Monday, 31 March 2014

Review: My Daddy Cooks by Nick Coffer

My Daddy Cooks by Nick Coffer

I was bought this cook book for my birthday having never heard of it before. It was written by a father who, having had to downsize his company, became a stay at home father and began cooking with his son. The introduction gives a lovely insight into how important he found cooking with his son and getting him involved from a very young age. I had thought of the kitchen as a dangerous place for children when cooking, but the way the author describes involving his son as ensuring he doesn't miss out on valuable interaction time, has lead to me opening my kitchen up to my own son. He's not quite of an age to actually participate but he loves playing with pans and a wooden spoon, or simply playing with his own toys at my feet while chattering away to me.
As to whether these recipes are diet friendly, for the most part I have to say no. But with a few tweaks they can be made lower in calories and just as tasty. The author himself says that these recipes were not made to be followed to the letter and will not lose impact from changing a couple of ingredients. Otherwise, they make a nice occasional treat.
The recipes are simple, easy to follow and don't involve too many or too fancy ingredients. Everything can be bought from the local supermarket. Cooking time I would say is about average for a decent family meal, although some that I haven't yet tried did seem even quicker.
I have tried 4 recipes from this book so far - Minty Lamb and Butternut Squash Tagine, One-Tin Roast Chicken, New Potatoes and Asparagus, Easy Chicken and Apricot Casserole and Simple Chicken and Spinach Curry.
First up was the Minty Lamb and Butternut Squash Tagine. I had always wanted to try a tagine as I think they sounded delightful but had never found a decent recipe until now. Also, I had never cooked with butternut squash before and rarely cook with lamb, again due to a lack of recipes. So I once I read this recipe I was very keen to try it and I wasn't disappointed. I found everything in the supermarket, although I couldn't find the Ras el Hanout spice mix as specified, I used something just labelled Tagine Spice mix which I assumed was the same thing. The recipe was very easy to follow as its only 5 steps long, and the cooking time was just less than an hour. I made one small adjustment to the amount of couscous as I usually allow myself a little less than the recipe indicates. The end result was very tasty and filling. It feels like a treat while still being something that would quite easily fit in to my normal rotation of recipes. I enjoyed it so much I've made it again but in the slow cooker this time and it worked just as well. 
Next I tried Easy Chicken and Apricot Casserole. This recipe uses boned chicken which I don't usually cook with as I prefer chicken breast as I thought it to be lower in calories. I was pleasantly surprised to find the thigh and drumstick meat I used actually wasn't too bad but I think you do get more meat for the calories with breast meat. There isn't much in it though and it was nice to try a different cut of meat. I even tried de-skinning and de-boning! Again the ingredients were all found in the supermarket, the recipe was simple to follow, and cooking time just less than an hour. The end result was very tasty and again something a little different. The sauce tastes very thick and rich while still being quite low in calories and is a lovely contrast to the sweetness of the apricots. I have again tried this in the slow cooker and it worked perfectly, if not a little better!
Next up was Simple Chicken and Spinach Curry. (I forgot to photograph these last two recipes unfortunately!) I make curries quite a lot and am a big fan of the nutritional values of spinach so I had to give this a go. Again I could find all the ingredients I needed and it was simple and easily prepared with a cooking time of less than an hour. However, I think I added more water than the recipe called for in a panic about it burning dry and made the sauce too bland. I also used less spinach than the recipe called for but found it a little overpowering. Unfortunately this recipe was a little disappointing compared to the success of the others but I do plan to give it another try.
Finally I tried the One-Tin Roast Chicken, New Potatoes and Asparagus. I try to do a roast as often as possible but a traditional British roast takes a lot of different pans and multi tasking and can be quite high in calories so this looked like an interesting alternative. I'm also a big fan of asparagus but I only ever seem to eat it grilled so again I liked the idea of trying it in a different way. As previously, all ingredients were easily sourced - the recipe indicates using 2 teaspoons of whatever herbs you have in which makes it even simpler - and cooking time was around an hour.
I loved that everything went in the same tin, there was no fighting for space in the oven, no parboiling and no furiously working out timings to make sure everything was ready at the same time. I didn't use the amount of oil indicated in recipe but instead lined the baking tray with baking parchment which worked perfectly and meant I only used a teaspoon of oil in the marinade. I also removed the skin on the chicken despite the recipe indicating it should be left on and it was still tender and juicy and very tasty. I did have a minor panic that the potatoes and onions were going to be overcooked but in the end the potatoes were perfectly crispy and the onions delightfully caramelised. The asparagus was also cooked to perfection - the second time I cooked this I added some courgette which worked just as well.
I think the one tin roast was my favourite and I can see it becoming a regular Sunday meal in our house. The simplicity of it is a revelation and it is also really low in calories. However, the other 2 recipes I also tried successfully were just as delightful and will no doubt be eaten very often in our house. I can't wait to try some more recipes and I believe the author has another cook book out soon which I await with anticipation!
Star Rating - 4/5 - A simple but effective collection of recipes with only one of my sample collection not going to plan. The others were a delight and I think represent the book as a whole superbly.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Guilt Eating

Why is it we can excuse eating badly if it saves someone else's feelings?

We've all been there right? Someone offers you some food and to save their feelings we can come up with a plethora of excuses as to why its ok to eat it.

Since I started my diet and being strict with myself this is something I've seen crop up time and time again. I started to see a bit of a pattern forming and it really got me thinking about how this can affect or even de-rail your diet.

The first example I remember of this in recent weeks was when the family birthdays started. We were due to go for a family meal at my in laws for my nieces birthday. Like all good grandmothers, she'd prepared a lovely buffet for us and gone to a lot of effort. Of course I never would have wanted to offend her but I was probably only just over a month into my diet and it was the day before I was due to be weighed. As it was a buffet I managed to get away with sticking to the things I knew wouldn't be too bad for my diet and when the cake came out I specifically asked for a very small slice so I could still partake but not do too much damage. And of course I did my exercise before we went round. Disaster averted!

There were other incidents similar to this, one such was when my grandmother did a spread for a family gathering and I took my own packed lunch to it! Yes, I felt incredibly guilty tucking into my own food sat right next to the food my gran had lovingly prepared, but she took it with good grace, thankfully!

The next example that stood out was when we went out for a family meal. I was fortunate enough to be being treated to the meal and I felt so guilty looking at the menu and realising there wasn't much I could actually eat. At this point I was 2 weeks from my first goal target and was doing so well I just couldn't contemplate damaging my diet. When someone is treating me, I always feel like I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth and would appear ungrateful if I eat next to nothing (I wouldn't go to the extreme of ordering the most expensive thing on the menu but I hope you get my point). No one else was ordering starters so I just ordered a main (a salad) and assumed that everyone else would just have a main as well. Of course at the end of the meal everyone else chose a dessert but I opted out. It was a little frustrating for me as had I known they were having desserts I would have felt less guilty about having a soup starter and probably would have felt more like I had had a treat.

However, that did teach me a lesson about eating out and to always go with what I know I can have and enjoy without worrying about other people. That I shouldn't feel guilty about having a salad if that's what I want and always go for a starter instead of dessert! The other people at the meal certainly didn't feel guilty about enjoying their desserts while I sat there with nothing - and nor should they, the diet is my choice, not theirs.

Another occasion that came to my attention were the birthday cakes in work. I don't know how the tradition started but in every office I've worked in its obligatory that you bring in cakes when its your birthday for everyone else to eat. Since I started my diet there have been 2 birthdays plus my own. The first lady to have a birthday brought a large homemade cake to be sliced which was an excellent choice in my opinion as I was able to ask for a very small slice so I wouldn't offend or damage my diet. The next lady I think I unfortunately did offend by refusing the lovely Danish pastries she had brought in but she was also on a diet so I hope she understood. For my own birthday I took in little bite size cakes that people could have as much or as little of as they chose - I did enjoy a couple myself.

There are so many other examples of incidences like this where guilt is an excuse to eat - I was given some chocolates as a gift from a patient at work, I didn't eat them but felt incredibly guilty about not doing so. Before I started my diet, I was stuck in a cycle of my husband kindly buying me the naughty treats I enjoy to cheer me up and me eating them so I didn't feel guilty about rejecting his little gifts. Someone else cooks you a meal that you know is bad for your diet and you feel you have to eat loads of it instead of a small portion just to show its appreciated. I could go on and on.

It seems to me there really is only one way around it. To either find a compromise or just say no. You shouldn't feel guilty about refusing when the person offering obviously won't feel guilty about the potential damage to your diet. Your diet will not even enter their head 9 times out of 10, and as I said before, nor should it - its not their diet. Once you explain, most people who genuinely care about you will appreciate your reasons and understand. And to be perfectly honest, if they don't understand then they don't care enough about you or your feelings - so don't feel guilty about theirs.

To finish, here is an example of why you should say no to guilt food. By doing so myself (amongst other things) I have now lost another 2lbs this week despite it being my birthday week, which brings me to a total of 25lbs lost since New Year. Had I given in to the guilt, I probably wouldn't be able to say that. I like to think that those people I might have offended a little bit (but probably didn't) appreciate the hard work I'm putting in and support me wholeheartedly. If not, then its a shame but I've still lost 25lbs, and that good feeling really does override the guilt.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Milestones, big huge milestones!

Tomorrow I hit a big milestone!

(New Years Eve '13/'14 - Feb '14 - March '14)
I turn 30! But really the biggest milestones have already been hit this weekend. The above photo shows all of my journey so far. The first photo on the left was me this New Year's Eve. The day before I took control. The middle picture was February, 2 months later and just over a stone lighter, just before I started running. The final picture on the right was me this Saturday just gone, 11 weeks later, 23lbs lighter (1st 9lbs/11kg). I've also dropped nearly 3 dress sizes. In the last 3 weeks that I have been taking my measurements, I've lost 8.5 inches over my body.

(My weight loss chart)

Which brings me to the biggest milestone I hit this weekend. Before Christmas, I bought a pair of size 20 trousers, one of the biggest catalysts that led to my diet. This weekend I have been buying size 14's. They're a little tight but fit well enough that I knew there was no point buying size 16's - I'll be into the 14's in a couple of weeks. I'm sure you can appreciate how happy that made me. It really made me realise how far I've come. Not only have I slimmed into my pre-pregnancy clothes, I've almost slimmed out of them!

(Sept '13 to March '14)
I've also been spending my birthday money recently. For only the second time in my life I bought a pair of trainers, and for the first time with the intention of running in them! I bought a pair of Lycra running trousers, not just for lazing about in. And I've worn and used them already and its not even my birthday yet! I also have ordered some yoga blocks to help me progress with that which are on their way. And of course there were the lovely size 14 clothes. I even bought a jumpsuit which I'm planning to wear tomorrow.
I will admit that since Saturday my routine has been relaxed a little. I still went for a run on Saturday, the day of my birthday meal and drinks, and eat well during the day to make up for what I knew was not going to be a diet friendly evening, filled with tapas and beer! I had a lovely time and gave myself a day off exercising on Sunday, but still stuck to my calorie allowance. I went for another run today but had a little pre-birthday lunch date with my husband and allowed myself to go about 200kcal over budget. Tomorrow, I'm going out for another meal with family but I will still try to pick the healthier food options and squeeze in some yoga at least.
(My Zumba themed birthday cake!!)

As of Wednesday I'm back on the diet wagon and heading off to my next set of goals. I want to be comfortably in those size 14 clothes within a month. I'm running the Race For Life in May and want to be jogging the 5k in about 30mins by then. I'm going on holiday in June and plan to lose as much weight as possible by then and hopefully be somewhere close to my 10st goal. I'm even looking forward to fitting in my running on holiday by running down the beach near where we're staying. I love the beach and I'm actually looking forward to it - to exercising on holiday!!

Since I began this journey and my blog I am so proud to say that other people do seem to be taking inspiration from me - a concept I still struggle with. That was the reason I started this blog though, to show people that anyone can do it with the right motivation and inner strength. Its not easy and generally requires a massive change of mind set, something I battled for years. I'm a big advocate on focussing more on the psychology behind dieting and tackling those issues alongside tackling the weight issues. I believe that the mind is your most powerful tool in a diet and can be your biggest ally or your biggest enemy. Once you tackle that, the rest should come easily.

Thank you for joining me on my journey so far, please stay with me as its not over yet! And for those of you on your own journey, as always, I again wish you the best of luck. Please keep me updated with how you are getting along too!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Recipe:Slow Cooked Rainbow Chilli

Rainbow Chilli

Serves 2-3 (Approx 574kcal per portion)
Another recipe I make a lot & is great for the whole family. If you are making for children, please leave out the chilli and add an extra teaspoon of cumin. Its packed full of veg and you don't have to stick to those in the recipe, most veggies will work in this dish. Courgette and grated carrot work really well, as do mushrooms.
It's a super simple recipe, all you will need is either a slow cooker or a big saucepan. To save on calories its best to fry your mince in advance and drain the fat from it before adding it to the dish but I have to admit, I didn't this time!
Just a slight aside for those of you following my dieting progress - I'm 1 week off my first target milestone and have lost another 2lbs. In total that's now 10kg or 22lbs in about 10 weeks. I'm back in my pre-pregnancy clothes and on week 4/9 of couch to 5k. I will do a full update next week but I just wanted to keep you in the loop!


  • Approx 500g pork mince (or any lower fat alternative to beef)
  • 60g of basmati rice per person4
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 80g frozen/tinned sweetcorn
  • 80g frozen peas
  • 1/2 bag fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 400g tin of 5 bean salad
  • 1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp cumin (double if making for children)
  • 1 red chilli, chopped (leave out if making for children)
  • 1 tsp paprika


  1. Prepare the night before you are planning to eat this for best results if slow cooking.
  2. Put all ingredients apart from the rice into the slow cooker, turn to low and leave to cook overnight.
  3. If you are cooking in a saucepan, put all ingredients into the pan, bring to the boil and leave to simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. If you are slow cooking and haven't pre-fried & drained your mince, you will need to break it up part way through cooking so you don't end up with once large chunk of mince.  You will also need to stir it occasionally.
  5. Add the rice to a separate pan of boiling water and boil for 10-12 minutes.
  6. Serve the chilli over the rice and season to taste.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Recipe: Spicy Prawn Pasta

Spicy Prawn Pasta

Serves 2 (approx. 405 calories per portion when served with a side salad)
Another quick and easy, low fat recipe that I like to cook regularly. I found this using an app called Big Oven and, of course, made it my own!
This is a little more technical than my previous recipes as it involves something called a slurry to thicken the sauce. A little bit of skill is needed to get this right but its not too complicated.


  • 120g penne pasta cooked to packet instructions
  • Approx. 300g frozen prawns
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 red chilli, diced
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
For the Slurry
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 1 tsp of cold water


  1. Prepare the slurry by mixing equal parts of the ingredients together in a dish, set aside for now.
  2. Start the pasta cooking as per packet instructions.
  3. Add all the remaining ingredients except for the lemon juice to a heated frying pan. As the prawns defrost, the protective ice glaze they're stored in will melt to start forming the sauce. Bring to the boil.
  4. When the sauce is boiling, give the slurry a good stir as the contents can separate and add to the sauce. It has to be added when boiling or it won't have any effect. Give it a good stir and mix in.
  5. Leave to simmer until pasta is ready. Add the lemon juice just before serving.
  6. Serve with a side salad.

Ways To Keep Your Diet Going

And avoid you making excuses!

Sometimes its hard to stick to your diet when life kind of gets in the way. Its all well and good saying cook everything from fresh and count everything all the time, but now and again it just isn't possible. You might have to go out for dinner, eat at a friends, or maybe you might just not feel like it!
Here are some diet saving tips for you to remember when you're finding it tough and they might just save you from falling off the wagon.

Make a meal plan

This is a great tip not just for helping you lose weight but it will also help you save money. Plan to shop only once a week. Pick a night that suits you best and stick to it. Avoid any small shops in between as not only will you spend more money but you will be less tempted to pick up treats.
On the day before or day of your shop, make a plan for the next 7 days of what you're going to eat. You don't have to stick to it rigidly but you should plan out at least 7 main meals, lunches and breakfasts. If for some reason you don't use them all, carry them over to the next week. Start by going through your cupboards, fridge & freezer and seeing what you have in and use that as the basis for your meals.
Then make a list of anything else you might need, and stick to it! Don't shop right before a meal to make sure you're not hungry which will lessen the temptation to buy extras not on your list. If you've forgotten something, unless its essential you will just have to wait until your next shop. If you do have to buy something, buy only that and nothing else.
Sounds obvious, but there were so many times I would pop to the shop just to get out of the house or because we'd ran out of milk, and I would spend an extra £20 plus and would probably have bought loads of little snacks just to treat myself. 

Prepare in advance.

I know its not always possible, but most of us will know the days were most likely to not be bothered to cook. For me, as a part time worker, its the days I'm in work. After working for a full day and fitting in my exercise, I sometimes cannot be bothered chopping and dicing. For those days, I either have my 'save me' items (see below) or I'll have prepared in advance. A slow cooker is a great option for these days - spend 10 - 15 minutes prepping the night before, stick it on and leave it till you're ready to eat the following evening.
Another option is to make meals in bulk  at the start of the week and freeze them. Personally my freezer is full of my sons meals so I don't really have room for my own so this isn't really something I can do. But its still a really great idea and pre-frozen items also double up as a 'save me' item.

Have some quick and easy 'Save Me' items in

As part of my shopping list I plan to have a couple of 'save me' items in. Things that are quick and easy yet low-ish in fat for those times you're either very short of time or you really can't face spending time cooking. These are the times its very easy to veer from your diet so its always an idea to have an easy option to turn to. They might not be the most nutritious items but if they're low in calories they'll probably still be a better option than a pizza.
Some of my back up items are:
  • Maggi So Juicy sachets. Bung some chicken in the oven for 30-35 mins and it comes out tasty and cooked in its own juices, so not too high in calories.
  • Couscous - 60g per person, soaked in stock for 10 minutes. Low in calories and carbs. Especially nice with the Maggi chicken and salad for really quick and easy meal.
  • Tinned soups - avoiding anything labelled 'cream of'. Most soups are around 1% fat and make a great easy lunch as they can be cooked in the microwave.
  • Mug shots. These are basically cuppa soups with pasta in them, simply cover with hot water and let the pasta soften. They're fewer calories than pot noodles but just as easy.
  • Tinned fish fillets. Aldi in particular do really nice mackerel or salmon fillets in a ready made sauce. They're great heated up in the microwave and served with couscous and salad - for a meal that takes no more than 10 minutes.
  • Frozen items - rather than frozen ready meals. Always check the calorie content of these but we've had some fairly low calorie frozen fish cakes that when served with couscous and salad were a reasonable, easy meal. I also have in freshly frozen fish fillets such as haddock, tuna or salmon. These can be wrapped in foil with some herbs and spices and bunged in the oven for 25-30 minutes. We've also had ready prepared, frozen chicken breasts in a sauce that again cook in the oven. I'll say again though, always check the calorie content before you buy!

Know which foods to avoid.

This is a topic covered in most diets and some tips I have heard time and time again. But that is only because they work! It makes life easier if you do some research and learn which foods you really should avoid and which you should go for when eating out.
The obvious ones are to avoid anything fried, creamy or with cheese in - all my personal faves, mores the pity. Go for tomato based sauces or anything grilled. For example, I love an Indian, and I admit even now I still have the occasional take away. If I do, I'll make sure I have eaten well through the day and have plenty of calories left. Then I'll go for either something like a Bhuna (which is an onion based sauce, nothing creamy like a Korma) with plain rice and split a normal take away portion with my husband. Or I'll chose something I recently discovered called a 'Shashlik' which is basically a grilled tandoori chicken kebab served with salad. I'll only have a main, no starters and accompany it with a chappati instead of a naan bread
If you're faced with a buffet, stick to things like the salads, pastas or sandwiches. Avoid things like chicken goujons, cocktail sausages, pork pies or mini pizzas. Sausages in particular are pretty much always high in fat. Don't take over fill your plate, and don't go back for seconds.
Avoid the desserts. Most desserts will be high in everything bad for you and should be skipped. If you have to have something, go for fresh fruit, yoghurt or a very small portion of something such as cake.
If in doubt when eating out, ask your server! Any good waiter/waitress worth their tips should know what to recommend or will be able to find out without too much fuss.

Don't skip your exercise

If you're short on time or particularly lacking in motivation, still try and squeeze something in. It will help burn off any extra calories you might have indulged in and will take time away from thinking about food. If you're not up for jumping around to something aerobic, then do something like yoga or pilates instead. Even going for a walk is better than doing nothing. The endorphins will kick in, boost your mood and hopefully your motivation as well.
Always try and make time to fit something in. Leave your friends a little bit earlier rather than having that last cup of tea - if your friends are anything like mine, they've been there too and should understand. If you can, get up a little earlier and squeeze in half an hour before you get on with your daily routine. Even make plans to make exercise part of your social life and do that with friends rather than going to the pub.
This is probably the hardest tip but the most worthwhile to stick to. It will help undo a part of any damage you do with food and really will make you feel better than if you had done nothing. With a bit of organisation and a little will power, it will be worth it.

If you don't want to eat it, don't buy it.

Another possibly obvious one but if you don't want to eat crisps and chocolate - don't buy it! If you do have a particular weakness, buy a lower calorie version. Personally, my mega weakness is crisps. I've stopped buying them and instead buy the lower calorie baked versions. Some can be quite expensive but these days there are some decent supermarket own versions that are a great compromise.
Another example is things like frozen pizzas or chicken nuggets. Everyone knows they are bad for you, so don't buy them. Oven chips are a better option than fried chips, as long as you stick to the recommended portion size on the back of the packet (usually with the nutritional information).
As I've said before, some of these tips might sound obvious but there is no harm in reminding yourself of them. Keep them in mind and they will help you make better choices and stick to your goals.
We all have weak days where we're close to giving in. Hopefully these tips will help you stay on track and minimize the damage. Most of all, I hope they make it a bit easier and stop you giving up completely!
For those of you who follow my progress in this blog, you will remember from my previous blog post that I felt I had a bad week last week. Well I weighed myself today and I lost another 3lbs! It just goes to show you that if I had given in last week like I wanted to, I wouldn't have had that result.
I've also had some amazing comments from friends and family and actually seem to be inspiring people to start their own weight loss journey! I can't tell you how much this means as I never would have believed I could be in that kind of position.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - if I can do it, anyone can!