This student chef showed us how to make a three-course Valentine’s meal for under £20

She doesn’t have 25,000 Insta followers for no reason


Come V-Day, Instagram will be full of heart-shaped balloons and “Boy did good!” posts. But what about those of us who can’t afford to buy bae a Ralphie shirt or a rose for each day we’ve been together? Or those of us who want to dodge the romance and have an easy night in with a pal?

So we asked a top student food blogger, Emily Solman (@_emilysworld), to help us out and create a slammin’ dinner which will fit cosily inside a student budget:

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Being a humble food blogger, not the heir to a great fortune, I decided to treat my boyf, James, in the only way I could afford – with food.

I set myself* (*my loan allowed me) a budget of £20 for a three course meal. All of this came to just £19.53, including the vino.

Here’s how I made a veritable Valentine’s Day feast without having to put myself into liquidation:

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Starter: Pesto and tomato bruschetta

2 tablespoons of Sacla’ Classic Basil Pesto (I used the vegan one)

2 ciabatta rolls

1 packet of vine tomatoes

1 packet of fresh basil

Olive oil (to drizzle)

First things first, I cracked on with the starter. I halved two ciabatta rolls and grilled them.

N.B. Keep an eye on them – I got distracted and set off the smoke alarm.

Once I’d made sure the ciabattas were a lovely golden brown, I spread them with Pesto, because anything with Pesto will always taste like a dream.

I then chopped up half the tomatoes and a handful of basil leaves and scattered them on the bread.

Finally, I drizzled on some olive oil to give it that Masterchef touch. 

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The verdict: James loved this and actually asked me for a recipe; didn’t want to ruin the magic so I said it was really hard, not that it had only taken me ten minutes.

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Main: Pesto salmon with mushroom couscous and rocket salad

2 salmon fillets

2 tablespoons of Sacla’ Classic Basil Pesto (I used the vegan one)

1 sachet of mushroom couscous

3 spring onions

1 bag of rocket salad

First, I preheated the oven to 180°c. While I waited for it to heat up, I put the salmon fillets and remaining tomatoes on a baking tray, then zig-zagged a delicious spread of Pesto on top of the salmon – a move which would secure me at least eight-out-of-ten on Come Dine With Me.

Then I put it all in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

I mixed boiling water with the couscous and chopped up the spring onions, combining them with the couscous too.

I plated it all up alongside a tasteful handful of rocket salad in an arrangement that could be found on the pages of Jamie Oliver’s latest cookbook. It looked like heaven on a plate, if I do say so myself.

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The verdict: Went down a treat, “better than a Nandos”.

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Dessert: Sharing chocolate truffles

200g of dark chocolate

50ml of coconut milk

I brought the coconut milk to the boil while I melted the dark chocolate in the microwave.

Then I mixed the two together – the hot coconut milk helped the chocolate melt even more.

I chilled the mixture in the fridge for an hour and a half until it had set, then used an ice-cream scoop to shape the chocolate into balls, rolling them in my hands to smooth them out.

As an optional extra, roll the balls in cocoa powder, chopped nuts, icing sugar or anything else you fancy. I went for a combo of nuts and hot chocolate powder, because I found them at the back of the cupboard and no luxury is too great for my man.

And that is literally it. The difficult part is trying not to make yourself feel sick by eating all the mixture along the way. Not that I did that or anything.

The verdict: A big hit; James ate four and then asked me if I’d actually made them myself. Rude. 

So there it is, a banging three-course dinner, including wine, for only £19.53. Somebody wife me, immediately.

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Photography by Andrew Watkinson