Cookbook works to address hunger

Kate Lawson
The Detroit News

When Canadian-born Leanne Brown left her hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, to earn her master’s degree in food studies at New York University a few years ago, little did she know about the journey about which she was to embark and the impact she would make on the issue of food insecurity in America.

Struck by the alarming numbers of millions of Americans who only had $4 on which to survive through the food stamp program, she turned her master’s thesis about using a strategy guide of preparing nutritious meals inexpensively into a best-selling cookbook, “Good and Cheap, Eat Well on $4/Day” (Workman; $16.95).

The book, now in it’s second edition. which was published in July, not only won the 2015 IACP Judge’s Choice award, but garnered the attention and praise of food experts across the country from Michael Pollen to Ted Allen. Media outlets including NPR, Money magazine and National Geographic gave coverage. In addition, she was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30 for 2015.

“As part of my thesis, I created menus for a SNAP budget (the government’s Nutrition Assistance Program). It was wildly different from other plans in that I advocated why skill, not budget is the key to great food,” Brown said by phone while she traveled the country on a 21-city book tour.

On September 29, she will be appearing at Pages Bookshop in North Rosedale Park and it promises to be insightful and informative for anyone who is living under budget constraints — whether students, grads entering the job market, young families or retirees.

“People who are hungry or who don’t have a lot of time or resources only want to know how to get good food on the table; they don’t want to be lectured on the fact that it needs to be done,” says the 30-year-old Brown, who is not professionally trained, but adds, “Cooking is what I do. I created this as an approach to food, a strategy to show what’s possible.”

But even before the book first saw print, it’s popularity was astounding. And she did the unusual, she offered recipes to be downloaded at no cost.

“In April 2014 I did a PDF on my website,, that you could download for free,” says Brown. I put (up) a few recipes, maybe five at a time and there wasn’t a lot of activity. Then Reddit (a social networking, and news website) shared it and my website had 50,000 hits the first night. It broke my website,” she laughs. “But it was wonderful and encouraging.”

“After the PDF went viral online, I launched a Kickstarter project to fund a print run, using a “get one, give one” system (like TOMS Shoes) so that people who bought a book for themselves could give another copy to a family in need.”

“The campaign was tremendously successful — I asked for $10,000 to print a small batch, but I ended up with 5,636 supporters who raised more than $144,000. That made it the Number One cookbook ever on Kickstarter.”

For the book, Brown added 20 new recipes and, since then, the PDF has been downloaded more than 800,000 times. The first edition, which came out in October 2014, was sold out by December, this second edition has already made the New York Times Best Sellers list.

The publisher, Workman, who sought out Brown, is the first publishing house to participate in this type of initiative. Partnering with Access Wireless, a lifeline service provider, Workman provides a free cookbook for every book sold to put it into the hands of those who need it the most — pantries, soup kitchens and food programs across the country.

“Good and Cheap” is a unique cookbook in that it demonstrates why skill, not budget, is what makes great food. It’s not a challenge to live on so little ($4 per day), but instead a resource for those who are facing this reality. In it, you’ll find ideas for meals and feeding large crowds, supermarket strategies, a list of recommended groceries, as well as ideas for leftovers.

Recipes such as a peanut sauce that also serves as a marinade or dipping sauce for vegetables, is a fridge staple. Cabbage rolls are deconstructed, requiring very little prep time and go well with leftover rice. The basic macaroni and cheese gets a healthy nudge with fresh cauliflower or winter squash or broccoli. Brown also gives recipes for homemade pasta, tortillas, pizza dough and roti and recommends spices to keep on hand.

“Hunger is a big, scary, awful institution, food should be joyful, it shouldn’t be hard. I think everyone should eat great food every day,” says Brown. “Eating well means learning to cook. It means banishing the mindset that preparing daily meals is a huge chore. Cooking is easy — you just have to practice.”

As for future plans, Brown is already planning a version of the book in Spanish later this year. As for the present, once Brown returns home in late October from the book tour, she will be participating in the New York Marathon. “Then I will sleep.”

Meet Leanne Brown

September 29, 7-8:30 p.m.



19560 Grand River

Detroit, MI 48223

Cauliflower Cheese

This is a classic side dish in Great Britain: creamy, cheesy sauce over cauliflower, baked in the oven until the edges get crunchy and bubbly. It’s like a healthier and more flavorful version of macaroni and cheese. Try substituting broccoli or cooked winter squash for the cauliflower — everyone will love it. With broccoli, this dish becomes an interpretation of the classic sleazy broccoli with cheese sauce — but a little less sleazy. You can also add some breadcrumbs to the top of the dish before baking, if you like extra crunch. Enjoy with a green salad. Recipe from “Good and Cheap” by Leanne Brown (Workman, $16.95)

2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste

1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-size pieces

1 tablespoon butter, plus more for the baking dish

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon chile flakes

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups milk

6 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, grated

pepper, to taste


1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

4 scallions, finely chopped

Zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Breadcrumbs (see recipe)

Sprinkling of finely chopped fresh basil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the salt and the cauliflower, then leave it for 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, butter a baking dish large enough to comfortably accommodate all the cauliflower (such as a pie dish). Drain the cauliflower and add it to the dish.

Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, chile flakes, and bay leaf and cook for about 1 minute. Add the flour and stir quickly. The flour-butter mixture is called a roux. You want the roux to get just a little brown — this will probably take another minute. Slowly add the milk to the pot, stirring all the while to incorporate the roux and make a creamy sauce. Continue cooking the sauce, stirring occasionally, until it just comes to a boil, about 5 to 7 minutes. Once a couple of bubbles appear, turn off the heat and stir the cheese into the sauce. Include any additions at this point (except breadcrumbs). Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as needed. Remove the bay leaf. The sauce should be creamy, smooth, and savory. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower, sprinkling with breadcrumbs if desired. Place the dish in the oven and bake until the top is brown and bubbly, about 40 minutes. Serves 4.

Per serving: 328 calories; 23 g fat (14 g saturated fat; 63 percent calories from fat); 15 g carbohydrates; 5 g sugar; 65 mg cholesterol; 722 mg sodium; 15 g protein; 1 g fiber.

Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls

Casseroles are a great way to stretch your cooking-without-a-recipe muscles. As one reader, Carolie, reminded me, they require little prep time, yield many meals, and the leftovers will keep nicely in the fridge or freezer. So here’s my adaptation of one of Carolie’s favorite casseroles, itself a play on cabbage rolls, a traditional Eastern European dish that is delicious but labor-intensive. This version is a good way to use up leftover rice or grains and lentils. For the sausage, use fresh chorizo, Polish or sweet Italian. “Good and Cheap” by Leanne Brown.

1 fresh sausage, about 4 ounces

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small or 1/2 large cabbage, cored and chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

3 cups cooked rice

4 cups cooked lentils

3 1/2 cups pureed canned tomatoes

or Best Tomato Sauce

Breadcrumbs (see recipe), for topping

Olives peas or corn cheese any spice combination

Variations: Ground beef, turkey, or pork instead of lentils and sausage Swiss chard or collards instead of cabbage

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a large casserole dish.

Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Slide the casing off the sausage and crumble the raw meat into the pan. Sauté the meat until it’s no longer pink, about 5 minutes, then transfer to a large bowl.

Add the onion and garlic to the pan with the sausage drippings and sauté. Once the onion turns translucent, about 3 minutes, add the cabbage and sauté until it’s tender enough to jab easily with a fork, 5 to 7 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper.

While the cabbage cooks, mix the rice and lentils with the sausage in the bowl. Add salt, pepper, and any other spices or additions you’d like. Make sure you taste the mixture as you season it. If both parts of the casserole are tasty, you’ll end up with a delicious meal. If they aren’t seasoned well, it’ll be bland.

Spread half of the lentil-rice-sausage mixture in an even layer in the casserole dish. Next, spread half of the cabbage mixture on top. Then, as evenly as possible, pour half of the pureed tomatoes over everything. Repeat the layers and sprinkle with salt and pepper. If adding breadcrumbs, sprinkle over the top.

Bake until the casserole is hot and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Serves 6.

Per serving: 451 calories; 7 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 14 percent calories from fat); 76 g carbohydrates; 14 g sugar; 15 mg cholesterol; 449 mg sodium; 21 g protein; 17 g fiber.

Peach Coffee Cake

Adapted from the apple cake often served during Rosh Hashanah, this coffee cake is simple and wonderful for dessert, with tea, or as a sweet breakfast. The juicy peaches add a ton of flavor. If you buy peaches in season, the cost can be quite reasonable. This cake is a great base for all kinds of fruit, from other stone fruit like plums, to apples, to berries. Anything but citrus or melons will work. Try frozen fruit if what you want is not in season. “Good and Cheap” by Leanne Brown

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

6 peaches, pitted and cut into 8 slices each

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon firmly packed brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use the paper wrapping from the butter to lightly grease an 8-by-11-inch glass baking dish or 9-inch springform pan. Any shape will do as long as it is large enough. This cake doubles in size when it bakes.

Mix the peach slices, lemon juice, and cinnamon with your hands in a large bowl, making sure the peaches are well coated in cinnamon. Stir together the flour and baking powder in a medium-size bowl, getting rid of any lumps.

Beat the butter, 1 1/3 cups brown sugar, and salt in another large bowl, either with a wooden spoon or an electric mixer. Stop when the mixture is fluffy and has slightly lightened in color, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla, then the eggs one at a time, fully mixing in the first before adding the second.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, gently incorporating until it’s smooth. (If you’re using an electric mixer, switch to a wooden spoon.) The batter will be quite thick. Spread half the batter over the bottom of the buttered pan. Evenly distribute 24 of the peach slices over the top. (There should be 48 in total.) Spread the other half of the batter over the peaches, then top with the rest of the peaches. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon brown sugar and place the cake in the oven. Bake until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Serves 12.

Per serving: 352 calories; 16 g fat (10 g saturated fat; 41 percent calories from fat); 49 g carbohydrates; 31 g sugar; 72 mg cholesterol; 105 mg sodium; 4 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Peanut Chicken and Broccoli with Coconut Rice

This recipe uses peanut sauce to elevate a pretty plain chicken and broccoli stir-fry to something you’ll want to serve to your favorite guests. Make a full batch of the Peanut Sauce (see recipe) and use some for this and the rest for dipping veggies, dressing salads, or smothering your favorite protein. “Good and Cheap” by Leanne Brown

1 1/2 cups long-grain rice

1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 1/2 pounds chicken (any part), chopped into bite-size pieces

pepper, to taste

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

6 cups chopped broccoli, stems and florets separated (about 1 large bunch)

1/2 cup Peanut Sauce (see recipe)

Chopped fresh cilantro

Variation: 10 ounces tofu, cut into cubes and marinated in 1/4 cup soy sauce, instead of chicken

Rinse the rice. Add it, along with the coconut milk, salt, and 1 1/2 cups water, to a pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low. Let the rice simmer, covered, with the lid askew, until the liquid is gone, about 20 minutes. If the rice is done before the stir-fry, remove it from the heat, fluff it a bit with a fork so it doesn’t stick to the pot, and cover to keep it warm.

While the rice cooks, sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper and set aside.

Place a large pan or wok over medium-high heat and add 1 teaspoon of the vegetable oil. Let it get hot and add the broccoli stems. Cook, stirring occasionally, to soften the stems, about 3 minutes. Add the tops of the broccoli and 1/4 cup of water and cover the pan. It will steam and sizzle a lot, so watch out! Let the broccoli cook until the water evaporates, about 3 more minutes. Test a piece of broccoli with a fork. It should be just barely tender, but not soft. Turn off the heat and remove the broccoli from the pan.

Add the remaining teaspoon of oil to the pan and put it back over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add another 1/4 cup water and stir occasionally until the chicken is cooked all the way through, another 2 minutes.

Add the peanut sauce and stir to coat the chicken. Don’t worry if the sauce seems too thick at first. It will blend with the water to become a glaze. Once the chicken is coated with sauce, put the broccoli back into the pan and stir it all together. Taste and add salt as needed. Scoop the coconut rice onto plates and top with the broccoli, chicken, and cilantro. Serves 6.

Per serving: 548 calories; 22 g fat (12 g saturated fat; 36 percent calories from fat); 50 g carbohydrates; 6 g sugar; 72 mg cholesterol; 472 mg sodium; 36 g protein; 4 g fiber.

Peanut Sauce

“Good and Cheap” by Leanne Brown

This is my go-to dipping sauce for everything from veggies to flatbread, to shrimp. But it’s versatile enough to make a great marinade or coating for chicken or fish. My fridge is rarely without it. Try it, you’ll see.

1 japaleno pepper or other chile (remove seeds for less heat), or 2 tablespoons chile paste

3 cloves garlic

1 shallot or small onion

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1/2 to 1 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup sugar-free peanut butter

1 tablespoon soy sauce


1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Finely chop the jalapeno, garlic, and shallot, or use a food processor to make them into a paste.

Add the oil to a saucepan over medium heat. Once it’s warm, saute the pepper and garlic until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the 1/2 cup of coconut milk, turmeric, and chile paste, if using.

Let everything come to a boil, then turn the heat down to low. Stir in the peanut butter, soy sauce, and brown sugar and sesame oil, if using. If the sauce is too thick, add more coconut milk to thin it out. Once the mixture is well combined, taste it and add whatever you think it needs, concentrating on the salt and spices in particular. Makes 1 cup.

Per serving (per 2 tablespoons): 149 calories; 12 g fat (4 g saturated fat; 72 percent calories from fat); 7 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 210 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 2 g fiber.

Best Tomato Sauce

“Good and Cheap” by Leanne Brown

There are many ways to make tomato sauce. I don’t find that the more complex recipes taste any better — this one is boldly tomatoey and works on just about anything. It also takes 5 minutes to make. Can’t beat that.

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon chile flakes

2 cans (28 ounces each) tomatoes, crushed or diced

Zest of 1 lemon (optional)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Add the olive oil to a saucepan over medium heat.

Saute the garlic until it smells great and becomes translucent, 1 minute. Add the chile flakes and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the cans of tomatoes, mix, and cook until warmed through.

Add to the lemon zest, if using, then salt and pepper to taste. Because canned tomatoes are often already salted, you may not need to add any. Makes 7 cups or 14 servings.

Note: If you want a thicker sauce that will stick to pasta better, cook it a little longer to evaporate more of the liquid, 10 to 20 minutes. Use immediately, keep in a jar in the fridge for up to a week, or portion it out into containers and store in the freezer for a month.

Per serving (per 1/2 cup): 43 calories; 2 g fat (0.3 g saturated fat; 42 percent calories from fat); 5 g carbohydrates; 3 g sugar; 0 mg cholesterol; 239 mg sodium; 1 g protein; 1 g fiber.


“Good and Cheap” by Leanne Brown

I am constantly haunted by crusts of hard, several-days-old bread that I have neglected. Luckily, there are plenty of delicious solutions that help those crusts avoid the trash can. Croutons and breadcrumbs will keep for ages in a sealed container on the counter, and when you have them around, you’ll find yourself using them everywhere — and perhaps even finding excuses to make a salad. You can make this with any amount of bread.

1/2 slice bread

Butter or vegetable oil, as needed

Salt and pepper, to taste

Prepare the bread. Mince the loaf with a knife, tear it apart, or throw small chunks of bread into a food processor. If the bread is too hard to cut, wrap it in a kitchen towel, sprinkle some water on the towel, and microwave for 20 to 30 seconds. This will restore just enough moisture to let you cut the bread easily.

Place a large pan on the stove over medium heat. Add enough butter — usually at least a tablespoon — to coat the bottom of the pan. Melt the butter.

Working in batches, add the bread and toss it gently until it’s coated in butter. Let the bread sit for 2 minutes, then flip the pieces over. Keep tossing and turning, leaving it for a minute or so at a time, until the bread is brown all over. Add more butter as needed. The bread cubes may get kind of dry, and a little more fat will help them brown more evenly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. It is basically impossible, unless you are very patient (which I am not), to get every side of the cubes browned, so just get them generally looking good and toasty and then take them off the heat. Taste one and add more salt and pepper, if you need to.

Use the breadcrumbs immediately, or store them in a sealed container after letting them cool off. Makes 1 serving.

Note: For breadcrumbs, if you like, you can go oil free: just toast whole slices of bread and then crush or process into small pieces.

Per serving: 50 calories; 2.5 g fat (2 g saturated fat; 45 percent calories from fat); 6 g carbohydrates; 0.5 g sugar; 5 mg cholesterol; 146 mg sodium; 1 g protein; 0.4 g fiber.

Tips for Eating and Shopping Well

Buy foods that can be used in multiple meals.

■Versatile ingredients save meals.

■Buy in bulk.

■Buying larger amounts usually brings the price down.

When you’re working within a tight budget, you won’t always be able to afford to shop for the future, but do it when you can. If possible — and admittedly this can be difficult for people living on their own — reserve part of your budget to buy one or two semi-expensive pantry items each week. Things like olive oil, soy sauce, and spices are pricey at first, but if you use just a little with each recipe, they go a long way. With turmeric, coriander, cumin, and fresh ginger root, you’ll suddenly have a world of flavor on your shelf.

Think weekly

Each week, mix things up by buying different varieties of staple foods like grains and beans. If you have time to shop frequently, pick up smaller amounts of produce every couple of days to ensure everything is fresh. If you can’t shop as often, consider getting canned or frozen versions of whichever vegetables you won’t use immediately.

Think seasonally

During their local growing season, fruits and vegetables are generally cheaper and definitely tastier than outside of season. Enjoy as much of the summer and fall produce as possible, because you’ll be more limited in the winter. Winter is a great time to search for deals on canned and frozen produce.