A dinner party that won’t break the bank

By Hazel Bannerman

During February my flat plays host to a large number of birthdays, and rather than opt for the usual worryingly expensive trip to the pub (that none of us remember the next morning), I decided we should attempt something a little classier just once this month. To me, this meant attempting a three-course dinner party.

It all sounded like a wonderful idea…for about an hour, at which point panic set in when I realised I had absolutely no idea what to cook, and certainly no idea how to afford ingredients. Close to giving up on my rather daunting task, my mother came to the rescue (most useful ally in the kitchen are your relatives) and she recommended a book that she had used for dinner parties when she was at university – the Hamlyn All Colour Cook Book. With this in hand I set myself a budget of £30 and planned my meal.

I’ve included my slightly altered versions of the recipes I used below.

Starter – grilled scallops with tomato water lily

Recipe courtesy of Ann Body and Hamlyn All Colour Cook Book


· 5 scallops

· 5 scallop shells

· 700ml milk

· 60g butter

· 60g plain flower

· Salt and pepper

· 60g grated cheese

· 1tbsp breadcrumbs

· 1 tomato

· 1 large lettuce


1. Warm milk slightly and then cook scallops in it for 10 minutes. Drain and reserve the milk

2. Make a basic cheese sauce. Melt the butter and add the flour, then mix well. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then remove from the heat and slowly add the milk. Bring to the boil and thicken, then add the seasoning and half the cheese. Stir until melted

3. Place a scallop in each of the shells, pour over the sauce and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and the remaining cheese

4. Grill for 5 minutes then serve on a bed of dressed lettuce, with a tomato water lily at the centre (purely for aesthetics)

This one seemed to be hugely successful with my guests, and despite several jokes about the risk of food poisoning from scallops (I was only mildly offended), we were all alive and healthy the next morning. The only tweak to this that I would make is possibly doing two scallops per shell – otherwise the cheese sauce may seem a little much.

Main – bread crumbed haddock cutlets with orange and watercress salad

Recipe courtesy of Ann Body and Hamlyn All Colour Cook Book


· 5 haddock cutlets

· Salt and pepper

· 30g butter

· 30g breadcrumbs

· 30g grated cheese

· 3 oranges

· 1tbsp olive oil

· Juice of half a lemon

· 1 bunch watercress


1. Wipe the fish and season with salt and pepper, then dot with half the butter and grill for 5 minutes

2. Combine the breadcrumbs and cheese, and scatter on the partially grilled cutlets. Then dot with the remaining butter and grill for a further 5 minutes

3. Peel and slice the oranges and soak in a mix of the oil and lemon juice

4. Arrange the oranges and some of the watercress on a serving plate, then place the fish on top and garnish with the remaining watercress

Again, another roaring success amongst my guests – the citrus complimented the fish perfectly (and gave us all a little vitamin boost). The alteration I made here was that the recipe called for cod cutlets, and I used haddock. I bought all my fish from a lovely local fishmongers that only stocked fresh produce from the market each morning, and it just so happened there was no cod that day. I loved that I got to use locally sourced produce and support a small business, while still sticking to my budget. As an added bonus – the fish was beautifully prepared and tasted wonderful.

Dessert – chocolate and coffee mousse

Recipe courtesy of Mary Berry and Hamlyn All Colour Cook Book


· 225g plain chocolate

· 20g butter

· 4 eggs

· 1tbsp coffee essence

· Chocolate curls to decorate


1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl

2. Once melted, remove the chocolate from the heat and stir in the egg yolks and coffee essence (in absence of this dissolve two teaspoons of instant coffee in one tablespoon of boiling water)

3. Whisk the eggs whites until stiff and then fold into the chocolate mixture

4. Pour into 5 glasses or ramekins and leave in the fridge to cool for at least an hour

I’m not much one for dessert, but I have to admit these went down a real treat. The challenge here was separating the eggs (seasoned chefs feel free to scoff at my incompetence), and having to whip the whites by hand. Definitely opt for an electric whisk if you have one. The effort was well worth it though, and this recipe was simple but delicious.

Overall, the cost of the meal came to just over £27. A handy tip for keeping your costs down is to find yourself friends who know to show up to a dinner party with a decent bottle of wine in hand, and know what wine to pair with scallops and haddock.

So there you have it, my dinner party was not a dreaded and terrifying event as I’d thought it would be. Some minor scares were involved – chiefly getting distracted and burning the chocolate (definitely restart), and then spilling milk all over the stove. Oh well - always good to provide your guests with some entertainment.

Hazel Bannerman

Hazel is a History undergraduate who delights in fine dining on a budget, she also enjoys classic comfort cuisines.

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