Hope for Foodies on a Tight Budget

By Anna Dantoni –

foodiesWith so much glorious food in the world to eat and to cook, why should foodies who juggle a skimpy budget be denied the pleasures of the table? That’s the question that young food blogger and television producer Rebecca Lando asked herself and her 20-something Los Angeles friends. The answer is her first cookbook, The Working Class Foodies Cookbook. She’s offering 100 seasonal and organic recipes for under $8 per person and she calls them “real food, for real people, real cheap.” Good for her!

The chapters are pretty straightforward, full of advice, charts and drawings geared to make a beginning cook comfortable with cooking terms, basic tools and animal body parts that can be transformed into good eating. Lando’s beginning chapters are ones that key on how to shop like a working class foodie, how to stock a pantry for $60 (or $100, if you’re flush). She shows cooks how to make basic vegetable and meat stock because that’s cheaper than buying it off the grocery shelf. The recipes themselves are divided into sections of appetizers and snacks, side, soups and salads and then main dishes. There are also separate chapters on pizzas, pasta, polenta, grits and risotto. Finally, she includes eight easy desserts such as pumpkin Whoopie Pies, southern fruit cobbler and sea salt-honey caramels.

Lando’s book is well organized and easy to use. Her directions are wordy and maybe too specific, but I gather she’s aiming her instructions at a novice cook. But, she’s true to her concept on every page. The ingredients in this book may be budget friendly, but the finished dishes are anything but. This engaging and practical book would be a great gift for a young person stocking a pantry in a first apartment. Put this book inside a Dutch oven or big sauté pan, wrap it up and say Happy Holidays. Then, hope you’re invited to dinner soon.


Butternut Squash and Mushroom Tart

butternut-squash(from The Working Class Foodies Cookbook. Serves 4 as a main dish or up to 10 as an appetizer).

1 small butternut squash

Olive oil as needed

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 cups thinly sliced mushrooms

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

Up to ½ cup white wine

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Pinch of ground cinnamon

1 large egg, separated

1 sheet of puff pastry

½ cup goat cheese, softened

? cup grated pecorino cheese

1 tablespoon water


Preheat a rimmed baking sheet in a 425-degree oven. Halve the squash lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Rub the flesh and skins with oil and season the flesh with salt and pepper. Lay the squash flesh side down on the baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes, until the skin is browned and wrinkled and a knife slides easily into the flesh. Remove from oven and let cool; turn the over temperature down to 400-degrees. Meanwhile, heat a good glug of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and rosemary and toss. Turn the heat to medium-low and keep coking; if the pan gets too dry, douse with a splash of wine. Scrape to deglaze and keep cooking until the mushroom have shrunk by about half are are soft, about 10 minutes. At the last minute, fold in the thyme and remove from the heat . Let the mushrooms rest while you prepare the squash.

When squash is cook enough to handle, peel off the skin. Transfer the flesh to a large bowl and mash. Mash in the cream starting with 2 tablespoons, nutmeg and cinnamon. When mixture is cooled completely, whisk in the egg yolk. Season with salt and pepper.

Lightly flour a work surface and a rolling pin. Unfold the puff pastry and roll it out to the size of whatever pan you using – either a 9-inch pie pan or a 9×13-inch baking dish. Drape the puff pastry into the pan and push it in gently. Let the excess hang over the edges. Prick the bottom of the pastry all over with a fork. Spread the butternut squash about ½-inch thick over the bottom. It should come about halfway up the tart’s side. Cover with an even layer of the mushrooms. Dot evenly with the goat cheese and cover with a even dusting pecorino.

In a small bowl, beat the egg white with the water into an egg wash. Brush over the exposed puff pastry; trim off any bits of dough that hang low down the outside of the baking dish. Bake the tart for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown. Remove from oven, let cool for 5 minutes, then slice into wedges or squares and serve.


Apple Cake

apple cake(from The Working Class Foodies Cookbook. Makes one large bundt cake.)

Author’s note: “You could change this cake entirely by adding ginger to the cinnamon, or perhaps a teaspoon of ground cardamon, or substitute a dash of rum or Calvados for half of the  vanilla. Possibilities? Endless.”

Unsalted butter for the pan

2 or 3 large, tart apples, peeled and cored

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

4 large eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

2 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

Powdered sugar or toasted slivered almonds for topping (optional, if not making the glaze) ¼ cup maple syrup, or as needed (optional, for the glaze)

2-3 tablespoons powdered sugar (optional, for the glaze)


Preheat over to 350-degrees and lightly butter a 9-inch cake or bundt pan. Chop the apples into uniform chunks and toss in a bowl with the granulated sugar and cinnamon. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the eggs and oil, then the vanilla. Either gently fold the apples into the batter and pour everything into the cake pan, or pour one third of the batter into the prepared cake pan, then half of the apples, one third of the batter, the second half of the apples, and finish with the remaining third of the batter. There should be quite a bit of extra room at the top of the pan; trust, me you’ll need it.

Bake for 65 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan, then invert onto a plate and flip back over. Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar, toasted slivered almonds or a maple syrup glaze made by stirring the powdered sugar into the maple syrup to desired thickness.


(The Working Class Foodies Cookbook by Rebecca Lando. Gotham Books., $20.)


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