Good and Cheap: Downloadable Cook Book

 cheap and good salad

(This story appeared on NPR August 1, 2014)
Download Book: Cheap and Good

When Leanne Brown moved to New York from Canada to earn a master’s in food studies at New York University, she couldn’t help noticing that Americans on a tight budget were eating a lot of processed foods heavy in carbs.

“It really bothered me,” she says. “The 47 million people on food stamps — and that’s a big chunk of the population — don’t have the same choices everyone else does.”

Brown guessed that she could help people in SNAP, the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, find ways to cook filling, nourishing and flavorful meals. So she set out to write a cookbook full of recipes anyone could make on a budget of just $4 a day.

The result is Good and Cheap, which is free online and has been downloaded over 200,000 times since she posted it on her website in early June. A July Kickstarter campaign also helped Brown raise $145,000 to print copies for people without computer access.

So what are Brown’s secrets to eating well on $4 a day? It’s about stocking the pantry with cheap basics to build meals from: things like garlic, canned vegetables, dried beans and butter.

She also emphasizes flexibility, and avoids prescribing strict meals and methods. That means lots of options for substitutions, especially when it comes to the produce aisle, where prices can fluctuate based on season and availability. Each meal is priced out by serving.

Earlier this week, Deborahmichelle Sanders, 63, of San Francisco turned to the cookbook and found an intriguing recipe: cornmeal crusted vegetables with an Asian-inspired peanut sauce for dipping.

Since she couldn’t afford the suggested beans or peppers, she tried carrots. The result? “It’s so wonderful,” she tells The Salt.

SNAP currently provides 46.2 million low-income people like Sanders with a monthly average stipend for food of $126 in the form of a debit card. They can take it to the grocery store, pick out their food and swipe the card at the register.

SNAP has no equivalent in Brown’s home country of Canada; its public assistance programs are more flexible, she says. And she wasn’t impressed with what she found when she went looking for resources for people in the U.S. program on how to cook well with the benefits.

“Tons of organizations are doing amazing, useful work, but usually their recipes can sound sort of preachy, or else they’re very governmental,” she says. Brown thinks the cookbooks that exist try to tell people the right way to live their lives — explaining what exactly they should eat and how exactly they should prepare it — and that often turns them off to the recipes.

“As much as a recipe book, [Brown’s book] is an idea book,” says Brenda Mahoney of Dallas, another woman in SNAP who’s using the book. In fact, some of Good and Cheap’s pages come with exactly that label: “ideas.”

One page, titled “Leftovers,” offers tips on the myriad ways to make good use of old meals, like putting the fixings you originally used to top toast in a wrap or on a pizza, or turning almost anything into a sandwich. Another called “Popcorn!” recommends livening up the familiar snack by adding spices.

Good and Cheap is also filled with beautiful photos — a visual feast, especially compared with the other recipe books tailored to people in SNAP.
A portrait of the SNAP cookbook author, Leanne Brown. i

Take the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals. Orange lines and black bullet points fill up entire pages, with equally uninspiring sketches on the side.

And compare their Turkey Cabbage Casserole to Brown’s Savory Summer Cobbler, which both Sanders and Mahoney cite as their favorite dish. Even the name draws a reader to the recipe, which features seasonal vegetables under a peppery biscuit crust. The lush photo that accompanies it on the page doesn’t hurt.

“You choose what vegetables you want, so I used tomato and a green-striped crookneck squash, which was the cheapest I could find,” says Sanders. “It is so, so good.”

Mahoney agrees.

“My kids loved the recipe,” she says.

Mahoney cooks for her two children and herself, much like Mia Pickering, who lives in Seattle with her two teenagers. Sanders, Mahoney and Pickering have all been on SNAP for a number of years, and they say Good and Cheap, which they discovered online, works better for them than anything else they’ve been able to find. And that’s important when what they can cook determines how well they and their families can eat.

“Cooking is definitely more economical and healthier than buying premade foods,” says Mahoney.

Pickering thinks so, too. For her, it’s easier to cook fresh than heat up frozen meals. It means she and her children throw less food away and exercise better portion control.

“Many authors have tried hard to come up with cheap meals, but they taste so bad. Leanne is so gifted. It’s just incredible,” says Sanders.

Sanders has been cooking since the eighth grade, so that’s not a snap judgment.

Read More

Chicken and Brown Rice

½ raw chicken,
bone in, cut into 4 pieces
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled, chopped
1 ½ cups **brown rice
2 cups veg,, chicken, beef broth, or water
½  teaspoon dry oregano
½ teaspoon dry thyme
½  teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon salt or seasoning
2 cups water

Mix spices & sprinkle over the chicken, front and back. Heat a large skillet or pot & place the chicken in skin side down. Brown the chicken on both sides (at medium heat) 10-15 minutes.

While it is browning, peel and chop onions & carrots. When the chicken is brown, set aside & drain off some fat until there’s about a tablespoon left. Cook the onion in the fat. When the onion is soft, add the rice, carrots, broth, water, & salt.  Set the chicken pieces on top of the rice, cover the pan, and cook on low heat 30 minutes. Stir the rice around.  Replace the lid & cook 20 minutes more or until rice is tender. Set the pan off the heat and let it sit, covered, for 10 minutes. Taste the rice and adjust the seasoning if needed.

(With white rice, reduce water by ½ cup & skip the last 20 minutes of cooking.)

— recipe developed by Nancy McMillan

Read More

Tuna or Chicken Noodle Casserole

2 cans (5 oz) tuna or chicken, drained
8 oz elbow macaroni, uncooked
1/4 cup butter, margarine, or oil
¼ cup all purpose flour
2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of pepper
1/4 finely chopped onion
1/2 cup cooked, chopped vegetables (carrots, broccoli, peas…)
bread crumbs

Cook macaroni until tender, rinse and drain; set aside. Melt butter in a large saucepan; add onions, and sauté over low heat for 2-3 minutes, until onion is tender. Add flour, salt and pepper; stir until smooth. Add milk and stir over low heat until smooth and thickened.  Add cooked macaroni, tuna or chicken and vegetables to sauce mixture, stir well. Pour mixture into 2-quart buttered casserole; top with buttered crumbs. Bake at 350° for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the casserole is nicely browned.

–recipe developed by Nancy McMillan

Read More

Italian Minestrone Soup

1 med. potato , chopped
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 med. onion , chopped small
2 carrots, chopped
4 tbsp. oil
1 sm. can tomato sauce
1 cup macaroni or broken spaghetti
2 cups cooked kidney beans
1 can peas (or 2 cups frozen)
Pinch of dry oregano
Dash of black pepper

In large pot, fry the onion, potato and carrots in oil. Then add in tomato sauce and spices along with 6 cups water. Put a lid on the pot. When it boils, lower the heat and  simmer 15 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients. Leave on simmer and let cook 1/2 hour more. Add salt and pepper to taste.

— recipe developed by Nancy McMillan

Read More

Lentil Soup

2 cups lentils

splash of oil
one onion
one potato
one carrot
one stalk celery (optional)
8 cups broth or water
salt & pepper
bay leaf

Peel and chop the vegetables. In a soup pot, heat the oil. Add the onion,
carrot, and celery. Cook and stir occasionally until the vegetables soften,
about 5 minutes. Add the broth, lentils, salt and pepper to taste, and bay
leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook 25-30 minutes,
until lentils are tender. Enjoy!
If you have any of the following, you can add:  a can of chopped tomatoes, chopped fresh herbs, cooked chicken, ham, or sausage

— recipe developed by Nancy McMillan

Read More

Rice and Beans with Lentils

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil        1/4 cup dried lentils
1/2  cup onion, chopped                   2 cups cooked pinto beans
1 cup long grain white rice               1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups water                            salt and pepper to taste

In a medium deep-sided skillet with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring until softened, about 3 minutes.  Add the rice and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes.  Add the water, lentils, pinto beans, salt and pepper; bring to a boil over medium-high heat stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, about 20 minutes.

Optional:  You can also add:  1 cup stewed tomato, 1 cup corn

— recipe developed by Nancy McMillan

Read More