Black Bean and Butternut Chilli


Loads of ingredients, loads of flavour

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.

If you’ve got any spare butternut squash, have a pop at butternut squash pilaf or home-made butternut squash tortellini if you’ve got plenty of time to yourself, or your Christmas visiting relatives are annoying you.

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Awesome Oats – Banana and Pecan Porridge


Porridge pimped-up, like it doesn’t need to be

We’re unofficially entering ‘porridge season’ where freezing cold mornings mean that you can barely feel your toes and fingers after scraping the ice off your car. The Hairy Dieters include a handy ‘Awesome Oats’ section in their second book and I had a bash at trying Banana and Pecan Porridge to warm me up!

I reached four conclusions. 1. This is a lovely, comforting start to your day. 2. Pecan nuts are ridiculously expensive. 3. It’s cheaper to buy sachets of Oat So Simple porridge which actually contain fewer calories than this recipe. 4. Why would you mess about prepping this when you can just pour the contents of an Oat So Simple sachet into a microwavable bowl and ping-ding, a minute later you can be tucking in?

I’m all for advocating the use of fresh ingredients. But practicality, affordability and saving money / time is just as important when sticking to a diet.

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Spicy Black Beans with Feta and Avocado


I wonder what English street food would be? Can of lager and a bag of crisps?

Spicy Black Beans with Feta and Avocado is Gordon Ramsay’s take on Mexican street food. He recommends that you serve this with ‘tostadas’ (see below), which is tortilla wraps shallow-fried in vegetable oil. I decided I was going to be good and refrained, which in hindsight was probably a mistake as I felt the recipe needed something else to bring it all together. Not that I’d tell Gordon this to his face, otherwise it would be a recipe for disaster!

Although more graft and ingredients are involved, I personally prefer veggie tacos from the Hairy Dieters which also uses black beans.

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Pineapple Fried Rice


This is brilliant for using up odds and sods in your fridge

When I kid myself that I’m going to be ‘good’, I often buy fresh fruit which sits in my fridge until it goes off. Thankfully, pineapple keeps very well so when I have a crisis of conscience I can rustle up Pineapple Fried Rice from Two Chubby Cubs which has lots of flavour from the soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic, chilli flakes and lime.

A word of warning. The recipe calls for 700g of cooked rice. That equates to about 250g of uncooked rice. Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of serving this with 700g of uncooked, otherwise your daily calorie count will be well and truly screwed. Personally, I think about 40g of uncooked rice per person is more than sufficient.

If you’re wondering what else you can do with a pineapple, have a bash at sweet and sour chicken, gammon and pineapple stir fry or the Cubs’ equally delectable ham & pineapple pasta bake.

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Cooling Cucumber and Avocado Soup


Where’s the poppadoms?

There are few things more dangerous in life than incurring the wrath of your mother-in-law. Fortunately I get on with mine very well, however she can be known for her ‘persistence’. To keep herself occupied during lockdown, she started growing her own cucumber, rhubarb and potatoes and would proudly leave her hoards on our doorstep. Which is great, except I hate cucumber and have no interest in making puddings which also makes the rhubarb somewhat redundant. But pointing this out was always going to leave me on a sticky wicket.

“Have you done anything with that cucumber yet???” became one of our regular lockdown conversations. I was running out of excuses. In mad panic upon realising she was coming round, I furiously fanned my recipe books until I stumbled across Cooling Cucumber and Avocado Soup from Justine Pattison. A recipe more suited for a blazingly hot summer’s afternoon than a wet and wild autumn day, but fuck it, this would have to do in a crisis.

As for the end result…. we absolutely hated it and could only manage about four spoonfulls between us. But this was about ‘taking one for the team’ and making others feel appreciated, which is perhaps no bad thing right now. My supply of cucumbers has also stopped, too.

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Overnight Porridge with Juicy Berries


So I used frozen fruit, don’t judge me

Pick up a copy of any healthy eating cookbook and the chances are it will contain an overnight oats recipe. So with the weather turning chilly I decided to finally give one a go, despite porridge not particularly floating my boat and that for a fraction more calories I can enjoy bacon and egg instead ;-).

Overnight Porridge with Juicy Berries from Justine Pattison seemed as good as any. You don’t have to soak the oats overnight if you can’t be arsed, however if you do it will taste creamier. I’m fed up of supermarket deliveries sending me fresh fruit with one-day use by dates so have started buying packs of frozen fruit. It’s obviously not as good as fresh but more practical and cheaper – I just take out of the freezer what I need.

Personally, I prefer fresh fruit compote with home-made granola from the Hairy Dieters. It will take you longer to prep and cost more to make, but oh my it’s worth getting out of bed for.

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Skinny Potato Salad – my 200th blog post


Just 155 calories per serving

I thought my 200th blog post would be more imaginative than Skinny Potato Salad from Justine Pattison. But this is a wonderful, simplistic meal in its own right and costs less than 75p per serving to put on your table despite being packed with new potatoes, celery, apple and spring onion with a low-fat mayo dressing.

And when I think about it, that’s what this blog is all about. Giving people access to straightforward, tasty recipes that they can make easily and cheaply at home to keep on track with their diet. Enjoy and thanks to everyone who drops by.

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All-Day Mexican Breakfast


If you like neat and tidy meals, this probably isn’t for you

True but pointless story. In my younger student days, I was once removed from a public house establishment over a row about an ‘all-day breakfast’. It was 8pm, I’d had a couple of beverages and fancied a good old-fashioned ‘fry-up’. “We stopped selling the all-day breakfast sir at 12pm,” said a patronising waiter. He may not have been, I was pissed. “An all-day breakfast should be all day, it’s 8 o’clock, I want an all-day breakfast,” I insisted. It didn’t end well.

Anyway, I digress, but the point of this pointless story is that you can enjoy this All-Day Mexican Breakfast from Jamie Oliver whenever you like, and you only need 5 base ingredients to rustle it up. Eggs and avocado together can be a messy job, as the photo below indicates. My wife likes soft eggs, I like hard, as I was making this I got my wish but I do think this recipe lends itself better to soft / medium cooked eggs. We opted for 2 chillies which made this really hot! So, if you’re not a heat freak, maybe opt for 1 chilli instead.

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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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Fresh Fruit Compote with Home-Made Granola


You’ll never go back to supermarket cereals after sampling this

Ok, so there’s a few ingredients and a fair bit of prep work to do in advance, but Fresh Fruit Compote with Home-Made Granola from the Hairy Dieters offers such a healthy and brilliant start to the day. As most people know by now, granola and muesli supermarket cereals are loaded with sugar, but this home-made version topped with fresh fruit and a dollop of yoghurt is infinitely more satisfying.

It will easily provide 6 servings and the cost, at £1.43 per portion, would be considerably more expensive if you bought this from a coffee / café outlet. If you’re going to embark on a healthy eating plan, why deprive yourself when you can enjoy fresh food as luxurious as this?

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Grapefruit, Avocado and Bacon Salad


154 calories, just 5 base ingredients, ready in under 20 minutes

Grapefruit, Avocado and Bacon Salad from the Hairy Dieters is best enjoyed immediately after you’ve made it, as the ingredients can go soggy if you leave them in a lunch box. The tangy flavours and the contrast in textures make this really interesting but be warned, prepping the grapefruit and avocado can be a messy job!

You can buy pre-prepped grapefruit segments in cans or cartons, which I might opt for if making this again. It’s not that I’m bone idle (honest), my knife skills are just crap and the grapefruit was butchered by the time I’d finished with it.

If you love zingy salads like this, I’d whole-heartedly recommend quinoa, prawn and mango salad, also from the Hairy Dieters.

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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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Sausage and Apple Bake


Super, simple, scrumptious

Good-quality chipolatas, made from unspiced pork, are cheap but pack in loads of flavour so are a handy option to keep in your fridge or freezer. Sausage and Apple Bake, from Jamie Oliver’s 5 ingredients book, utilises chipolatas brilliantly in this one-pan dish with honeyed parsnips and caramelised onions. It will seem like a LOT of parsnips but the strips do reduce down.

I recently had this with gin on a balmy spring evening outside, and while it might be better suited to a cold autumn evening, I love recipes that I can just bang in the oven to do their thing while I sit back and relax. The fat content in this recipe is quite high if you’re watching your weight but still comes in at under 500 calories.

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Sweet and Sour Chicken – a proper ‘fakeaway’


Less than £2 a head and under 300 calories per portion, without rice!

From re-creating your favourite curry to making lower calorie burgers, healthy cookbooks are awash with ‘fakeaways’ these days. And don’t get me wrong, these recipes are welcome and have their place. But try as they might, some of them still don’t hit the ‘spot’, particularly with curries which omit staple restaurant ingredients like ghee to keep the fat content to a minimum. My philosophy is if you’re in need of a blow-out and want to be naughty, then treat yourself to a takeaway, PROVIDING you get back on your diet the next day.

But there are ‘fakeaway’ exceptions which do genuinely (in my opinion) taste like the ‘real thing’. Sweet and Sour Chicken from the Hairy Dieters is one of the more authentic fakeaways I’ve made – I think Chinese takeaways in general are easier to recreate at home based on the required ingredients. This recipe requires only two chicken breasts and will comfortably serve 4 people for less than £2 a head, without rice. The sweet and sour sauce with the pineapple and ginger is to die for!

Serve this in a takeaway carton to your nearest and dearest and see if they notice the difference. Or just serve it them anyway. If you’re interested in fakeways, check out the relevant section on this blog here, and if Chinese floats your boat, Yeung Chow Fried Rice, is another excellent recipe to try, courtesy of Pinch of Nom.

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Ham & Pineapple Pasta Bake


Perfect for the kids to stuff their faces

Ham & Pineapple Pasta Bake from Two Chubby Cubs is a proper feast – pasta, bacon, ham, pineapple, mozzarella and (optional) cheddar cheese in one-pot! It’s a cinch to throw together and will comfortably make 6 portions – perfect for feeding the kids over a couple of days or so.

Speaking of kids, this recipe threw up one of my life’s little mysteries. My son Will, who loves Hawaiian pizzas, curiously wouldn’t entertain having pineapple in this pasta bake. Go figure. The Cubs, whose fab debut book is wonderfully entertaining, suggest serving this with a light salad on the side to ‘pointedly ignore’, which I did :-).

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Creamy pork, apples and cabbage


Creamy pork and apples

Creamy pork, apples and cabbage is a sumptuous one-pot dish from Justine Pattison that is packed with flavour but for only 346 calories per serving. The ingredients that make up the sauce just beg to be mopped up by the meat, potatoes and veg.

Although some people might turn their noses up at them, canned potatoes are an excellent and budget-friendly store cupboard stand-by. Savoy cabbage also lasts a number of days in the fridge. If you’ve got any leftover, give Hotdog Hotpot a go in which you can also use another valuable store cupboard stand-by in tinned or jarred frankfurters to make another cheap and nourishing meal. Continue reading “Creamy pork, apples and cabbage”

Curried butternut squash and apple soup


Butternut squash soup

Some people ask me (actually no one has), ‘why do you bother making soup when you can buy low-sugar tinned soups instead?’ My retort is, ‘tinned soups are (invariably) shit, home-made soups can taste lovely, you know exactly what’s gone into them and you can make a big-batch up which can last throughout the week and/or leftover portions can go in the freezer’.

Curried butternut squash and apple soup from the Hairy Dieters is one of the nicest home-made soups I’ve made. You get the sweetness from the squash and the apples with a bit of a kick from the curry powder. I wonder if you could stick some gin and/or other liquors in this and make it into a cocktail? Hmm, maybe not.

If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on these ingredients at the present moment then give this recipe a go. My only issue is with the Hairy Dieters’ claim in their book that you can prep this in 15 minutes. Erm, chopping two onions, peeling and dicing the squash and peeling, coring and chopping the apples took me considerably longer than that. But let’s face it, we’ve all got a bit more time on our hands to spend in the kitchen right now! Continue reading “Curried butternut squash and apple soup”

Quinoa, prawn and mango salad – seductive treat!


Mango prawn salad

Quinoa, prawn and mango salad from the Hairy Dieters is one of the more expensive healthy eating recipes I’ve made, but it’s an absolute treat to devour and so worth the extra cost and effort. The marinated prawns and mango are a match made in heaven, you get the ‘nuttyness’ from the quinoa and the zing and heat from the mango chilli dressing. This is one seductive salad!

You might be tempted to ‘double up’ as this is only 200 calories per serving, however I recommend you don’t as one portion is more than filling enough. Diet or no diet, this colourful, flavoursome lunch packs a brilliant punch. Continue reading “Quinoa, prawn and mango salad – seductive treat!”

Crushed Berry Layered Yoghurt – perfect on a ‘5:2’ day


berry yoghurt

If you’re following a ‘5:2’ diet plan, you’ll know how difficult it can be to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner within a limit of 600 calories on a ‘2’ day. So what are your options? Skip breakfast and struggle through until lunchtime, invariably reaching for the snack jar around 11am, or try and get something light and healthy inside you first-thing?

A piece of fruit is always an option but if, like me, you love yoghurts why not combine both options by having Crushed Berry Layered Yoghurt from Justine Pattison? You can pick up cheap bags of frozen mixed fruit from supermarkets which are great to have on stand-by for busy mornings and it means you’re not wasting any fresh produce either – just take out what you need. Of course, you could just buy some ready-made yoghurts, but some can be higher in sugar and calories than you think so I prefer to make my own.

I like to use ramekins for these fruit-topped yoghurts and keep them in the fridge, where they’ll last for 3 days. If you’re a fan of this simplistic health-kick, check out Justine’s Without the Calories – Quick and Easy book where you’ll also find a recipe for Cherry and Chocolate Chip Muesli. Continue reading “Crushed Berry Layered Yoghurt – perfect on a ‘5:2’ day”

Hotdog hotpot – budget winter warmer


hotdog

Hardened foodies, or other sceptics (like my wife ha ha!) may turn their noses up at Hotdog Hotpot from the Hairy Dieters’ latest book, ‘Make it Easy’, but let me tell you they are missing out on an absolute treat!

I love making dishes which utilise cheaper cuts of meat, and you can pick up a pack of frankfurters for around £2 in most supermarkets. This is just a brilliant easy-to-make, budget friendly and tasty winter warmer of a dish which is surprisingly satisfying. The frankfurters, potatoes, apples and cabbage go together brilliantly, along with the sage, stock and cider. Fantastic, and even more so because a serving of this is less than 300 calories!

The cooking time is over an hour but there’s very little prep involved or much to do once everything is in the pan. Continue reading “Hotdog hotpot – budget winter warmer”