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.
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.
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.
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!
Who says you can’t enjoy takeaway food when watching your weight? Beef with Green Peppersin 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Chicken Tetrazzini from Justine Pattison is apparently an American hybrid recipe. I don’t know what that means but it tastes pretty good, though does require many ingredients and some patience when putting it together.
Creamy chicken, topped with vegetables, breadcrumbs, cheese and spaghetti seems a bit weird to me. But after shoving my lasagne dish under the grill for 5 minutes to crisp up and turn golden brown all was forgiven. I get it now, kind of. This recipe serves 6 for 339 calories per serving, but that’s stretching it somewhat. You might be better dividing this between 4 portions and factoring in the extra calories. Naughty, naughty :-).
Spicy Sweetcorn Soup is a slightly misleading title from the Hairy Dieters as it includes bacon. But don’t despair if you’re vegetarian. The bacon is cooked separately and only added to the soup at the end. For a vegetarian version, use veggie stock and add firm smoked tofu which you can crisp up, as per the Hairy Dieters’ suggestion.
Whether you include the bacon or not, this is a cracking ‘meal in a bowl’ containing onion, red pepper, sweet potato, sweetcorn and coriander, spiced up by the chipotle paste. This soup can be enjoyed anytime of year, but it really comes into its own when the cold weather sets in. If you’re a fan of home-made soups, check out some other suggestions here.
Smoky Steak Fajitas from Justine Pattison is a good choice for a fast midweek meal, or especially on a Friday evening after a week at work when you don’t have the energy to cook something which requires any effort. Key to getting this recipe right is heat. Make sure your griddle pan is piping hot before cooking your steak, and it only needs about 1 ½ minutes on each side.
Again, with heat in mind, make sure you cover the cooked steak with a piece of foil, wrapped in a clean towel to keep it warm while you stir-fry the peppers and spring onions. Finally, don’t forget to warm your tortillas through – cold tortillas are yukky!!
Personally, I would have been a bit more brazen with this recipe and chucked in some jalapenos and a spicier variety of salsa, but it’s easy to switch a few ingredients around to meet your preferences! If you like the idea of this, check out fast chicken fajitas which is also a super-quick meal to throw together.
I once saw a recipe by Jamie Oliver called ‘tasty fish tacos with game-changing kiwi, lime and chill salsa’. It looked great in his book, but too great though to suggest I could pull it off and be arsed to slave away with the mass of ingredients required for the recipe. I liked the concept though, and when I saw Soft Fish Tacos from Pinch of Nom, I was eager to try this much simpler version.
Sadly, this is one PON recipe that I won’t be in a hurry to make again. It just seemed to be lacking in flavour and a tad bland, and for me adding a ¼ tsp of various spices seems pointless. You may think differently though, so give it a whirl if it takes your fancy.
My Mexican food week continued with Quesadilla from Pinch of Nom, accompanied by Nom’s Barbecue Potato Wedges which were totally yummy! Getting my teenage son to have vegetarian-based meals can be a challenge, but fortunately he loves pulses and tortilla wraps so convincing him to tuck into this was refreshingly easy.
This simple recipe is going to become a regular in my household and the BBQ wedges are a brilliant dance partner for less than 400 calories in total. Do take care when flipping over your quesadilla to finish them off. Remember, slow and steady wins the race and you don’t have to try a Jamie Oliver style ‘toss’ to impress anyone. Food on your plate is always preferable to food on the floor ;-).
Spicy bean burgers from Justine Pattison were a welcome surprise, and I say this as a hardened meat eater who would have previously dismissed veggie burgers as tasting of ‘cardboard’, or another tired cliché. But let’s be fair, I’ve tasted some frankly awful veggie burgers in other healthy eating recipe books, however despite their appearance Justine’s possessed bags of flavour owing to the chipotle paste, coriander and lime zest.
In fact, these are so good that you don’t need to add extra calories by having these burgers in a bun. Just some nice salad (little gem lettuce leaves and sliced tomatoes) and the accompanying, rather splendid lime and coriander mayo (see below) do the trick. And all for less than 200 calories and under a £1 per serving. Perfect for a ‘meat-free’ Monday or any day, for that matter.
Slow cookers are a handy invention – ideal for slowly cooking casseroles and stews so that you can come home to a hot meal after a long day at work, or if you’ve been out and about. But despite their convenience, I’ve never been a fan of recipes I’ve made in the slow cooker in comparison to cooking them on the hob or in a conventional oven. However, I make an exception when it comes to Mexican Pulled Pork Tacos from Justine Pattison. Yes, you’ve got to marinade the meat for several hours (or preferably overnight) but the end result is absolute worth it.
Slowly cooking a shoulder of pork over an extensive period of time (up to 10 hours if using the LOW setting on a slow cooker) makes the meat a doddle to shed and then you can enjoy it literally melting in your mouth. The image above doesn’t do this meal justice, but try taking a photo of a taco filling when you’re starving, it’s never going to turn out well! :).
Pork shoulder is dirt cheap and the calorie count for this recipe is surprisingly low, BUT that’s dependent on you cutting off the rind and fat before you cook it ;-). Home-made slaw is so much better than the pre-prepped supermarket equivalents, or serve with some gem lettuce and sour cream if you can’t be arsed / are pushed for time.
You may notice a few more Mexican recipes finding their way onto this blog in the coming days. That’s because I was supposed to go on holiday to Cancun this summer before the world imploded due to Covid. In an attempt to cushion the blow, I thought it would be quirky to have a complete week dedicated to Mexican food. Well, it seemed a good idea at the time….
Kicking the week off was Mexican Breakfast from Justine Pattison. I’m not entirely sure what makes this ‘Mexican’, surely it needs more than the introduction of a tortilla wrap (which I didn’t bother with)? But anyway, for less than £1 per portion this was a decent brunch fix, although not as authentic as all-day Mexican breakfast from Jamie Oliver, which in truth I didn’t enjoy as much.
If you like the concept of cooking eggs in a pan, then personally menemen (a Turkish recipe) from the Hairy Dieters gets my vote all-day long.
For all the frustration and worry caused by going into lockdown, I never understood why some people made such a fuss about no longer being able to visit their favourite fast food joints. But it prompted some to discover how easily they could recreate their favourite convenience meals at home, and also realise how much these joints were having their pants down in terms of what they were being charged for the quality of food being served – not to mention the higher calories!
Piri Piri Chicken from Justine Pattison is a lighter take on a Nando’s institution and it tastes damn good. But you must remember to follow the golden rules to create the authentic piri piri taste. Firstly, you must marinade the chicken for at least 4 hours but preferably overnight to allow for the flavours to intensify. Secondly, and above all, make sure you use proper hot chillies like red bird’s eye instead of regular ones otherwise your food will be lacking the heat you crave.
This is great with a big side salad or some naughty chippies / potato wedges on the side.