I'm Ben, a 40-something communications professional from Cheshire, England. I live with my wife and our teenage son, and apart from cooking my main passions are Sheffield United and Boxing. This blog aims to provide healthy, affordable, recipe ideas to support people to lose a few lbs and enjoy being healthier!
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.
Turkey thigh mince is cheap as chips and typically 7% fat, making it a decent alternative to beef, pork or lamb mince. Spicy Turkey Sweet Potatoes from BBC Good Food is a quirky take on a jacket potato with a rich, smoky filling. Topped with a dollop of sour cream and some chives – easy peasy and I love it!
Spaghetti with Prawns and Courgettes from the Hairy Dieters might seem like an odd combination. However, for 250 calories per portion it is packed full of bold flavours coming from the lemon zest, capers, nutmeg and basil, making it something of a surprise, and all for just 90 pence per portion!
I tend to order courgettes on autopilot in my weekly supermarket deliveries, regardless of whether I plan to use them or not, so always tend to have some hanging around in my fridge. This recipe is perfect for using them up, but if it doesn’t float your boat, then try spaghetti on fire or tagliatelle carbonara.
Crispy Pork Schnitzel with Potato Salad from the Hairy Dieters is a substantial meal that you can enjoy for lunch or dinner. I always thought schnitzels – which are traditionally thin, breaded and pan fried cutlets made from veal – originated from Poland, but it turns out they herald from Austria. You learn something new every day…
Schnitzels can be unhealthy as they are typically pan fried in oil, but this lighter version requires them to be baked in the oven. With the whopping side salad of potatoes, onion, celery and apple, the Hairy Dieters’ recipe comes in at only 406 calories per portion. I won’t lie and say you can’t tell the difference between this and having the real thing, but the low-cal alternative still tastes good.
A word of warning. If you can’t stand your kitchen getting messy, then give this meal a wide berth. You’ll have plates, cutlery and messy hands from making the coating for the schnitzels. However, if you’ve got children who are showing an interest in cooking why not get them involved? You could even get them to wash up afterwards for a full 360 degree culinary experience, ha ha!
If you’re a mustard junkie like me, you’ll love Mustard Pork from Tom Kerridge which contains Dijon and wholegrain mustard in a creamy-based sauce and is much lighter than the French classic dish which is swimming in butter.
This is a well-balanced meal accompanied with corn-on-the-cob and green beans, and it’s impossible to feel hungry after demolishing one of Tom’s recipes. This one comes in at 438 calories per serving and is ideal for an easy weeknight meal. Pork is one of my favourite meats and is quick to cook. I’d also recommend pork and black bean stew with salsa and pork medallions in BBQ sauce, if you’re looking to jazz up your meal plan.
Food snobs may disagree but who doesn’t love a jacket potato? Justine Pattison’s Tuna and Sweetcorn Cheat’s Jackets uses new potatoes instead of proper jackets, but it still tastes great and is ready in half the time. Such a simple and cheap meal to make and only 206 calories per serving.
Life is too short to spend ages making a fish pie, in my opinion. So the Hairy Dieters’ Quick Cod and Prawn Gratin recipe is a speedy solution and still contains most of the bells and whistles that you’d expect to find in this classic dish, except for the mash topping.
Get all the ingredients out on the side before you start cooking and read through the method carefully. This isn’t hard to make, but there’s a bit going on and if your brain is fried after a day at work you could become flustered. I had low expectations for this meal but it tasted far better than I imagined and was ready in 30 minutes – a diet friendly version of fish pie on speed, and all for less than 300 calories per portion.
Omelettes are brilliant for a quick meal and this version from the Hairy Dieters with minted peas and feta cheese is surprisingly tasty with a salad on the side. Prepped and ready in under 10 minutes, under a quid per portion and 382 calories per serving. Job done.
Rich Beef in Red Wine from the Hairy Dieters is a little too rich for my palette, but nevertheless is a lower calorie adaption of the French classic dish, beef bourguignon. After 2 hours and 25 minutes of cooking in the oven my patience was waning, but in hindsight I should have put it back in and reduced the sauce down further.
Some dishes are worth the wait, but when watching my weight I want something on my table a bit more pronto. But at least I got to guzzle the remaining wine out of the bottle while becoming increasingly starving. One slower cooking recipe I would wholeheartedly recommend though is lamb tagine. Different meat, different country of origin, different culinary experience entirely. Try it.