Corned Beef Chilli


Everyone’s got a tin of corned beef lurking in their cupboards somewhere

I’ve always admired Jack Monroe’s passion and determination for campaigning on poverty issues and hunger relief. She’s also a genius at being able to create budget, home-cooked meals out of virtually nothing using staple, canned ingredients. Corned Beef Chilli from her book, Tin Can Cook, is nothing fancy, but it’s an education in demonstrating what you can rustle up using a few tins that may be gathering dust in your cupboard.

Using strong tea as a substitute for red wine was a bridge too far for me, but it goes to show that there’s usually a substitute for something if you use your imagination. This is the second book from Jack I’ve purchased but the first recipe I’ve actually tried. In truth, it was unremarkable in taste but I’m sure they’ll be some hidden gems elsewhere that I’ll eventually stumble across. The recipe states it will serve 6-8, but 6 is more realistic, and even then you’ll need to bulk it out with mash, rice or garlic bread, as I chose to.

I, like many others, take fresh ingredients for granted and, at times, believe they are far superior to cheaper, canned equivalents. But that isn’t necessarily the case, and it’s about time all of us opened our eyes, particularly in times of hardship. If you love corned beef, check out corned beef hash which is a big, comfort food favourite of mine during Winter. Or, if you want a more conventional chilli, have a look at chilli con carne instead.

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Pea and Ham Pasta


If you can’t get hold of lumaca rigate pasta, penne will do

Tom Kerridge is the absolute don when it comes to flavours and his simple Pea and Ham Pasta dish totally hits the spot. This recipe will feed two very generously, and given that it’s 585 calories per portion you might want to stretch this between three servings, as I did with my wife and son who loved it.

This is a quicker, more affordable alternative to pasta with summer vegetables and parmesan and slightly more luxurious compared to pea and prosciutto pasta. All three recipes taste sublime so take your pick! :-).

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Green Lamb Curry


It made for a nice change to have lamb in a curry instead of chicken

I love lamb, spinach and curries, so when I came across Green Lamb Curry from the Hairy Dieters’ latest healthy eating book (Make it Easy) I was eager to try it. This recipe is a low-cal take on the Indian saag gosht dish, which means nothing to me, but it tastes mighty fine.

This isn’t a curry to make in a hurry – the lamb needs to be cooked for up to 2 ½ hours so it’s beautifully tender and flavoursome – BUT do check it after an hour and then at regular intervals thereafter to make sure it doesn’t dry out. You tend to think of lamb as being fatty, but there are only 267 calories per serving (without rice or naan) in this curry, although the suggestion that it will serve 6 people is somewhat ambitious.

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

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Chipotle Pork Burger


You’ll think I cooked this on a BBQ, but I just left it on the griddle unattended too long

Burgers don’t have to be off the table when you’re on a ‘diet’. And when they taste as good as Chipotle Pork Burger from Pinch of Nom, you’ll wonder why you ever queued in a drive thru for a Big Mac or Whopper. I forgot to ‘dress’ my burger with salad before taking a photo, so the shot above doesn’t do it justice, but honestly, the flavours from the pork mince, chipotle chilli flakes, paprika and lime are divine.

If you’re in need of a burger fix, check out the exquisite satay burger, turkey burgers and chips, mediterranean beef burgers or spicy bean burgers if you’re going vege.

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Cooling Cucumber and Avocado Soup


Where’s the poppadoms?

There are few things more dangerous in life than incurring the wrath of your mother-in-law. Fortunately I get on with mine very well, however she can be known for her ‘persistence’. To keep herself occupied during lockdown, she started growing her own cucumber, rhubarb and potatoes and would proudly leave her hoards on our doorstep. Which is great, except I hate cucumber and have no interest in making puddings which also makes the rhubarb somewhat redundant. But pointing this out was always going to leave me on a sticky wicket.

“Have you done anything with that cucumber yet???” became one of our regular lockdown conversations. I was running out of excuses. In mad panic upon realising she was coming round, I furiously fanned my recipe books until I stumbled across Cooling Cucumber and Avocado Soup from Justine Pattison. A recipe more suited for a blazingly hot summer’s afternoon than a wet and wild autumn day, but fuck it, this would have to do in a crisis.

As for the end result…. we absolutely hated it and could only manage about four spoonfulls between us. But this was about ‘taking one for the team’ and making others feel appreciated, which is perhaps no bad thing right now. My supply of cucumbers has also stopped, too.

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Sweet Potato & Halloumi Bake


All this for around 80p per serving!

If you’ve got some ‘odds and sods’ lurking in your fridge Sweet Potato & Halloumi Bake from Two Cubby Cubs is a good way to use them up, plus it’s so cheap to make at less than £1 per serving. Once you’ve prepped everything, you can literally throw the ingredients in the oven to bake for 45 minutes before adding some grilled, sliced halloumi just before the end.

Want more potato-based lunchtime recipes? Check out buffalo skins, cajun sweet potatoes or spicy turkey sweet potatoes. Alternatively, to use up any remaining halloumi, have a bash at warm griddled vegetables or halloumi and smoky bacon hash. Don’t say I don’t look after you ;-).

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Creamy Turkey Autumn Curry


This is different, in a good way

The clocks have gone back, it’s constantly raining and you won’t be able to set foot in your house without a trail of leaves being stuck to your shoes. So why not console yourself by making Creamy Turkey Autumn Curry from Two Chubby Cubs?

This recipe is an interesting Thai-style twist on a conventional, frankly boring, chicken casserole. There’s loads of flavour coming from the chilli, ginger, turmeric, squash, coconut milk and coriander. And I applaud any recipe that gives the humble turkey star billing over chicken. I really enjoyed this.

There are few things I loathe more in the kitchen than prepping butternut squash. However, it is a great ingredient and I’d recommend adding thai-style butternut squash soup, curried butternut squash and apple soup and beef kofta curry to your winter meal plans.

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Giant Baked Beans


Do as I say, not as I do. Come back Branston baked beans, all is forgiven

I’ve blogged previously about how lockdown has made me attempt strange things in the kitchen. From making my own muesli (which had some merit) to my car-crash attempt at trying home-made baked beans, which cost me two hours of my life and reputation to my son that I won’t get back.

So when I saw Pinch of Nom’s Giant Baked Beans recipe which could be ready in 15 minutes, I was ready to dust myself down and try again. Unlike the Hairy Dieters’ version, ‘Nom doesn’t require you to piss about soaking dried beans overnight. Just two tins of butter beans (between 4) will do the trick and then all you need to do is douse them in passata, Worcester sauce, balsamic vinegar, paprika, onion granules, mustard powder, granulated sweetener and, finally, salt and pepper.

This wasn’t any hardship for me because I have more spices than pairs of socks in my house. However, based on the end result I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to get them just to make this, when you could just crack open a tin of baked beans and be done with it. I find passata quite overpowering so the taste didn’t float my boat, although I did put them on top of a crap piece of bread. This is the last time I try and be a smart arse when it comes to baked beans. Now where did I put my tins of Branston?

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Spicy Sausage Pasta


No amount of Parmesan could rescue this

I’m sure there’s a decent recipe within Spicy Sausage Pasta from Justine Pattison, but I royally screwed it up by not having the correct ingredients in to make it. I couldn’t get hold of any spicy pork sausages (can anyone, from supermarkets?) and used regular pork ones sprinkled with a generous helping of chilli flakes. My back bacon substitute for smoked lardons was also an epic fail, and although a tin of chopped tomatoes in preference to using 3 large ripe tomatoes was more excusable, fresh is always better than tinned equivalents.

The end result, through every fault of my own, was bland and disappointing and it tasted way too tomatoery, if that’s a ‘thing’? I tried to rescue it by dolloping parmesan on top but I wasn’t fooling anyone. Not least my teenage son who charitably said, “It’s nice Dad but I’m full, so I’ll put it in the microwave and eat it later”, where it remained untouched.

The moral of the story here is that while you can get away with some simple substitutes in many recipes, this isn’t one of them, particularly when bolder flavours such as chilli and smoked lardons are required. If you have a go at making this and it turns out well, do let me know :-).

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Chicken Jalfrezi


This is affectionately known as ‘Chicken Jalfrazzled’ in my house

If you prefer your curries to have a bit of a kick to them, Chicken Jalfrezi from the Hairy Dieters is for you. If serving to children, you might want to deseed the chillies to scale down the heat, or you could leave them in – they’ve got to learn sometime ;-).

There are just 279 calories per portion in this recipe, WITHOUT rice or naan. And while it might not taste as good or as authentic as from your local curry house, you’ll still be satisfied with the end result. Check out the ‘Fakeaways’ section of this blog if you’re fancying recreating your favourite curry where you’ll find recipes for tikka masala, bhuna, biryani and more!

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Overnight Porridge with Juicy Berries


So I used frozen fruit, don’t judge me

Pick up a copy of any healthy eating cookbook and the chances are it will contain an overnight oats recipe. So with the weather turning chilly I decided to finally give one a go, despite porridge not particularly floating my boat and that for a fraction more calories I can enjoy bacon and egg instead ;-).

Overnight Porridge with Juicy Berries from Justine Pattison seemed as good as any. You don’t have to soak the oats overnight if you can’t be arsed, however if you do it will taste creamier. I’m fed up of supermarket deliveries sending me fresh fruit with one-day use by dates so have started buying packs of frozen fruit. It’s obviously not as good as fresh but more practical and cheaper – I just take out of the freezer what I need.

Personally, I prefer fresh fruit compote with home-made granola from the Hairy Dieters. It will take you longer to prep and cost more to make, but oh my it’s worth getting out of bed for.

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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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