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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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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Mexican Breakfast


Answers on a postcard – what makes this dish ‘Mexican’?

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.

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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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Tuna and Sweetcorn Cheat’s Jackets


This is a great standby option when you’re hungry but struggling for inspiration

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.

If you’ve got any new potatoes lurking in your fridge that need using up, try halloumi and smoky bacon hash, Spanish-style chicken bake or creamy chicken and tarragon pots with rosemary potato wedges.

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Minted Pea and Feta Omelette


Omelettes are a dieter’s best friend

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.

Wondering what to do with any leftover feta? Try mushroom, feta and tomato baked peppers, spinach, tomato and feta scrambled eggs or menemen.

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Hot and Sour Soup – just 98p per serving


Less than 100 calories and under a £1 per serving

Having dour, tinned soup when on a diet can be enough to send people over the edge. The ‘healthy’ supermarket options are as dull as dishwater, whereas the more interesting varieties are often laden with sugars. Home-made soups, like Hot and Sour Soup from Pinch of Nom, is far more enticing and really good for you at less than 100 calories per serving.

If your fancying a Chinese, why not have this as a starter followed by sweet and sour chicken, yeung chow fried rice or chicken satay? In total, you could have a fakeaway bonanza for less than 500 calories!

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Buffalo Skins


Buffalo Skins is suitable for vegetarians, honest

You tend to think of loaded potato skins as being really unhealthy and invariably they are. In contrast, Buffalo Skins from Pinch of Nom are a revelation – just 68 calories per spud, really tasty and these can be enjoyed by vegetarians, too.

This recipe went down well with my wife, son and daughter who is a vegan. Personally, I wasn’t happy with my execution of it. Some of the sweet potatoes were still hard after 10 minutes in the microwave, so as the book suggests it’s a good idea to check and, if necessary, leave them in for longer. And as a result of the potatoes being hard, it was trickier to scoop out the flesh which in the end made for a frustrating exercise.

If you love the concept of this, check out Pinch of Nom’s first book as they have a calorie friendly bacon and potato skins recipe in it, which I’ve yet to try but it looks great. Alternatively, cajun sweet potatoes by Jamie Oliver is a doddle to make, even for me.

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(Healthy) Cottage Pie


A healthy take on a British pub classic

I tried every possible excuse to put off having Cottage Pie from the Hairy Dieters, but after an overexuberant supermarket shop I happened to have every ingredient in to make this. So, what was the problem? I dunno, it just didn’t excite me, plus the notion that this would serve 6 to 8 people seemed somewhat fanciful. 6 is a stretch, but 8 is just not funny when you’re hungry.

“You’ve turned into a food snob,” said my wife. “It’s not that, I just can’t be arsed spending up to two hours in the kitchen,” was my retort. Ok, 2 hours is me being flippant as most of the cooking time is done on the hob and finished off in the oven.

But what about the taste? Do you know what, this is actually a really good, hearty meal. If someone served me this, I’d be delighted, however the prep and length of cooking time is a bit of a slog so I won’t be in a hurry to endure this again. If you’re looking for healthier alternatives on ‘traditional’ pub classics, I’d opt for Rich and Meaty Bolognese, Chilli Con Carne or Sausages and Rich Onion Gravy which require less fuss to rustle up and offer more generous portion sizes.

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Turkish Turkey Flatbreads


Turking the piss – ready in under 20 mins and less than £1 per portion (if serving 4)

Turkish Turkey Flatbreads from the Hairy Dieters is a quirky and deceptively filling snack / lunch. It’s a bit like a spicy Turkish slice of pizza, not that I’ve ever tried Turkish pizza before but hopefully you know what I mean! Even if you don’t, give this a go because it’s really scrumptious and ready in a flash.

Pine nuts are very expensive for what they are, so I don’t they are essential for this recipe. But if you’re wondering what to do with the rest, try making Baked Sea Bass with Peppers and Pine Nuts which is a gorgeous dinner. As for any leftover turkey mince, then Speedy Turkey Chilli or Turkey Lettuce Wraps are great options.

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One-pan cooked breakfast


A healthy ‘fry-up’ for 87p per serving

I love the concept behind Justine Pattison’s One-Pan Cooked Breakfast. A traditional ‘fry-up’, made healthier by cooking the ingredients in the oven, for less than a quid per portion with minimal washing up.

But in reality this recipe is a bit of a faff to make, and I nearly made Will late for school and me late for work by not reading the cooking method properly. When I put food in the oven I don’t want to worry about it until it’s ready to bring out. However, my patience was tested with this meal because it involves about 5 different stages – stir this, turn that, do the hokey cokey and you turn around….

Maybe I’m being pedantic (said no one to me, ever) but I prefer Scrambled Egg with Bacon and Mushrooms or Pan-fried Bacon with Poached Egg and Balsamic Tomatoes for speed and simplicity.

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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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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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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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Home-Made (smoky bacon) Baked Beans


I think I’ll stick to using regular cans of baked beans

Supermarket shopping during the pandemic has been challenging, particularly if you don’t feel comfortable stepping foot into stores. Getting hold of your favourite brands can also be problematic and my son Will has particularly missed his barbecue baked beans. I’ve tried to explain to him that some things are more important, but he’s a teenager ;-).

So, to avoid a household ‘crisis’ I decided to try making Home-Made Baked Beans from the Hairy Dieters. They suggest using dried haricot beans and soaking them overnight, or using 2 400g cans of cooked beans. I chose the latter because spending up to 2 hours to prep beans when I could just open a regular can, even in lockdown, seemed ridiculous. If you opt for using canned beans, in total it will take you about 40 minutes to make this.

Will’s verdict on my smoky bacon beans was soul destroying. “They don’t really taste of barbecue Dad”. “Thanks son”. But the cheeky youth had a point – they were a little bland. The following day I was more liberal with the paprika and black treacle and the leftovers did taste more authentic. But, for the time and effort devoted to make them, I think the ungrateful boy is just going to have to wait until things return to normal.

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Butternut Squash Pilaf – just 87p per serving


Just 87p per portion – you’re having a pilaf!

Butternut squash is a brilliant vegetable to have in your fridge – it keeps for ages and it’s really versatile. You can roast it for tray bakes, mash it to include as a filling when making fresh pasta or ‘squash’ bruschetta, blend it to make a tasty, buttery sauce or dice it and chuck it in a wok to include in curries.

Butternut Squash Pilaf from BBC Good Food came to my rescue recently when my fridge was bare. I’ve always got some ginger, garlic and rice knocking about and when I found some fruit and nut mix leftover from Christmas I was sorted. I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to buy these ingredients to make this especially, but it was an enjoyable vege curry that had a nice mix of sweet and savoury flavours, plus the heat from the harissa paste. And all this for just 87p – you’re having a pilaf!

If you’re a non-vegan or vegetarian and wondering what to do with any leftover squash, make Beef Kofta Curry – it’s delicious and my favourite recipe of May 2020.

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Pea and Prosciutto Pasta – forget unhealthy supermarket versions


Pea & prosicuitto pasta

My son Will loves pasta but supermarket varieties with sauce can come in at over 500 calories for just half a pack. So, I embarked on a mission to find healthier, yummier alternatives and Pea and Prosciutto Pasta from Justine Pattison has become his favourite.

The calorie count for this recipe is 329 per serving, however the addition of the butter and a splash of single cream still makes it feel sufficiently naughty and Will regards this as a proper treat. If you’re a big pasta fan, Justine’s book Without the Calories – pasta and rice, will be right up your street. You can also find more pasta dishes on this blog here.  Continue reading “Pea and Prosciutto Pasta – forget unhealthy supermarket versions”

Simple Tuna and Sweetcorn Pasta Salad


Simple Tuna pasta salad

I’m sure everyone reading will identify with this…there are some days when you just can’t be ARSED to make a healthy meal but still want to stay on track with your diet. It can be all too tempting to make a carb-loaded sandwich, or buy a calorific meal from a supermarket. Simple Tuna and Sweetcorn Pasta Salad from the Hairy Dieters was created for such occasions.

By definition it’s simple and quick to pull together, it’s filling yet still under 200 calories, and, well, that’s about it. Of course, part of the motivation for maintaining our diets is creating appetising, visually appealing recipes. But sometimes when willpower is severely lacking you’ve just got to stay on track, either with a bog-standard pasta salad or with a humble jacket potato. As for this salad, it tastes pretty good, but I would recommend bulking it out with some gem or romaine lettuce to stretch the servings to four. Continue reading “Simple Tuna and Sweetcorn Pasta Salad”

The best cauliflower & broccoli cheese


Cauli broccoli cheese

The Best Cauliflower & Broccoli Cheese from Jamie Oliver, his words not mine, might actually be the best cauliflower and broccoli cheese that you can enjoy when watching your weight! Although I’ll concede, this isn’t a recipe I’ve made very often. But this really is a lovely dish, which is given some additional TLC with the crunchy almond breadcrumb topping (not essential if you want to cut down on calories, but recommended).

Jamie suggests this could be a side dish which can serve 8 people. Personally, I think it lends itself better to serving 4 and my wife and I devoured this for dinner and lunch the next day. If you can’t get your hands on fresh produce, don’t worry, as you can use frozen broccoli and cauliflower which are great alternatives to have as back-ups in your freezer when supermarket shelves are bare. Continue reading “The best cauliflower & broccoli cheese”