Cheesy Meaty Parcels


Steak and cheese in a wrap. Divine!

Two Chubby Cubs are masters at devising quick recipes that are surprisingly yummy despite their simplicity. Cheesy Meaty Parcels is the Cubs’ take on steak fajitas with a smear of refried beans over your wrap, which might not look overly appetising, but the flavour is cracking so don’t miss them off!

You don’t need to buy expensive steak for this – thin cut, flank or frying steaks are perfect as you want them to cook quickly when you pan-fry them on a high heat. If you love this, have a go at smoky steak fajitas, fast chicken fajitas and philly cheesesteak.

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Lamb, Rosemary and Sweet Potato Pie


Use normal potatoes for the topping if you like, but sweet potatoes give this pie a distinctive taste

Due to the cost and length of cooking time, I’m quite selective over which lamb dishes I make but Lamb, Rosemary and Sweet Potato Pie from Pinch of Nom’s latest book was a no-brainer. This really is a beautifully tasting pie which contains a great balance of protein, vegetables and carbs, all for just 340 calories per serving (based on serving 6 people).

If pies / casserole-based dishes are your thing, check out lean lamb hotpot, mince and vegetable pie with tumbled spuds, cottage pie or tortilla chilli pie.

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Creamy Chicken and Parmesan Fettucine


This needs lots of seasoning to bring out the taste and don’t forget the parsley!

Pasta is a great Friday night option when you’ve come to the end of a working week and can’t summon up much brain power to make a quick, healthy meal. Creamy Chicken and Parmesan Fettucine from Justine Pattison may look ‘naughty’, but the sauce is made from a combination of butter, plain flour and semi-skimmed milk rather than cream to keep the calories low.

While I was impressed with the calorie content (just 374 per serving), the taste was a tad bland for my liking, despite me lashing it with grinds of black pepper. Nevertheless, this is a good example of how you can make two chicken breasts comfortably stretch to feeding four people. For other budget-friendly chicken dishes, check out chicken and mushroom risotto and pollo pasta with pesto.

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Three-Bean Cowboy Stew


Cowboy Stew – incredibly filling and less than a £1 per head to make. Yeeeeee Hawwww!

Cooking with tinned ingredients has become more popular since the pandemic due to supermarket shortages and people needing to eat more frugally after sadly losing their jobs or livelihoods. Thankfully, you can still eat healthily and imaginatively with tinned goods and Three-Bean Cowboy Stew from Two Chubby Cubs is a belly-busting vegetable stew which you can make for less than £1 per head.

You’ll need a few fresh ingredients and dried herbs (see below) to make the tins sing, but nothing out of the ordinary. This dish might not look particularly appetising, however it’s tasty and will provide 6 generous portions which those with big appetites can serve with a small portion of rice.

Cowboy stew is best known to contain meat, so if you’re looking for a meat-based alternative check out campfire stew which uses gammon.

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Dijon Pork


This recipe calls for pork tenderloin, but pork loin steaks trimmed of all fat also work well

When purchasing a new cook book I always familiarise myself with the recipes and any particular ingredients that the authors frequent. In Pinch of Nom’s case, they’re big fans of pork, mushrooms and low-fat cream cheese, so I regularly keep these items in my fridge in case I need a ‘plan B’ recipe in the event of ‘plan A’ going out of the window.

Dijon Pork was indeed a ‘plan B’ recipe when I discovered that the vege stew I’d originally earmarked was going to take 2 hours. Our survey said, “Uh-uhh!”. But in the end I’m so pleased I tried this recipe as pork and mustard in a low-fat cream cheese sauce are a top combination! Although the cooking time is 50 minutes, over the half the time is taken up by just simmering the ingredients in a pan until the sauce thickens. Serve with a small portion of rice.

If you like this, you’ll probably also love mustard pork and pork stroganoff.

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Honey & Mustard Salmon


Super simple salmon

I’m short on time today so recipes like Honey and Mustard Salmon from Two Chubby Cubs are perfect when you need to rustle up a meal in minutes with a handful of ingredients. Grab some salmon fillets, coat them in a wholegrain mustard and honey marinade and bang them in the oven. Serve with some greens and/or a small portion of new potatoes or wedges. Job done.

For other fast salmon marinades, have a gander at pan-fried firecracker salmon, salmon and broccoli tray bake, sticky mango roasted salmon or tandoori salmon with mango salsa.

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Pork Stroganoff


This also works well (arguably better) with beef. See link to the beef version below

The Hairy Dieters reckon you can prep and cook Pork Stroganoff in 15 minutes. Really? Then I reckon I’m Gordon Ramsay. Well, obviously I’m not, as this took me about 30 minutes in total. Still pretty quick, but I wish cookery books would be more accurate with some of their timings!

Regular readers and fans of the Hairy Dieters might recall their beef stroganoff recipe from their second book (Eat Well for Life) which uses steak (or leftover beef from a Sunday roast dinner in my case). I think this stroganoff recipe suits beef better than pork, but it’s still an enjoyable, calorie-friendly midweek meal. Serve with some greens and/or a small portion of rice.

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Mongolian Beef


Don’t forget to use low-sodium soy sauce otherwise it will taste way too salty!

I must confess to never knowing that Mongolian Beef is a popular fakeaway recipe amongst slimming club circles. This version from Two Chubby Cubs is a great weekend option when you want to rustle up a treat but don’t want to spend ages in the kitchen if you’ve had a long week at work, managing the kids, or both!

Two points of caution. You need a good non-stick frying pan otherwise you run the risk of your beef strips being welded to it. And make sure you use low-sodium soy sauce and not regular soy sauce otherwise, to quote the Cubs, “you’ll have a mouth saltier than a sailor’s ankle”. I used low-salt soy sauce and still found this a little salty for my liking.

Serve with a small portion of rice. Job done.

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(Lighter) Crispy Duck with Pancakes


Wok the duck? Just 300 calories per serving

Aromatic crispy duck from my local Chinese takeaway is my all time favourite, even though they can’t be arsed to shred the duck for me when I’m paying them big bucks as a loyal customer. A bit too loyal in my case ;-). Anyway…. in their Crispy Duck with Pancakes version, the Hairy Dieters have created a much lighter fakeaway option which isn’t a bad imitation of the real thing.

You can get good quality duck breasts from Sainsburys, but if I was making this again I’d shred the meat and the spring onions and cucumber much more finely to make them sit more comfortably in the pancakes. Overall, not a bad effort, but given the cost of duck breasts I don’t think my Chinese takeaway is in danger of losing my business anytime soon!

For more fab fakeaway ideas, click here.

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Creamy Chicken Pasta Bake


Chicken & pasta, topped with a creamy cheese sauce. What’s not to like?

Who doesn’t love a pasta bake? Well, me actually, but my teenage son Will can eat pasta by the bucket load so I knew Creamy Chicken Pasta Bake from Pinch of Nom would be right up his street. Pasta bakes are a genius way of getting children to sample vegetables without them really noticing – in this case it’s sliced leeks and mushrooms, which go brilliantly with the chicken and the creamy, cheesy sauce.

The calorie count for this dish is just over 500, but you can always reduce it by having less pasta. 300g between 4 people is quite a lot and I find that 50g of pasta per person is sufficient. It’s up to you.

If you love this ingredient combination, then I’d urge you to try smashed-up chicken which is one of my all-time favourites, the equally sublime creamy chicken and tarragon pots with rosemary potato wedges or chicken tetrazzini.

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Italian Meatballs with Chunky Tomato Sauce


Use lean pork or beef mince, or a combination of both. This is awesome!

I’ve been making Italian Meatballs with Chunky Tomato Sauce from the Hairy Dieters since their inaugural book was published in 2013 and can’t believe I’m only getting round to featuring it on the blog now. This is a brilliant, classic meatball dish which is perfect for a low-calorie diet providing you use 5% fat mince and go easy on the pasta!

Sure, there are fancier meatball recipes around, and I feature some of them on the blog here. But for sheer simplicity and taste, this one is hard to beat. If you’re not the best chopper and worried about your meatballs falling apart when you cook them in the pan, combine the ingredients and blitz them in a food processer – It will then be easier to form them into small meatballs.

And if you can be arsed, use electronic scales to weigh each meatball so they are the same size. You don’t want a loved one / family member kicking off that you’ve had a bigger portion than them ;-).

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Crispy Chilli Beef


Get all your ingredients, pots, pans etc out in advance, otherwise you’ll be more tempted to ring your local takeaway!

I’ve mentioned it before on this blog that it’s easier to create authentic, calorie-reduced Chinese takeaways compared to Indian counterparts. Crispy Chilli Beef from Pinch of Nom’s latest book (Quick and Easy) is a case in point. If you follow Nom’s tip (buy the book) to leave it until the last minute to add the beef strips to the sauce they will stay crispy for a bit longer. I was pleasantly surprised by how realistic our crispy beef turned out.

The authenticity and cost to make this dish – approx £2.60 per portion (considerably less compared to what you’d pay from a takeaway) are the positives. The negatives are the ball ache in terms of how long this recipe takes to make and that your kitchen will resemble a bombsite afterwards. I felt quite overwhelmed by the long list of ingredients involved and subsequent clean-up job required. Pinch of Nom’s stopwatch, which suggests only 10 minutes of preparation is required, must be faulty! Or, I’m just woefully shite in the kitchen.

While this dish undoubtedly tastes good (though I’d use a smaller red pepper if making again), fakeaways need to be more than just about recreating the likeness of your favourite takeaway and cutting down on the calories. They’ve got to be simple enough and quick to make, otherwise you may as well give yourself a night off and ring for a fucking takeaway yourself! By the time I’d sat down to make this, I was already frazzled, more so than the crispy beef on my plate!

For more fakeaway ideas, click here.

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Spiced Mango Pork Steaks


By deliberately burning these pork steaks under the grill I was demonstrating my vulnerability

Whoever said pork steaks were ‘boring’ was bang on the money. But with a few spices and a smidgen of imagination they can be transformed into something rather edible. Spiced Mango Pork Steaks by Justine Pattison is one example and this recipe is brilliant for getting nervous / inexperienced cooks into the kitchen.

Making this couldn’t be easier, providing you don’t get distracted watching a football match and leave your pork steaks under the grill for too long (ahem). Serve with new potatoes / mash and some vege, but not that shite microwave in a bag affair, ok?

For variations on this theme, check out pork medallions with a chimichurri sauce, sticky pork ‘ribs’ in barbecue sauce, crispy pork schnitzel with potato salad, mustard pork and sticky pork steaks with coleslaw.

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Crying Tiger Beef


Easy Tiger! Wash your hands thoroughly after handling chillies, if you forget and rub your eyes then you’ll be crying!

Getting me to have steak without chips, mushrooms and onion rings is quite a challenge but it’s good to vary things up, particularly when you’re trying to shift some timber. Crying Tiger Beef from Pinch of Nom is a fancy name for a traditional Thai recipe using thin-cut steak and a tangy, spicy dressing made from coriander, tomatoes, chillies, spring onion, garlic, fish sauce and either lemon or lime juice. As the name would suggest, it certainly packs a punch!

I really enjoyed this having treated myself to some tasty frying steak from my local butcher. It’s worth paying a bit more for quality meat if you can afford to as supermarket steak tends to be shite. My only criticism of this dish is that I’m not entirely sure where it sits – is it a light lunch or an evening meal served with some rice? I opted for the former.

If you like this, then check out the very similar thai beef salad or chilli steak salad.

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Pizza Pronto


Home-made pizzas are a great cure for lockdown boredom. They taste brilliant, too

Its never been more tempting to order in pizza for a treat during lockdown. But the cost, not to mention the calories, can be damaging to your bank balance and waistline. Justine Pattison’s Pizza Pronto is a brilliant home-made pizza option when you’re looking to cut back but still want something that tastes ‘naughty’.

Tortilla wraps are key to keeping the calories down, and while they clearly taste different to traditional thin / thick crust pizzas, providing you load them with your favourite toppings I bet you won’t even care! As for the toppings, in moderation anything goes here – wafer thin ham / prosciutto, chorizo / salami, pitted green olives / pitted black olives. Hell, you could even swap chopped tomatoes for passata and mozzarella for reduced-fat mature cheddar cheese. Whatever ingredients you’ve got in, chuck them on.

If you want a more ‘no-frills’ home-made pizza option, then go for five-minute pizza which literally does take 5 minutes to prep. And who knows, If you get your family / loved ones involved in making them it might even help to alleviate lockdown boredom. Win-win!!

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Chilli Prawn Pasta


Can you REALLY justify buying a bottle of vodka just for including 50ml of it in this recipe? Yes, yes you can

The Hairy Dieters include two types of Chilli Prawn Pasta recipes within their six healthy eating books. I opted to make the one from their fourth Fast Food book because you can include 50ml of vodka in it. Now, what to do with the remaining bottle? Wahahaha ;-). For reference, you’ll find the other recipe in their more recent ‘Make it Easy’ book.

The vodka is optional by the way, so don’t worry if you haven’t got any, or don’t want to go to the expense of buying in a bottle especially just for this . The meal will still taste great regardless, but the addition of the vodka will bring more depth of flavour to the sauce and balance out the sweetness of the red pepper and the passata.

For other seafood-based pasta recipes, have a look at spaghetti with broccoli & anchovies, spaghetti with prawns and courgettes, pasta with clams and bacon or pasta puttanesca. Or if seafood isn’t your thing, you’re bound to find a more appealing pasta recipe here.

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Pasta Arrabbiata


Can’t cook, won’t cook? At around 50p per portion there’s no excuse for not making this easy pasta dish

I frown when I hear people say ‘they can’t afford to cook’, or worse, ‘I can’t afford to buy healthy, fresh food’. There’s a difference between being genuinely skint, as opposed to not knowing how to cook from scratch. The lines between both statements often get blurred.

Pasta Arrabbiata from Pinch of Nom is a really easy and affordable vegetarian recipe to get even the most nervous and sceptical of cooks into the kitchen. It can be rustled up for about 50p per serving in 30 minutes. Arrabbiata sauce is a traditional Italian, spicy sauce made from garlic and dried chilli peppers. This recipe requires 1 tsp of chilli flakes, but heat freaks might want to up the ante by finely dicing a normal red chilli to give it more of a kick.

If you’re looking for more imaginative vege-based pasta dishes, try courgette caponata pasta or spaghetti on fire (swap the bacon for something vege, or leave it out completely). Or for something a bit quirkier, go for creamy wild mushroom courgetti which, you’ve guessed it, uses courgettes as an equivalent to pasta. For all other pasta recipes, click here.

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Oven-baked Risotto with Smoked Salmon and Peas


Cooking a risotto in the oven? Wonders never cease

Most people love eating risottos, but few love making them because of the laborious cooking process due to standing in front of a cooker stirring and gradually adding stock zzzzzzz. Pinch of Nom’s Oven-baked Risotto with Smoked Salmon and Peas takes the monotony away as most of the recipe can be cooked in the oven on a low setting. Genius and my Mum loved it, always a bonus!

For another less faffy risotto dish, take a peak at chicken and chorizo risnotto. Or for more conventional recipes, try hunter’s risotto, chicken and mushroom risotto and sea bass and miso risotto.

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Creamy Mustard Chicken


Shiitaking the piss? If you have someone in your family who doesn’t like mushrooms, try them with a fancier variety like shiitake, oyster or forestiere

I’d been meaning try to Creamy Mustard Chicken from Jamie Oliver ever since buying his ‘5 ingredients’ book, but my son’s refusal to entertain mushrooms placed this on the backburner. However, I decided to buy some fancy shiitake ones and slice them thinly which thankfully he was prepared to stomach without protest. Progress or just a fluke?

This meal is very quick to make but it does need something else to accompany it. I used up some spare sweetcorn but green veg would work well, or even some cheeky mash if you’re not watching your weight. For other ‘5 ingredient’ inspiration, click here for other ideas.

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Spinach and Paneer Curry


This recipe calls for frozen spinach which needs defrosting and draining

I found Spinach and Paneer Curry from Tom Kerridge faffy to make and the taste a tad overbearing. But it’s certainly a substantial and distinctive meat-free curry, which you can have with or without rice.

If you like paneer, which is a lower fat cheese that holds its texture well, I’d recommend paneer and pea curry and cauliflower, paneer and pea curry. Guess how the two recipes differ? ;-).

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