From the food editor: Mother of six shares recipes for family dinners under $10

In past years, the Cook of the Week Challenge's budget challenge provided contestants with $20 and one frozen or canned vegetable. When one of the 2013 contestants was able to add a bottle of wine to his grocery purchase, I started wondering if $20 really posed such a challenge. As the mother to two growing boys, $20 sure seemed like a challenge to me.

So when Jessica Fisher's new book "Good Cheap Eats" landed on my desk recently, I knew I had to lower the bar. In her book, Fisher, a wife and mother of six who coupon-clipped her way out of debt, shares 200 recipes that come together for $10 or less. Seriously $10.

Her trick isn't coupons. It's smart shopping.

"It's about finding out who has the best prices," says Fisher, who makes her home in the San Diego area and agreed to join this week's judging panel for the budget recipes. She says the menus in the book are designed around one-stop shopping.

"If you don't have the mindset to clip coupons or chase sales, you should survey the handful of places you do shop and know what the prices are for the things you buy the most," she says. Of course, if you see a great price on canned beans or another nonperishable item, stock up.

She suggests planning menus and shopping once a month.

"I know it sounds daunting. Project what you will need in a month - barring milk and produce. It keeps you out of the store buying things you don't need."

Her recipes don't skip meat, but they show you how to stretch it. Buy beef tri-tip, for instance, then slice it for tacos instead of serving it as a center-of-the-plate steak. Shrimp gets tossed with pasta and cilantro or stirred into Cajun-spiced rice and sausage.

Tips are scattered throughout the book. Cook a 5 pound bag of dried beans in a slow cooker and you'll end up with the equivalent of 15 cans of beans. Freeze in 2-cup portions and your cost is about 33 cents, 50 to 75 percent cheaper than canned beans.

Head to Fisher's website,, to read her blogs and check out even more tips and recipes.

Top tomato: A few weeks ago when contestants in our Cook of the Week Challenge were busy pulling together recipes for the BLT mystery basket challenge, I was at the judges table for a tomato contest of a similar sort.

Earlier this summer, NatureSweet invited home cooks to submit tomato-centric recipes to its website. It selected three women to compete in a live cook-off under a tent in the parking lot at the Jewel-Osco store on Roselle Road in Schaumburg, It marked the second time the contest has rolled into the suburbs since its inception in 2003. The three cooks pulled ingredients from a common pantry and came up with wildly different recipes.

Julie Beckwith of Crete won the $2,000 grand prize in the Glorys Tomatoes Chef's Challenge after impressing the judges, including me, with her Rustic Margherita Pizza. We agreed the pesto made with skillet roasted tomatoes pushed her recipe to the top.

Don't let tomato season slip by without judging it for yourself.

• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend at for follow her on Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter @PankeysPlate.

Grilled Rustic Margherita Pizza with Pan-Roasted Tomato Pesto

Julie Beckwith of Crete came in first place with her Rustic Margherita Pizza at a recent cooking contest sponsored by NatureSweet Glorys Tomatoes. Courtesy of NatureSweet
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