Crafty Cooking

For the first installment of our new food column, we challenged writer Alice Tsay to design a dinner for five for under £15. Follow the recipe and judge how she fared.

Dinner for 5 for £15: it’s a conundrum that’s numerically catchy but logistically tricky. Cooking in bulk is fraught with difficulty: your dearest friend might have an allergy or dietary restriction that nixes your culinary stock-in-trade – aubergine, eggs, garlic, fish. The sensitivity of the control dials on your ancient stove has probably dwindled to two settings: a tickle of warmth, or the full fires of perdition. The shared kitchen in your flat boasts a pot, a pan, and an oven that only occasionally complies. All potential solutions, moreover, are tied firmly to the ground with the rough twine of your student budget.

Don’t use your tears to salt the tureen of boiling pasta just yet. Wouldn’t you prefer to have some nice mushroom soup to start, followed by roasted duck legs on a bed of mashed sweet potato? A nectarine for dessert, cut in half and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and honey? Eating well on the cheap just takes a little exercise in resourcefulness with things that are in season or on sale, and a perhaps brisk walk to an extra shop or two on your weekly grocery round.

For the duck and sweet potato mash:

1. Preheat the oven to 190 C.

2. Slice three onions and arrange in a baking dish. Rinse the duck legs and coat with a mix of 100 ml soy sauce, two tablespoons of sugar and a dash of cinnamon. Place into the pan and slide it into the oven.

3. Wrap the sweet potatoes in foil and slip them in the oven. Check at 45 minutes, allowing up to an hour. When the duck is crispy, the sweet potatoes soft, mash the latter and arrange the former with the caramelized onion on top.

4. Now prepare the soup: slice two onions and mince six or seven cloves of garlic; sautee with two tablespoons of butter over low heat. Slice your mushrooms and add to the pot.

5. Add enough water to cover everything and bring the pot to a simmer for ten minutes. Stir in two handfuls of chopped basil, then blend the mixture. More butter will make it creamier, more water thinner; add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley.

For the nectarines:

1. Heat up a few tablespoons of honey with an equal amount of balsamic vinegar until the mixture has reduced by half, then drizzle on nectarine halves. To make it a warm dessert, broil the nectarines first.