Cajun Dirty Rice – a filthy feast for less than 300 calories!


This is so good, you’ll love it.

I’d become a little bored of my favourite healthy eating recipes and was in need of some inspiration. The Pinch of Nom series of books (Pinch of Nom and Pinch of Nom Everyday Light) have been a breath of fresh air and contain some novel recipes that I haven’t come across in other ‘diet’ books.

One of ‘Nom’s’ most celebrated dishes within their huge online community is Cajun Dirty Rice. Now I can see why. This amazing meal packs so much variety of different ingredients, all for less than 300 calories. Phenomenal. Who doesn’t love meat, vege and rice in one belly-busting bowl?

You will have various ingredients leftover so here’s what you can do with them. For peppers, check out menemen, warm griddled vegetables with halloumi or sweet and sour chicken. For mushrooms and bacon go for tagliatelle carbonara or halloumi and smoky bacon hash. No leftovers, no waste. Enjoy.

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Courgette Caponata Pasta


A tasty, plateful of vege goodness for under a £1 per serving

I was hoping that the Hairy Dieters’ ‘Go Veggie’ book would become my non-meat bible, however very few recipes caught my eye which I thought would be regulars on my meal planner. Courgette Caponata Pasta was one of them and I was pleasantly surprised by how much flavour is packed into one meal for just 133 calories, or 314 calories based on a 50g serving of pasta (per person, serving 4).

Now before I go on, I’ll say this now. Don’t make this if you hate chopping vege as dicing the onions, peppers and courgettes is time-consuming, unless you’re a proper chef and can have everything prepped in 20 minutes as the Hairy Dieters claim. It takes me 20 minutes to find all the ingredients in my kitchen! Ok, that’s bollocks too, but you get my drift.

If you are willing to persevere with prepping everything, you’ll be rewarded. With or without pasta, this is a gorgeous plate of food thanks to the addition of the cinnamon, lemon zest, chilli flakes, honey and red wine vinegar. If you’re looking for another pasta dish with a kick, check out spaghetti on fire – it is suitable for vegetarians if you omit the bacon.

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Parma Ham Salad


Lunchtime sorted for less than 200 calories

I used to run a mile at the thought of having a salad for lunch, but they’ve really grown on me and Parma Ham Salad is another quick, healthy and filling lunchtime fix from the Hairy Dieters.

There’s lots of low-calorie dressings available in supermarkets, but it’s more satisfying and healthier to make your own – in this recipe the wholegrain mustard combines well with the olive oil and sherry vinegar. The ingredients will comfortably serve 4, but if you’re feeling particularly ravenous, you can have 2 portions for just 348 calories.

Although expensive, you’ll always find Parma ham lurking in my fridge. I love the taste and a little goes a long way, it keeps for ages and it’s very versatile. It’s great in salads like this one, summer pasta dishes packed with vege, or wrapped around fish which can baked in the oven until it’s lovely and crisp. For other fab salad suggestions, click here.

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Squash & Spinach Pasta Rotolo


Just 90p portion

Jamie Oliver’s Save with Jamie contains a really inspirational vegetarian chapter at the beginning of the book, not the back, which is where some ‘vege’ recipes sometimes get shoved. Squash & Spinach Rotolo really catches the eye but the recipe, which takes up to three hours to make (the butternut squash takes 90 mins to roast), isn’t the easiest to get right.

My latest attempt didn’t go to plan. I put too much water on my lasagne sheets, then overloaded the soggy sheets with filling which made it spill out when cooking in the pan. Infuriating. This isn’t a meal to make on a weeknight and is probably best for prepping on a Sunday evening in readiness for a ‘meat-free Monday’. As for the taste, actually it was pretty good, although I do find frozen spinach a little overbearing compared to fresh varieties.

One to try again, when I can summon up sufficient enthusiasm that is required to match the effort needed. More experienced cooks may fair better with this. If you love butternut squash, check out home-made butternut squash tortellini, which again needs a degree of skill to pull off, but is an excellent vegetarian pasta option.

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Cajun Sweet Potatoes


Just 83p per portion – SWEET!

I’ve been working from home since the middle of March and have enjoyed making fresh breakfasts and the luxury of being able to prep in advance for evening meals. But one area I’ve struggled with is lunchtimes. By this point I’m well into my working day and don’t want to get distracted by having to spend time making another meal from scratch, or turning my kitchen into a mess. And while I could always have a sandwich and a bag of crisps, these aren’t healthy options and can soon breed bad habits.

Jamie Oliver’s 5 ingredients book is handy for knocking-up decent meals with minimal effort. Cajun Sweet Potatoes may take an hour to cook, but you can simply leave them in the oven to roast while you focus on more important things. Prep time is just 10 minutes – perfect to enable a stress-free lunchtime. Not only that, this meal was really flavoursome but the anti-garlic police may want to use less garlic cloves than the recommended full bulb.

By the way, if you’re looking for a cracking recipe that uses sweet potatoes, look no further than penang chicken and sweet potato curry. So, sooo good, and a brilliant ‘date night’ option.

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Steak Pizzaiola


The steak is really on there, somewhere

If I was a prisoner on death row (disclaimer: I have no plans to be) then I’d choose steak, chips, mushrooms, onion rings with an accompanying peppercorn sauce for my last meal. Except I’m not on death row, and I can’t have steak when on a ‘diet’, or so I thought.

It turns out you can have steak in moderation, providing that you serve it with a low-cal sauce or a side salad. I’m not convinced that’s a fair compromise, but I decided to give Steak Pizzaiola a try from the Hairy Dieters. I figured the ‘pizzaiola’, tomato based sauce would be a hit with my son, who just like his old man, loves his steaks.

Actually, this did turn out quite well, although I decided early on that a few supporting salad leaves just wasn’t going to cut it so I added some naughty chips on the side. The diet police can lock me up and throw away the key. The quantity of hard cheese, just 25g, didn’t really add that much flavour for the extra cooking time, so you may wish to leave it out and save a whole 23 calories and 5 minutes of your life. I’m actually getting grumpy as I’m typing this because I want a proper steak dinner!

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Tuna Nicoise Wrap (surprise)


Who needs wraps anyway?

Even Ray Charles would be able to spot my deliberate mistake when making Tuna Nicoise Wrap from the Hairy Dieters – I left out the wrap and just had this as a salad. I know, what a rebel. Not because I was having a “I’m being good” day, I’m just not a fan of bread and didn’t feel up to messing about trying to cram the ingredients into a wrap – for me, they never hold together or look as neat and tidy as the cookbooks show.

But as a salad, I absolutely love this. It’s really tasty, the ingredients will stretch to two people as a light lunch, or you could add another tin of tuna and spring water and it would still be a lighter alternative to having a wrap. So, that’s a wrap.

If you like simple salads, check out tuna and butterbean salad, simple tuna and sweetcorn pasta salad or chicken caesar salad. Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous or creative check out the salad section on this blog for some banging suggestions.

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Lamb Steaks with Mint and Broad Beans


Give this recipe the TLC it deserves and you’re in for a treat

Lamb Steaks with Mint and Broad Beans from the Hairy Dieters is an exquisite dish that seems somewhat out of place in their ‘Fast Food’ book – recipes which supposedly can be prepped and cooked in 30 minutes. It is somewhat stretching the truth to say you can create this in half an hour. In fact, it’s total bollocks.

But this is a fantastic recipe which will turn out perfectly as long as you give it some TLC. Firstly, marinate the lamb for more than 10 minutes (I marinated mine for a couple of hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon) and secondly, although you don’t have to, I’d recommend ‘de-podding’ the broad beans as they taste and look better with the skins taken off. This is a labour of love though!

I’m so pleased I took the time to make this meal and it went down extremely well in my household. If you’re wondering what to do with the remaining broad beans, try chicken and broad bean pilaf and leave out the chicken for a vegetarian friendly version.

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Chicken Tikka Drumsticks


Just 66p per portion if serving 4 (2 drumsticks each)

I was really looking forward to making Chicken Tikka Drumsticks from Pinch of Nom based on the success of trying some of their other fantastic recipes. Drumsticks are cheap and ideal for weekend lunches and snacks. But I should have known things were not going to work out when my supermarket delivery swapped the red food colouring I’d ordered for purple cupcake colouring! So much for creating authentic looking drumsticks.

But my biggest issue with this meal is that for all the spices it states to use, the end result didn’t particularly taste of chicken tikka. The book does say you can use 2 tablespoons of curry powder instead if you don’t have all the spices which would be less ‘faffy’. This recipe serves 8 but 1 chicken drumstick is never going to fill you up, so I recommend having 2 drumsticks (in total 242 calories with dip) and a side salad.

I’m going to stick with the Hairy Dieters alternative choices – sticky chicken drumsticks and fusion tandoori chicken – which I think have more flavour.

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Sea Bass and Miso Risotto


Looks can be deceiving. This is sooo good with hot sauce drizzled on top

Whether baking it in the oven, or briskly pan-frying it, fish is ideal for quick and flavoursome weeknight dinners whilst being very diet friendly to boot. Sea Bass and Miso Risotto from Pinch of Nom is a case of ‘looks can be deceiving’.

At first glance, it looks like plain old fish and rice. But adding the miso paste gives this meal a tasty twist, and if you drizzle some Siracha or hot sauce over the top of the bass  (as Pinch of Nom suggest) your plate is catapulted into a whole new dimension. My wife and son love it which gives me a lot of pleasure as a mediocre but willing home cook.

This recipe is straightforward to make but you do have to keep a close eye on things so the risotto doesn’t stick to the pan. And make sure your frying pan is also sufficiently hot before you add the sea bass fillets. They literally only need about 5 minutes to perfectly cook through. If you love sea bass, check out baked sea bass with peppers and pine nuts, or pan-fried cod with Asian dressing is another really easy and quick fish dish to prep.

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Turkey Keema Peas


Turkey isn’t just for Christmas

Indian-based Keema dishes are typically made with lamb or beef, but the Hairy Dieters’ wonderful Turkey Keema Peas recipe uses turkey thigh mince which contains around 7% fat and just 270 calories per serving. Using turkey breast mince (approx. 2%) would make it even more diet-friendly, although more expensive. The Hairy Dieters suggest serving this with a small portion of rice, regular or cauliflower, but I think this is sufficiently filling on its own. Plus, I personally think rice is totally overrated and a waste of calories which you could use instead for…. BOOZE ha ha!

By incorporating more vegetables and using cheaper types of meat (chipolatas, pork mince, skin-on bone-in chicken thighs etc), you can still stay on track with your diet while sticking to a strict budget. At around £2 a pack for 500g from most supermarkets, turkey thigh mince is a brilliant low-cost option. You could also use it to make turkey burgers or a turkey chilli.

I’m loving getting reacquainted with turkey again and judging by the views on this blog, so are you, by trying more recipes with this underrated, often forgotten (outside of Christmas) cut of meat. If you’re wondering what to do with the remaining coconut milk, why not make Coconut Prawn Curry?

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Sausage and Apple Bake


Super, simple, scrumptious

Good-quality chipolatas, made from unspiced pork, are cheap but pack in loads of flavour so are a handy option to keep in your fridge or freezer. Sausage and Apple Bake, from Jamie Oliver’s 5 ingredients book, utilises chipolatas brilliantly in this one-pan dish with honeyed parsnips and caramelised onions. It will seem like a LOT of parsnips but the strips do reduce down.

I recently had this with gin on a balmy spring evening outside, and while it might be better suited to a cold autumn evening, I love recipes that I can just bang in the oven to do their thing while I sit back and relax. The fat content in this recipe is quite high if you’re watching your weight but still comes in at under 500 calories.

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Coconut Prawn Curry – prepped and cooked in under 20 mins!


Perfect for a quick, weeknight curry fix

Coconut Prawn Curry from the Hairy Dieters is a such a simple dish and perfect for a weeknight meal when you’re tired and just want something good to eat that’s quick to cook. From start to finish, you can be tucking into this in less than 20 minutes. Perfect.

The photo doesn’t do the flavours in this recipe justice, and despite using two teaspoons of cornflour the sauce was a little runny, so don’t be tempted to use more than the recommended 200ml of half-fat coconut milk. But all that matters is that it tastes great, and for just 254 calories it will satisfy your hunger cravings so that you don’t need to add any rice to go with it.

If you’re in need of a curry fix, check out the ‘Fakeaways’ section on this blog.

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Sweet and Sour Chicken – a proper ‘fakeaway’


Less than £2 a head and under 300 calories per portion, without rice!

From re-creating your favourite curry to making lower calorie burgers, healthy cookbooks are awash with ‘fakeaways’ these days. And don’t get me wrong, these recipes are welcome and have their place. But try as they might, some of them still don’t hit the ‘spot’, particularly with curries which omit staple restaurant ingredients like ghee to keep the fat content to a minimum. My philosophy is if you’re in need of a blow-out and want to be naughty, then treat yourself to a takeaway, PROVIDING you get back on your diet the next day.

But there are ‘fakeaway’ exceptions which do genuinely (in my opinion) taste like the ‘real thing’. Sweet and Sour Chicken from the Hairy Dieters is one of the more authentic fakeaways I’ve made – I think Chinese takeaways in general are easier to recreate at home based on the required ingredients. This recipe requires only two chicken breasts and will comfortably serve 4 people for less than £2 a head, without rice. The sweet and sour sauce with the pineapple and ginger is to die for!

Serve this in a takeaway carton to your nearest and dearest and see if they notice the difference. Or just serve it them anyway. If you’re interested in fakeways, check out the relevant section on this blog here, and if Chinese floats your boat, Yeung Chow Fried Rice, is another excellent recipe to try, courtesy of Pinch of Nom.

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Tuna Butterbean Salad


This wasn’t even 1 serving and the portion size was ample

Jamie Oliver’s 5 ingredients book is useful to have around when you’re pushed for time or short of ingredients. I recently tried his Tuna Butter Bean Salad when struggling for inspiration one lunchtime and it did the job.

You may note that the recipe’s weight in grams for the tuna in olive oil and the jar of butter beans are larger than standard sizes. I just used regular tins for both and the serving for 2 people is more than generous. While the concept of ‘5 ingredients’ is handy, it can also be restrictive. This salad felt a little dry and bland towards the end but you can easily ‘tart’ it up by adding a low-fat salad dressing, for example.

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Grilled mushrooms with scrambled eggs on toast


Useless fact: did you know there are only 18 calories per Portobello mushroom?

People love or hate mushrooms but I’m definitely in the former camp! Grilled Mushrooms with Scrambled Eggs on Toast in DK’s Cook Healthy & Quick book uses the Portobello variety, which are coated with chopped parsley and olive oil and then baked in the oven.

They are the perfect accompaniment to a slice of toasted wholemeal bread and some scrambled egg and chives. If you share my adulation of ‘shrooms, check out Mushrooms on Toast by Jamie Oliver which is equally simplistic to make.

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Pork Medallions in BBQ Sauce


Serve with mash, sweetcorn and/or green vege

The sauce within the Hairy Dieters’ Pork Medallions in BBQ Sauce recipe is gorgeous – red wine vinegar, tomato puree, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and orange juice – creating that lovely barbecue flavour effect. In fact, it was so nice that I was worried about reducing it down too much and in the end my sauce (as the photo indicates) was a tad too runny.

I don’t think this recipe represents a meal on its down, and as per the Hairy Dieters’ recommendation I bulked this out with some sweet potato mash and sweetcorn. My teenage son Will is a big fan of this dish and it’s an easy way to get him to eat vege when he’s ‘distracted’ by the meat and sauce ;-).

If you love BBQ related coatings, check out Sticky Chicken with Coleslaw – another big hit with the kids!

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Chicken and Ham Wok Lasagne


This did look like a lasagne until I came to serve it up, honest

Although I don’t mind washing up (it keeps my hands soft!), I do get irritable when having to use lots of pots and pans at the same time in the kitchen, particularly when I’m unfamiliar with a recipe. So the concept of Justine Pattison’s ‘Without the Calories – easy one pot’ book was appealing.

Chicken and Ham Wok Lasagne caught my eye within it because I was intrigued as to how realistic it could be to create a ‘lasagne’ using one pan. It was refreshingly simple, even if there’s a few ingredients to prep and get out on the working top before you start cooking. But above all this recipe tastes great too and while it might not be conventional, it’s effective when you can’t be arsed to make a proper lasagne. Actually, I can never be arsed to make a proper lasagne.

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Baked haddock, spinach and egg pots


Ideal for a lazy Sunday brunch

Baked haddock, spinach and egg pots from the Hairy Dieters has been a recipe I’ve never got round to making. It doesn’t work as a weekday breakfast for me, and if buying fresh haddock from a supermarket I never know what to do with any leftovers.

However, I recently purchased packs of frozen fish on offer from Iceland (cod, haddock and tuna steaks) and one lazy Sunday brunch later this meal was back on the agenda because I could take out of the freezer what I needed. Smoked haddock can be an acquired taste, but I enjoyed this and would have it again. I do prefer the Hairy Dieters’ other baked recipes though – Baked Eggs with Mushroom Filling and Baked Eggs with Chorizo Filling.

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Poulet au Vinaigre – oooh la la!


This is my fave recipe of June, bar none

Poulet au Vinaigre from Pinch of Nom is absolutely gorgeous and has become one of my favourite meals of lockdown. The recipe is a low-cal version of a French classic dish, yet despite tasting beautifully creamy, is only 197 calories per serving due to using low-fat cream cheese (without vege and/or mash). Aren’t they clever?

I served this with some savoy cabbage, but any green vege will do. Chicken, tarragon and white wine is such a fab combination. If you can’t get enough of it, check out Creamy Chicken and Tarragon Pots with Rosemary Potato Wedges from the Hairy Dieters – another one of my favourites.

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