Asian Pork Meatballs (with char siu ketchup)


These meatballs tasted far better than they looked, honest

As the photo shows, I made a right balls-up of making Asian Pork Meatballs from Pinch of Nom. But I’m sharing with you the error of my ways as there’s a really interesting recipe here which could be brilliant providing you give it some TLC.

My biggest faux pas was that I used a large courgette rather than a small /medium one and then failed to get rid of the excess moisture / liquid – you can do this by ringing out the grated courgette using a clean tea-towel. It’s really important you do this, otherwise your meatballs will turn to mush when you come to form them and will be too fragile to cook in a frying pan. I tried to rescue mine by cooking them in the oven which kind of worked…. just, but the end result would have been so much better had I followed the recipe properly.

As the method states, try not to touch the meatballs for 5 minutes when cooking them through or they’ll easily disintegrate in the pan. You can serve them as a light lunch / starter with the char siu ketchup, or have them with a small bed of fine egg noodles or spaghetti for a main meal. But don’t forget to factor in the extra calories, a small nest of noodles will add about 170.

For other meatball recipes, check out chipotle turkey meatballs, Swedish meatballs in gravy, beef kofta curry and Transylvanian meatballs with garlic sauce.

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Vegetable Frittata


Don’t fret over a frittata, use any spare veg you have

A turning courgette was my motivation for trying Vegetable Frittata from the Hairy Dieters, but it had already gone off when I finally got round to making it. Now for someone who has to follow every recipe to the letter this represented a major crisis. One glass of wine later, I came to my senses and realised that this was a frittata after all, and the whole premise of a frittata is that basically anything goes when you’re throwing it together.

In the Hairy Dieters’ version, they suggest using courgette, red pepper, red onions, butternut squash, broccoli and green beans, but honestly, just use whatever spare vege you have that needs using up. This is a cheap fall-back option when you’ve got some eggs and vegetables in your fridge but don’t know what to do with them.

Don’t let my appalling cutting skills deter you (by this time I’d had two glasses of wine), this will comfortably serve 4 people with a salad on the side, if you like.

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Prosciutto Celeriac Salad


These bold flavours will seriously put hairs on your chest

Prosciutto Celeriac Salad from Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients book is bold and punchy, creating so much flavour from the celeriac, mustard, yoghurt and tarragon. I found this recipe a little too overpowering, but that’s just down to my personal taste. It’s certainly memorable for sure and relatively quick to prep if you’ve got the right equipment to finely slice the celeriac.

If you’re wondering what to do with leftover celeriac, have a bash at corned beef hash, chicken chasseur (which also uses tarragon incidentally) or smoked trout salad when the weather is a bit warmer. If you’re a tarragon lover, do check out creamy chicken and tarragon pots with rosemary potato wedges, poulet au vinaigre or smashed-up chicken which all taste sensational.

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Speedy Chicken and Vegetable Pot Pies


Pie in the sky. This ain’t a pie.

I didn’t find Speedy Chicken and Vegetable Pot Pies from the Hairy Dieters particularly speedy. Nor did they remind me of pies. But apart from that, this chicken and vege recipe is a decent feed and just 267 calories per portion.

The filo pastry topping is a clever, lighter way to create a pie-like crunch when you bite into it, but let’s not get carried away, this definitely isn’t a pie in the conventional sense. I couldn’t be arsed to divide the filling into 4 individual pie dishes – that might have accounted for why it took much longer than the suggested 24 minutes of cooking time to ensure the 500ml of chicken stock had sufficiently reduced down.

Still pining for a pie? Check out mince and vegetable pie with tumbled spuds, cottage pie, or the quirkier tortilla chilli pie.

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Tuna and Bean Salad


Ready in under 15 minutes

If you’ve got tins of tuna in your cupboard, you’re never far away from being able to make a quick meal whether it’s a sandwich, jacket potato, pasta bake, or in this instance, a tuna and bean salad from Justine Pattison.

There are only 139 calories per serving in this meal (if serving four), so you can afford to give yourself a more generous helping if there’s just two of you. Try to add the balsamic vinegar just before you tuck in, to ensure the salad remains as fresh as possible.

For other tuna ideas, check out tuna and sweetcorn cheat’s jackets, tuna niçoise wrap, tuna butterbean salad and simple tuna and sweetcorn pasta salad.

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Chicken and Asparagus Quiche


Less than 90p per portion, without salad

I remember the moment of despair. It was 15 March, 24 hours before England was being placed into lockdown. Like most people, my panic set in when confronted with empty supermarket shelves and the inability to get hold of fresh produce. A trip to Home Bargains proved more comforting because at least they still had a few jars and cans of vegetables and pulses at rock bottom prices.

One of my quirkiest buys that day was two jars of white asparagus for £1 each. At the time, I only knew the contents would keep well but didn’t know what I’d end up doing with them! And then came the lightbulb moment of discovering Chicken and Asparagus Quiche from Pinch of Nom. Now of course, you’re meant to use fresh asparagus for this recipe, but my jarred variety worked a treat with some eggs I picked up from a postbox outside a local farm. The owners kindly left fresh eggs in there every day and trusted people to leave the correct amount of money to pay for them. That was a period when lockdown brought out the best in some people and it became a highlight of my hour long walk at the crack of dawn.

As for this recipe, it just goes to show that you don’t need calorific pastry to make a decent, affordable quiche. Served with a side salad, this is a handy lunchtime option which should last you over 2-3 days when refrigerated afterwards, depending on how many people live in your house.

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Lamb, Spinach and Potato Curry


This lamb curry is a brilliant alternative to having chicken

Lamb, Spinach and Potato Curry is the Hairy Dieters’ take on the traditional Indian curry, saag gosht, and what a brilliant fakeaway this is. There are a fair few ingredients to prep here and the recipe takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to cook in the oven, but the end result is simply divine and bursting with flavour.

My son, who usually thinks spinach is something only aliens eat (I explained that Popeye does too), is a big covert of this dish and didn’t complain that there was no rice or naan bread. In truth, it doesn’t need it as the potatoes and tomatoes alongside the lamb are enough to bulk the meal out.

There are just 293 calories per portion in this recipe, which means you can have a couple of cheeky beers on the side and not feel too guilty! If curries are your thing, check out the Fakeaway section of this blog for lots of marvellous ideas.

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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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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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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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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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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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(Pork) Chop Suey


You could swap pork for turkey or chicken in this

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.

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Beef with Green Peppers in Black Bean Sauce


Less than £2.50 per head, even with sirloin steak!

Who says you can’t enjoy takeaway food when watching your weight? Beef with Green Peppers in 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!

If you fancy having a go at creating more classic Chinese fakeaways, check out sweet and sour chicken and yeung chow fried rice.

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Soft Fish Tacos


Jamie Oliver has an alternative fish tacos recipe, check it out online

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.

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Spicy Bean Burgers with Lime and Coriander Mayo


You don’t need a bun for these, but don’t forget the lime and coriander mayo!

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.

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Spaghetti with Prawns and Courgettes


Don’t judge until you’ve tried it, and for under a £1 per serving, you can’t afford not to

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.

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Quick Cod and Prawn Gratin


Quick Cod and Prawn Gratin is fish pie to me and you

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.

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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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