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Leanne Brown is not a chef. And her cookbook, Good and Cheap, isn't really a book. Or at least it wasn't until this summer, when a Kickstarter campaign helped transform Brown's free-to-download PDF into a bound and bona fide paperback packed with recipes for cheap, healthy meals and vivid food photography. Oddly enough, the tale of the book, which began as a grad-school thesis, is not the central irony of Brown's success. At least not right now. On the phone from a hotel in Richmond, Virginia, she reflects on this humorous paradox: she's on a book tour eating junk food because of her success steering people away from junk food. A Culinary Contradiction Top: potato leek pizza ($2.25 per pizza) | Above: vegetable jambalaya ($0.65 per serving) Indeed, Good and Cheap stresses the simplicity of healthful and inexpensive homemade cuisine. Conceived as a culinary primer for SNAP recipients and families on tight budgets, the book is packed with thrifty tips, gorgeous food photography, and recipes whose economical benefits are twofold thanks to their efficient use of ingredients and wallet-friendly prices. Even before it secured a print run, the PDF version of Good and Cheap was downloaded more than half a million times—always for free, in accordance with its low-cost ethos. An Extra Tip For every print edition of the cookbook sold, a copy will be donated to somebody who needs it. That way, more underserved home cooks can find additional ways to make their grocery budget or food stamps go further and work harder. So as members of Brown's sizeable readership finesse bowls of her broiled-eggplant salad, she's phoning in a pizza delivery or shoveling down a handful of almonds. She's Al Gore taking a private jet to give a lecture on global warming—not a hypocrite but a utilitarian, taking one for the team in order to spread the word. She laughs about it, though, acknowledging that cooking isn't really about oneself. "We have this idea in our society that we all like to do things for ourselves and we're all very selfish," she said. "But I don’t think that we are naturally. I think we're naturally very unselfish and we get a lot more real pleasure out of doing things for other people. Like sharing with other people. And food is an opportunity to do that." Throw Out the Rule (and Recipe) Book Above: spicy panzanella ($1.30 per serving) In Good and Cheap, Brown hopes to present cooking not just as a way to share but as a way to express creativity. Riffing is not only encouraged but inevitable, especially on a budget. "My recipes aren't sacred. I'm not a chef,” Brown said. “I don’t think that I have the best version of anything. I have the version that I like, and that’s the one that I share. But I think everyone should make their version of the recipe to their taste." This is the heart of the book—everybody is creative and everybody can cook. This is punk rock, not baroque symphony. Once you can bake a broccoli rabe and mozzarella calzone, you can add or subtract anchovies. You can swap broccoli rabe for cauliflower or sprinkle on chili flakes. Back on the phone, Brown shares a childhood story of a friend's dad making a grilled cheese. "I remember one day watching him pour himself a glass of wine. He had out these three blocks of very expensive, fancy cheese, and he'd grate them and slowly and carefully make himself this perfect grilled cheese, and then sit straight up and eat it with a knife and fork. And I was like, 'What!? That’s insane! … Grilled cheese can be fancy?'" "My recipes aren't sacred. I'm not a chef." – Leanne Brown But maybe it wasn’t the expensive cheese that made it so fancy. Maybe it was grating the cheese by hand or combining those three favorites. The truth is, he probably could have made as good a sandwich with cheap cheeses and a dash of ingenuity. Photo of Leanne Brown courtesy of Jordan Matter. Food photos courtesy of Leanne Brown. Check out related reads from the Groupon Guide: Three Keys to Making Any Meal Kid-Friendly There’s a fine line between a picky eater and a connoisseur. Turn your child into the latter with these three tips from cookbook author Leanne Brown. Save or Splurge? Six Grocery Items to Think Twice About We asked Beth Moncel, author of the Budget Bytes cookbook, to share three items we’re probably all paying too much for—and three others that are worth a bit of extra dough.Read More