Spicy Bacon and Tomato Pasta


You only need a small portion of pasta as the yellow pepper and broccoli bulk it out

I’d forgotten how good Spicy Bacon and Tomato Pasta is from the Hairy Dieters. It’s great hot or cold, so invariably I used to prep it the night before and take it into work for lunch the next day. Since I’ve been working from home for the last seven months some of my lunchtime meals have been more extravagant, but it’s good to go back to basics and save some time in the kitchen!

Check the packaging (or review the nutritional information online) to make sure your tomato and basil sauce has no more than 6g of fat per 100g – I buy the little stir-in pots from Dolmio (150g) which are a rip-off, but they taste good and some are low-fat. If you’re on a budget, use regular broccoli cut into small florets rather than tenderstem.  This is a good meal to introduce kids to vege. My teenage son is too pre-occupied with the pasta, sauce and bacon to notice that I’ve included some diced yellow pepper in there ;-).

Love simple and quick low-cal pasta dishes? Check out tagliatelle carbonara, prawn pasta salad, simple tuna and sweetcorn pasta salad and pea and prosciutto pasta.

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Rainbow Trout with Braised Fennel


You could swap the trout for salmon but it would be higher in calories

One of the advantages of living in the arse end of a small Cheshire town is that the locals don’t know how to cook fish, which is a harsh, sweeping generalisation but I’m sticking to it. Towards the end of the day my local Co-op regularly has lots of clearance items of fish at rock bottom prices, including cod, salmon and sea bass. So, when it started stocking rainbow trout I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d pick up a bargain. Two packs, which should have been £8, only cost me £1.80. I make no apologies for being a smug twat.

Off home I gleefully trotted and put the trout in my freezer, where it subsequently resided for 6 months. It turns out I’m as equally clueless when it comes to cooking trout as my local constituents are. But a lightbulb went off in my brain when I came across Rainbow Trout with Braised Fennel from Tom Kerridge. Sadly, my excitement turned to despair due to my poor execution of the recipe. Now whose the smug twat?

I couldn’t be arsed to use a cook’s blowtorch to char the trout and therefore overcooked it in the oven to compensate. I completely forgot to add the crème fraiche at the end and my fennel tasted of fennel, which is fine if you like fennel, but I found the taste somewhat overpowering. I also should have podded my broad beans but again, I couldn’t be arsed.

Sometimes you get out of something what you put in, and I wasn’t as committed to making this dish when it came down to it. It would turn out better if I tried it again, but at nearly £5 a portion (full price) I don’t think I’ll bother. One final thing, the portion size is huge for 2 people, I split it between 3 and it would even stretch to 4.

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(Low-cal) Eggs Benedict


These are genuine chives out of my garden and not blades of grass that I’ve put on my plate to try and impress you 😉

I’m a serial food menu planner and waste copious amounts of time writing out my weekly meal plans only to change them again, and again, and again. Eggs Benedict from Justine Pattison has been on my list since lockdown, but it kept getting bumped due to me having a lack of confidence in myself to pull it off. That, and also because I get in a proper flap in the kitchen when more than one pan is on the go.

There’s a lot going on with this recipe, your kitchen will resemble a bombsite afterwards, and it does require some TLC to ensure the eggs don’t scramble and nothing sticks to the pan. But…. give it a try, I was delighted with the end result and the low-cal hollandaise sauce was gorgeous! This is a perfect Sunday brunch dish and a real treat!

I haven’t had eggs benedict since being dragged into a phone booth style café when sight-seeing in Covent Garden ten years ago. Two portions set me back about £20 and I’m guessing the calorie count was significantly higher than the 320 per serving in Justine’s slimming friendly version, which only costs about £2.45 per portion in comparison!

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Skinny Potato Salad – my 200th blog post


Just 155 calories per serving

I thought my 200th blog post would be more imaginative than Skinny Potato Salad from Justine Pattison. But this is a wonderful, simplistic meal in its own right and costs less than 75p per serving to put on your table despite being packed with new potatoes, celery, apple and spring onion with a low-fat mayo dressing.

And when I think about it, that’s what this blog is all about. Giving people access to straightforward, tasty recipes that they can make easily and cheaply at home to keep on track with their diet. Enjoy and thanks to everyone who drops by.

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Chipotle Turkey Meatballs


Don’t worry about the chipotle chilli flakes, they are not that hot!

I’ve loved experimenting with some new turkey recipes over the last six months and Chipotle Turkey Meatballs from Pinch of Nom is right up there with the best. There’s the perfect balance of heat from the chipotle chilli flakes and the smoked paprika which go well with the rich flavour of the passata. Yuummmeeee!!

If you love a meatball, and most people do, check out beef kofta curry (also from Pinch of Nom, which is exquisite), Swedish meatballs and Transylvanian meatballs. There’s a meatball out there for everyone.

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Turkey San Choy Bow


There’s something cool about wrapping food in lettuce leaves

I’d previously dismissed Tom Kerridge as a British classics / gastro pub chef but that was doing him a great disservice. As well as succeeding on his phenomenal weight loss journey, Tom’s grasp of low-calorie Asian food and flavours is brilliant, as evidenced in his Lose Weight for Good book.

Turkey San Choy Bow is one recipe I was really keen to try, partly because the name remains me of the Karate Kid and Mr Miyagi shouting, “Daniel san!”. Joking aside, this is a mouthwatering dish and only 260 calories per serving. I love the concept of serving the meat, vegetables and Asian flavours in lettuce leaves – it’s tonnes more satisfying than having rice and better for your waistline.

If you like the concept of this, but are pushed for time, I’d also recommend Justine Pattison’s turkey lettuce wraps. Similarly, if you’ve got beansprouts and water chestnuts leftover, have a go at the Hairy Dieters’ chicken stir-fry.

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Beachside Paella


A standard frying pan won’t do for this, it’s time to bring the ‘big boy’ out

Let’s face it, with tightening restrictions around Covid there’s not a lot to smile about right now. As the nights draw in sun, sand and sea seems a distant memory but food can have a positive effect in lifting your spirits, even if it’s just for an hour or so. I needed a focus to perk me up and Beachside Paella from the Hairy Dieters was just the ticket, washed down with copious amounts of vino (not recommended for the diet). It didn’t trick me into thinking I was in Spain, but it was a welcome distraction from being locked down in Cheshire!

A word of caution, you do need a f***ing huuuuugggggeeee pan to fit all of the ingredients in this mammoth dish. I was a geek and purchased my own paella pan – I got a good one from Amazon for £40, but you can get them cheaper. But why skimp on price? It’s not as if you’re going to Spain anytime soon, right?

As for the taste, I absolutely loved this dish. It says it serves 6 at 358 calories per portion. But I think the reality is that if there’s less than 6 of you the pan is getting cleaned out because it tastes so good. My ears are still ringing from the bollocking I received off my wife for picking the chorizo and chicken leftovers out of the pan and leaving just the rice. Was it worth it? Absolutely! If you want a dumbed-down, non-paella, but equally mighty fine one-pan dish, I’d recommend southern-style jambalaya, also from the Hairy Dieters.

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Chilli Steak Salad


Where’s the chips and onion rings??

I used to think having steak in a salad was a waste. And at over a fiver a head I still do, however there’s no denying that Chilli Steak Salad from the Hairy Dieters is a cracking effort. Don’t forget to leave your steak to rest for a few minutes and strain those lovely meat juices into your salad. The kick from the chilli and the ginger alongside this is delightful!

If you like the sound of this, check out thai beef salad from the Hairy Dieters’ second book, which is also lush lunchtime tucker.

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Tomato, Ricotta and Basil Salad


Don’t worry if you haven’t got a blowtorch. This tastes fantastic, you’ve got to try it!

I like Tom Kerridge so much that I committed the heinous, ‘cheffy’ crime of purchasing a cook’s blowtorch based on his recommendation for making Tomato, Ricotta and Basil Salad. But it did cause me a ‘domestic’ with my wife. I’ll come to that shortly.

According to Tom, “blowtorching the tomatoes may sound fancy but it’s an easy way to fire-roast them for an amazing smoky taste – browning the skins without cooking the flesh.” Well, it is fancy, Tom, but this salad tastes bloody fantastic and the paprika dressing is amaaaazing, so who am I to argue?  

You can pick-up a cook’s blowtorch for less than £12 on Amazon and it can also be used for BBQs and camping trips, if you’re that way inclined. That’s the easy part. The hard part was fitting the gas canister to the blowtorch which led to some colourful language being exchanged in my house. Finally, we figured it out. I say we, but in truth it was my wife who I had accosted from her work. “Couldn’t we have just put the tomatoes under the fucking grill?” she said. Quite.

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(Pork) Chop Suey


You could swap pork for turkey or chicken in this

I think by the time the Hairy Dieters got to their sixth book (Make it Easy) they were running short of ideas. Chop Suey is somewhat similar to chicken stir-fry from their third instalment (Good Eating), except this time pork is used instead of chicken.

Repetition aside, this is pretty good and at only 168 calories per portion you could even double up if you’re hungry. The peppers, broccoli and beansprouts provide enough bulk so that you don’t need rice, which always amazes me how something so bland can be so calorific.

If you’re looking for sassier stir-fry ideas, I’d recommend diet cola chicken and chicken satay from Pinch of Nom, which are lot more imaginative and gorgeous to eat.

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Chicken & Chorizo Risnotto


This isn’t a risotto but it’s a risotto

Chicken & Chorizo Risnotto from Two Chubby Cubs creates those wonderful, creamy risotto flavours without you having to laboriously stand in front of the cooker waiting for the stock to be absorbed. Don’t let my crap photo fool you, this is a banging evening meal which tastes wonderful and will fill you up.

Importantly, you will need a pan with a lid so you can trundle off for 20 mins while this cooks. I didn’t trust myself to leave this unattended on a medium-low heat without occasionally checking that my food hadn’t stuck, so it did take me a bit longer. Also, if you’re making this for any fussy family members, or a teenage boy, in my case, you may want to serve them it without the addition of the cream cheese. It turns out that while my boy loves cheese, he inexplicably doesn’t like cream cheese! For everyone else, just stir the cream cheese through at the very end as per the recipe’s instructions, then dish up and hey presto, we’re all happy.

If you love risotto type meals, check out chicken and mushroom risotto and sea bass and miso risotto which are awesome low-cal recipes. Or, if you’re wondering what to do with any leftover chorizo, I’d recommend all-in-one spicy pork and rice and southern-style jambalaya which are similarly wonderful.

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Cheeseburger Salad


Under £1.50 per portion and 403 calories. How much would McDonalds and Burger King fare in comparison?

In the words of Two Chubby Cubs, “… we’ve taken all the worst bits of a salad (i.e having a salad) and combined it with something delicious and wonderful (i.e. having a cheeseburger)”. Cheeseburger Salad from the ‘Cubs is a novel contradiction which can complement your healthy eating plan at 403 calories per serving.

I think I was tickled more with the concept than by the taste, although I did enjoy it. Making what are effectively mini meatballs during the lunchtime rush whilst working from home seemed a bit of an unnecessary effort. But of course, you can make this the night before. For me, the unexpected star of this show was the suggested home-made Thousand Island dressing which the Cubs state you can make by mixing together 1 tbsp crème fraiche, 1 tbsp reduced-fat mayonnaise, 1 tbsp natural yoghurt, ½ tsp paprika, 2 tsp mustard, 2 tsp tomato puree and 1 tsp white wine vinegar.

If you prefer your salads to have a bit of ‘beef’ to them, check out thai beef salad and chilli salad bowls.

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Honey Chilli Chicken


Honey I made the chicken

I was really looking forward to sampling Honey Chilli Chicken from Pinch of Nom but it didn’t quite hit the spot. The honey (2 tbsp) and dark soy sauce (3 tbsp) coating for the chicken is a great concept, but I found the addition of the 2 chicken stock cubes and the garlic granules made this too salty for my tastebuds.

If trying again, I’d probably use only 2 tbsp of dark soy sauce and 1 stock cube. I decided to make a proper side salad to accompany it as Nom’s radishes, spring onions and red chilli suggestion left me feeling a bit ‘so what?’. My favourite chicken-based recipes remain sticky chicken with coleslaw and jerk chicken, the latter which packs a proper punch!

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Beef with Green Peppers in Black Bean Sauce


Less than £2.50 per head, even with sirloin steak!

Who says you can’t enjoy takeaway food when watching your weight? Beef with Green Peppers in Black Bean Sauce from Justine Pattison is a pretty authentic ‘fakeaway’ which is only 225 calories per serving. With the addition of a small portion of rice, you’re looking at 400 calories all in, perfect for keeping your diet on track!

If you fancy having a go at creating more classic Chinese fakeaways, check out sweet and sour chicken and yeung chow fried rice.

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Ham Salad Wraps


For freshness, make these wraps on the day you plan to eat them rather than the night before

Wraps are less stodgier than traditional bread ‘sarnies and the added bonus is that you can include more filling in them. Ham Salad Wraps from the Hairy Dieters are just 325 calories and packed with pepper, lettuce, carrot and cucumber which should be enough to satisfy the hungriest of appetites.

If you’re planning on taking these to work but can’t use your employer’s fridges due to Covid, put them in a cool or temperature-controlled bag with an ice pack to keep them nice and fresh before you’re ready to tuck in. Check out the Hairy Dieters’ ‘Eat for Life’ book to get the recipes for tuna and sweetcorn wraps and hot-smoked salmon wraps as well.

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(Lighter) Moussaka


You can make this in 6 individual pots, or one big dish which is far less ‘faffy’

Moussaka beats a lasagne any day for me, and this gorgeous, lighter version from the Hairy Dieters is only 323 calories per portion. That’s based on using lean lamb mince though which you can pick up 500g packs containing 10% fat from Sainsbury’s, whereas most other supermarkets sell packs at 20% fat. Check the packaging before you buy (I’ve always wanted to say that).

The long list of ingredients may indicate that this recipe is tricky, but get everything out on the side before you start cooking and it’s relatively simple to make. But if you can, use a deeper, smaller dish as opposed to a larger, shallow dish so it’s easier to layer everything before you bake it in the oven.

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Thai Beef Salad


Don’t forget to leave your steak to rest

Since lockdown I’ve really got into making freshly made salads at home and Thai Beef Salad from the Hairy Dieters has been one of the best. There’s a bit of chopping, dicing and peeling involved, but you’ll be rewarded for your toil. I did wonder if the quantity of mint and coriander would be too overpowering, but the Thai fish sauce and chilli dressing balances out the flavours beautifully.

If you’re stuck for more salad ideas, check out the section on my blog here. There’s a lot to choose from, but I’d recommend the zingy and colourful quinoa, prawn and mango salad and couscous with roasted roots, honey and goat’s cheese as being the standouts.

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Spicy Mexican Beef


Use tinned chopped tomatoes and frozen regular green beans to make this easier

Spicy Mexican Beef from Two Chubby Cubs rounded off my week of purely Mexican-based dishes with a bit of whimper, rather than the bang I was hoping for. As a recipe it’s not bad and requires minimal effort, but even with the addition of the chipotle paste and chillies it seemed to be lacking something.

I’m not a huge advocate of casserole beef, no matter how long you cook it for, so you may enjoy this more than I did. You can serve this with a small portion of rice, but don’t forget to account for the extra calories and be mindful that each serving on its own is 499 cals.

My favourite slow-cooked beef recipe so far this year has been beef massaman curry which I’d recommend. Wondering what to do with any remaining chipotle paste? Try making speedy turkey chilli and spicy sweetcorn soup which are excellent.

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Mexican Caesar Salad


This is a classy salad, bursting with fresh ingredients

Mexican Caesar Salad from Jamie Oliver’s ‘Save with Jamie’ book is a sumptuous treat for lunch or a light evening meal which has got a little bit of everything in it. Containing 17 ingredients and at over £2 a head I’m not sure how this can be classed as a budget meal though, Jamie.

But aside from the cost, this salad tastes great and will satisfy your hunger cravings that you’ll work up whilst prepping it! If you want a slightly cheaper and lighter version, check out chicken caesar salad from the Hairy Dieters. Or, if neither of these appeal, then have a gander at cobb salad from Justine Pattison which has become a favourite of mine.

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Tex Mex Toad-in-the-Hole


What would Speedy Gonzalez make of this?

Tex Mex Toad-in-the-Hole from Justine Pattison is about as Mexican as me growing a tash and donning a sombrero. But let’s just go with it because it’s a quirky little recipe and a funky twist on the traditional toad-in-the-hole.

If you can’t get hold of spicy pork sausages (and I couldn’t find any supermarkets that stock them), improvise by lobbing in a generous sprinkling of chilli flakes over regular sausages in your roasting tin. And don’t be tempted to open your oven door once the tin is in there otherwise your batter won’t rise!

Andale andale arriba arriba, which translates (loosely) to hurry up and give this recipe a try!

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