Cauliflower Cheese Soup


If you think cauliflower is ‘boring’, try this soup and be prepared to change your mind

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.

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Bacon, Onion and Potato Bake


Simple comfort food at its best

Sometimes meals containing the simplest of ingredients can turn out to be the best ones. Bacon, Onion and Potato Bake from Pinch of Nom requires only five base ingredients and is brilliant for using up items in your fridge that may have been hanging around.

Do make sure the foil is fitted tightly around your ovenproof dish and get some decent potatoes, such as Maris Piper, which are better at absorbing liquid – you don’t want this meal to be swimming in stock. Also, note that this recipe uses bacon medallions – if you’ve only got regular bacon rashers, make sure all the fat and rind is removed to keep the calorie count down.

If you love this meal you’ll probably also like pan haggerty lite, which is a similar comfort food classic.

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Mince and Vegetable Pie with Tumbled Spuds


This ‘pie’ is good, but it makes me want a ‘proper’ pie!

Mince and Vegetable Pie with Tumbled Spuds from the Hairy Dieters is remarkably similar to their cottage pie recipe but has a jazzed up title. Whatever the marketing spiel, this is another hearty, satisfying dish masquerading as a meat and potato pie, which isn’t a conventional meat and potato pie. You know what I mean? Basically, there’s no pastry in it, and it doesn’t come with lashings of mushy peas and gravy, but apart from that…. oh well.

Unlike their cottage pie recipe from their first book, this version from their second book contains a more generous serving size and takes far less time to cook in the oven – double whammy! The only ingredient missing from the two is celery, but like who cares? I followed the Hairy’s alternative suggestion of topping this pie with sweet potato mash rather than plain white potatoes and it worked a treat.

If ‘pies’ are your thing but you want something a bit more imaginative, check out tortilla chilli pie, which as the name suggests is topped with tortilla chips and finished off under the grill.

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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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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 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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Mediterranean-Style Lamb Shanks


A proper treat for special occasions and/or ‘date nights’

Ok, so this might be 582 calories (and more if you opt to add couscous), but Mediterranean-Style Lamb Shanks from Pinch of Nom tastes divine so why not treat yourself once in a while? You deserve it!

Lamb Shanks literally melt in your mouth when slow cooked and I’ve recently switched to a fab local butcher who provides top-quality meat at affordable prices. The perception that butchers are more expensive than supermarkets isn’t always the case, but the quality you get from them is undoubtedly superior. I’m not sure I’d go back to buying meat from supermarkets again

In their book, Pinch of Nom provide two alternative cooking methods for cooking this recipe – electric pressure cooker and slow cooker – so check them out if they appeal to you. I decided to ‘rough it’ by using a conventional oven and it was ready in about 2 ½ hours – perfect for a lazy Sunday. If you decide to have couscous with this (in hindsight, I’m not sure it needs it), make sure you buy a decent quality brand. Ainsley Harriott is pretty good and is available from most supermarkets.

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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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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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(Healthy) Cottage Pie


A healthy take on a British pub classic

I tried every possible excuse to put off having Cottage Pie from the Hairy Dieters, but after an overexuberant supermarket shop I happened to have every ingredient in to make this. So, what was the problem? I dunno, it just didn’t excite me, plus the notion that this would serve 6 to 8 people seemed somewhat fanciful. 6 is a stretch, but 8 is just not funny when you’re hungry.

“You’ve turned into a food snob,” said my wife. “It’s not that, I just can’t be arsed spending up to two hours in the kitchen,” was my retort. Ok, 2 hours is me being flippant as most of the cooking time is done on the hob and finished off in the oven.

But what about the taste? Do you know what, this is actually a really good, hearty meal. If someone served me this, I’d be delighted, however the prep and length of cooking time is a bit of a slog so I won’t be in a hurry to endure this again. If you’re looking for healthier alternatives on ‘traditional’ pub classics, I’d opt for Rich and Meaty Bolognese, Chilli Con Carne or Sausages and Rich Onion Gravy which require less fuss to rustle up and offer more generous portion sizes.

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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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Sausage Casserole – Hairy Dieter style


I couldn’t be arsed to wipe the plate

Sausage Casserole, in summer? Wait, I can explain. I’ve been taking full advantage of the glorious English weather recently and my barbecue has rarely been off. My local butcher does a great selection of British bangers and let’s just say I got a little over exuberant and ordered way too many.

When the weather predictably turned, I decided to make Sausage Casserole from the Hairy Dieters, in hindsight a recipe far better suited to winter than a barmy spring evening. Apart from it being a convenient excuse to open another bottle of wine my heart just wasn’t into this. I couldn’t even be arsed to wipe the plate properly when taking a photo. The plus points are that you can use full-fat sausages with a high meat content – I used Cumberland and the Hairy Dieters make other suggestions in their book.

But at the end of the day I don’t think this meal is a patch on some of their other low-cal classics, Sausages and Rich Onion Gravy and Hotdog Hotpot.

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Creamy pork, apples and cabbage


Creamy pork and apples

Creamy pork, apples and cabbage is a sumptuous one-pot dish from Justine Pattison that is packed with flavour but for only 346 calories per serving. The ingredients that make up the sauce just beg to be mopped up by the meat, potatoes and veg.

Although some people might turn their noses up at them, canned potatoes are an excellent and budget-friendly store cupboard stand-by. Savoy cabbage also lasts a number of days in the fridge. If you’ve got any leftover, give Hotdog Hotpot a go in which you can also use another valuable store cupboard stand-by in tinned or jarred frankfurters to make another cheap and nourishing meal. Continue reading “Creamy pork, apples and cabbage”

Carrot, sweet potato and coriander soup


carrot and coriander soup

Having struggled to get a supermarket delivery due to the current COVID-19 challenges, I was very grateful to receive a mixed vegetable box from a local farm shop. Within it was a whopping 2kg of carrots and I was determined not to waste a single one of them. Step forward, Carrot, Coriander and Sweet Potato Soup from Justine Pattison.

One pan of this made 6 portions for only 108 calories per serving. It tasted lovely and is so cheap to make – perfect for our budgetary constraints right now. I bet you’re desperate to know what I used the remaining carrots for? No? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway. Pan Haggerty Lite, Lean Lamb Hot Pot, a lighter Spaghetti Bolognese by the Hairy Dieters and Prawn Pasta Salad. Continue reading “Carrot, sweet potato and coriander soup”

(Healthy) Corned beef hash – budget winter comfort food for under £1


Corned beef hash

Traditional Corned Beef Hash recipes are often high in fat but this clever alternative from the Hairy Dieters comes in at less than 250 calories per serving! Celeriac is used instead of potatoes and only 200g of corned beef is required instead of the larger 340g cans.

Will you notice a difference compared to the more traditional version? Well, yes, probably. Does it still taste great regardless? Yes, absolutely, and at less than a quid per portion to make what’s not to like?

The Hairy Dieters suggest having this for brunch, but it will work equally well as a nourishing evening meal on those cold winter evenings. If you love this dish, why not try another of their comfort food classics – Pan Haggerty Lite. Continue reading “(Healthy) Corned beef hash – budget winter comfort food for under £1”

Hotdog hotpot – budget winter warmer


hotdog

Hardened foodies, or other sceptics (like my wife ha ha!) may turn their noses up at Hotdog Hotpot from the Hairy Dieters’ latest book, ‘Make it Easy’, but let me tell you they are missing out on an absolute treat!

I love making dishes which utilise cheaper cuts of meat, and you can pick up a pack of frankfurters for around £2 in most supermarkets. This is just a brilliant easy-to-make, budget friendly and tasty winter warmer of a dish which is surprisingly satisfying. The frankfurters, potatoes, apples and cabbage go together brilliantly, along with the sage, stock and cider. Fantastic, and even more so because a serving of this is less than 300 calories!

The cooking time is over an hour but there’s very little prep involved or much to do once everything is in the pan. Continue reading “Hotdog hotpot – budget winter warmer”