PHOTO: In “Good And Cheap,” Leanne Brown brings a spicy punch to a ragu with chorizo. | Leanne Brown and Dan Lazin/Good and Cheap
Eating well on a tight budget takes creativity.
And Leanne Brown’s book “Good And Cheap” (Workman Publishing, $16.95) shows how to do that and so much more.
Brown first made a viral name for herself when — as part of her work to earn a masters in food studies from New York University — she developed a collection of recipes that kept with the guidelines of what we call food stamps, which figures $4 a day per person. She put the recipes in PDF form and before she knew it, they had been downloaded more than 700,000 times.
Leanne Brown ~ Jordan Matter Photo
So often recipes aimed at the very modest budget rely on dull choices or worse, processed fare. That’s why I think Brown’s recipes struck a chord. She uses fresh ingredients and spices as well as affordable canned or frozen produce and beans to make meals that are healthful and taste good.
After her initial project was met so positively, Brown realized there were many people who did not have access to a computer and therefore did not have access to those helpful recipes of hers.
“Good And Cheap” has those recipes here as well as 30 new ones. But this is more than a cookbook. As Brown says in the opening pages, think of “Good And Cheap” as a book of ideas. She does an excellent job of showing her readers how one can take simple fare and dress it up without spending a lot of cash. With each recipe she gives the cost per serving as well as the total that shows just how inexpensively you can eat well.
Take for instance her discussion on oatmeal. It kills me every time I see someone standing in the checkout line at the grocery store with those packages that hold packets of flavored (or, put another way, overly processed) oatmeal. Could there be a bigger waste of money, I always think to myself.
Brown, who hails from Canada, noticed things like that too when she moved to New York City. And I bet she saw the oatmeal situation, for she devotes a couple pages with illustrations to show how easy it is to make your own flavored oatmeal with a variety of ingredients, including fruit, chocolate or spices.
In recipes such as My Dad’s Baked Beans, she shows how to doctor up canned beans and improve the flavor immensely. In Jacket Sweet Potatoes she demonstrates how to use leftovers to fill them and thus make a quick meal.
Brown uses global flavors throughout the book in recipes such as Green Chile and Cheddar Quesadillas, Lightly Curried Butternut Squash Soup and Spicy Panzanella, to name a few.
And don’t think that Brown’s book is only for those on food stamps. After she published the original recipes, she heard from single moms, seniors on a budget, families trying to save money and students. All thanked her for showing them that eating well doesn’t have to cost a lot.
I would buy this book for anyone starting out. It’s that good an introduction to cooking and eating well without spending a lot. Plus, the photos — by Brown and her husband Dan Lizen — are just lovely; the kind that make you want to dive into each dish.
And here’s another great aspect of this book. For every copy sold, Workman will donate a copy to someone who needs it. (The book will be distributed by Access Wireless.) Nice idea.
Here’s one of the recipes from the book, for Chorizo and White Bean Ragu. Brown does tell readers they can use any sausage. Also, like the majority of her recipes, she uses meat as an accent rather than the centerpiece of the dish.
CHORIZO AND WHITE BEAN RAGU
MAKES 6 CUPS
After my friend Chris told me he loves a good ragu, I developed a version that is as hearty as a meaty tomato sauce without the cost and heaviness of a traditional ragù. A batch of this is probably enough for eight people, served with grated Romano or Parmesan cheese over pasta, polenta, or grits.
2 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped jalapeño (optional)
1 pound fresh chorizo, casing removed (or other fresh sausage)
3 cups canned or fresh tomatoes, pureed
3 cups cooked cannellini, navy, or butter beans
Salt and pepper, to taste
Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat, swirling it to coat the pan. Add the chopped onions and cook until they turn translucent, 3 to 4 minutes.
Toss in the garlic, jalapeno (if using), and fresh chorizo, then sauté for about a minute. Add the tomatoes and beans, then simmer until the sauce is thick and the sausage is cooked, about 5 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
From “Good And Cheap” by Leanne Brown