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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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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Quesadilla with Barbecue Potato Wedges


You’ve got to try the barbecue potato wedges – simply scrummy!

My Mexican food week continued with Quesadilla from Pinch of Nom, accompanied by Nom’s Barbecue Potato Wedges which were totally yummy! Getting my teenage son to have vegetarian-based meals can be a challenge, but fortunately he loves pulses and tortilla wraps so convincing him to tuck into this was refreshingly easy.

This simple recipe is going to become a regular in my household and the BBQ wedges are a brilliant dance partner for less than 400 calories in total. Do take care when flipping over your quesadilla to finish them off. Remember, slow and steady wins the race and you don’t have to try a Jamie Oliver style ‘toss’ to impress anyone. Food on your plate is always preferable to food on the floor ;-).

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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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Minted Pea and Feta Omelette


Omelettes are a dieter’s best friend

Omelettes are brilliant for a quick meal and this version from the Hairy Dieters with minted peas and feta cheese is surprisingly tasty with a salad on the side. Prepped and ready in under 10 minutes, under a quid per portion and 382 calories per serving. Job done.

Wondering what to do with any leftover feta? Try mushroom, feta and tomato baked peppers, spinach, tomato and feta scrambled eggs or menemen.

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Thai-Style Butternut Squash Soup


This tastes suuuppperrrr

I mentioned earlier this month that I’ve gone through lockdown without making the same meal twice. But paneer and pea curry was stretching it last week, and Thai-style Butternut Squash Soup from Tom Kerridge is also tenuous, given I made curried butternut squash and apple soup at the back-end of March. But this Tom Kerridge recipe is great, so let me off?

So, what’s the difference? Well, actually it’s pretty obvious. Thai flavours are very distinct and the lemongrass and chillies really give this a punchy flavour, whereas the curried apple and butternut squash soup flavours are more subtle. Both soups are fantastic, even though I find ‘squash’ a pain in the backside to prep.

As the nights draw in, I’ll feature some more soups on this blog. But for now, you can check out the current ones here. Oh, and if you’re wondering what to do with the remaining 200ml of coconut milk, try coconut prawn curry or turkey keema peas.

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Veggie Tacos


This tastes great, but you will fart afterwards!

Veggie Tacos from the Hairy Dieters is an absolute feast that even hardened meat eaters should try. My teenage son still thinks vegetables are from the devil, but thankfully loves all types of beans so he’ll happily demolish these tacos without protest. There is a fair amount of prep involved beforehand, but you should have some leftovers for the next day as this will serve 4 generously. And if it doesn’t, what are you doing? You’re supposed to be on a diet ;-).

Wondering what to do with the leftover produce? Use the kale to make cajun prawn and kale salad or scrambled cajun eggs with spinach and eggs. For butternut squash, try butternut squash pilaf, beef kofta curry (gorgeous!), curried butternut squash and apple soup or home-made butternut squash tortellini. Right, that should keep you busy! I’m off.

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Cheesy Leeks on Toast


This is way better than bog-standard cheese on toast IMO

Leeks? Tick. Cheese? Tick. Cheesy Leeks On Toast from Pinch of Nom…….? Massive tick! I had my reservations before making this, but what a simple and lip-smacking brunch / lunch meal it turned out to be with some mustard dolloped on top.

Providing you use appropriate Parmesan and Cheddar cheese, this meal is suitable for vegetarians. I must confess, I wasn’t familiar with what xanthan gum is, but it’s a thickening agent most typically used in baking that you can buy in some supermarkets – I got mine from Tesco. You could use cornflour as a substitute, but it won’t thicken and bind the ingredients as well.

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Buffalo Skins


Buffalo Skins is suitable for vegetarians, honest

You tend to think of loaded potato skins as being really unhealthy and invariably they are. In contrast, Buffalo Skins from Pinch of Nom are a revelation – just 68 calories per spud, really tasty and these can be enjoyed by vegetarians, too.

This recipe went down well with my wife, son and daughter who is a vegan. Personally, I wasn’t happy with my execution of it. Some of the sweet potatoes were still hard after 10 minutes in the microwave, so as the book suggests it’s a good idea to check and, if necessary, leave them in for longer. And as a result of the potatoes being hard, it was trickier to scoop out the flesh which in the end made for a frustrating exercise.

If you love the concept of this, check out Pinch of Nom’s first book as they have a calorie friendly bacon and potato skins recipe in it, which I’ve yet to try but it looks great. Alternatively, cajun sweet potatoes by Jamie Oliver is a doddle to make, even for me.

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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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Squash & Spinach Pasta Rotolo


Just 90p portion

Jamie Oliver’s Save with Jamie contains a really inspirational vegetarian chapter at the beginning of the book, not the back, which is where some ‘vege’ recipes sometimes get shoved. Squash & Spinach Rotolo really catches the eye but the recipe, which takes up to three hours to make (the butternut squash takes 90 mins to roast), isn’t the easiest to get right.

My latest attempt didn’t go to plan. I put too much water on my lasagne sheets, then overloaded the soggy sheets with filling which made it spill out when cooking in the pan. Infuriating. This isn’t a meal to make on a weeknight and is probably best for prepping on a Sunday evening in readiness for a ‘meat-free Monday’. As for the taste, actually it was pretty good, although I do find frozen spinach a little overbearing compared to fresh varieties.

One to try again, when I can summon up sufficient enthusiasm that is required to match the effort needed. More experienced cooks may fair better with this. If you love butternut squash, check out home-made butternut squash tortellini, which again needs a degree of skill to pull off, but is an excellent vegetarian pasta option.

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Cajun Sweet Potatoes


Just 83p per portion – SWEET!

I’ve been working from home since the middle of March and have enjoyed making fresh breakfasts and the luxury of being able to prep in advance for evening meals. But one area I’ve struggled with is lunchtimes. By this point I’m well into my working day and don’t want to get distracted by having to spend time making another meal from scratch, or turning my kitchen into a mess. And while I could always have a sandwich and a bag of crisps, these aren’t healthy options and can soon breed bad habits.

Jamie Oliver’s 5 ingredients book is handy for knocking-up decent meals with minimal effort. Cajun Sweet Potatoes may take an hour to cook, but you can simply leave them in the oven to roast while you focus on more important things. Prep time is just 10 minutes – perfect to enable a stress-free lunchtime. Not only that, this meal was really flavoursome but the anti-garlic police may want to use less garlic cloves than the recommended full bulb.

By the way, if you’re looking for a cracking recipe that uses sweet potatoes, look no further than penang chicken and sweet potato curry. So, sooo good, and a brilliant ‘date night’ option.

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Grilled mushrooms with scrambled eggs on toast


Useless fact: did you know there are only 18 calories per Portobello mushroom?

People love or hate mushrooms but I’m definitely in the former camp! Grilled Mushrooms with Scrambled Eggs on Toast in DK’s Cook Healthy & Quick book uses the Portobello variety, which are coated with chopped parsley and olive oil and then baked in the oven.

They are the perfect accompaniment to a slice of toasted wholemeal bread and some scrambled egg and chives. If you share my adulation of ‘shrooms, check out Mushrooms on Toast by Jamie Oliver which is equally simplistic to make.

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Home-Made (smoky bacon) Baked Beans


I think I’ll stick to using regular cans of baked beans

Supermarket shopping during the pandemic has been challenging, particularly if you don’t feel comfortable stepping foot into stores. Getting hold of your favourite brands can also be problematic and my son Will has particularly missed his barbecue baked beans. I’ve tried to explain to him that some things are more important, but he’s a teenager ;-).

So, to avoid a household ‘crisis’ I decided to try making Home-Made Baked Beans from the Hairy Dieters. They suggest using dried haricot beans and soaking them overnight, or using 2 400g cans of cooked beans. I chose the latter because spending up to 2 hours to prep beans when I could just open a regular can, even in lockdown, seemed ridiculous. If you opt for using canned beans, in total it will take you about 40 minutes to make this.

Will’s verdict on my smoky bacon beans was soul destroying. “They don’t really taste of barbecue Dad”. “Thanks son”. But the cheeky youth had a point – they were a little bland. The following day I was more liberal with the paprika and black treacle and the leftovers did taste more authentic. But, for the time and effort devoted to make them, I think the ungrateful boy is just going to have to wait until things return to normal.

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Butternut Squash Pilaf – just 87p per serving


Just 87p per portion – you’re having a pilaf!

Butternut squash is a brilliant vegetable to have in your fridge – it keeps for ages and it’s really versatile. You can roast it for tray bakes, mash it to include as a filling when making fresh pasta or ‘squash’ bruschetta, blend it to make a tasty, buttery sauce or dice it and chuck it in a wok to include in curries.

Butternut Squash Pilaf from BBC Good Food came to my rescue recently when my fridge was bare. I’ve always got some ginger, garlic and rice knocking about and when I found some fruit and nut mix leftover from Christmas I was sorted. I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to buy these ingredients to make this especially, but it was an enjoyable vege curry that had a nice mix of sweet and savoury flavours, plus the heat from the harissa paste. And all this for just 87p – you’re having a pilaf!

If you’re a non-vegan or vegetarian and wondering what to do with any leftover squash, make Beef Kofta Curry – it’s delicious and my favourite recipe of May 2020.

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Cauliflower, Paneer and Pea curry


Cauliflower, paneer and pea curry

It’s a long and not particularly interesting story, but I recently ended up with three cauliflowers in my fridge with little clue as to what to do with them. My initial get ‘out of jail’ idea was to use them to make a batch of cauliflower rice, but actually I can’t stand cauliflower rice and feel rage every time I try to make it. Cauliflower is supposed to have crunch, so when I stumbled across Cauliflower, Paneer and Pea Curry from BBC Good Food I was sold.

This turned out to be an excellent vege meal. Paneer is similar in texture to halloumi and is used in a lot of curries – both are really useful options to have in your fridge. The recipe states to use ‘rapeseed’ oil, but bog standard vegetable oil will do. You can serve this with rice (but not cauliflower rice, eh) or naan bread but don’t forget to account for the extra calories.

If you share my loathing of cauliflower rice and insist on using the humble cauli how it should be, check out ‘the best’ cauliflower & broccoli cheese. Continue reading “Cauliflower, Paneer and Pea curry”

Couscous with roasted roots, honey and goat’s cheese


Couscous with roasted roots

I previously believed that parsnips and carrots only belong with a Sunday roast. But after sampling Justine Pattison’s delightful Couscous with Roasted Roots, Honey and Goat’s Cheese salad that opinion has firmly been revised.

Drizzling olive oil and honey over the veg makes them taste divine, and you get extra flavour from the chicken or vegetable stock and the chilli flakes, plus a contrast in texture from the beetroot and goat’s cheese. This one-pot dish really takes you on a culinary journey and the end result is a colourful and filling plate of food that tastes superb for both vegetarians and obstinate meat eaters. Continue reading “Couscous with roasted roots, honey and goat’s cheese”

Warm Griddled Vegetables – delicious with halloumi


Warmed griddled vegetables

Warm Griddled Vegetables from the Hairy Dieters has made me a MFMC – ‘meat-free Monday converter’ – no, I doubt the acronym will catch on either. I have been trying to introduce more vegetable / vegan based dishes into my diet, at times under duress, and others with pleasure. This particular meal definitely falls into the latter category – it’s delicious!

If you think warm griddled vegetables sounds dull, think again. The chilli and olive oil dressing really bring them to life and adding halloumi on top makes everything taste even more divine. I love halloumi – the texture, the flavour, even the scraping sound it makes against my teeth when I’m eating it. I think I’m developing a halloumi fetish!

Anyway, I digress. The Hairy Dieters suggest drizzling some balsamic vinegar over the vege if you don’t like / can’t get halloumi which would work equally well. This is ideal for lunch or dinner, the portion size is huge! Continue reading “Warm Griddled Vegetables – delicious with halloumi”

The best cauliflower & broccoli cheese


Cauli broccoli cheese

The Best Cauliflower & Broccoli Cheese from Jamie Oliver, his words not mine, might actually be the best cauliflower and broccoli cheese that you can enjoy when watching your weight! Although I’ll concede, this isn’t a recipe I’ve made very often. But this really is a lovely dish, which is given some additional TLC with the crunchy almond breadcrumb topping (not essential if you want to cut down on calories, but recommended).

Jamie suggests this could be a side dish which can serve 8 people. Personally, I think it lends itself better to serving 4 and my wife and I devoured this for dinner and lunch the next day. If you can’t get your hands on fresh produce, don’t worry, as you can use frozen broccoli and cauliflower which are great alternatives to have as back-ups in your freezer when supermarket shelves are bare. Continue reading “The best cauliflower & broccoli cheese”