Archives for the month of: August, 2012

Working on the basis that whole grains fill you up for longer, tonight’s supper was based around brown jasmine rice, the remains of a ham I’d cooked earlier in the week and some fresh vegetables. Usually I’d use a short-grain rice for risotto, but the jasmine rice was the only brown rice I had on hand. It absorbs liquid more slowly than short-grain rice, but the benefit of that is that you don’t have to keep stirring it all the time. It does take a lot longer to cook, though…

Recipe for Ham and vegetable risotto (serves 2)

Ingredients for Ham and vegetable risotto10g butter
1 onion, diced
100g/½ cup brown jasmine rice, NOT rinsed
1 cup ham stock
1 zucchini/courgette, diced or cut into batons
35g fresh spinach, washed, stalks removed, shredded
100g cooked ham, diced

Total calories per serving: 350

Method: melt the butter in a pan and stir in the onion, cooking until translucent. Add in the rice, cook for a minute, then gradually stir in the stock, adding more as it gets absorbed by the rice. Add water if the rice gets too dry before it cooks (this takes at least 45 minutes with this sort of brown rice, so you have to be patient (not easy if you’re feeling hungry!)). Test the rice to make sure it’s soft enough to eat (crunchy rice is not enjoyable), then stir in the zucchini, cook for three or four minutes and add the spinach and ham. Cook just long enough to wilt the spinach and warm the ham through, then stir in some freshly ground black pepper and serve.

Ham and vegetable risotto

My husband’s comment: “It’s hard to believe you’re calorie-counting with food like this”.


Today we skipped breakfast entirely and I adapted Fiona Maclean’s London Unattached recipe for Spicy Lentil and Tomato Soup as our lunch for today and on Monday, using fresh vegetables from the garden.

Recipe for Spicy lentil and tomato soup (serves 4)

spritz of olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
1 whole cayenne pepper, sliced
2 (very!) small carrots, diced
50g red lentils
1 litre home-made ham stock
500ml tomato sauce (made yesterday from fresh tomatoes which I’d blended to a purée and then simmered down to about half the original quantity)

Total calories per serving: 100

Spray a large pan with a tiny amount of olive oil then cook the onion, pepper and carrot on a low-ish heat until softened. Add the lentils, stock and tomato sauce and simmer for half an hour, until the lentils are cooked. Blitz in a blender and serve.

Spicy lentil and tomato soup

Home-made baked beans are a great fasting-day food. They need a bit of forward planning, as you have to put the beans in to soak the day before you make the dish, but they’re low in calories (as long as you don’t add bacon!) and satisfyingly filling. With a thin slice of toasted wholemeal bread, a serving of these beans comes to a modest 380 calories: not bad for a main meal!

Low calorie baked beans

Recipe for Low calorie Baked Beans (serves 6)

300g/2½ cups  dry haricot/navy beans
400ml/1⅔ cups crushed tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes, blended and boiled down until reduced by half)
2 small onions, diced
2 tablespoons molasses/black treacle
¼ cup vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (just leave this out if you are vegetarian or vegan)
1 teaspoon mustard powder
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
salt & pepper

Total calories per serving: 230

Method: Soak dried beans in water overnight. Discard water and boil the beans in fresh water for around an hour, until soft. Put the beans, and the water they’ve been cooking in, into a pot with a lid and add the tomatoes, onion, molasses, vinegar and seasonings. Bake at 325°F/165°C for 2-3 hours (or in a slow-cooker). Remove the lid after an hour or so and stir the beans every 15 minutes in the last hour of cooking to make sure that they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan and that the consistency of the liquid is OK – add more water or cook for longer to get it just right.

Here’s the recipe I used for the bread we had with this. Making your own bread means you can be careful about the amount of fat and salt that gets added to it. Oats, as mentioned earlier, are an excellent addition to your diet and with this quantity you can’t tell the difference between this bread and bread made with just wheat flour.

Recipe for Oat-laced bread (makes 3 two-pound loaves or 36 bread rolls)

2 tablespoons dried yeast
2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon sugar
50 fluid ounces/1.4 litres hand-hot water
900g/7 cups  white bread flour
770g/6 cups wholewheat flour
130g/1 cup rolled oats (blended to a powder)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

Total calories per loaf: 2,290 (190 per slice or per roll)

[This is the point where I realised I’d been kidding myself about how many calories my bread slices contain. How depressing. :-(]

Method: combine yeast with 10 fluid ounces/300ml of warm water and a teaspoon of sugar and leave to get frothy. Meanwhile, pour the other 40 fluid ounces/1.1 litres of water into a mixer bowl with a dough hook attachment and then add the oats, salt, oil and wholewheat flour. Mix in the frothy yeast mixture and the white bread flour. Knead for five minutes. Shape the dough into loaves or rolls and leave to prove for 45 minutes to an hour. Loaves need to be baked for 40 minutes at 365°F/185°C. For rolls, 15-20 minutes should be enough.

Three loaves of bread

I’ve decided that part of the trick to avoiding hunger on fast days is to find the most filling low-calorie meals possible. I’ve always found that porridge oats make a meal that sticks to my stomach more than any other breakfast. Oats have been proven to help lower cholesterol levels, so they’re a good thing to include in your diet generally. On a fast day, you can’t eat a lot of them though, as they’re relatively high in calories.

For breakfast today I cooked one ounce/25g of oats in water with a sliced up peach. Total calories: 133. Then I added a quarter of a cup of 0% yoghurt, bringing the total count to 163. This is a little high, compared to some breakfasts I’ve had on fast days, but I’m planning a lower-calorie-than-normal supper meal tonight, so it should even out. This made quite a tart-tasting breakfast – you could replace the peach with a banana for a sweeter meal of 200 calories (without the yoghurt) or half a banana which would be 150.

Peachy porridge

This kept me going until 1.30pm, so it certainly did the trick as far as keeping me full went. Lunch was the leftover soup from Day 3, this time with the addition of a couple of teaspoonsful of curry powder, which made it much more palatable!

Chorizo, feta, beetroot and spaghetti squash salad

Supper was much more successful than lunch. Certainly more flavourful, anyway!

Recipe for Warm chorizo, feta, spaghetti squash and beet salad (serves 2)

1 small spaghetti squash
3 beetroot
60g chorizo
50g feta

Total calories per serving: 300

Method: Pierce spaghetti squash with a knife in several places. Wash and trim the beets and roast them and the squash at 350°F/180°C for 45-50 minutes. Let them cool down for a while, then cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds (keep them if you want to roast these as a snack) and remove the stringy flesh. Rub or peel off the outer layer of skin from the beets, then cut them up into bite-sized pieces if they’re large.

Cut the chorizo into small pieces, removing the outer casing if it has one, and dry-fry it for 5 minutes until browned. Cut the feta into small squares. Spread the warm squash onto a plate and arrange the other items over it.

If you’re vegetarian, you could replace the chorizo with chopped mushrooms.

Breakfast on fasting day three for me was a fresh peach and half a cup of 0% fat yoghurt (98 calories). My husband had a slice of wholemeal toast with a teaspoon of butter (125 calories).

Sliced peaches with yoghurt

Lunch was cabbage soup. I made enough for Day 4, too. Which was a shame, as it was particularly dull meal, even with added cumin. I’m putting the recipe here for honesty’s sake, but I really wouldn’t recommend making it with water – it needs a good stock. Or more spices. Or something…

Recipe for cabbage soup (serves 4)

2 cups cabbage, shredded
2 onions, diced
4 carrots, diced
Sprigs of lovage, chopped (you could use celery if you have it)
2 potatoes, diced
1tsp cumin seeds
1 litre water or stock (I used water, but stock would have been a much better option!)
2 tsp curry powder (I added this when we had the soup on Day 4 and it made the soup much tastier.)
Spray of olive oil

Total calories per serving: 137

Method: Spray a little olive oil into a pan and fry onions, carrot and lovage (or celery) until softened. Stir in potatoes, cabbage and cumin seeds. Add water or stock and simmer for at least 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft. Blend the soup with a hand-held blender or in a food processor. I like mine to have small pieces of vegetable still visible, so I don’t blend it completely smooth.

We’re nearing the end of our second day of fasting, after a weekend of eating regular food. We had a much later breakfast than usual (around 10.30am) of one slice of toast each.

For lunch we had the remains of the roasted tomato soup I’d made on Day 1. Working from home makes it easy to stagger our mealtimes. For supper we had steamed shrimp and spinach with roasted vegetables.

Recipe for steamed prawns/shrimp and spinach with roasted vegetables (serves 2)
2 zucchini/courgettes, cut into chunks
4 tomatoes, quartered
2 small onions, halved
Spritz of olive oil
50g spinach, stalks trimmed
16 large raw shrimp/prawns
1 tsp soy sauce

Total calories per portion: 300

Method: Spray the zucchini, tomatoes and onions  with a spritz of olive oil and roast them at 375°F/190°C for around 50 minutes. Towards the end of this cooking time, steam the shrimp for 5 minutes, then add the spinach and cook for a further 5 minutes until the prawns are pink and the spinach wilted. Add soy sauce to taste.

For the non-fasters in the house, I stir-fried shrimp and cooked noodles.

Last Friday started off as a usual day. I had my usual slice of toast for breakfast. Then my husband read an article about the 5:2 diet and the whole day changed into something strange. We watched the BBC Horizon ‘Eat, Fast, Live Longer’ documentary about fasting and the health benefits associated with it. Suddenly, we’re agreeing that this intermittent fasting sounds like a great idea and why not start right now?

The normal breakfast made it difficult to come up with two more meals in a day that were going to keep under the 600 (for him) and 500 (for me) calorie limits. So we decided to have just one more meal and I made a big pot of roasted tomato, zucchini and cayenne pepper soup which we ate in the late afternoon with one slice of bread each. Total calories for the bread and soup: 170.

I had one moment towards the end of the day when I came over a bit sweaty and dizzy, but apart from that, neither of us felt any ill-effects and we enjoyed our weekend of eating and drinking normally.

Recipe for roasted tomato and vegetable soup (serves 4)

1lb ripe tomatoes, quartered
2 small zucchini, cut into chunks
1 cayenne pepper, de-seeded
2 onions, peeled and quartered
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 pint chicken or vegetable stock
Herbs to taste: oregano, basil, thyme

Total calories per portion: 70

Method: roast vegetables at 375°F/190°C until browned at the edges. Blend in a food processor with the herbs. Tip into a pan, stir in the stock and heat through. Can be served hot or cold (we had it hot the first day and cold as our lunch on Day 2).

(I used the recipe calorie calculator at to get the calorie totals – it’s a really useful tool for estimating the calories in a prepared meal.)

We’ve decided to fast on Mondays and Fridays. Looking forward to it, in a perverse, up-for-a-challenge kind of way…