Rainbow Trout with Braised Fennel


You could swap the trout for salmon but it would be higher in calories

One of the advantages of living in the arse end of a small Cheshire town is that the locals don’t know how to cook fish, which is a harsh, sweeping generalisation but I’m sticking to it. Towards the end of the day my local Co-op regularly has lots of clearance items of fish at rock bottom prices, including cod, salmon and sea bass. So, when it started stocking rainbow trout I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d pick up a bargain. Two packs, which should have been £8, only cost me £1.80. I make no apologies for being a smug twat.

Off home I gleefully trotted and put the trout in my freezer, where it subsequently resided for 6 months. It turns out I’m as equally clueless when it comes to cooking trout as my local constituents are. But a lightbulb went off in my brain when I came across Rainbow Trout with Braised Fennel from Tom Kerridge. Sadly, my excitement turned to despair due to my poor execution of the recipe. Now whose the smug twat?

I couldn’t be arsed to use a cook’s blowtorch to char the trout and therefore overcooked it in the oven to compensate. I completely forgot to add the crème fraiche at the end and my fennel tasted of fennel, which is fine if you like fennel, but I found the taste somewhat overpowering. I also should have podded my broad beans but again, I couldn’t be arsed.

Sometimes you get out of something what you put in, and I wasn’t as committed to making this dish when it came down to it. It would turn out better if I tried it again, but at nearly £5 a portion (full price) I don’t think I’ll bother. One final thing, the portion size is huge for 2 people, I split it between 3 and it would even stretch to 4.

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Chipotle Turkey Meatballs


Don’t worry about the chipotle chilli flakes, they are not that hot!

I’ve loved experimenting with some new turkey recipes over the last six months and Chipotle Turkey Meatballs from Pinch of Nom is right up there with the best. There’s the perfect balance of heat from the chipotle chilli flakes and the smoked paprika which go well with the rich flavour of the passata. Yuummmeeee!!

If you love a meatball, and most people do, check out beef kofta curry (also from Pinch of Nom, which is exquisite), Swedish meatballs and Transylvanian meatballs. There’s a meatball out there for everyone.

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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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Beachside Paella


A standard frying pan won’t do for this, it’s time to bring the ‘big boy’ out

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.

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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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Chicken & Chorizo Risnotto


This isn’t a risotto but it’s a risotto

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.

If you love risotto type meals, check out chicken and mushroom risotto and sea bass and miso risotto which are awesome low-cal recipes. Or, if you’re wondering what to do with any leftover chorizo, I’d recommend all-in-one spicy pork and rice and southern-style jambalaya which are similarly wonderful.

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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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(Lighter) Moussaka


You can make this in 6 individual pots, or one big dish which is far less ‘faffy’

Moussaka beats a lasagne any day for me, and this gorgeous, lighter version from the Hairy Dieters is only 323 calories per portion. That’s based on using lean lamb mince though which you can pick up 500g packs containing 10% fat from Sainsbury’s, whereas most other supermarkets sell packs at 20% fat. Check the packaging before you buy (I’ve always wanted to say that).

The long list of ingredients may indicate that this recipe is tricky, but get everything out on the side before you start cooking and it’s relatively simple to make. But if you can, use a deeper, smaller dish as opposed to a larger, shallow dish so it’s easier to layer everything before you bake it in the oven.

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Spicy Mexican Beef


Use tinned chopped tomatoes and frozen regular green beans to make this easier

Spicy Mexican Beef from Two Chubby Cubs rounded off my week of purely Mexican-based dishes with a bit of whimper, rather than the bang I was hoping for. As a recipe it’s not bad and requires minimal effort, but even with the addition of the chipotle paste and chillies it seemed to be lacking something.

I’m not a huge advocate of casserole beef, no matter how long you cook it for, so you may enjoy this more than I did. You can serve this with a small portion of rice, but don’t forget to account for the extra calories and be mindful that each serving on its own is 499 cals.

My favourite slow-cooked beef recipe so far this year has been beef massaman curry which I’d recommend. Wondering what to do with any remaining chipotle paste? Try making speedy turkey chilli and spicy sweetcorn soup which are excellent.

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Mexican Caesar Salad


This is a classy salad, bursting with fresh ingredients

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.

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Tex Mex Toad-in-the-Hole


What would Speedy Gonzalez make of this?

Tex Mex Toad-in-the-Hole from Justine Pattison is about as Mexican as me growing a tash and donning a sombrero. But let’s just go with it because it’s a quirky little recipe and a funky twist on the traditional toad-in-the-hole.

If you can’t get hold of spicy pork sausages (and I couldn’t find any supermarkets that stock them), improvise by lobbing in a generous sprinkling of chilli flakes over regular sausages in your roasting tin. And don’t be tempted to open your oven door once the tin is in there otherwise your batter won’t rise!

Andale andale arriba arriba, which translates (loosely) to hurry up and give this recipe a try!

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Chicken Tetrazzini


Tell your mates you’re making an ‘American hybrid’ recipe and they’ll think you’re cool, maybe.

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 :-).

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Smoky Steak Fajitas


You don’t need to buy expensive steak to make this work – frying steak will do the job

Smoky Steak Fajitas from Justine Pattison is a good choice for a fast midweek meal, or especially on a Friday evening after a week at work when you don’t have the energy to cook something which requires any effort. Key to getting this recipe right is heat. Make sure your griddle pan is piping hot before cooking your steak, and it only needs about 1 ½ minutes on each side.

Again, with heat in mind, make sure you cover the cooked steak with a piece of foil, wrapped in a clean towel to keep it warm while you stir-fry the peppers and spring onions. Finally, don’t forget to warm your tortillas through – cold tortillas are yukky!!

Personally, I would have been a bit more brazen with this recipe and chucked in some jalapenos and a spicier variety of salsa, but it’s easy to switch a few ingredients around to meet your preferences! If you like the idea of this, check out fast chicken fajitas which is also a super-quick meal to throw together.

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Quesadilla with Barbecue Potato Wedges


You’ve got to try the barbecue potato wedges – simply scrummy!

My Mexican food week continued with Quesadilla from Pinch of Nom, accompanied by Nom’s Barbecue Potato Wedges which were totally yummy! Getting my teenage son to have vegetarian-based meals can be a challenge, but fortunately he loves pulses and tortilla wraps so convincing him to tuck into this was refreshingly easy.

This simple recipe is going to become a regular in my household and the BBQ wedges are a brilliant dance partner for less than 400 calories in total. Do take care when flipping over your quesadilla to finish them off. Remember, slow and steady wins the race and you don’t have to try a Jamie Oliver style ‘toss’ to impress anyone. Food on your plate is always preferable to food on the floor ;-).

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Mexican Pulled Pork Tacos


Stuff with little gem lettuce, home-made coleslaw, soured cream, jalapenos etc etc

Slow cookers are a handy invention – ideal for slowly cooking casseroles and stews so that you can come home to a hot meal after a long day at work, or if you’ve been out and about. But despite their convenience, I’ve never been a fan of recipes I’ve made in the slow cooker in comparison to cooking them on the hob or in a conventional oven. However, I make an exception when it comes to Mexican Pulled Pork Tacos from Justine Pattison. Yes, you’ve got to marinade the meat for several hours (or preferably overnight) but the end result is absolute worth it.

Slowly cooking a shoulder of pork over an extensive period of time (up to 10 hours if using the LOW setting on a slow cooker) makes the meat a doddle to shed and then you can enjoy it literally melting in your mouth. The image above doesn’t do this meal justice, but try taking a photo of a taco filling when you’re starving, it’s never going to turn out well! :).

Pork shoulder is dirt cheap and the calorie count for this recipe is surprisingly low, BUT that’s dependent on you cutting off the rind and fat before you cook it ;-). Home-made slaw is so much better than the pre-prepped supermarket equivalents, or serve with some gem lettuce and sour cream if you can’t be arsed / are pushed for time.

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(Healthy) Piri Piri Chicken


Forget Nando’s, this is better and healthier for you

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.

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Crispy Pork Schnitzel with Potato Salad


This can be a messy job, so why not get the kids involved and make it fun?

Crispy Pork Schnitzel with Potato Salad from the Hairy Dieters is a substantial meal that you can enjoy for lunch or dinner. I always thought schnitzels – which are traditionally thin, breaded and pan fried cutlets made from veal – originated from Poland, but it turns out they herald from Austria. You learn something new every day…

Schnitzels can be unhealthy as they are typically pan fried in oil, but this lighter version requires them to be baked in the oven. With the whopping side salad of potatoes, onion, celery and apple, the Hairy Dieters’ recipe comes in at only 406 calories per portion. I won’t lie and say you can’t tell the difference between this and having the real thing, but the low-cal alternative still tastes good.

A word of warning. If you can’t stand your kitchen getting messy, then give this meal a wide berth. You’ll have plates, cutlery and messy hands from making the coating for the schnitzels. However, if you’ve got children who are showing an interest in cooking why not get them involved? You could even get them to wash up afterwards for a full 360 degree culinary experience, ha ha!

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Mustard Pork


The mustard-based sauce is delicious

If you’re a mustard junkie like me, you’ll love Mustard Pork from Tom Kerridge which contains Dijon and wholegrain mustard in a creamy-based sauce and is much lighter than the French classic dish which is swimming in butter.

This is a well-balanced meal accompanied with corn-on-the-cob and green beans, and it’s impossible to feel hungry after demolishing one of Tom’s recipes. This one comes in at 438 calories per serving and is ideal for an easy weeknight meal. Pork is one of my favourite meats and is quick to cook. I’d also recommend pork and black bean stew with salsa and pork medallions in BBQ sauce, if you’re looking to jazz up your meal plan.

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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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Rich Beef in Red Wine


I’d probably need a loaf of bread to mop up that sauce

Rich Beef in Red Wine from the Hairy Dieters is a little too rich for my palette, but nevertheless is a lower calorie adaption of the French classic dish, beef bourguignon. After 2 hours and 25 minutes of cooking in the oven my patience was waning, but in hindsight I should have put it back in and reduced the sauce down further.

Some dishes are worth the wait, but when watching my weight I want something on my table a bit more pronto. But at least I got to guzzle the remaining wine out of the bottle while becoming increasingly starving. One slower cooking recipe I would wholeheartedly recommend though is lamb tagine. Different meat, different country of origin, different culinary experience entirely. Try it.

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