On Friday, October 9, from 4-5pm author Leanne Brown will be in the KITCHEN at the Boston Public Market to offer a free cooking demonstration and conversation about shopping for and cooking good food on a budget. Leanne is the author of Good and Cheap, a cookbook for those on a tight budget looking for healthy, delicious meals like Spicy Pulled Pork, Green Chile and Cheddar Quesadillas or Cold and Spicy Asian Noodles.
Leanne is a food-studies scholar and avid home cook from NYC, hailing from Canada. She believes everyone should eat great food every day. Eating well means learning to cook. It means banishing the mindset that preparing daily meals is a huge chore or takes tremendous skill.
Copies of the second addition of Good and Cheap will be for sale during the event, so pick up a copy and learn how to cook delicious meals for as little as $4/day (the average daily budget for a SNAP recipient). For every cookbook sold, Leanne will generously donate a copy to the Market’s Cookbook Exchange Wall so that all customers can enjoy her recipe and tips.
As a preview of what Leanne will share in the KITCHEN, here are her tips for eating and shopping well:
1. Buy foods that can be used in multiple meals
Versatile ingredients save meals. If you buy flour, you can make Tortillas (page 155), Roti (page 152), Scones (page 15), and Pancakes (page 12). If you buy canned tomatoes, you can make soup (page 28), sauce (page 127), even chili (page 131). Need I even mention the versatility of garlic or lemons? If you always keep them around, you can make anything else taste fantastic.
2. Buy in bulk
Buying larger amounts of one item can usually bring down the price per unit. When you’re working within a tight budget, you won’t always be able to afford to shop for the future, but you should do it when you can. And, of course, keep storage in mind: If the item will go bad before you can finish it, get the smaller size. Only buy what you can eat. If you buy versatile ingredients in slightly larger amounts, then you’ll be able to use them quickly but still make diverse meals.
3. Start building a pantry
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 or month. Things like olive oil, soy sauce, and spices (page 149) are pricey at first, but if you use just a little with each recipe, they go a long way. With turmeric, coriander, cumin, and chili powder, you’ll suddenly have a world of flavor on your shelf. For specific advice, see page 149.
4. Think weekly
Each week, mix things up by buying different varieties of staple foods like grains and beans. This week, you might have Oatmeal every morning (page 9) with Dark and Spicy Chili (page 131) later in the day, but next week you’ll have yogurt for breakfast (page xi) and Hummus (page 135) or Chana Masala (page 109) for lunch and dinner. If you have time to shop frequently, pick up smaller amounts of produce every couple of days to ensure everything is fresh. It’s a lot more inspiring to pull crisp greens out of the fridge than to unstick a wilted mess from the bottom of the veggie drawer. If you can’t shop as often, consider getting canned or frozen versions of the vegetables you won’t use immediately.
5. Think seasonally
During their local growing season, fruits and vegetables are generally cheaper and definitely tastier than outside of season. You’ll notice that orange prices shoot up during the summer, yet what’s available is drab and flavorless. But oranges are abundant in December and January, the peak of their season, and that’s reflected in the price. At the end of summer, you can get bags of zucchini for next to nothing. Brussels sprouts are also very seasonal, coming on sale around Thanksgiving. Enjoy as much of the summer and fall produce as possible, because you’ll be more limited in the winter. Then again, simmering and roasting winter vegetables is a fine way to warm up your house, and tough winter roots are easy to store. In addition, winter is a great time to search for deals on canned and frozen produce. Seasons for fruits and vegetables vary depending on where you live, so consult a local guide to growing seasons (or the chart on page xv) and use it to shop for the best deals.
6. More vegetables = more flavor
Nothing livens up a bowl of rice like summer squash and corn! Vegetables make the best sauces: They’re earthy, bright, tart, sweet, bitter, and savory. Give them a treasured spot at the top of your grocery list and you’ll never be bored.
7. Always buy eggs
With these babies in your fridge, you’re only minutes away from a satisfying meal. Scramble an egg with leftovers or drop an egg on top of a salad or a plate of stir-fried vegetables, and deliciousness is guaranteed.
8. Buy expensive eggs if you can
Free-range or organic eggs are usually worth the money—they taste so much better than regular eggs. Even at $4 a dozen, you’re still only paying 33 cents per egg. Really fresh eggs, like those from a farmers’ market, make a big difference in flavor.
9. Be careful with undercooked eggs
Very rarely, raw eggs can be infected with salmonella. Many classic recipes, from mayonnaise to eggnog to Caesar dressing, are prepared with raw egg yolk, but technically only a fully cooked egg is guaranteed to be free of salmonella. Consequently, raw or runny eggs are not recommended for infants, the elderly, pregnant women, or anyone with a weakened immune system.
10. Buy fresh bread
Try to buy fresh loaves of interesting bread from an independent bakery or the bakery in your grocery store. Although fresh loaves don’t last as long as sliced bread, they’re much more enjoyable, and you can use the old stuff to make Panzanella (page 37), or Croutons or Breadcrumbs (page 158) to top other dishes. Later in the day, many independent bakeries offer deep discounts on bread they would otherwise have to throw out.
11. Don’t buy drinks
All the body needs drink-wise is water. Except for milk, most packaged drinks are overpriced and deliver a lot of sugar without filling you up the way a piece of fruit or a bowl of yogurt would. If you want a special drink, make Agua Fresca (page 169), a smoothie (page 170), or tea.
12. Get creative with wilted vegetables
Sometimes you forget a pepper or bunch of spinach in the back of the fridge. Although wilted veggies might not remain fit for a salad, they’ll still be wonderful in any dish that calls for sautéed, grated, or baked vegetables. Just cut off any actual rot. You can also use them in broth.
13. Make your own broth
In almost any savory recipe that calls for water, homemade broth would be better. To make broth, start by saving any vegetable bits that you chop off and would normally throw away, like onion tops, the seedy parts of peppers, and the ends of carrots. Store them in the freezer until you have a few cups, then cover them with water, bring to a boil, and simmer over low heat for a few hours. Add salt to taste, and you have broth! To make a heartier broth, do the same with leftover bones or scraps of meat (preferably all the same kind of meat). Because you’re using stuff you’d otherwise throw away, broth is effectively free.
14. Treat your freezer with respect
A freezer can be a great friend for saving time by letting you prepare large batches of food at once. For instance, cooking dried beans takes a while (page 165), so make more than you need, then freeze the rest. Another great trick I learned from a reader is to dice a whole package of bacon, fry it, and then freeze it in small parcels. This makes it easy to add a small amount of bacon to a dish without the temptation of using the whole package or the fear of rancid meat.
15. Turn chicken skin into schmaltz
Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat that you can use like butter. Buy chicken that still has its skin, then trim the skins and lay them in a pan over low heat. Add a cup or so of water and simmer until the fat releases from the skin and the water cooks off. Let the fat cool, then throw away the skins and pour the fat into a glass jar. Store in the fridge.
16. Buy a pepper grinder
Seriously, banish pre-ground pepper from your life—it loses all flavor when it sits around. Fresh pepper creates pops of intensity on the tongue and lights up bland dishes. One of the most popular dishes in Rome is just pasta with butter and pepper: Give it a try.
17. Buy yogurt in bulk
There are so many types of yogurt in the grocery store: some low in fat and high in sugar, some with cute animal pictures. Some are Greek. Some have chocolate shavings and candy. Some have names like “Key lime pie.” Now forget about all of that. The buckets of plain yogurt are the best value for your money. If you start with plain yogurt, you can make your favorite flavors in your own kitchen, where you know exactly what’s going into it. The fat content is your choice.
If you have kids, ask them what flavors they can imagine and go make them! It’s a lot more fun than letting the supermarket choose for you. Try something new and smash it in! If you want to make thicker Greek-style yogurt, all you have to do is strain the standard variety through cheesecloth to remove the extra water.
Yogurt’s versatility makes it a great staple to keep in the fridge. And when you consider that there are savory options—like Tzatziki (page 146) or Raita (page 147)—the possibilities expand even more.