By Emily Peddle
Sticking to a budget as a student certainly doesn't mean sticking to the same old beans on toast or Spaghetti Bolognese. If you’re cooking to impress, here are our top five easy but impressive dishes to get your mouth watering – they will all comfortably feed at least the average household of 4 people – or you can halve quantities for you and a significant other. Quick tip – use your local butchers and greengrocers to save on good quality food.
1. Creamy Chicken Casserole
Tender, flavoursome chicken thighs slow-cooked in a creamy sauce packed full of root vegetables. You may need to use two large pots for this, in which case, split the ingredients evenly between both pots.
• Buy around 1kg (2-3 thighs per portion) of decent quality Chicken thighs – boneless is fine, but keeping the bones in will add a new depth of flavour.
• Fry them for around 8-10 minutes skin side down before transferring to a large pot with four stock cubes in 1200ml boiling water. Bring the heat down and cover, and allow to simmer for a further 20-30 minutes.
• Meanwhile, prepare and add any root vegetables you’d like – carrots and onions are simple and tasty, but use whatever’s in your cupboard. Parsnips or butternut squash would be delicious. Add these in the pot for another 20 minutes, whilst getting some good rice on to serve with.
• Finally, add around 6 tablespoons of single cream, stir in, and take off the heat. Serve on top of fluffy rice and tuck in.
Average costs: Chicken thighs 1kg, £3; stock cubes, £0.60; all root vegetables combined £2; cream £1.10; two cups of long grain rice £0.40. Average total: £7.10, or £1.78 per person
2. Aromatic Salmon and Couscous
Fish is such a great way to pack in protein with minimal fat. Pick up some 4 fresh Salmon fillets and wrap up with couscous for a delicious (and quick!) dinner.
• Pour 400ml vegetable stock onto 200g couscous and leave to stand until it’s all absorbed, then fluff up with a fork. Season with whatever takes your fancy – dried paprika and chilli powder with a sprinkle of parsley is delicious.
• Make four parcels of tinfoil, and split the couscous into the parcels. Sit a salmon fillet on top of each pile of couscous, and drizzle a little olive oil on before seasoning with salt and pepper.
• Fold up the parcel, but not too tight – you want it to be sealed at the sides, but not touch the salmon.
• Bake for 15 minutes at 200C/180C fan.
Average costs: Salmon fillets £9; Couscous £0.40; 3 stock cubes £0.60, plus sprinkles of seasoning. Total: £10.00, or £2.50 per person
3. Thai Green Curry
This is a well-known and adaptable dish – a beautifully fragrant and light curry to share over Thai jasmine rice.
• Start off by heating 1 tbsp of oil with 2 tbsp Thai green curry paste and 1tbsp brown sugar in a wok.
• Add 750g diced chicken breast and cook, allowing it to become coated in the paste.
• Add 400ml coconut milk, a dash of light soy sauce, and simmer for 30 minutes.
• Allow 15 minutes to cook the Thai jasmine rice, and fluff up with a fork.
• Finally, add a pinch of coriander and the juice from half a lime to the curry, and serve on the rice.
Average costs: 750g chicken breast £4.87; Thai Green Curry paste £1.50; 400g coconut milk £0.95; 2 cups Thai Jasmine rice £0.62; lime £0.30; fresh coriander plant £0.90. Average total: £9.14, or £2.28 each
4.Homemade Beef Burgers on Brioche Buns with Sweet Potato wedges
The pinnacle of comfort food, with a foodie twist. Rustic, homemade burgers are so comforting and scream ‘EFFORT’.
• Start off with the wedges. Peel and chop your potatoes into wedges, and parboil for two minutes.
• Drain and rough up in the pan before drizzling in just enough olive oil for them to be coated evenly.
• Tip onto a baking tray and season with salt, pepper, and optional paprika/mixed herbs. Put in the oven at 190 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes.
• Tip 500g good quality minced beef (go to the local butchers for the best value) into a mixing bowl and combine with a beaten egg. Season with salt and pepper, and whatever else you have in your cupboard – cumin and mixed herbs would be the best.
• Make four patties out of the mince – start off with a handful and press it down until you have a good burger shape. If it’s too fat it’ll be difficult to cook all the way through. You’ll also probably have enough mince leftover for an extra burger or two.
• Fry these over a medium heat for around 10-15 minutes, turning only once or twice.
• Toast the buns so they don’t go soggy (use brioche for extra oomph), and arrange your burgers with some lettuce and sauce. Serve with the wedges.
Average costs: 500g mince £3.50; 3-4 sweet potatoes £0.60; mixed herbs £1.00; four brioche buns £0.75. Average total: £5.85, or £1.46 per person.
5. Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta
This is an easy vegetarian pasta sauce that can be adapted for meat-lovers too (it’s great with seafood). Allow some time to be frustrated at trying to peel a butternut squash – it’s tougher than you think, but the results are rewarding.
• Start off by preheating the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Peel and chop a butternut squash into small chunks, then roast in the oven for 20-30 minutes until soft. If you’re having difficulty chopping, roast the whole squash for ten minutes to soften.
• Tip into a blender with 300ml single cream and season with salt and pepper.
• Boil 2 cups of penne pasta and grill some asparagus tips.
• Serve the sauce on the pasta with the asparagus on top.
Average costs: Butternut squash £0.89; single cream £0.70; asparagus tips £2; Penne pasta £0.50. Average total: £4.09, or £1.02 each!
It pays off to be a veggie here, but consider adding some good quality sausages as well as asparagus for an average additional £2.98, bringing the average cost per person to £1.76.
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