I’ve been meaning to make Rich Beef and Ale Casserole from the Hairy Dieters since the beginning of the first lockdown. A bottle of dark ale has sat in my drinks cabinet for almost a year, which for a pisshead like me is quite an achievement! I’m not sure why this recipe kept getting bumped down the list. Maybe it’s due to the lengthy cooking time (over 2 hours) and that our preferred option is a Sunday roast accompanied by mash, carrots and parsnips.
But…. this one-pot casserole is a brilliantly comforting meal, perfect for a winter’s day and your oven will do the majority of the work. With some mash, it will feed six people and both our Mum’s loved it. We are trying to provide them with home-cooked meals when we can as they live by themselves. Do take care to cook the casserole on a low oven temperature (exact method below) and occasionally check to make sure the beef doesn’t dry out.
I thought I’d tried most Indian-based dishes, but Chicken and Banana Curry from Pinch of Nom is a new one for me. This mild, fruity recipe tastes a bit like a Kashmiri which sometimes contain mango and lychee. Or if you’re ordering from my dodgy local curry house a tin of supermarket fruit cocktail, much to my wife’s annoyance as she expects them to use fresh fruit, which always amuses me. In fairness, her gripe is valid when you’re paying over £7 for a main course per person!
Despite barely leaving the house, having no social engagements or work commute costs, January has been a tight month financially for us. Intending to finish 2020 with a bang after what had been the shitest year on record, we went overboard on buying generous family Christmas gifts and enough ‘naughty’ food and booze we could consume. I guess I’m fortunate that we were able to do so in the first place.
But this month we’ve been ‘skint’, so I’ve tried to go back to ‘basics’ by making cheap, healthy meals. Spaghetti with Broccoli & Anchovies from BBC Good Food is entirely forgettable, however at around 62p per serving it’s a wonderfully affordable option when you want a thrifty pasta dish.
I loved it, mainly because I had all of the ingredients in. My wife hated it, mainly because I burnt the breadcrumbs. I pointed out she was nitpicking and that they were merely ‘well done’. But yeah anyway…. keep an eye on the breadcrumbs and don’t burn them, ok? If you love pasta and are wondering what to do with any leftover anchovies, then pasta puttanesca is the absolute dish to go for and is also cheap to make.
I’m so pleased I purchased the Homgeek Mini Chopper & Food Processor. It set me back just £22, takes up minimal space on my working top and I no longer have to haul my large food processor out from the back of the cupboard and try and assemble it. The Homgeek is brilliant for blending sauces in the blink of an eye and proved perfect for this Pork Medallions with a Chimichurri Sauce recipe from Two Chubby Cubs.
The Cubs do wonderfully simple meals, which might not seem all that upon first reading, but many of their recipes are brilliant and, above all, are easy to make. Make sure you use fresh herbs, good quality garlic and olive oil to make the best chimichurri sauce – a little goes a long way to make your pork medallions sing. In the interests of transparency, I used pork loin steaks for this but pork medallions contain less fat. It’s up to you.
Hunter’s Risotto is Justine Pattison’s take on the well-known French dish, chicken chasseur, which I’ve already featured on this blog from the Hairy Dieters. Personally, I prefer this version from Justine because it includes smoked bacon and mushrooms – two personal fave ingredients of mine.
The recipe calls for the addition of Marsala or Madeira wine, but Justine suggests you could also add sweet sherry, Martini Rosso or even red wine if you prefer. I opted for the latter because invariably we’ve always got red wine in the house, and once the bottle is open…..
Cassoulet is a classic French dish and Pinch of Nom include a budget-friendly version in their second book using diced pork and beans. Don’t be fooled by my photo – I made this for 3 people and hence my portion size was huge (but still only 444 calories). But if making this for 6, as Pinch of Nom suggest, then you’ll still be full up if you have it with some healthy mash on the side.
Do try and use vegetable and red wine stock pots to enhance the taste (rather than cheap stock cubes), along with fresh thyme leaves if you can get them, otherwise this Pork Cassoulet dish could taste a tad bland. The Hairy Dieters do an all-singing, all-dancing cassoulet recipe in their first book which includes chicken, gammon and sausages, along with some orange zest and parsley. It’s a beast of a dish, but my son loves it ,so I’ll try and feature it on the blog next month.
Trying to avoid eating peppers on a ‘healthy eating plan’ is a bit like trying to avoid getting wet when you’re outside and it’s raining – it ain’t gonna happen. And it is for that reason that I bypassed making Paprika Chicken from the Hairy Dieters for so long. My teenage son hates peppers, even when I cut them into miniscule pieces, we still have ‘pepper gate’ when he huffs and puffs when shuffling them around his plate at the dinner table.
However, when all I had in my fridge was some peppers and chicken thighs, it was time to bite the bullet. And….. both my wife and my son really enjoyed this meal, despite ‘pepper gate’. So, the moral of the story is…… actually, I don’t know, but perhaps it’s something along the lines of don’t always assume that your kids are going to hate a meal and it’s good to try them with different recipes. I think I’ve just had my Jamie Oliver ‘turkey twizzler’ moment ;-).
I’m not keen on the naming given to Jamie Oliver’sHit ‘n’ Run Traybaked Chicken recipe, but both the flavours and the concept (that you can bang the ingredients together in the oven for an hour and put your feet up) is appealing. The flavours from the tomatoes, peppers, balsamic vinegar and olive oil in this come together really well.
You can serve with some crusty bread to mop up the juices, or if you don’t trust yourself to be ‘good’, maybe a side salad or a small portion of rice or couscous (as I used) would fit the bill, but factor in the extra calories.
After my car crash attempt at making Asian pork meatballs, I needed to bring my ‘A game’ back to the kitchen and Creamy Garlic Chicken from Pinch of Nom was just the tonic. This is so easy to make and tastes amazing with a few new potatoes and/or some veg to go with it.
As the photo shows, I made a right balls-up of making Asian Pork Meatballs from Pinch of Nom. But I’m sharing with you the error of my ways as there’s a really interesting recipe here which could be brilliant providing you give it some TLC.
My biggest faux pas was that I used a large courgette rather than a small /medium one and then failed to get rid of the excess moisture / liquid – you can do this by ringing out the grated courgette using a clean tea-towel. It’s really important you do this, otherwise your meatballs will turn to mush when you come to form them and will be too fragile to cook in a frying pan. I tried to rescue mine by cooking them in the oven which kind of worked…. just, but the end result would have been so much better had I followed the recipe properly.
As the method states, try not to touch the meatballs for 5 minutes when cooking them through or they’ll easily disintegrate in the pan. You can serve them as a light lunch / starter with the char siu ketchup, or have them with a small bed of fine egg noodles or spaghetti for a main meal. But don’t forget to factor in the extra calories, a small nest of noodles will add about 170.
It’s really easy to bring plain chicken to life with some spices or a marinade. Cajun Spiced Chicken with Potato Wedges and Chive Dip from the Hairy Dieters is a healthy, flavoursome twist on boring chicken and chips.
Note, you can have this dish with a few home-made chips, the emphasis being here on a few to keep the calorie count low. The suggested portion size isn’t the biggest (boooooo!), so I’d recommend serving this with a green salad on the side, or some home-made coleslaw as I did – see sticky pork ‘ribs’ in barbecue sauce for the recipe.
Justine Pattison’sSticky Pork ‘Ribs’ in Barbecue Sauce recipe uses pork loin steaks rather than conventional spare ribs to keep the calories low. And while it’s a pale imitation of the real thing, kids and adults will still end up with messy fingers and faces when tucking into this!
The barbecue glaze comprising ketchup, clear honey, Worcester sauce and chilli powder wasn’t particularly ‘sticky’, so I suggest maybe marinating the pork steaks in a bowl (covered) for a few hours if you have time. With some home-made coleslaw and a corn on the cob on the side, this US diner classic still comes in at less than 400 calories per serving.
As the old saying goes looks can be deceiving, and when it comes to Mushroom and Leek Pasta from Gordon Ramsay it’s definitely a case of the calories being deceiving. There is no nutritional information listed in Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course book and I made the mistake in thinking that any dish containing mushrooms and leeks must be good for you, right? Wrong.
The addition of the fresh lasagne sheets, double cream and ciabatta sent the fat content spiralling to, I estimate, approximately 839 calories per serving. Fuck me, as Gordon would say. If this recipe appeals to you but you’re worried about messing up your diet, ditch the bread and use only 4 fresh lasagne sheets between 2 people which will bring the calorie count down to about 627 per serving. Alternatively, using dried lasagne sheets will bring the calories down further if you’re willing to compromise on flavour.
This actually tastes really good but there are more diet friendly pasta recipes out there which include leeks, mushrooms and tarragon, such as smashed-up chicken, which uses low-fat crème fraiche instead of cream and only a small portion of pasta instead of lasagne sheets.
A fair amount of effort goes into Black Bean and Butternut Chilli from Tom Kerridge, but what an imaginative and substantial vegetarian chilli this is. Cutting out the tortilla chips topped with the sour cream, spring onions and avocado (as I did) takes this meal down to a more palatable 406 calories, however if you’re serving this to guests you might want to keep them in for a proper vege feast.
Hunter’s Chicken is a British pub classic – chicken wrapped in bacon, cooked in a tomato-based sauce and finished off with melted cheese on top. Mmmmm. Pinch of Nom have created a lighter version using bacon medallions and reduced-fat cheddar and it tastes as good as anything you’ll enjoy in your local boozer.
PON’s recipe comes in at 343 calories, but this doesn’t include any accompaniments. So, in the interests of following UK government advice and turning this into a ‘substantial meal’ (I shouldn’t even joke), I served mine with a few peas and naughty chips. But to keep the calories down, I suggest having it with some green veg and/or a very small portion of healthy mash (using low-fat crème fraiche).
If you’re currently stuck in a tier 3 or tier 4 area and are missing some classic British home-cooked food, check out the pub classics section on this blog here. The only downside is you’ll have to cook them yourself ;-).
Burger and a bhaji, what’s not to like? Tandoori Chicken Burger from Two Chubby Cubs feels really naughty, but even with a full bun it’s just under 500 calories, so treat yourself and don’t feel guilty.
The list of ingredients might seem a lot initially, but most of them are spices which won’t go to waste if you’re a regular follower of this blog (use the search option on the right hand side of this page to find other recipes). My photo above doesn’t do this justice, primarily because I overcooked the bhajis which I’d be more mindful of avoiding second time round. The Cubs recommend putting the onion bhaji mixture in a muffin tray to make them easier to cook. As novel as the concept is, I’d be happy just to scoff the tandoori chicken burger on its own – you’ll save time and calories and it still tastes fabbbuuuuuulllllloooouuuuussss, to quote John Barrowman.
I didn’t find Speedy Chicken and Vegetable Pot Pies from the Hairy Dieters particularly speedy. Nor did they remind me of pies. But apart from that, this chicken and vege recipe is a decent feed and just 267 calories per portion.
The filo pastry topping is a clever, lighter way to create a pie-like crunch when you bite into it, but let’s not get carried away, this definitely isn’t a pie in the conventional sense. I couldn’t be arsed to divide the filling into 4 individual pie dishes – that might have accounted for why it took much longer than the suggested 24 minutes of cooking time to ensure the 500ml of chicken stock had sufficiently reduced down.
I’m too much of a wimp to have proper madras from my local curry house, but I adore Fiery Beef Madras from the Hairy Dieters which is a toned down version that even my wary teenage son could stomach. It tastes brilliant.
This isn’t a fast fakeaway – in total it will take about 2 hours to cook from start to finish – so plan ahead and make this on a weekend, and preferably before you crack open a beer or neck some vino, otherwise you’ll be phoning for a takeaway and blowing your diet! Do make sure you cook this on a low oven setting and check it every so often to ensure the beef and the rich tomato sauce doesn’t burn. Similarly, be careful when splitting the chillies from stalk to tip that you don’t dislodge the seeds or your mouth will literally be on fire!
Fancying a different fakeaway? Check out the fakeaways section on this blog for more ideas.
As a former ‘respected’ KFC employee (I lasted three weeks, and quit when they wouldn’t let me have Saturday off to watch Sheffield United vs Bolton), I was looking forward to trying Tom Kerridge’s twist on the Colonel’s secret recipe. Southern-style Chicken with Potato Salad might be missing fries and sides, but this lower calorie imitation is healthier and cheaper than the real thing. And it tastes damn good, too!
Don’t let the long list of ingredients put you off. Granted they are off-putting, but most of them are spices and herbs which you’ll use again. The southern-fried effect is created by coating the chicken thighs in low-fat buttermilk and flour and then marinating them for at least four hours (or preferably overnight).
My version turned out reasonably well, although I was little too frivolous with the flour and forgot to shake off the excess before baking them in the oven. Apart from that aberration this was a decent attempt, with the accompanying potato salad being the unexpected star of the show.
Sometimes meals containing the simplest of ingredients can turn out to be the best ones. Bacon, Onion and Potato Bake from Pinch of Nom requires only five base ingredients and is brilliant for using up items in your fridge that may have been hanging around.
Do make sure the foil is fitted tightly around your ovenproof dish and get some decent potatoes, such as Maris Piper, which are better at absorbing liquid – you don’t want this meal to be swimming in stock. Also, note that this recipe uses bacon medallions – if you’ve only got regular bacon rashers, make sure all the fat and rind is removed to keep the calorie count down.
If you love this meal you’ll probably also like pan haggerty lite, which is a similar comfort food classic.