(Lighter) French Onion Soup


If you don’t like onions, this soup probably isn’t for you

Justine Pattison has provided a slimming friendly version of the classic French Onion Soup recipe which will feed 6 people for less than 50p a head! There is something really comforting about this soup and the extra cooking time to slowly cook the onions (don’t let them burn!) is worth the wait.

Justine recommends using the nuttiness of Gruyere cheese to put on the thin baguette slices, but any hard cheese will do. And if you can’t get your mits on a baguette as I couldn’t, then thin slices of garlic bread are a good substitute but do factor in the extra calories.

For more healthy soup ideas, click here.

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(Lighter) Crispy Duck with Pancakes


Wok the duck? Just 300 calories per serving

Aromatic crispy duck from my local Chinese takeaway is my all time favourite, even though they can’t be arsed to shred the duck for me when I’m paying them big bucks as a loyal customer. A bit too loyal in my case ;-). Anyway…. in their Crispy Duck with Pancakes version, the Hairy Dieters have created a much lighter fakeaway option which isn’t a bad imitation of the real thing.

You can get good quality duck breasts from Sainsburys, but if I was making this again I’d shred the meat and the spring onions and cucumber much more finely to make them sit more comfortably in the pancakes. Overall, not a bad effort, but given the cost of duck breasts I don’t think my Chinese takeaway is in danger of losing my business anytime soon!

For more fab fakeaway ideas, click here.

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All-in-one breakfast


A fry-up that’s not a fry-up for less than 150 calories per serving

A cooked breakfast for less than 150 calories per serving? You better believe it thanks to Justine Pattison’s All-in-One Breakfast, which is conveniently cooked in the oven to save on the washing up afterwards!

The concept of this recipe is great, but getting the execution right can be faffy when it comes to prising the egg from the baking tray. Low-calorie cooking spray by definition might save calories compared to using oil, but I still find it irritatingly inadequate at preventing ingredients from sticking. One tip Justine advises is to use really fresh eggs as they won’t spread so far across the pan when broken.

I couldn’t be arsed buying cherry tomatoes on the vine, so just used some spare tomatoes I had in the fridge. If you like the concept of this recipe, check out one-pan cooked breakfast (also from Justine). Or if you prefer cooking on the hob, have a bash at scrambled egg with bacon and mushrooms or pan-fried bacon with poached egg and balsamic tomatoes.

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Creamy Chicken Pasta Bake


Chicken & pasta, topped with a creamy cheese sauce. What’s not to like?

Who doesn’t love a pasta bake? Well, me actually, but my teenage son Will can eat pasta by the bucket load so I knew Creamy Chicken Pasta Bake from Pinch of Nom would be right up his street. Pasta bakes are a genius way of getting children to sample vegetables without them really noticing – in this case it’s sliced leeks and mushrooms, which go brilliantly with the chicken and the creamy, cheesy sauce.

The calorie count for this dish is just over 500, but you can always reduce it by having less pasta. 300g between 4 people is quite a lot and I find that 50g of pasta per person is sufficient. It’s up to you.

If you love this ingredient combination, then I’d urge you to try smashed-up chicken which is one of my all-time favourites, the equally sublime creamy chicken and tarragon pots with rosemary potato wedges or chicken tetrazzini.

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Bacon, potato and spring onion frittata


Providing you’ve got eggs literally anything goes in a frittata

If you’ve got some eggs and odds and sods in your fridge that need using up, shove them in a frittata. Pinch of Nom’s thrifty version uses bacon, potato and spring onions which are a great combo, but chuck in what you like. If you’re after a vege version, check out vegetable frittata. Ideal for brunch or a light lunch with a green salad on the side.

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Creamy Mushroom Bruschetta


Give me a box of mushrooms and I’m as happy as Larry

Mushroom fans have I got a treat for you! Courtesy of Pinch of Nom, Creamy Mushroom Bruschetta is a banging breakfast / brunch recipe which looks and tastes naughtier than it is! I just love the combination of creamy, garlicy mushrooms generously piled on top of toasted ciabatta with a hint of basil and fresh chives. Just fantastic!

I get offended (for no justifiable reason) when people say they don’t like mushrooms. Such a crime should carry a custodial sentence. But before that, try this recipe and my other favourite mushroom-based breakfasts – mushrooms on toast, creamy mustard mushrooms on toast with orange juice and grilled mushrooms with scrambled eggs on toast. If you come back and tell me you don’t like mushrooms after that we are DONE! ;-).

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Italian Meatballs with Chunky Tomato Sauce


Use lean pork or beef mince, or a combination of both. This is awesome!

I’ve been making Italian Meatballs with Chunky Tomato Sauce from the Hairy Dieters since their inaugural book was published in 2013 and can’t believe I’m only getting round to featuring it on the blog now. This is a brilliant, classic meatball dish which is perfect for a low-calorie diet providing you use 5% fat mince and go easy on the pasta!

Sure, there are fancier meatball recipes around, and I feature some of them on the blog here. But for sheer simplicity and taste, this one is hard to beat. If you’re not the best chopper and worried about your meatballs falling apart when you cook them in the pan, combine the ingredients and blitz them in a food processer – It will then be easier to form them into small meatballs.

And if you can be arsed, use electronic scales to weigh each meatball so they are the same size. You don’t want a loved one / family member kicking off that you’ve had a bigger portion than them ;-).

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Breakfast Banana Split


Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Breakfast Banana Split from Pinch of Nom

Pretty food is not always healthy food, but Breakfast Banana Split from Pinch of Nom is goodness personified. The mix of bananas, blueberries, strawberries and cherries is a perfect morning wake-up call, topped with yoghurt and a hint of vanilla and the flaked almonds, which I opted to lightly toast beforehand.

If you’re worried about food wastage / supermarket sell-by dates / cost and don’t want to use fresh fruit just for 10 blueberries, 4 strawberries and 2 cherries, then just buy frozen. That’s exactly what I do and I just take out the quantities of fruit that I need. No stress, no wastage and little difference in overall quality.

For other fruity-based breakfast ideas, check out french toast and fresh fruit compote with home-made granola which are divine.

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Crispy Chilli Beef


Get all your ingredients, pots, pans etc out in advance, otherwise you’ll be more tempted to ring your local takeaway!

I’ve mentioned it before on this blog that it’s easier to create authentic, calorie-reduced Chinese takeaways compared to Indian counterparts. Crispy Chilli Beef from Pinch of Nom’s latest book (Quick and Easy) is a case in point. If you follow Nom’s tip (buy the book) to leave it until the last minute to add the beef strips to the sauce they will stay crispy for a bit longer. I was pleasantly surprised by how realistic our crispy beef turned out.

The authenticity and cost to make this dish – approx £2.60 per portion (considerably less compared to what you’d pay from a takeaway) are the positives. The negatives are the ball ache in terms of how long this recipe takes to make and that your kitchen will resemble a bombsite afterwards. I felt quite overwhelmed by the long list of ingredients involved and subsequent clean-up job required. Pinch of Nom’s stopwatch, which suggests only 10 minutes of preparation is required, must be faulty! Or, I’m just woefully shite in the kitchen.

While this dish undoubtedly tastes good (though I’d use a smaller red pepper if making again), fakeaways need to be more than just about recreating the likeness of your favourite takeaway and cutting down on the calories. They’ve got to be simple enough and quick to make, otherwise you may as well give yourself a night off and ring for a fucking takeaway yourself! By the time I’d sat down to make this, I was already frazzled, more so than the crispy beef on my plate!

For more fakeaway ideas, click here.

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Spiced Mango Pork Steaks


By deliberately burning these pork steaks under the grill I was demonstrating my vulnerability

Whoever said pork steaks were ‘boring’ was bang on the money. But with a few spices and a smidgen of imagination they can be transformed into something rather edible. Spiced Mango Pork Steaks by Justine Pattison is one example and this recipe is brilliant for getting nervous / inexperienced cooks into the kitchen.

Making this couldn’t be easier, providing you don’t get distracted watching a football match and leave your pork steaks under the grill for too long (ahem). Serve with new potatoes / mash and some vege, but not that shite microwave in a bag affair, ok?

For variations on this theme, check out pork medallions with a chimichurri sauce, sticky pork ‘ribs’ in barbecue sauce, crispy pork schnitzel with potato salad, mustard pork and sticky pork steaks with coleslaw.

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Lemon and Blueberry Baked Oats


This tastes more like a pud IMO.

I recently had to return to the office for a day and with all kitchen facilities out of bounds due to Covid, I was a bit stumped as to what I could eat. I then had the brainwave of making Lemon and Blueberry Baked Oats from Pinch of Nom. Oats slowly release energy which help to keep hunger at bay for longer, and as the calorie count for this is on the high side at 440 per serving, I figured I might skip lunch rather than have to go out and buy something from a shop.

My masterplan involved getting up at the crack of dawn to bake the oats in the oven, wrap them in foil and then drive to the office where they would still be warm for when I arrived. Genius (ish). But what about the taste? Well….. it was very lemony, as you’d expect, which is fine if you like lemon (I prefer subtle hints of lemon). It also tasted more like a dessert, which is fine if you like desserts, but I’m indifferent towards them and certainly don’t want a pudding for breakfast! So my cunning plan was a bit of a bust.

For ease, I much prefer overnight porridge with juicy berries or crushed berry layered yoghurt.

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Crying Tiger Beef


Easy Tiger! Wash your hands thoroughly after handling chillies, if you forget and rub your eyes then you’ll be crying!

Getting me to have steak without chips, mushrooms and onion rings is quite a challenge but it’s good to vary things up, particularly when you’re trying to shift some timber. Crying Tiger Beef from Pinch of Nom is a fancy name for a traditional Thai recipe using thin-cut steak and a tangy, spicy dressing made from coriander, tomatoes, chillies, spring onion, garlic, fish sauce and either lemon or lime juice. As the name would suggest, it certainly packs a punch!

I really enjoyed this having treated myself to some tasty frying steak from my local butcher. It’s worth paying a bit more for quality meat if you can afford to as supermarket steak tends to be shite. My only criticism of this dish is that I’m not entirely sure where it sits – is it a light lunch or an evening meal served with some rice? I opted for the former.

If you like this, then check out the very similar thai beef salad or chilli steak salad.

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Pizza Pronto


Home-made pizzas are a great cure for lockdown boredom. They taste brilliant, too

Its never been more tempting to order in pizza for a treat during lockdown. But the cost, not to mention the calories, can be damaging to your bank balance and waistline. Justine Pattison’s Pizza Pronto is a brilliant home-made pizza option when you’re looking to cut back but still want something that tastes ‘naughty’.

Tortilla wraps are key to keeping the calories down, and while they clearly taste different to traditional thin / thick crust pizzas, providing you load them with your favourite toppings I bet you won’t even care! As for the toppings, in moderation anything goes here – wafer thin ham / prosciutto, chorizo / salami, pitted green olives / pitted black olives. Hell, you could even swap chopped tomatoes for passata and mozzarella for reduced-fat mature cheddar cheese. Whatever ingredients you’ve got in, chuck them on.

If you want a more ‘no-frills’ home-made pizza option, then go for five-minute pizza which literally does take 5 minutes to prep. And who knows, If you get your family / loved ones involved in making them it might even help to alleviate lockdown boredom. Win-win!!

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Chilli Prawn Pasta


Can you REALLY justify buying a bottle of vodka just for including 50ml of it in this recipe? Yes, yes you can

The Hairy Dieters include two types of Chilli Prawn Pasta recipes within their six healthy eating books. I opted to make the one from their fourth Fast Food book because you can include 50ml of vodka in it. Now, what to do with the remaining bottle? Wahahaha ;-). For reference, you’ll find the other recipe in their more recent ‘Make it Easy’ book.

The vodka is optional by the way, so don’t worry if you haven’t got any, or don’t want to go to the expense of buying in a bottle especially just for this . The meal will still taste great regardless, but the addition of the vodka will bring more depth of flavour to the sauce and balance out the sweetness of the red pepper and the passata.

For other seafood-based pasta recipes, have a look at spaghetti with broccoli & anchovies, spaghetti with prawns and courgettes, pasta with clams and bacon or pasta puttanesca. Or if seafood isn’t your thing, you’re bound to find a more appealing pasta recipe here.

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Pasta Arrabbiata


Can’t cook, won’t cook? At around 50p per portion there’s no excuse for not making this easy pasta dish

I frown when I hear people say ‘they can’t afford to cook’, or worse, ‘I can’t afford to buy healthy, fresh food’. There’s a difference between being genuinely skint, as opposed to not knowing how to cook from scratch. The lines between both statements often get blurred.

Pasta Arrabbiata from Pinch of Nom is a really easy and affordable vegetarian recipe to get even the most nervous and sceptical of cooks into the kitchen. It can be rustled up for about 50p per serving in 30 minutes. Arrabbiata sauce is a traditional Italian, spicy sauce made from garlic and dried chilli peppers. This recipe requires 1 tsp of chilli flakes, but heat freaks might want to up the ante by finely dicing a normal red chilli to give it more of a kick.

If you’re looking for more imaginative vege-based pasta dishes, try courgette caponata pasta or spaghetti on fire (swap the bacon for something vege, or leave it out completely). Or for something a bit quirkier, go for creamy wild mushroom courgetti which, you’ve guessed it, uses courgettes as an equivalent to pasta. For all other pasta recipes, click here.

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(Lighter) French Toast


Less than a £1 per serving for this plate of pleasure

There are many variations of French Toast but some can be particularly high in calories. This awesome lighter version from the Hairy Dieters is under 300 calories and less than a £1 per serving! But best of all, this tastes unbelievable and so indulgent with the apple compote, cinnamon, maple syrup, Greek yoghurt and blackberries dolloped over a slice of eggy bread. Pure heaven!

If you love fruit-based breakfasts / brunches, I’d also recommend fresh fruit compote with home-made granola, which takes longer to prep but is equally gorgeous.

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Coronation Chicken Sandwich Filling


Who would have thought that coronation chicken could be healthy?

Coronation Chicken, if bought from a supermarket, can be really unhealthy. But this alternative sandwich filling suggestion from Two Chubby Cubs is much kinder to your waistline and tastes sensational.

Once your chicken is cooked, it’s just a case of mixing together light mayo, mango chutney and a dash of curry powder together and sprinkling over a few sultanas. Yummy! For more fast sandwich and wraps ideas, check out the relevant section on this blog here.

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Oven-baked Risotto with Smoked Salmon and Peas


Cooking a risotto in the oven? Wonders never cease

Most people love eating risottos, but few love making them because of the laborious cooking process due to standing in front of a cooker stirring and gradually adding stock zzzzzzz. Pinch of Nom’s Oven-baked Risotto with Smoked Salmon and Peas takes the monotony away as most of the recipe can be cooked in the oven on a low setting. Genius and my Mum loved it, always a bonus!

For another less faffy risotto dish, take a peak at chicken and chorizo risnotto. Or for more conventional recipes, try hunter’s risotto, chicken and mushroom risotto and sea bass and miso risotto.

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Creamy Mustard Chicken


Shiitaking the piss? If you have someone in your family who doesn’t like mushrooms, try them with a fancier variety like shiitake, oyster or forestiere

I’d been meaning try to Creamy Mustard Chicken from Jamie Oliver ever since buying his ‘5 ingredients’ book, but my son’s refusal to entertain mushrooms placed this on the backburner. However, I decided to buy some fancy shiitake ones and slice them thinly which thankfully he was prepared to stomach without protest. Progress or just a fluke?

This meal is very quick to make but it does need something else to accompany it. I used up some spare sweetcorn but green veg would work well, or even some cheeky mash if you’re not watching your weight. For other ‘5 ingredient’ inspiration, click here for other ideas.

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Hot-smoked Salmon Wraps


Expensive, but bloody lovely

One of the occupational hazards of running this blog is that I feel compelled to cook meals at lunchtimes to include a variety of recipe ideas, when really all I want to eat is a bog-standard bloody sandwich. But perhaps I’ve been missing the point, both for me and for you.

Sticking to a healthy eating plan is hard. Recipes need to be imaginative enough to capture someone’s interest, delicious to eat, yet simple enough to ensure they remain on track. I think Hot-Smoked Salmon Wraps from the Hairy Dieters fulfils this brief, despite hot-smoked salmon being frightfully expensive.

But this is a fantastic treat, quick and easy to pull together and every mouthful of this wrap is to be enjoyed. For other similar ideas, I’d recommend smoked trout salad (you can use hot-smoked salmon). Or, to quote me, ‘if you just want a bloody sandwich’, check out this section of the blog for some simple ideas.

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