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.
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.
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!
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.
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 :-).
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.
Buffalo Wings with Blue Cheese Dip is a cheap and very cheerful American bar snack from Justine Pattison, which creates the sticky, smoky flavours you know and love for a fraction of the calories (under 400 in this case, with dip).
You can save yourself some time (and hassle) by not attempting to cut each wing into two meaty pieces. Unless you’ve got a really sharp knife, you might find this tricky, so why not just bake the wings hole and allocate 200g to each person, per serving. I enjoyed these wings with a few naughty chippies and the blue cheese dip. I just forgot to include it when taking the photo, but I’d definitely recommend it with some celery sticks to accompany.
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!
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.
Chicken and Leeks in Blue Cheese Sauce is a brilliant weeknight meal from Pinch of Nom, requiring only 5 base ingredients and just 5 minutes prep time. Just what you need after a long day at work.
Chicken and leeks are an excellent combination and this recipe will only set you back 214 calories, meaning you have plenty of leeway to add some mash / new potatoes and/or vege as an accompaniment. If you like this, then try creamy chicken and tarragon pots with rosemary potato wedges which is equally divine.
Chicken Korma from the Hairy Dieters is a family-favourite ‘fakeaway’, perfect for kids or curry wimps who can’t stand a bit of a heat and prefer milder flavours. Even if you like your curries HOT, you’ll still appreciate the variety of spices which make up this recipe. It may seem like a lot of ingredients, particularly if you’re buying them in from scratch, BUT you will return to them again and again.
Cobb Salad from Justine Pattison is an amazing, belly-busting US salad which will provide a filling lunch as well as a main evening meal. It’s great with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, or a blue cheese dressing which you can make in a couple of minutes using light mayo, buttermilk or fat-free natural yoghurt, white wine vinegar, Roquefort cheese (or any blue cheese will do) and a dash of salt and pepper.
Struggling to remember the ingredients? As Justine says, just think ‘Eat Cobb’ – egg, avocado, tomato, chicken, onion, bacon and beetroot. My mouth is watering just typing this! One of the most satisfying, healthy salads you’re likely to have.
Chicken Satay from Pinch of Nom’s debut book had long since caught my eye. However, the long list of ingredients (23), some of them more unusual (Alpro coconut drink and powdered peanut butter), meant that it kept slipping off the menu. But eventually I decided to bite the bullet and I’m so pleased I did – this recipe tastes absolutely gorgeous.
You can save yourself some stress by prepping the satay sauce in advance. The chicken stir-fry part cooks quickly and the rest of the time is spent simmering everything in the sauce. Don’t be tempted to use regular peanut butter – 4 tablespoons of the full-fat variety will bump the calories up considerably! I struggled to find low-fat peanut powder, but eventually sourced it from Asda. I believe Aldi and Waitrose sell it as well. It is expensive for what it is, but it’s genuinely worth buying it for this brilliant dish alone.
The calorie count is just 293 per serving. It will serve 6 generously with a small portion of rice. I didn’t bother because, as regular readers will know, I don’t find rice very nice.
Since the pandemic, I’ve never spent as much time in the kitchen and in truth I’ve become a little jaded recently. I needed to rediscover my motivation and Jerk Chicken from the Hairy Dieters has me feeling the love for food again.
This recipe is mouth-wateringly good. Do take the time to marinate the chicken thighs for at least 2 hours, but ideally overnight, to allow the flavours to intensify. And unless you’re really ‘anti-heat’, make sure you use scotch bonnet chillies, instead of regular, boring chillies. You WILL notice a difference, but it WILL be worth it. Embrace the heat! 🙂
My teenage son Will is still in ‘training’ when it comes to appreciating spices. The poor boy’s eyes were watering while he was eating this, but he loved the taste so much that he kept going until he cleaned his plate. That’s my boy! You can serve this with a side salad, or a small portion of rice or couscous. Want something a little tamer? Ok….. try Sticky Chicken with Coleslaw instead.
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.
From re-creating your favourite curry to making lower calorie burgers, healthy cookbooks are awash with ‘fakeaways’ these days. And don’t get me wrong, these recipes are welcome and have their place. But try as they might, some of them still don’t hit the ‘spot’, particularly with curries which omit staple restaurant ingredients like ghee to keep the fat content to a minimum. My philosophy is if you’re in need of a blow-out and want to be naughty, then treat yourself to a takeaway, PROVIDING you get back on your diet the next day.
But there are ‘fakeaway’ exceptions which do genuinely (in my opinion) taste like the ‘real thing’. Sweet and Sour Chicken from the Hairy Dieters is one of the more authentic fakeaways I’ve made – I think Chinese takeaways in general are easier to recreate at home based on the required ingredients. This recipe requires only two chicken breasts and will comfortably serve 4 people for less than £2 a head, without rice. The sweet and sour sauce with the pineapple and ginger is to die for!
Serve this in a takeaway carton to your nearest and dearest and see if they notice the difference. Or just serve it them anyway. If you’re interested in fakeways, check out the relevant section on this blog here, and if Chinese floats your boat, Yeung Chow Fried Rice, is another excellent recipe to try, courtesy of Pinch of Nom.
Although I don’t mind washing up (it keeps my hands soft!), I do get irritable when having to use lots of pots and pans at the same time in the kitchen, particularly when I’m unfamiliar with a recipe. So the concept of Justine Pattison’s ‘Without the Calories – easy one pot’ book was appealing.
Chicken and Ham Wok Lasagne caught my eye within it because I was intrigued as to how realistic it could be to create a ‘lasagne’ using one pan. It was refreshingly simple, even if there’s a few ingredients to prep and get out on the working top before you start cooking. But above all this recipe tastes great too and while it might not be conventional, it’s effective when you can’t be arsed to make a proper lasagne. Actually, I can never be arsed to make a proper lasagne.
Poulet au Vinaigre from Pinch of Nom is absolutely gorgeous and has become one of my favourite meals of lockdown. The recipe is a low-cal version of a French classic dish, yet despite tasting beautifully creamy, is only 197 calories per serving due to using low-fat cream cheese (without vege and/or mash). Aren’t they clever?
I served this with some savoy cabbage, but any green vege will do. Chicken, tarragon and white wine is such a fab combination. If you can’t get enough of it, check out Creamy Chicken and Tarragon Pots with Rosemary Potato Wedges from the Hairy Dieters – another one of my favourites.
I’m a fan of Tom Kerridge, but on occasion I do think he makes his recipes unnecessarily faffy or ‘cheffy’. After a day at work I almost sacked off making his Thai Green Chicken Curry when looking at the long list of ingredients and method to make it. In the end, I used chicken breasts (which I diced and stir-fried for a couple of minutes first) instead of pissing about poaching a chicken crown and cutting off the meat. This saved some precious time in the kitchen.
As for the end result, well fair play to Tom, like most of his meals this did taste very good and the serving size was huge. I did make the mistake of substituting the 100ml full-fat coconut milk for 200ml half-fat coconut milk, mainly because I had a half-tin lurking in my cupboard and couldn’t see the point in opening a regular sized tin to only use 100ml. But this did make the curry runnier and as a consequence of having to simmer for longer some of the vege went soft. Would I eat this meal again? Yes, definitely. Would I make it again? Pass.
Some dishes don’t turn out as well as they look in a book and sadly Cauliflower (and chicken) Pilaf from the Hairy Dieters was a disappointment to me. Undoubtedly, some of this was down to ‘user error’. I used a stick blender rather than the recommended food processor to blend my cauliflower rice which was a complete disaster. Pomegranate seeds, which you can buy in packs from supermarkets, were a poor substitute for an actual pomegranate, and my son couldn’t get to grips with removing some of the whole spices in the dish which aren’t supposed to be eaten.
Overall, both cooking and eating this after a day at work proved stressful, partly due to my own incompetence and also a lack of patience – it proved far too faffy and the suggested 30 minute time to have this on the table seems unrealistic. I wouldn’t write this recipe off entirely, there are a lot of powerful flavours within it, so perhaps you’ll fair better than me if you try it.Continue reading “Cauliflower (and chicken) Pilaf”→
Chicken Chasseur is a French classic dish which slowly cooks chicken, tomatoes and white wine in one pan. You may also have heard it referred to as ‘Hunters Chicken’. In this healthy version, The Hairy Dieters suggest serving it with celeriac puree as a lower-cal alternative to mashed potato.
Overall, it worked pretty well, apart from me having to use red wine instead of white because I’d downed a bottle of white wine the night before whilst bemoaning everything associated with COVID-19. In my hazy state, I figured that my teenage son Will wouldn’t notice if I substituted celeriac for his preferred mash as the juices and sauce would mask the taste. It was a case of wishful thinking due to celeriac having such a distinctive flavour and Will’s palette being more sensitive than a vegan on Facebook. Continue reading “Chicken Chasseur with celeriac purée”→