Rainbow Trout with Braised Fennel


You could swap the trout for salmon but it would be higher in calories

One of the advantages of living in the arse end of a small Cheshire town is that the locals don’t know how to cook fish, which is a harsh, sweeping generalisation but I’m sticking to it. Towards the end of the day my local Co-op regularly has lots of clearance items of fish at rock bottom prices, including cod, salmon and sea bass. So, when it started stocking rainbow trout I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d pick up a bargain. Two packs, which should have been £8, only cost me £1.80. I make no apologies for being a smug twat.

Off home I gleefully trotted and put the trout in my freezer, where it subsequently resided for 6 months. It turns out I’m as equally clueless when it comes to cooking trout as my local constituents are. But a lightbulb went off in my brain when I came across Rainbow Trout with Braised Fennel from Tom Kerridge. Sadly, my excitement turned to despair due to my poor execution of the recipe. Now whose the smug twat?

I couldn’t be arsed to use a cook’s blowtorch to char the trout and therefore overcooked it in the oven to compensate. I completely forgot to add the crème fraiche at the end and my fennel tasted of fennel, which is fine if you like fennel, but I found the taste somewhat overpowering. I also should have podded my broad beans but again, I couldn’t be arsed.

Sometimes you get out of something what you put in, and I wasn’t as committed to making this dish when it came down to it. It would turn out better if I tried it again, but at nearly £5 a portion (full price) I don’t think I’ll bother. One final thing, the portion size is huge for 2 people, I split it between 3 and it would even stretch to 4.

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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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Beachside Paella


A standard frying pan won’t do for this, it’s time to bring the ‘big boy’ out

Let’s face it, with tightening restrictions around Covid there’s not a lot to smile about right now. As the nights draw in sun, sand and sea seems a distant memory but food can have a positive effect in lifting your spirits, even if it’s just for an hour or so. I needed a focus to perk me up and Beachside Paella from the Hairy Dieters was just the ticket, washed down with copious amounts of vino (not recommended for the diet). It didn’t trick me into thinking I was in Spain, but it was a welcome distraction from being locked down in Cheshire!

A word of caution, you do need a f***ing huuuuugggggeeee pan to fit all of the ingredients in this mammoth dish. I was a geek and purchased my own paella pan – I got a good one from Amazon for £40, but you can get them cheaper. But why skimp on price? It’s not as if you’re going to Spain anytime soon, right?

As for the taste, I absolutely loved this dish. It says it serves 6 at 358 calories per portion. But I think the reality is that if there’s less than 6 of you the pan is getting cleaned out because it tastes so good. My ears are still ringing from the bollocking I received off my wife for picking the chorizo and chicken leftovers out of the pan and leaving just the rice. Was it worth it? Absolutely! If you want a dumbed-down, non-paella, but equally mighty fine one-pan dish, I’d recommend southern-style jambalaya, also from the Hairy Dieters.

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Chicken & Chorizo Risnotto


This isn’t a risotto but it’s a risotto

Chicken & Chorizo Risnotto from Two Chubby Cubs creates those wonderful, creamy risotto flavours without you having to laboriously stand in front of the cooker waiting for the stock to be absorbed. Don’t let my crap photo fool you, this is a banging evening meal which tastes wonderful and will fill you up.

Importantly, you will need a pan with a lid so you can trundle off for 20 mins while this cooks. I didn’t trust myself to leave this unattended on a medium-low heat without occasionally checking that my food hadn’t stuck, so it did take me a bit longer. Also, if you’re making this for any fussy family members, or a teenage boy, in my case, you may want to serve them it without the addition of the cream cheese. It turns out that while my boy loves cheese, he inexplicably doesn’t like cream cheese! For everyone else, just stir the cream cheese through at the very end as per the recipe’s instructions, then dish up and hey presto, we’re all happy.

If you love risotto type meals, check out chicken and mushroom risotto and sea bass and miso risotto which are awesome low-cal recipes. Or, if you’re wondering what to do with any leftover chorizo, I’d recommend all-in-one spicy pork and rice and southern-style jambalaya which are similarly wonderful.

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Spicy Mexican Beef


Use tinned chopped tomatoes and frozen regular green beans to make this easier

Spicy Mexican Beef from Two Chubby Cubs rounded off my week of purely Mexican-based dishes with a bit of whimper, rather than the bang I was hoping for. As a recipe it’s not bad and requires minimal effort, but even with the addition of the chipotle paste and chillies it seemed to be lacking something.

I’m not a huge advocate of casserole beef, no matter how long you cook it for, so you may enjoy this more than I did. You can serve this with a small portion of rice, but don’t forget to account for the extra calories and be mindful that each serving on its own is 499 cals.

My favourite slow-cooked beef recipe so far this year has been beef massaman curry which I’d recommend. Wondering what to do with any remaining chipotle paste? Try making speedy turkey chilli and spicy sweetcorn soup which are excellent.

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Mexican Breakfast


Answers on a postcard – what makes this dish ‘Mexican’?

You may notice a few more Mexican recipes finding their way onto this blog in the coming days. That’s because I was supposed to go on holiday to Cancun this summer before the world imploded due to Covid. In an attempt to cushion the blow, I thought it would be quirky to have a complete week dedicated to Mexican food. Well, it seemed a good idea at the time….

Kicking the week off was Mexican Breakfast from Justine Pattison. I’m not entirely sure what makes this ‘Mexican’, surely it needs more than the introduction of a tortilla wrap (which I didn’t bother with)? But anyway, for less than £1 per portion this was a decent brunch fix, although not as authentic as all-day Mexican breakfast from Jamie Oliver, which in truth I didn’t enjoy as much.

If you like the concept of cooking eggs in a pan, then personally menemen (a Turkish recipe) from the Hairy Dieters gets my vote all-day long.

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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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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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Smoked Ham and Courgette Tortilla


Tortilla is just a fashionable word for quiche

The concept of “cook once, eat twice” is worth bearing in mind when you’re following a diet, as invariably making fresh meals from scratch day-in, day-out can take its toll. Smoked Ham and Courgette Tortilla from Tom Kerridge fulfils this brief perfectly as it can be enjoyed hot or cold, and keeps well in the fridge.

This meal fed my wife and I over consecutive days and is ideal to have for brunch or lunch, depending on your schedule. Like me, Tom Kerridge loves a courgette and you’ll find various recipes featuring this underrated vegetable in his Lose Weight for Good book. But if you need a courgette fix now, check out tagliatelle carbonara, warm griddled vegetables and courgette caponata pasta.

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Prawns with Tomato & Feta


Prawns and feta – can you think of a more random combo?

Prawns with tomato & feta from BBC Good Food sounds totally random, and it is. But I decided to give this a go as it was about the only meal I could make with what I had left in the fridge. I love prawns and I love feta, but together? Hmm, I’m not sure.

As a quick meal though it did the job, although it’s an expensive snack if serving between 2 people. For cheaper, arguably tastier alternatives, I’d opt for warm green bean and feta salad, prawn pasta salad and quinoa, prawn and mango salad.

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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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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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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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Prawn Foo Yung


This is why Chinese takeaways will never go out of business

“Can I have Prawn Foo Yung?” said no one, ever, when ordering from a Chinese takeaway. But this low-calorie version from the Hairy Dieters is one of the healthiest ‘fakeaways’ you can have at just 264 calories per serving. I can’t vouch for its authenticity, but nor can anyone else because no one chooses prawn foo yung, right?

I apologise if I’ve offended any “foo yungers” reading this. What is this recipe like and how did it find itself on my table? Well, it was Friday evening, there wasn’t a lot in my fridge and I was fancying something quick and easy to rustle up. I had some leftover cabbage after making home-made coleslaw to accompany Sticky Chicken earlier in the week, and as part of my ‘no food waste’ crusade I was determined to make it go further. I’ve usually got some eggs, carrots and prawns in the fridge and hey presto, possibly the dullest Chinese fakeaway was created in less than 20 minutes.

On the positive side, this takes less than 5 minutes to cook once you’ve done the required bit of prep work. It tastes pretty ok as prawn and eggs go, and you can have it on the table in a flash. An imperfectly perfect Friday night meal so you can stay on track with your diet and not resort to calling Just Eat.

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One-pan cooked breakfast


A healthy ‘fry-up’ for 87p per serving

I love the concept behind Justine Pattison’s One-Pan Cooked Breakfast. A traditional ‘fry-up’, made healthier by cooking the ingredients in the oven, for less than a quid per portion with minimal washing up.

But in reality this recipe is a bit of a faff to make, and I nearly made Will late for school and me late for work by not reading the cooking method properly. When I put food in the oven I don’t want to worry about it until it’s ready to bring out. However, my patience was tested with this meal because it involves about 5 different stages – stir this, turn that, do the hokey cokey and you turn around….

Maybe I’m being pedantic (said no one to me, ever) but I prefer Scrambled Egg with Bacon and Mushrooms or Pan-fried Bacon with Poached Egg and Balsamic Tomatoes for speed and simplicity.

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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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Courgette Caponata Pasta


A tasty, plateful of vege goodness for under a £1 per serving

I was hoping that the Hairy Dieters’ ‘Go Veggie’ book would become my non-meat bible, however very few recipes caught my eye which I thought would be regulars on my meal planner. Courgette Caponata Pasta was one of them and I was pleasantly surprised by how much flavour is packed into one meal for just 133 calories, or 314 calories based on a 50g serving of pasta (per person, serving 4).

Now before I go on, I’ll say this now. Don’t make this if you hate chopping vege as dicing the onions, peppers and courgettes is time-consuming, unless you’re a proper chef and can have everything prepped in 20 minutes as the Hairy Dieters claim. It takes me 20 minutes to find all the ingredients in my kitchen! Ok, that’s bollocks too, but you get my drift.

If you are willing to persevere with prepping everything, you’ll be rewarded. With or without pasta, this is a gorgeous plate of food thanks to the addition of the cinnamon, lemon zest, chilli flakes, honey and red wine vinegar. If you’re looking for another pasta dish with a kick, check out spaghetti on fire – it is suitable for vegetarians if you omit the bacon.

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Turkey Keema Peas


Turkey isn’t just for Christmas

Indian-based Keema dishes are typically made with lamb or beef, but the Hairy Dieters’ wonderful Turkey Keema Peas recipe uses turkey thigh mince which contains around 7% fat and just 270 calories per serving. Using turkey breast mince (approx. 2%) would make it even more diet-friendly, although more expensive. The Hairy Dieters suggest serving this with a small portion of rice, regular or cauliflower, but I think this is sufficiently filling on its own. Plus, I personally think rice is totally overrated and a waste of calories which you could use instead for…. BOOZE ha ha!

By incorporating more vegetables and using cheaper types of meat (chipolatas, pork mince, skin-on bone-in chicken thighs etc), you can still stay on track with your diet while sticking to a strict budget. At around £2 a pack for 500g from most supermarkets, turkey thigh mince is a brilliant low-cost option. You could also use it to make turkey burgers or a turkey chilli.

I’m loving getting reacquainted with turkey again and judging by the views on this blog, so are you, by trying more recipes with this underrated, often forgotten (outside of Christmas) cut of meat. If you’re wondering what to do with the remaining coconut milk, why not make Coconut Prawn Curry?

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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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