Food & Drink

Cookbook shows you how to eat well on $4 a day

Cauliflower Cheese
Cauliflower Cheese

It isn’t often that a master’s thesis has the makings of a bestseller, but after Leanne Brown’s student project appeared on the social networking site Reddit, traffic to her own website jumped from 80 to 50,000 people per day.

“I thought it was hackers,” said Brown, “but it was wonderful people writing to say this means so much and it will help me personally.”

The object of their desire, was a cookbook of sorts, which offered recipes for great-tasting meals at low cost while emphasizing the importance of cooking skill over expensive ingredients. Brown had come up with the project to address the issue of food insecurity — the 46 million Americans on SNAP (formerly food stamps) who must eat on $4 per day.

She had planned to use her degree in the relatively new field of Food Studies to work for a nonprofit, but the overwhelming response to her thesis convinced her otherwise. One Kickstarter campaign later and Brown had a print run of 40,000 books and a two-month, multi-city tour.

Good and Cheap 2D

“Good And Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day,” (Workman Publishing, $16.95) has the distinction of being a cookbook meant for people who may not be able to afford a cookbook. So for each book purchased, one is given to someone in need. A partnership with Access Wireless helps get the book in the hands of low-income individuals nationwide while nonprofit organizations that purchase books to distribute to clients receive a discount on bulk orders. The original project is still available as a free downloadable PDF at

While she acknowledges she is no nutritionist, Brown insisted that the food taste good and that the book look as beautiful as any other modern cookbook. “There is a huge amount of information about how to eat on a budget, but a lot of those (sources) are so focused on the bottom line,” Brown said. “They don’t take into account how things taste.” Poverty should not mean a lack of pleasure, she says.

Each recipe includes per serving and total cost estimates, which Brown calculated by using prices from four grocery stores in a mixed-income community in New York. She emphasizes the importance of tailoring the recipes to fit your particular budget and taste. If you don’t eat meat, you can sub in tofu. If you don’t have chick peas on hand, use pinto beans.

In addition to recipes, she offers tips on seasonal food shopping, buying in bulk, kitchen equipment and ways to make the most of leftovers. She also gives pointers on how to accumulate pantry items, spices and other higher cost foods over time.

“People on SNAP are going though hard times. I want food not to be a terrifying, awful struggle,” Brown says. “I want people to eat well and believe that they deserve to eat well.”

Here are some recipes from the book:

Cauliflower Cheese

(Serves 4; $6.60 total/$1.65 /serving)

1 head cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon butter

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

1 bay leaf

1tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups milk

6 ounces sharp Cheddar, grated

Salt and pepper


1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

4 scallions, finely chopped

1 lemon, zested

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon thyme

Set the oven to 400 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to 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. I usually use a pie dish. Drain the water from the cauliflower and pour it into the baking dish.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan on medium heat. Add the garlic, chili flakes and bay leaf, then 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.

Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring every now and then to make sure the sauce doesn’t get scorched on the bottom.

Once it comes to a boil, turn off the heat and stir in the cheese. Drop in any additions at this point. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as needed. You should have a creamy, smooth, savory sauce.

Pour the sauce over the cauliflower. Place the dish in the oven for 40 minutes, or until the top is brown and bubbly. You can also add some breadcrumbs to the top of the dish before baking if you like extra crunch.

This is like a healthier and more flavorful version of macaroni and cheese. Alternatively, try this with broccoli or cooked winter squash — everyone will love it.

Fast Melon Sorbet

(Serves 4; $2.40 total/$0.60 /serving)

2 cups frozen melon

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla or lime juice (optional)

Add all the ingredients to a food processor or blender until just smooth. Don’t blend too much, or the sorbet will become oversoft. Serve immediately or stick it into the freezer to enjoy later.


(Makes 10-14 pancakes; $2.80 total/ $0.70 serving)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 bananas, mashed

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 bananas, sliced

Butter for cooking

In a medium bowl, add the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Mix thoroughly with a spoon.

In another bowl, add the mashed bananas (or just mash them in the bowl), eggs, milk and vanilla, then mix.

Add the dry mixture from the other bowl into the second bowl. Gently stir it with a spoon until everything just comes together. Tender pancakes come from not over-mixing the batter. If there are still a few pockets of flour, don’t worry about it. Let the mixture sit for 10 to 15 minutes.

Place a non-stick or cast-iron pan on medium heat. Once it’s hot, melt a small amount of butter, about 1/2 teaspoon, then ladle some pancake batter into the center of the pan. You can make your pancakes as large or small as you like. A normal amount is about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of batter. If it’s your first time making pancakes, make them smaller: they’ll be easier to flip.

As soon as the batter is in the pan, place 3 to 4 banana slices atop of the uncooked side of the pancake. Once the edges of the pancake start to dry up and you can see the middle start to bubble, flip the pancake over. Cook until it is browned on both sides. Stack the finished pancake on a plate in a warm oven and repeat the above process until you run out of batter.

Serve hot, with butter and syrup.

Broiled fish is crispy on the outside and flaky and moist on the inside. If you quickly sauté some vegetables while the fish cooks, dinner will be on the table in minutes.

Spicy Broiled Tilapia with Lime

(Serves 2; $9 total/$4.50 /serving)

2 fillets tilapia or other white fish

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon oregano

1/2 lime, juiced

Turn your oven’s broiler to high.

Mix the spices together in a small bowl. Sprinkle them over both sides of the fish and massage gently with your fingers to cover thoroughly in the spices.

Lay the fish on a baking pan lined with aluminum foil. Broil 4 to 7 minutes. The fish will cook very quickly, so after 4 minutes, check to see if they’re done by gently inserting a butter knife into the thickest part. If it goes through easily and the fish flakes apart, you’re done. If the knife meets resistance and the fish stays together, put the fillets back under the broiler for another few minutes. Once you’ve done this once or twice, you’ll be able to tell when your fish is done at a glance.

When the fish is done, squeeze a lime over it. Serve with rice or a favorite side dish.


(Serves 2 or 4 as a side; $3 total/$1.50 /serving

2 cans (27 oz) baked beans

2 tbsp mustard

2 tbsp molasses or brown sugar

2 teaspoon chipotle en adobo, or any chili sauce

If you’re using the chipotle en adobo, chop it finely to be sure the spice will be evenly distributed.

Mix all the ingredients into a pot and heat on the stove until the beans are warmed through. Give it a stir and serve. Or do it all in the microwave — works just as well.

Serve with rice, or just in a bowl. For an English-style breakfast, try spreading the beans over toast. Other ideas: throw them into a burrito, scramble them with eggs, stir-fry with onions and bell pepper.

Beef Stroganoff

(Serves 6; $16.50 total/$2.75 /serving)

1 pound beef chuck or other cut*

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons butter

2 onions, chopped

2 large carrots, chopped

1tablespoon flour

2 teaspoon paprika

4 cups water

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 pound mushrooms, chopped

1 pound egg noodles

1/2 cup sour cream

3 tablespoons mustard

Chop the raw beef into bite-sized pieces and season generously with salt and pepper.

Melt half the butter in a large saucepan on medium heat. Toss in enough beef to cover the bottom of the pan. You may need to cook the meat in two batches, depending on the size of your pan.

Brown the meat on all sides, then set it aside on a plate.

Add the onions and carrots to the pan and cook until the onions become translucent.

Sprinkle with the flour and paprika, then cover with water. Drop the meat back in the pot. Cover the pot with a lid, but leave it askew so the steam can escape. Cook on medium-low heat for 2 hours. This process will make the beef tender and turn the water into beef stock.

If you’re using a less tough cut of beef, you don’t need to cook nearly as long. Simply brown the meat, then substitute the water for 1 cup of beef stock and cook for 20 minutes. It’s a lot quicker, but of course tender meat is more expensive.

Meanwhile, in another pan on medium heat, melt the rest of the butter. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the mushrooms and toss to coat them with garlic and butter.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let the mushrooms cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they brown and shrink.

Turn off the heat and taste. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Cook the noodles (or any pasta) according to the package instructions. Try to time it to coincide with finishing the stew.

Check on the beef. If the water has reduced to approximately a cup of thick, flavorful liquid and the beef is tender, it’s done. If not, let it cook a little longer. Once it’s ready, stir in the mushrooms, sour cream, and mustard. Turn the heat down to low to keep it warm until the pasta is ready. Once again, taste and add more salt, pepper, and paprika if needed.

Put the noodles into bowls and top with the stew. Sprinkle a little paprika over top and enjoy. Serves 6.

*You can use any cut of beef; just adjust the cooking time based on the toughness.