Tuscan Devil’s Chicken


Just 5 ingredients and perfect as a healthy option for BBQs when the weather is nicer

I’ve no idea why the Hairy Dieters named this recipe Tuscan Devil’s Chicken, presumably it originates from Italy, but it’s perfect hot or cold for lunchboxes or your BBQ when the weather turns nice again.

The only challenge is trying to find a suitable bag to marinate the 5 ingredients in. I initially tried a freezer bag but was a little too overzealous when shaking everything about and it split. Plan B was a carrier bag which was too big. I ended up placing the thighs in a plastic bowl and covering them in clingfilm, which sort of did the trick. A word of warning, do make sure you shake off any excess marinade before you cook them – the last thing you want is a mouthful of peppercorns in your gob. This meal is great with a side salad.

If you’re looking for more lunchtime inspiration with chicken thighs, have a gander at sticky chicken with coleslaw, jerk chicken, smashed up chicken or honey chilli chicken.

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Pea and Ham Pasta


If you can’t get hold of lumaca rigate pasta, penne will do

Tom Kerridge is the absolute don when it comes to flavours and his simple Pea and Ham Pasta dish totally hits the spot. This recipe will feed two very generously, and given that it’s 585 calories per portion you might want to stretch this between three servings, as I did with my wife and son who loved it.

This is a quicker, more affordable alternative to pasta with summer vegetables and parmesan and slightly more luxurious compared to pea and prosciutto pasta. All three recipes taste sublime so take your pick! :-).

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Chipotle Pork Burger


You’ll think I cooked this on a BBQ, but I just left it on the griddle unattended too long

Burgers don’t have to be off the table when you’re on a ‘diet’. And when they taste as good as Chipotle Pork Burger from Pinch of Nom, you’ll wonder why you ever queued in a drive thru for a Big Mac or Whopper. I forgot to ‘dress’ my burger with salad before taking a photo, so the shot above doesn’t do it justice, but honestly, the flavours from the pork mince, chipotle chilli flakes, paprika and lime are divine.

If you’re in need of a burger fix, check out the exquisite satay burger, turkey burgers and chips, mediterranean beef burgers or spicy bean burgers if you’re going vege.

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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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Sweet Potato & Halloumi Bake


All this for around 80p per serving!

If you’ve got some ‘odds and sods’ lurking in your fridge Sweet Potato & Halloumi Bake from Two Cubby Cubs is a good way to use them up, plus it’s so cheap to make at less than £1 per serving. Once you’ve prepped everything, you can literally throw the ingredients in the oven to bake for 45 minutes before adding some grilled, sliced halloumi just before the end.

Want more potato-based lunchtime recipes? Check out buffalo skins, cajun sweet potatoes or spicy turkey sweet potatoes. Alternatively, to use up any remaining halloumi, have a bash at warm griddled vegetables or halloumi and smoky bacon hash. Don’t say I don’t look after you ;-).

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Giant Baked Beans


Do as I say, not as I do. Come back Branston baked beans, all is forgiven

I’ve blogged previously about how lockdown has made me attempt strange things in the kitchen. From making my own muesli (which had some merit) to my car-crash attempt at trying home-made baked beans, which cost me two hours of my life and reputation to my son that I won’t get back.

So when I saw Pinch of Nom’s Giant Baked Beans recipe which could be ready in 15 minutes, I was ready to dust myself down and try again. Unlike the Hairy Dieters’ version, ‘Nom doesn’t require you to piss about soaking dried beans overnight. Just two tins of butter beans (between 4) will do the trick and then all you need to do is douse them in passata, Worcester sauce, balsamic vinegar, paprika, onion granules, mustard powder, granulated sweetener and, finally, salt and pepper.

This wasn’t any hardship for me because I have more spices than pairs of socks in my house. However, based on the end result I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to get them just to make this, when you could just crack open a tin of baked beans and be done with it. I find passata quite overpowering so the taste didn’t float my boat, although I did put them on top of a crap piece of bread. This is the last time I try and be a smart arse when it comes to baked beans. Now where did I put my tins of Branston?

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Spicy Bacon and Tomato Pasta


You only need a small portion of pasta as the yellow pepper and broccoli bulk it out

I’d forgotten how good Spicy Bacon and Tomato Pasta is from the Hairy Dieters. It’s great hot or cold, so invariably I used to prep it the night before and take it into work for lunch the next day. Since I’ve been working from home for the last seven months some of my lunchtime meals have been more extravagant, but it’s good to go back to basics and save some time in the kitchen!

Check the packaging (or review the nutritional information online) to make sure your tomato and basil sauce has no more than 6g of fat per 100g – I buy the little stir-in pots from Dolmio (150g) which are a rip-off, but they taste good and some are low-fat. If you’re on a budget, use regular broccoli cut into small florets rather than tenderstem.  This is a good meal to introduce kids to vege. My teenage son is too pre-occupied with the pasta, sauce and bacon to notice that I’ve included some diced yellow pepper in there ;-).

Love simple and quick low-cal pasta dishes? Check out tagliatelle carbonara, prawn pasta salad, simple tuna and sweetcorn pasta salad and pea and prosciutto pasta.

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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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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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Chilli Steak Salad


Where’s the chips and onion rings??

I used to think having steak in a salad was a waste. And at over a fiver a head I still do, however there’s no denying that Chilli Steak Salad from the Hairy Dieters is a cracking effort. Don’t forget to leave your steak to rest for a few minutes and strain those lovely meat juices into your salad. The kick from the chilli and the ginger alongside this is delightful!

If you like the sound of this, check out thai beef salad from the Hairy Dieters’ second book, which is also lush lunchtime tucker.

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Tomato, Ricotta and Basil Salad


Don’t worry if you haven’t got a blowtorch. This tastes fantastic, you’ve got to try it!

I like Tom Kerridge so much that I committed the heinous, ‘cheffy’ crime of purchasing a cook’s blowtorch based on his recommendation for making Tomato, Ricotta and Basil Salad. But it did cause me a ‘domestic’ with my wife. I’ll come to that shortly.

According to Tom, “blowtorching the tomatoes may sound fancy but it’s an easy way to fire-roast them for an amazing smoky taste – browning the skins without cooking the flesh.” Well, it is fancy, Tom, but this salad tastes bloody fantastic and the paprika dressing is amaaaazing, so who am I to argue?  

You can pick-up a cook’s blowtorch for less than £12 on Amazon and it can also be used for BBQs and camping trips, if you’re that way inclined. That’s the easy part. The hard part was fitting the gas canister to the blowtorch which led to some colourful language being exchanged in my house. Finally, we figured it out. I say we, but in truth it was my wife who I had accosted from her work. “Couldn’t we have just put the tomatoes under the fucking grill?” she said. Quite.

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Cheeseburger Salad


Under £1.50 per portion and 403 calories. How much would McDonalds and Burger King fare in comparison?

In the words of Two Chubby Cubs, “… we’ve taken all the worst bits of a salad (i.e having a salad) and combined it with something delicious and wonderful (i.e. having a cheeseburger)”. Cheeseburger Salad from the ‘Cubs is a novel contradiction which can complement your healthy eating plan at 403 calories per serving.

I think I was tickled more with the concept than by the taste, although I did enjoy it. Making what are effectively mini meatballs during the lunchtime rush whilst working from home seemed a bit of an unnecessary effort. But of course, you can make this the night before. For me, the unexpected star of this show was the suggested home-made Thousand Island dressing which the Cubs state you can make by mixing together 1 tbsp crème fraiche, 1 tbsp reduced-fat mayonnaise, 1 tbsp natural yoghurt, ½ tsp paprika, 2 tsp mustard, 2 tsp tomato puree and 1 tsp white wine vinegar.

If you prefer your salads to have a bit of ‘beef’ to them, check out thai beef salad and chilli salad bowls.

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Honey Chilli Chicken


Honey I made the chicken

I was really looking forward to sampling Honey Chilli Chicken from Pinch of Nom but it didn’t quite hit the spot. The honey (2 tbsp) and dark soy sauce (3 tbsp) coating for the chicken is a great concept, but I found the addition of the 2 chicken stock cubes and the garlic granules made this too salty for my tastebuds.

If trying again, I’d probably use only 2 tbsp of dark soy sauce and 1 stock cube. I decided to make a proper side salad to accompany it as Nom’s radishes, spring onions and red chilli suggestion left me feeling a bit ‘so what?’. My favourite chicken-based recipes remain sticky chicken with coleslaw and jerk chicken, the latter which packs a proper punch!

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Ham Salad Wraps


For freshness, make these wraps on the day you plan to eat them rather than the night before

Wraps are less stodgier than traditional bread ‘sarnies and the added bonus is that you can include more filling in them. Ham Salad Wraps from the Hairy Dieters are just 325 calories and packed with pepper, lettuce, carrot and cucumber which should be enough to satisfy the hungriest of appetites.

If you’re planning on taking these to work but can’t use your employer’s fridges due to Covid, put them in a cool or temperature-controlled bag with an ice pack to keep them nice and fresh before you’re ready to tuck in. Check out the Hairy Dieters’ ‘Eat for Life’ book to get the recipes for tuna and sweetcorn wraps and hot-smoked salmon wraps as well.

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Thai Beef Salad


Don’t forget to leave your steak to rest

Since lockdown I’ve really got into making freshly made salads at home and Thai Beef Salad from the Hairy Dieters has been one of the best. There’s a bit of chopping, dicing and peeling involved, but you’ll be rewarded for your toil. I did wonder if the quantity of mint and coriander would be too overpowering, but the Thai fish sauce and chilli dressing balances out the flavours beautifully.

If you’re stuck for more salad ideas, check out the section on my blog here. There’s a lot to choose from, but I’d recommend the zingy and colourful quinoa, prawn and mango salad and couscous with roasted roots, honey and goat’s cheese as being the standouts.

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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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Spicy Sweetcorn Soup (with bacon or tofu)


Meal in a bowl

Spicy Sweetcorn Soup is a slightly misleading title from the Hairy Dieters as it includes bacon. But don’t despair if  you’re vegetarian. The bacon is cooked separately and only added to the soup at the end. For a vegetarian version, use veggie stock and add firm smoked tofu which you can crisp up, as per the Hairy Dieters’ suggestion.

Whether you include the bacon or not, this is a cracking ‘meal in a bowl’ containing onion, red pepper, sweet potato, sweetcorn and coriander, spiced up by the chipotle paste. This soup can be enjoyed anytime of year, but it really comes into its own when the cold weather sets in. If you’re a fan of home-made soups, check out some other suggestions here.

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Soft Fish Tacos


Jamie Oliver has an alternative fish tacos recipe, check it out online

I once saw a recipe by Jamie Oliver called ‘tasty fish tacos with game-changing kiwi, lime and chill salsa’. It looked great in his book, but too great though to suggest I could pull it off and be arsed to slave away with the mass of ingredients required for the recipe. I liked the concept though, and when I saw Soft Fish Tacos from Pinch of Nom, I was eager to try this much simpler version.

Sadly, this is one PON recipe that I won’t be in a hurry to make again. It just seemed to be lacking in flavour and a tad bland, and for me adding a ¼ tsp of various spices seems pointless. You may think differently though, so give it a whirl if it takes your fancy.

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Spicy Bean Burgers with Lime and Coriander Mayo


You don’t need a bun for these, but don’t forget the lime and coriander mayo!

Spicy bean burgers from Justine Pattison were a welcome surprise, and I say this as a hardened meat eater who would have previously dismissed veggie burgers as tasting of ‘cardboard’, or another tired cliché. But let’s be fair, I’ve tasted some frankly awful veggie burgers in other healthy eating recipe books, however despite their appearance Justine’s possessed bags of flavour owing to the chipotle paste, coriander and lime zest.

In fact, these are so good that you don’t need to add extra calories by having these burgers in a bun. Just some nice salad (little gem lettuce leaves and sliced tomatoes) and the accompanying, rather splendid lime and coriander mayo (see below) do the trick. And all for less than 200 calories and under a £1 per serving. Perfect for a ‘meat-free’ Monday or any day, for that matter.

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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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