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.
Ok, so this might be 582 calories (and more if you opt to add couscous), but Mediterranean-Style Lamb Shanks from Pinch of Nom tastes divine so why not treat yourself once in a while? You deserve it!
Lamb Shanks literally melt in your mouth when slow cooked and I’ve recently switched to a fab local butcher who provides top-quality meat at affordable prices. The perception that butchers are more expensive than supermarkets isn’t always the case, but the quality you get from them is undoubtedly superior. I’m not sure I’d go back to buying meat from supermarkets again
In their book, Pinch of Nom provide two alternative cooking methods for cooking this recipe – electric pressure cooker and slow cooker – so check them out if they appeal to you. I decided to ‘rough it’ by using a conventional oven and it was ready in about 2 ½ hours – perfect for a lazy Sunday. If you decide to have couscous with this (in hindsight, I’m not sure it needs it), make sure you buy a decent quality brand. Ainsley Harriott is pretty good and is available from most supermarkets.
Oh dear, where do I begin? Creamy Scallops with Bacon from Justine Pattison turned into a ‘date night’ disaster for me recently. The first red flag was that my brilliant local fishmonger was temporarily closed due to COVID-19, prompting a rush of blood as I naively ordered frozen scallops from a supermarket. The difference ibetween fresh, quality scallops and frozen supermarket ones is night and day.
My second, even bigger faux pas, was buying a larger cauliflower to make the creamy puree. In doing so, the sauce completely overwhelmed any chance of tasting, let alone finding, the bacon and the scallops. But they were in there, even if the photo suggests I’m lieing.
When I’ve calmed down I’ll give this another bash using a much smaller cauli (500-700g only). But if this was a ‘first date’ I’m not sure Ann-Marie would have been inclined to grant me a second one ha ha!
Several healthy eating cookbooks contain ‘fakeaway’ chapters – reduced-fat recipes of our favourite takeaways – but none better than Justine Pattison who has dedicated an entire book to them. Penang chicken and sweet potato curry is a sumptuous Thai fakeaway that I’d be delighted to have served to me in a restaurant. The beauty of this is that you can enjoy restaurant quality food for just over 400 calories providing you follow the simple cooking method to the letter.
The sweet potatoes mean that you don’t need to add extra calories by having rice or bread, and the accompaniment of the stir-fried broccoli with chilli and garlic adds some extra zing and class for only 48 calories more. This is a really special dish to cook on a weekend ‘date night’. So crack open some vino, tuck into this and get ‘love is in the air’ blasting out by John Paul Young and you’ll be sorted :-).
With the exception of salmon I hadn’t experimented with cooking fish before. But when my local Co-op started stocking sea bass which was frequently on reduced due to seemingly no one in my local town knowing what to do with it, I decided to broaden my horizons. I just needed to find the perfect, diet-friendly recipe and Justine Pattison’s baked sea bass with peppers and pine nuts has become a big hit in my household.
You can pay good money to eat sea bass in a restaurant but this brilliant dish from Justine can be rustled up for less than £2 per serving and under 300 calories. Genius! Please note, the recommended serving size is 150g per sea bass fillet. You’ll be able to get that from a fishmonger. However, if buying from a supermarket most packs of sea bass have a weight of 180g, so you can get away with having two bass fillets without feeling guilty!
The Hairy Dieters’ might get all the adulation for their healthy eating recipes but Justine Pattison is an absolute legend and I’d urge you to buy her Without the Calories series of books. Ginger chicken with udon noodles is from Justine’s ‘Takeaway Favourites’ book and OMG this recipe is absolutely amazing – try it, try it, try it!
This is a great Friday night dish to produce as it can be ready in about 20 minutes and is very quick to cook once you have prepped all the ingredients. The only fiddly bit is trimming the fat off the chicken thighs, but this is a doddle if you’ve got a good pair of kitchen scissors.