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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Buffalo Wings with Blue Cheese Dip


Messy and sticky, great for snacking in front of the telly

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 you’re having some mates round for a big match or fight, or just a girly night in (ladies), why not go all out and make sloppy dogs as well which is equally cheap and wonderful to tuck into. You can start your diet ‘tomorrow’ ;-). Or, if you’re wondering what to do with the leftover cheese, try COBB salad with blue cheese dressing or the equally divine chicken and leeks in blue cheese sauce.

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Swedish Meatballs in Gravy


You don’t need to go to IKEA to enjoy meatballs, although it might be quicker

I’ve never been to Sweden, or to Ikea for that matter, so I can’t vouch for the authenticity of Justine Pattison’s Swedish Meatballs in Gravy. But meatballs can be quite fatty and Justine’s dish comes in at a much more diet friendly 324 calories per serving. So with a small portion of mash you’re looking at about 500 calories all in. Impressive, although I wish healthy eating cookbooks would factor in the extra calorie counts to include accompaniments – you’re hardly going to scoff these meatballs on their own!

This isn’t a quick meal to prepare, so I recommend making this on a weekend. Despite the level of effort involved, the end result was enjoyable, with the ‘gravy’ particularly flavoursome. My only gripe was that it tasted too much of dill, which is a strong tasting herb even if you’re only using 15g of it. I also should have reduced the gravy down a little as the sauce was a bit runny.

If you’re buying bigger packs of beef and pork mince, you will have some produce leftover. I’ll give you some ideas as to what other meals you can make on this blog in the coming weeks. Stay tuned.

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Diet Cola Chicken


Are you a Coca-Cola or a Pepsi fan?

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!

As with some other Pinch of Nom recipes, you’ll have some odds and sods ingredients left over, so what should you do with them? To use up the peppers, mushrooms and baby corn, I would opt for cajun dirty rice and hot and sour soup. And for the chicken, I’d go for sweet and sour chicken or chicken and mushroom risotto.

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.

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Paneer and Pea Curry


This is great, with or without the addition of cauliflower

Geeky fact alert. Since lockdown began I’ve not had the same meal twice, which is pretty remarkable even though I say so myself. My motivation was mainly to try different foods and give me more excuses to update this blog. Having said that, Paneer and Pea Curry from the Hairy Dieters is (unsurprisingly) remarkably similar to cauliflower, paneer and pea curry from BBC Good Food which I featured back in May.

So, what’s the difference with this recipe from the Hairy Dieters? Well, apart from the cauliflower and the additional spices, not a lot. But don’t let this detract from what is an excellent, low-cost vege curry which is enriched by the texture and taste of the paneer cheese which is regularly used in authentic Indian curries.

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Mediterranean-Style Lamb Shanks


A proper treat for special occasions and/or ‘date nights’

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.

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Satay Burger


Best burger, ever. And ready in under 20 minutes

Satay Burger from Two Chubby Cubs is, quite possibly, the best burger I’ve ever tasted – and that includes the unhealthy ones I’ve demolished from takeaways and pubs over the years. But this home-made burger is only 390 calories and will cost approx £1.36 per portion to send you into food heaven / porn – delete as appropriate.

Normally you associate satay with chicken, so having this with beef made for a welcome surprise. And it tasted even nicer because my wife made it :-). This is proof that you can still enjoy a burger on a diet, but if you’re going to have a treat I recommend you get top-quality beef mince from a butcher instead of from a supermarket.

Most low-fat burgers require you to bulk out the filling with onions and courgettes, and while they taste good, I love the fact that this amazing burger from ‘the Cubs’ requires zero pissing about. Just mix together the soy sauces, peanut butter and lime juice with the beef mince, form into a burger and pop them in a frying pan or griddle pan. From start to finish, you can be savouring this in less than 20 minutes. Why are you still here? Go, go, go!!!

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Smoky Sausage and Beans


Nowt fancy, but bloody lovely

Smoky Sausage and Beans from Justine Pattison’s Without the Calories – Comfort Food is indeed the epitome of comfort food – rich in flavour, so easy to put together in one pan and cheap to make. The ‘smoky’ flavour comes from the smoked paprika, cumin and coriander which I tend to chuck into the pan with reckless abandon. But remember, there are no calories in spices!

My teenage lad isn’t a fan of sausages unless the skins are removed and shaped into patties. But he much prefers the daintier chipolatas, which suits me fine because they are better for your waistline. This filling meal comes in at 412 calories per serving is perfect for a weeknight evening which is best enjoyed when the weather is cold or crappy. Love chipolatas? Then check out sausage and apple bake which is another brilliantly comforting recipe.

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Chicken and Leeks in Blue Cheese Sauce


I have a leek fetish. I could literally eat them every day of the week

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.

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Veggie Tacos


This tastes great, but you will fart afterwards!

Veggie Tacos from the Hairy Dieters is an absolute feast that even hardened meat eaters should try. My teenage son still thinks vegetables are from the devil, but thankfully loves all types of beans so he’ll happily demolish these tacos without protest. There is a fair amount of prep involved beforehand, but you should have some leftovers for the next day as this will serve 4 generously. And if it doesn’t, what are you doing? You’re supposed to be on a diet ;-).

Wondering what to do with the leftover produce? Use the kale to make cajun prawn and kale salad or scrambled cajun eggs with spinach and eggs. For butternut squash, try butternut squash pilaf, beef kofta curry (gorgeous!), curried butternut squash and apple soup or home-made butternut squash tortellini. Right, that should keep you busy! I’m off.

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(Lighter) Chicken Korma


Check out the ‘Fakeaways’ section of this blog for more of your favourites

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.

For some of the more irregular spices, tumeric can be used in sweet potato saag aloo and creamed spinach with eggs, while saffron can be found in cauliflower and chicken pilaf and chicken biryani. Traditional Indian restaurant kormas are calorific as they are loaded with cream, whereas this lighter version only contains 3 tablespoons of double cream and just 294 calories per portion, without rice or naan bread.

Fancying a mild curry with fewer ingredients? Then the nation’s favourite, chicken tikka masala, is for you.

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Gammon and Pineapple Stir Fry


Gammon in a stir fry? Wonders never cease

I had some gammon leftover after making campfire stew and was scratching my head as to what to do with it. After doing some digging online, I stumbled across Gammon and Pineapple Stir Fry on the Diabetes UK website.

I wouldn’t associate gammon with a stir-fry, or being suitable for people with diabetes, but at only 174 calories per serving, and 6.4g of fat, 8.3g of sugars and 1.80g of salt, this fits the brief for a quick and healthy meal that is suitable for all. As for the taste, I loved it, mainly because I’m OCD about food waste and we had all of the ingredients to hand. On the other hand my wife was non-plussed, which I guess means we’re not having it again ;-).

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Campfire Stew


Try making this around a camp fire, I dare you

Requiring approximately 20 ingredients, Campfire Stew from Pinch of Nom is a meal that you’ll never make over a campfire. But sarcasm aside, this is one hell of a pot full that can be made in the oven, a slow cooker or a pressure cooker. Below is the oven method (which can take up to 3 hours), but you’ll find the other methods in Pinch of Nom’s debut book.

Some of you might better know this dish as ‘Cowboy Stew’. Whatever you call it, it’s not one you forget because there is literally something in this meal for everyone. The melt in your mouth gammon, the beans, the varieties of vegetables and the subtle spices. An absolute feast, and all for just over 400 calories. Once all the ingredients are in a casserole dish, all you need to do is check every 30 minutes or so to make sure it isn’t drying out and give things a stir, but mine contained plenty of liquid at the end of the cooking time.

You rarely see gammon based recipes in healthy eating cookbooks, so Campfire Stew made for a welcome and satisfying change. If you want an alternative gammon recipe, check out gammon with parsley sauce, which was too random for me but you might like it.

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Cobb Salad with blue cheese dressing


NO ONE is going hungry after eating this

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.

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Smoky Pancetta Cod


One pan, ready in 15 minutes

Smoky Pancetta Cod from Jamie Oliver might not be cheap, but it only uses 5 base ingredients and is one of the best midweek dinners I’ve made that can be ready in just 15 minutes. Seriously, when’s the last time you rustled up a meal as quick and as good as this, for less than 350 calories per portion?

I used prosciutto instead of pancetta based on what I had in my fridge, but you could also use smoked bacon or parma ham. Any white fish will also do, so just use whatever you can get your hands on. If you like the concept of cod being wrapped in something, check out roasted cod with parma ham and peppers which takes a bit longer to cook but is equally a brilliant evening meal.

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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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Tandoori Salmon with Mango Salsa


Goodness on a plate

Tandoori Salmon with Mango Salsa from Pinch of Nom is just perfect for summer evenings when you want to tuck into something healthy and fresh without stuffing your face. You only have to look at your plate to know that this is a well balanced meal, bursting with flavour from the spices which coat the salmon and the tangy salsa.

I had some broccoli leftover in my fridge which I used to bulk this out, but you can use any small serving of steamed veg if you’re feeling peckish. This is a great salmon-based dish but my personal favourite is still Salmon with Chilli Ginger Sauce. Both would make excellent additions to your healthy eating plan.

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Turkey Chilli with Cauliflower ‘Rice’


Name me a worse fad than cauliflower ‘rice’

I can’t get enough of turkey at the moment, and I love a chilli, so making Turkey Chilli with Cauliflower Rice from the Hairy Dieters seemed like a no-brainer. A lot of spices go into this and the chipotle paste adds some further heat. However, one thing I couldn’t taste was the dark chocolate, so you might want to up the quantity (the recipe states 15g) but remember that you’ll also need to up the calorie count from 300!

Cauliflower ‘rice’ has become fashionable but still seems a pointless aversion to me. But undoubtedly it does keep the calories down compared to proper rice. If you’re seeking a quicker, arguably tastier alternative, check out the Hairy Dieters’ Speedy Turkey Chilli from their Make it Easy book.

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Sweet Potato Saag Aloo


Just 200 calories per portion and stroppy teenager friendly

Sweet Potato Saag Aloo from the Hairy Dieters‘Go Veggie’ book turned into a really satisfying experience. My teenager Will was mithering for an Indian takeaway and frowned with disappointment when he saw what his old man had served up. “Where’s the meat?”, he asked in irritation.

5 minutes later and his mood had lightened. “This tastes amazing Dad. Can we have it again?” There’s been few greater pleasures during the last few months than being able to change my son’s perceptions about food, particularly when it comes to introducing him to cheap, vegetarian-based dishes. This costs just over a £1 per portion to make.

If you don’t have all the suggested spices in, don’t worry, the Hairy Dieters state you can substitute them for mild curry powder instead, but it won’t taste as good. At just 200 calories per serving, this fab vege-based curry is going to become a regular in my home.

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Creamy Scallops with Bacon


Where’s Wally? Spot the scallops to win…… I don’t know

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!

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