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Sue’s Morning Stretch: Free cookbook shows way to cheap, good meals

In my little diverse corner of the world, I often see people of limited means trying to stretch their food dollars.

Invariably their grocery carts are full of highly processed carbohydrates. That’s because they think those crappy carbs – which are very economical – are the only way to eat on a very tight budget.

Leanne Brown noticed it too. Brown relocated from Canada to the United States to get her master’s degree in food studies from New York University. She’d see people using SNAP (what most of us call food stamps) and thought, that’s no way to eat (she’s right), according to a story on NPR’s blog. So for her final thesis, she set out to create a cookbook for those on SNAP. Her goal was to make tasty and healthy meals so that a person could eat on $4 a day.

The result is “Good and Cheap,” a cookbook that can be downloaded for free and boy, has it been. So far the count is at 200,000 downloads, according to the NPR story.

Leanne Brown

Seth Wenig/AP

And that’s not a surprise because while the focus of this is as instruction for those on SNAP, it’s a great resource for anyone who wants to make the most of their food dollars AND eat well.

Brown says upfront what anyone who has mastered eating well on a budget knows: you have to learn how to cook. The closer you are to the food source in its most natural state, the less you are going to spend and the better you are going to eat.

She really gets the plight of the cash-strapped home cook. She acknowledges to her readers that cooking isn’t always easy, especially when you’re tired or busy. But then she goes on to show that with the right essentials in your pantry, you can make a good meal quickly. She also has a handy listing of spice combos that can be used to spruce up anything from rice to chicken to popcorn. Great idea!

Brown’s recipes are easy and she does little flavor twists to take everyday dishes to a new level. Take oatmeal; she offers a traditional version, but then adds in one that includes shredded coconut and a shot of lime juice. Now you’re not having the same breakfast every day!

I like that she encourages the use of butter, acknowledging it isn’t cheap, but she defends her suggestion by reminding that a little bit of it adds flavor the way no cheap oil will.

Brown also shows how easy and so much more affordable it is to make staples such as pizza dough, bread crumbs and tortillas.  She does the same with whole roast chicken and roasted veggies.

There are main dishes, sides, sandwiches snacks and desserts (we all need a little sweet in our lives). Her chocolate chip cookies include coconut, a good way to show that that ingredient can be used in savory and sweet ways.

All the recipes have lovely photographs that make you want to make that dish right then and there. It was hard choosing a recipe, but I finally settled on the Tomato Scrambled Eggs. They’re fine for breakfast, but a good choice for that evening you might want to have breakfast for dinner. (Big fan of that.) Tell me that butter doesn’t gives the tomatoes a rich feel. Fresh tomatoes are available right now, but if you want to use canned, go ahead.

TOMATO SCRAMBLED EGGS

For today’s breakfast, fluffy, creamy eggs hold together

 a mass of tangy, juicy, sweet tomatoes.

Makes 2 servings

          Cost: $3.60 total; $1.80 a serving

½ tablespoon butter

4 cups tomatoes, chopped

4 eggs

Salt and pepper

Basil or other herbs, chopped (optional)

Put a small pan on medium heat and melt the butter, then swirl it around to coat the pan. Add the tomatoes. Cook until the tomatoes release their juice and most of the juice evaporates, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a bowl and add a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Beat the eggs lightly with a fork.

Once most of the juice has cooked out of the tomatoes, turn the heat down to low and add the eggs to the pan. Using a spatula, gently mix the eggs and tomatoes. Carefully stir the eggs to keep them from forming chunks. Turn down the heat as low as possible; the slower your eggs cook, the creamier they’ll be.

Once the eggs are done, turn off the heat and add any chopped herbs you have around. Basil is the best with tomatoes. If you have some around, serve over toast or a tortilla.

From “Good and Cheap” by Leanne Brown