Diet Cola Chicken


Are you a Coca-Cola or a Pepsi fan?

If I told you to pour diet coke over your chicken stir-fry, you’d tell me to do one, right? But wait. Diet Cola Chicken from Pinch of Nom in theory shouldn’t work, but it absolutely delivers. Somehow the geniuses at ‘Nom’ towers determined that pouring diet coke (or Pepsi or other cheap diet cola, I’m not judging) into the pan creates a sticky and sweet sauce that is heaven in a stir-fry. Don’t knock it until you try it!

As with some other Pinch of Nom recipes, you’ll have some odds and sods ingredients left over, so what should you do with them? To use up the peppers, mushrooms and baby corn, I would opt for cajun dirty rice and hot and sour soup. And for the chicken, I’d go for sweet and sour chicken or chicken and mushroom risotto.

By the way, this fab Diet Cola Chicken recipe is only 217 calories per serving. You can serve it with rice but there is so much packed into this I don’t think it needs it. One more thing. This cooks relatively quickly once all the ingredients are prepped. The book says the prep time is 10 minutes, but not even Jamie Oliver on coke could get everything ready in that time. Or, maybe he could, but unless you’re Speedy Gonzalez with a knife I’d allow for the extra time. As good as this is, quick it aint.

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Paneer and Pea Curry


This is great, with or without the addition of cauliflower

Geeky fact alert. Since lockdown began I’ve not had the same meal twice, which is pretty remarkable even though I say so myself. My motivation was mainly to try different foods and give me more excuses to update this blog. Having said that, Paneer and Pea Curry from the Hairy Dieters is (unsurprisingly) remarkably similar to cauliflower, paneer and pea curry from BBC Good Food which I featured back in May.

So, what’s the difference with this recipe from the Hairy Dieters? Well, apart from the cauliflower and the additional spices, not a lot. But don’t let this detract from what is an excellent, low-cost vege curry which is enriched by the texture and taste of the paneer cheese which is regularly used in authentic Indian curries.

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Smoked Ham and Courgette Tortilla


Tortilla is just a fashionable word for quiche

The concept of “cook once, eat twice” is worth bearing in mind when you’re following a diet, as invariably making fresh meals from scratch day-in, day-out can take its toll. Smoked Ham and Courgette Tortilla from Tom Kerridge fulfils this brief perfectly as it can be enjoyed hot or cold, and keeps well in the fridge.

This meal fed my wife and I over consecutive days and is ideal to have for brunch or lunch, depending on your schedule. Like me, Tom Kerridge loves a courgette and you’ll find various recipes featuring this underrated vegetable in his Lose Weight for Good book. But if you need a courgette fix now, check out tagliatelle carbonara, warm griddled vegetables and courgette caponata pasta.

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Mediterranean-Style Lamb Shanks


A proper treat for special occasions and/or ‘date nights’

Ok, so this might be 582 calories (and more if you opt to add couscous), but Mediterranean-Style Lamb Shanks from Pinch of Nom tastes divine so why not treat yourself once in a while? You deserve it!

Lamb Shanks literally melt in your mouth when slow cooked and I’ve recently switched to a fab local butcher who provides top-quality meat at affordable prices. The perception that butchers are more expensive than supermarkets isn’t always the case, but the quality you get from them is undoubtedly superior. I’m not sure I’d go back to buying meat from supermarkets again

In their book, Pinch of Nom provide two alternative cooking methods for cooking this recipe – electric pressure cooker and slow cooker – so check them out if they appeal to you. I decided to ‘rough it’ by using a conventional oven and it was ready in about 2 ½ hours – perfect for a lazy Sunday. If you decide to have couscous with this (in hindsight, I’m not sure it needs it), make sure you buy a decent quality brand. Ainsley Harriott is pretty good and is available from most supermarkets.

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Prawns with Tomato & Feta


Prawns and feta – can you think of a more random combo?

Prawns with tomato & feta from BBC Good Food sounds totally random, and it is. But I decided to give this a go as it was about the only meal I could make with what I had left in the fridge. I love prawns and I love feta, but together? Hmm, I’m not sure.

As a quick meal though it did the job, although it’s an expensive snack if serving between 2 people. For cheaper, arguably tastier alternatives, I’d opt for warm green bean and feta salad, prawn pasta salad and quinoa, prawn and mango salad.

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Satay Burger


Best burger, ever. And ready in under 20 minutes

Satay Burger from Two Chubby Cubs is, quite possibly, the best burger I’ve ever tasted – and that includes the unhealthy ones I’ve demolished from takeaways and pubs over the years. But this home-made burger is only 390 calories and will cost approx £1.36 per portion to send you into food heaven / porn – delete as appropriate.

Normally you associate satay with chicken, so having this with beef made for a welcome surprise. And it tasted even nicer because my wife made it :-). This is proof that you can still enjoy a burger on a diet, but if you’re going to have a treat I recommend you get top-quality beef mince from a butcher instead of from a supermarket.

Most low-fat burgers require you to bulk out the filling with onions and courgettes, and while they taste good, I love the fact that this amazing burger from ‘the Cubs’ requires zero pissing about. Just mix together the soy sauces, peanut butter and lime juice with the beef mince, form into a burger and pop them in a frying pan or griddle pan. From start to finish, you can be savouring this in less than 20 minutes. Why are you still here? Go, go, go!!!

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Smoky Sausage and Beans


Nowt fancy, but bloody lovely

Smoky Sausage and Beans from Justine Pattison’s Without the Calories – Comfort Food is indeed the epitome of comfort food – rich in flavour, so easy to put together in one pan and cheap to make. The ‘smoky’ flavour comes from the smoked paprika, cumin and coriander which I tend to chuck into the pan with reckless abandon. But remember, there are no calories in spices!

My teenage lad isn’t a fan of sausages unless the skins are removed and shaped into patties. But he much prefers the daintier chipolatas, which suits me fine because they are better for your waistline. This filling meal comes in at 412 calories per serving is perfect for a weeknight evening which is best enjoyed when the weather is cold or crappy. Love chipolatas? Then check out sausage and apple bake which is another brilliantly comforting recipe.

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Chicken and Leeks in Blue Cheese Sauce


I have a leek fetish. I could literally eat them every day of the week

Chicken and Leeks in Blue Cheese Sauce is a brilliant weeknight meal from Pinch of Nom, requiring only 5 base ingredients and just 5 minutes prep time. Just what you need after a long day at work.

Chicken and leeks are an excellent combination and this recipe will only set you back 214 calories, meaning you have plenty of leeway to add some mash / new potatoes and/or vege as an accompaniment. If you like this, then try creamy chicken and tarragon pots with rosemary potato wedges which is equally divine.

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Hot and Sour Soup – just 98p per serving


Less than 100 calories and under a £1 per serving

Having dour, tinned soup when on a diet can be enough to send people over the edge. The ‘healthy’ supermarket options are as dull as dishwater, whereas the more interesting varieties are often laden with sugars. Home-made soups, like Hot and Sour Soup from Pinch of Nom, is far more enticing and really good for you at less than 100 calories per serving.

If your fancying a Chinese, why not have this as a starter followed by sweet and sour chicken, yeung chow fried rice or chicken satay? In total, you could have a fakeaway bonanza for less than 500 calories!

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Veggie Tacos


This tastes great, but you will fart afterwards!

Veggie Tacos from the Hairy Dieters is an absolute feast that even hardened meat eaters should try. My teenage son still thinks vegetables are from the devil, but thankfully loves all types of beans so he’ll happily demolish these tacos without protest. There is a fair amount of prep involved beforehand, but you should have some leftovers for the next day as this will serve 4 generously. And if it doesn’t, what are you doing? You’re supposed to be on a diet ;-).

Wondering what to do with the leftover produce? Use the kale to make cajun prawn and kale salad or scrambled cajun eggs with spinach and eggs. For butternut squash, try butternut squash pilaf, beef kofta curry (gorgeous!), curried butternut squash and apple soup or home-made butternut squash tortellini. Right, that should keep you busy! I’m off.

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(Lighter) Chicken Korma


Check out the ‘Fakeaways’ section of this blog for more of your favourites

Chicken Korma from the Hairy Dieters is a family-favourite ‘fakeaway’, perfect for kids or curry wimps who can’t stand a bit of a heat and prefer milder flavours. Even if you like your curries HOT, you’ll still appreciate the variety of spices which make up this recipe. It may seem like a lot of ingredients, particularly if you’re buying them in from scratch, BUT you will return to them again and again.

For some of the more irregular spices, tumeric can be used in sweet potato saag aloo and creamed spinach with eggs, while saffron can be found in cauliflower and chicken pilaf and chicken biryani. Traditional Indian restaurant kormas are calorific as they are loaded with cream, whereas this lighter version only contains 3 tablespoons of double cream and just 294 calories per portion, without rice or naan bread.

Fancying a mild curry with fewer ingredients? Then the nation’s favourite, chicken tikka masala, is for you.

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Cheesy Leeks on Toast


This is way better than bog-standard cheese on toast IMO

Leeks? Tick. Cheese? Tick. Cheesy Leeks On Toast from Pinch of Nom…….? Massive tick! I had my reservations before making this, but what a simple and lip-smacking brunch / lunch meal it turned out to be with some mustard dolloped on top.

Providing you use appropriate Parmesan and Cheddar cheese, this meal is suitable for vegetarians. I must confess, I wasn’t familiar with what xanthan gum is, but it’s a thickening agent most typically used in baking that you can buy in some supermarkets – I got mine from Tesco. You could use cornflour as a substitute, but it won’t thicken and bind the ingredients as well.

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Monte Cristo Sandwich


Just make a ham and cheese toasty and be done with it

Monte Cristo Sandwich is Pinch of Nom’s lower-calorie take on the French classic, croque monsieur. Or, in my attempt, a crap cheese and ham toastie with a few extra ingredients. I like the fact that sandwiches don’t have to be off limits when you’re on a ‘diet’, but I don’t like the potential food wastage making this involves – 3 spinach leaves, 1 cherry tomato, ½ a spring onion. It was enough to get my knickers in a twist wondering about what to do with the leftovers!

I don’t think it helped that I burnt it and singed my hand when trying to flip the sandwich over, but then again I am clumsy personified at times in the kitchen. Pinch of Nom suggest having this for breakfast, I think it’s better suited to brunch or lunch.

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Gammon and Pineapple Stir Fry


Gammon in a stir fry? Wonders never cease

I had some gammon leftover after making campfire stew and was scratching my head as to what to do with it. After doing some digging online, I stumbled across Gammon and Pineapple Stir Fry on the Diabetes UK website.

I wouldn’t associate gammon with a stir-fry, or being suitable for people with diabetes, but at only 174 calories per serving, and 6.4g of fat, 8.3g of sugars and 1.80g of salt, this fits the brief for a quick and healthy meal that is suitable for all. As for the taste, I loved it, mainly because I’m OCD about food waste and we had all of the ingredients to hand. On the other hand my wife was non-plussed, which I guess means we’re not having it again ;-).

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Campfire Stew


Try making this around a camp fire, I dare you

Requiring approximately 20 ingredients, Campfire Stew from Pinch of Nom is a meal that you’ll never make over a campfire. But sarcasm aside, this is one hell of a pot full that can be made in the oven, a slow cooker or a pressure cooker. Below is the oven method (which can take up to 3 hours), but you’ll find the other methods in Pinch of Nom’s debut book.

Some of you might better know this dish as ‘Cowboy Stew’. Whatever you call it, it’s not one you forget because there is literally something in this meal for everyone. The melt in your mouth gammon, the beans, the varieties of vegetables and the subtle spices. An absolute feast, and all for just over 400 calories. Once all the ingredients are in a casserole dish, all you need to do is check every 30 minutes or so to make sure it isn’t drying out and give things a stir, but mine contained plenty of liquid at the end of the cooking time.

You rarely see gammon based recipes in healthy eating cookbooks, so Campfire Stew made for a welcome and satisfying change. If you want an alternative gammon recipe, check out gammon with parsley sauce, which was too random for me but you might like it.

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Cobb Salad with blue cheese dressing


NO ONE is going hungry after eating this

Cobb Salad from Justine Pattison is an amazing, belly-busting US salad which will provide a filling lunch as well as a main evening meal. It’s great with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, or a blue cheese dressing which you can make in a couple of minutes using light mayo, buttermilk or fat-free natural yoghurt, white wine vinegar, Roquefort cheese (or any blue cheese will do) and a dash of salt and pepper.

Struggling to remember the ingredients? As Justine says, just think ‘Eat Cobb’ – egg, avocado, tomato, chicken, onion, bacon and beetroot. My mouth is watering just typing this! One of the most satisfying, healthy salads you’re likely to have.

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Smoky Pancetta Cod


One pan, ready in 15 minutes

Smoky Pancetta Cod from Jamie Oliver might not be cheap, but it only uses 5 base ingredients and is one of the best midweek dinners I’ve made that can be ready in just 15 minutes. Seriously, when’s the last time you rustled up a meal as quick and as good as this, for less than 350 calories per portion?

I used prosciutto instead of pancetta based on what I had in my fridge, but you could also use smoked bacon or parma ham. Any white fish will also do, so just use whatever you can get your hands on. If you like the concept of cod being wrapped in something, check out roasted cod with parma ham and peppers which takes a bit longer to cook but is equally a brilliant evening meal.

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Fresh Fruit Compote with Home-Made Granola


You’ll never go back to supermarket cereals after sampling this

Ok, so there’s a few ingredients and a fair bit of prep work to do in advance, but Fresh Fruit Compote with Home-Made Granola from the Hairy Dieters offers such a healthy and brilliant start to the day. As most people know by now, granola and muesli supermarket cereals are loaded with sugar, but this home-made version topped with fresh fruit and a dollop of yoghurt is infinitely more satisfying.

It will easily provide 6 servings and the cost, at £1.43 per portion, would be considerably more expensive if you bought this from a coffee / café outlet. If you’re going to embark on a healthy eating plan, why deprive yourself when you can enjoy fresh food as luxurious as this?

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Mussels with Leeks and White Wine


If you’ve never tried mussels before, this is the recipe for you. Divine.

Prior to lockdown, one of my Saturday rituals was having a lazy stroll into town and buying fresh mussels from my local fishmonger. They are one of my favourite seafoods and very cheap at a cost of about £4 for 1kg. The Hairy Dieters feature three mussel-based dishes across their seven healthy eating books (check out Fast Food and Make it Easy for the other recipes), but Mussels with Leeks and White Wine from their first book is the best, in my opinion.

Leeks and white wine are a fabulous combination, and adding the mussels to the bowls with the creamy sauce is just begging to be mopped up with a piece of crusty bread. If you’re watching your calories go easy on the bread though, if you can. And if you can’t, well, your belly is going to be very satisfied and that’s what food should be about.

I love to have these on Saturday afternoons, washed down with the rest of the white wine. Heaven.

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Prawn Foo Yung


This is why Chinese takeaways will never go out of business

“Can I have Prawn Foo Yung?” said no one, ever, when ordering from a Chinese takeaway. But this low-calorie version from the Hairy Dieters is one of the healthiest ‘fakeaways’ you can have at just 264 calories per serving. I can’t vouch for its authenticity, but nor can anyone else because no one chooses prawn foo yung, right?

I apologise if I’ve offended any “foo yungers” reading this. What is this recipe like and how did it find itself on my table? Well, it was Friday evening, there wasn’t a lot in my fridge and I was fancying something quick and easy to rustle up. I had some leftover cabbage after making home-made coleslaw to accompany Sticky Chicken earlier in the week, and as part of my ‘no food waste’ crusade I was determined to make it go further. I’ve usually got some eggs, carrots and prawns in the fridge and hey presto, possibly the dullest Chinese fakeaway was created in less than 20 minutes.

On the positive side, this takes less than 5 minutes to cook once you’ve done the required bit of prep work. It tastes pretty ok as prawn and eggs go, and you can have it on the table in a flash. An imperfectly perfect Friday night meal so you can stay on track with your diet and not resort to calling Just Eat.

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