Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, Gabriella Paiella shows us how to make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety.
At its heart, this column isn't really about saving money. It's about taking pleasure in beautiful, delicious food regardless of your circumstances. I may be broke, but that hasn't stopped me from being a total hedonist.
When I discovered Leanne Brown's Good and Cheap, it immediately captivated me. It's a much-needed public service, of course -- an accessible cookbook for the 47 million Americans receiving SNAP benefits, who must make do with a $4 food budget each day. My pre-writing background is in food politics; while our food system is undoubtedly broken and several people are working tirelessly to fix it, I've often found too heavy of an emphasis on healthy eating, which can very quickly turn paternalistic.
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Brown manages to subvert all that in Good and Cheap. Her recipes are simple, yet entirely appetizing, complete with appealing photographs. It's free to download online, and she's currently raising money on Kickstarter to fund a print run for those who don't have access to a computer. I chatted with her last week, and asked her to share some of her favorite recipes and tips for saving money, and eating well.
Leanne Brown's Top 5 Kitchen Tips For A Frugal Cook
1. I have a couple of open shelves in my living area where I keep glass jars full of dried beans, lentils, and grains. I do the same with my spice collection. People always comment on them when they come over, but they are more than just pretty: With cheap staples at the ready, I can just stop by the market, grab some vegetables that look good, and know I will be able to make something tasty. Having a well-stocked pantry means that you can be flexible, and won't be stuck on long, annoying shopping trips to track down 30 different ingredients.
2. Make sure your kitchen is organized: Think about the way you work, and place your most-used kitchen equipment in easy-to-access areas. I’m not a professional cook, but because I'm experienced and comfortable in my kitchen, I can zip around and produce a meal in 15 minutes that might take my partner, who spends less time in the kitchen, 30 or 40 minutes.
3. Vegetables are great for flavor. People often think of meat as their main source of flavor, but vegetables have a strong flavor, too, and there is such variety and color to explore. Seasonal vegetables are particularly great because they’re less expensive and have a fuller, riper flavor.
4. Other than my knives, cutting board, and pots and pans, my favorite piece of kitchen equipment is my microplane. I use it almost every time I cook. I zest lemons and limes, grate hard cheeses and garlic, and even shred soft vegetables like tomatoes if I want to release their juices into a sauce or salad dressing. A microplane never goes dull and is remarkably inexpensive -- they're about $12 online.
5. Always buy eggs. Eggs are one of the most versatile foods, and when you divide the cost of a carton by 12, you realize they cost very little (even if you buy good, free-range eggs, which are both more ethical than cheap eggs and considerably tastier). You can prepare eggs in a dozen different ways: in baking, in salad dressing, or in more complex dishes, like quiche. They’re amazing little miracles!
Tell us: What are your favorite cookbooks for cooks on a budget?
Produce photo by James Ransom; recipe photos by Leanne Brown