January is always a tough month. But add a new national lockdown and home-schooling a teenager into the mix and lunchtimes are somewhat fraught in my household, as they are for many people who currently work from home. So Tuna Crunch sandwich filling from Two Chubby Cubs is a good option if you want a quick, no-frills dinnertime option on the table which will appease the whole family.
The Cubs are a bit loose on the exact quantities of ingredients, so their estimate that this sarnie equates to 322 calories per serving will vary depending on what bread and fillings you opt for. I had two slices of basic white bread and my filling comprised of a tin of tuna in spring water, a chopped green pepper and some finely diced red onion, sprinkled with a dash of balsamic vinegar. But really, anything goes so just use whatever decent salad ingredients you happen to have.
Mega-Eggybread Club Sandwich Stacks from Two Chubby Cubs feels like a proper naughty treat, but it still comes in at under 500 calories so it’s just the ticket for a lazy weekend brunch / lunch.
To ensure your toastie doesn’t disintegrate when you come to fry it, the Cubs recommend that you make it up the night before, tightly wrap it in clingfilm and then chill in the fridge so the ingredients remain pressed together. This ‘sarnie’ is so tasty with the Dijon mustard and smoked cheese and you could even sprinkle over some chilli flakes if you’re feeling brave. I challenge anyone to still be feeling hungry after scoffing this!
If you want an alternative toastie suggestion, then have a look at monte cristo sandwich which is lower in calories but does require more ingredients.
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.
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.
With the temperatures falling below zero in many parts of the UK, it’s high time I included more soup recipes on this blog. And I can’t think of a better one to start with than Cauliflower Cheese Soup from the Hairy Dieters.
Cauliflower is such a versatile vegetable and it tastes exquisite here when blended with cheese, milk and wholegrain mustard for a smooth and creamy finish. The recipe quantities will serve 4 people generously for 233 calories and at just 68p per portion. Forget tinned soup when you can conjure up home-made varieties as good as this. Superb.
For more exotic soup ideas, check out the soup section on this blog here.
Squid dishes on a diet tend to be off-limits because they are typically deep fried, but this Salt and Pepper Squid with Yuzu Mayo recipe from Tom Kerridge cleverly uses breadcrumbs to create a similar effect for only a fraction of the calories.
Due to my local fishmonger being closed because of the Covid tier restrictions, I had to make do with frozen squid rings from a supermarket, but as a seafood fan I still enjoyed this with the kick of the vibrant yuzu mayo to go with it. Speaking of yuzu, unless you live near a Waitrose or a specialist Chinese supermarket you might struggle to get hold of yuzu juice, however it’s easy to buy online if you don’t mind waiting.
A turning courgette was my motivation for trying Vegetable Frittata from the Hairy Dieters, but it had already gone off when I finally got round to making it. Now for someone who has to follow every recipe to the letter this represented a major crisis. One glass of wine later, I came to my senses and realised that this was a frittata after all, and the whole premise of a frittata is that basically anything goes when you’re throwing it together.
In the Hairy Dieters’ version, they suggest using courgette, red pepper, red onions, butternut squash, broccoli and green beans, but honestly, just use whatever spare vege you have that needs using up. This is a cheap fall-back option when you’ve got some eggs and vegetables in your fridge but don’t know what to do with them.
Don’t let my appalling cutting skills deter you (by this time I’d had two glasses of wine), this will comfortably serve 4 people with a salad on the side, if you like.
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.
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.
Prosciutto Celeriac Salad from Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients book is bold and punchy, creating so much flavour from the celeriac, mustard, yoghurt and tarragon. I found this recipe a little too overpowering, but that’s just down to my personal taste. It’s certainly memorable for sure and relatively quick to prep if you’ve got the right equipment to finely slice the celeriac.
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.
Jamie Oliver includes some excellent suggestions for how to use up leftover salmon in his Save with Jamie Book and Silky Salmon Tagliatelle is a luxurious pasta dish that can be ready in about 20 minutes.
Who has leftover salmon you might ask? Not me, so I pre-cooked some salmon fillets in the oven. But I suppose Jamie is appealing to those who cook 1.5kg (approx.) sides of salmon, so this recipe is a good option to rustle up if you have any leftovers from Christmas. The calorie count for this is quite high, but you can reduce it by only serving 50g of tagliatelle per person rather than the (excessive) 80g.
I might sound like a broken record, but chicken drumsticks are excellent value and make for perfect, hassle-free weekend meals. Invariably once coated in your preferred marinade, all you need to do then is bake them in the oven for about half an hour.
Chipotle Chicken and Slaw from BBC Good Food will appeal to heat freaks, but it’s not too hot to put off those who have more sensitive palettes. The slaw, comprising red and white cabbage, avocado, carrot and lime zest is quite fancy, but there are simpler and cheaper home-made recipes, such as sticky chicken with coleslaw.
Is there anything more comforting than a steaming jacket potato when the weather is cold and crappy? The Hairy Dieters include recipes for baked potatoes in their second (Eat for Life) and sixth books (Make it Easy) and they are a handy option to fall back on when you want something easy, cheap and nourishing to eat.
I tried their no frills Jaunty Jacket Potato with Cheesy Beans Filling andit was just what I needed on a freezing, wet day. A word of caution though to those counting every calorie. In this recipe you only get just over 100g of baked beans per person (based on serving 4), which isn’t a lot. There are approximately 169 calories per 225g potato, and 280 calories in total by adding the beans, light-cheese triangle and spring onions.
You can cook your jackets in a microwave if pushed for time, but I prefer to bake mine in the oven for an hour – 1 hour and 15 minutes so they go nice and crispy, topped with some good quality baked beans, like Branston.
I’m normally up for scoffing prawns, but the Hairy Dieters’ Prawn and Chive Omelette concept didn’t overly appeal to me. Prawns in curries yes, prawns in salads tick, but prawns with eggs… ‘uh-uh’ as the buzzer goes on Family Fortunes. I also think this is quite an expensive meal to make for one person at lunch.
I know you’re thinking that I’ve lost the plot by including a recipe for an egg salad sandwich on a renowned food blog, well, ‘renowned’ might be a fabrication, but I can explain.
I always thought sandwiches were out when I was on a ‘diet’. Those scary newspapers and magazines had drilled it into me that shop-bought sarnies are full of calories and bad for you. That isn’t always the case, but invariably they do cost a shit load of money when it would be cheaper and easier to make your own at home.
This Egg Salad Sandwich Filling suggestion from Two Chubby Cubs will set you back just under 400 calories and around 80p to make. It tastes bloody amazing too and, if you like, you can use ‘blue eggs’ (such as Bluebell Aurancana) to give it more a golden yellow and yummy texture. If you want something more glamorous in your ‘bap’, the Cubs provide recipes for coronation chicken salad, cheese savoury, tuna crunch and Chinese chicken in their debut book, or check out the sandwiches & wraps section of this blog.
If you’ve got tins of tuna in your cupboard, you’re never far away from being able to make a quick meal whether it’s a sandwich, jacket potato, pasta bake, or in this instance, a tuna and bean salad from Justine Pattison.
There are only 139 calories per serving in this meal (if serving four), so you can afford to give yourself a more generous helping if there’s just two of you. Try to add the balsamic vinegar just before you tuck in, to ensure the salad remains as fresh as possible.
I remember the moment of despair. It was 15 March, 24 hours before England was being placed into lockdown. Like most people, my panic set in when confronted with empty supermarket shelves and the inability to get hold of fresh produce. A trip to Home Bargains proved more comforting because at least they still had a few jars and cans of vegetables and pulses at rock bottom prices.
One of my quirkiest buys that day was two jars of white asparagus for £1 each. At the time, I only knew the contents would keep well but didn’t know what I’d end up doing with them! And then came the lightbulb moment of discovering Chicken and Asparagus Quiche from Pinch of Nom. Now of course, you’re meant to use fresh asparagus for this recipe, but my jarred variety worked a treat with some eggs I picked up from a postbox outside a local farm. The owners kindly left fresh eggs in there every day and trusted people to leave the correct amount of money to pay for them. That was a period when lockdown brought out the best in some people and it became a highlight of my hour long walk at the crack of dawn.
As for this recipe, it just goes to show that you don’t need calorific pastry to make a decent, affordable quiche. Served with a side salad, this is a handy lunchtime option which should last you over 2-3 days when refrigerated afterwards, depending on how many people live in your house.
My two favourite vegetables are courgettes and mushrooms, so when I saw Tom Kerridge’sCreamy Wild Mushroom Courgetti recipe I was excited to try it. This is a wonderful vegetarian dish with a luxurious feel to it, owing to the single cream alternative, porcini and truffle paste and the dried porcini mushrooms. Divine.
Spiralizing courgettes is a genius way to save calories instead of having plain old spaghetti – you can pick up a spiralizer online for less than £20. You might also need to buy the porcini and truffle paste online too as not many supermarkets stock it – it isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it. The courgetti with all the other flavours in this dish tastes way better compared to traditional pasta, in my opinion.
I’ve got to hand it to Tom, he really knows how flavours work together. Even the pickiest of meat eaters should enjoy this!
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.