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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Salmon and Broccoli Tray Bake


This recipe is more practical than imaginative

In my opinion, the best meals are created on the hob (or stove, depending on your lingo). But for convenience, ‘traybakes’ have their place, particularly on weeknights when you’re mentally and physically shattered after being at work. Salmon and Broccoli Tray Bake from the Hairy Dieters is a no-fuss, no-frills recipe but does contain a nice marinade to make it vaguely interesting.

Sorry, I can’t get more excited about this meal. It does what it says on the tin, or the tray rather. I much prefer the Hairy’s salmon with chilli ginger sauce and their Spanish-style chicken bake, which as traybakes go, is pretty awesome.

Salmon fans…. check out the salmon section of this blog for more recipes.

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Lamb, Spinach and Potato Curry


This lamb curry is a brilliant alternative to having chicken

Lamb, Spinach and Potato Curry is the Hairy Dieters’ take on the traditional Indian curry, saag gosht, and what a brilliant fakeaway this is. There are a fair few ingredients to prep here and the recipe takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to cook in the oven, but the end result is simply divine and bursting with flavour.

My son, who usually thinks spinach is something only aliens eat (I explained that Popeye does too), is a big covert of this dish and didn’t complain that there was no rice or naan bread. In truth, it doesn’t need it as the potatoes and tomatoes alongside the lamb are enough to bulk the meal out.

There are just 293 calories per portion in this recipe, which means you can have a couple of cheeky beers on the side and not feel too guilty! If curries are your thing, check out the Fakeaway section of this blog for lots of marvellous ideas.

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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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Masala Omelette


This will definitely kick-start your morning!

I love curry in a morning but I’m usually dipping a spoon into a takeaway carton as part of my hangover cure from the night before. Fortunately, you don’t need to get pissed up to enjoy Masala Omelette from the Hairy Dieters – a teriffic twist on a boring omelette which might blow your head off if you’re liberal with the spices and don’t deseed your chilli. Go on, I dare you!

This might not look particularly appetising, but the taste is certainly memorable for all the right reasons. And at only approx 76p per portion and less than 200 calories, it won’t impact your wallet or waistline either.

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Creamy Turkey Autumn Curry


This is different, in a good way

The clocks have gone back, it’s constantly raining and you won’t be able to set foot in your house without a trail of leaves being stuck to your shoes. So why not console yourself by making Creamy Turkey Autumn Curry from Two Chubby Cubs?

This recipe is an interesting Thai-style twist on a conventional, frankly boring, chicken casserole. There’s loads of flavour coming from the chilli, ginger, turmeric, squash, coconut milk and coriander. And I applaud any recipe that gives the humble turkey star billing over chicken. I really enjoyed this.

There are few things I loathe more in the kitchen than prepping butternut squash. However, it is a great ingredient and I’d recommend adding thai-style butternut squash soup, curried butternut squash and apple soup and beef kofta curry to your winter meal plans.

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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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Chicken Jalfrezi


This is affectionately known as ‘Chicken Jalfrazzled’ in my house

If you prefer your curries to have a bit of a kick to them, Chicken Jalfrezi from the Hairy Dieters is for you. If serving to children, you might want to deseed the chillies to scale down the heat, or you could leave them in – they’ve got to learn sometime ;-).

There are just 279 calories per portion in this recipe, WITHOUT rice or naan. And while it might not taste as good or as authentic as from your local curry house, you’ll still be satisfied with the end result. Check out the ‘Fakeaways’ section of this blog if you’re fancying recreating your favourite curry where you’ll find recipes for tikka masala, bhuna, biryani and more!

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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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