few things I like more than a challenge.  Just ask my husband who heard me take the cable company to task the other night. (Suffice it to say when the Phillies game wasn’t coming in — again —  despite the fact that we paid for the MLB package and the cable company wanted me to give them a three hour window for an appointment, I was having none of it.  They are coming Sunday.  At 8 a.m.) 

Having Erin Chase, the mom behind the popular blog 5DollarDinners.com on my radio show yesterday felt like just that.  A challenge.  Could I make a dinner for four for $5 or less?  Chase explained that her system involves couponing (natch) but also loading up on proteins, the most expensive component of most dinners, when they’re on sale.  When boneless chicken breasts are $1.99 a pound, you don’t just buy a single pack, you buy four.  Ditto ground beef.  Italian sausage.  Whatever your family likes.  The freezer is your friend.

The whole conversation reminded me of my childhood.  My dad was a college professor.  My mom substitute taught.  We had enough money but we certainly didn’t have a lot.  And so my mother was a queen of inexpensive delicious meals.  I don’t remember the entire rotation, but I remember a lot of it.  Tuna and macaroni night.  Chuck steaks that marinated the entire day.  Rigatoni with meat sauce.  My favorite — though —  was Spaghetti and Clams.

Thanks to the canned clams, it’s a $5 dinner I make to this day.  Enjoy.

Elaine’s Spaghetti and Clams

1 lb spaghetti or linguini

2 cans clams with the juice

1/4 cup oil (olive preferable)

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 T parsley (if dried), big handful of chopped (if fresh)

red pepper flakes to taste

salt to taste

1/2 cup white wine or vermouth (whatever you have)

parmesan cheese optional


Cook the spaghetti.  While it’s cooking, in a large skillet, heat oil, add garlic and cook until light brown.  Add clams with juice. Bring to a boil.  Add vermouth or wine.  Season with parsley (dried is fine but use fresh if you have it), red pepper to taste, salt. Lift spaghetti out of the pan when al dente — don’t drain — and put right into the sauce.  You want some of the pasta water in there.  Let it cook down a little.  Taste.  Season.  If you like a creamier sauce add a little Parmesan cheese.  Serve with a simple salad or some steamed broccoli and you’re good to go.