Tuesday 22 October 2013

Camembert: the best value cheese in Britain?

I know it's heresy but I'm not at all sure that Camembert isn't the best value cheese in Britain. For just £2.35 or £9.40 a kilo (online), for example, you can buy a perfectly matured Tesco Finest Camembert that will easily feed four.

Add a few grapes and crackers and you have a respectable cheese course for well under a fiver. Sainsbury's - obviously price-watching - costs the same.

OK, on special occasions I'll splash out on Britain's answer to Camembert, Tunworth, which is around £7.95 for the same weight. We all like to fly the flag. But it's not just that these premium Camemberts are cheap, they're also tasty - so much improved from a few years ago.

You can also bake them, a Nigel Slater classic that makes an indulgent supper for two with some boiled new potatoes or crusty bread and a sharply dressed green salad (although Nige, I see, favours PSB - aka purple sprouting broccoli)

Some of you may know that I also have a food and wine matching site so you'll be pleased to hear that I can also recommend a drink pairing for your Camembert that won't break the bank: a dry or sparkling cider. Or, if your Camembert is particularly runny or pongy, a Pommeau - a mixture of cider and apple brandy. The Somerset Cider Brandy Company has its own version called Pomona for £9.60 a 50cl bottle which would easily serve six.

What do you reckon is Britain's best cheese - or the best value cheese sold in Britain?

Friday 11 October 2013

5:2 recipes: Mushroom, tomato and cardamom curry

Not the best pic I've taken because I was ravenous and couldn't be bothered to faff around with it but better than it might have been thanks to Hipstamatic

I've got a bit lazy about 5:2 lately, largely because I've found it's just about possible to keep my weight under control without it (more on this in due course) but after a heavy week last week I decided I needed a proper fast day.

This is what I made for supper. Mushrooms are brilliant diet food as they have diddly squit calories which justifies you having more indulgent ingredients like crème fraîche and rice which makes you feel as if you've had a proper meal. Which, of course, you have.

Don't leave out the cardamom. It makes it.

Serves 2

1 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tsp grated fresh ginger (optional)
2 tbsp curry paste (I used a korma paste but reckon a garam masala paste would be even better. But use what you have)
6-8 cardamom pods crushed, husks removed and seeds ground with a little coarse salt - or 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
250g mushrooms, wiped and sliced
2-3 medium to large tomatoes (about 225-250g), skinned, seeded and chopped or 1/2 a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
Salt, freshly ground pepper and a squeeze of lemon if necessary
A handful of coriander leaves
2 tbsp low fat yoghurt or half-fat crème fraîche (optional)

Heat the oil in a frying pan over a moderate heat and fry the onion until it starts to soften. Add the garlic, stir for a minute then add the curry paste and cardamom. Stir, cook for a few seconds then add the mushrooms, stir and cook until they begin to release their liquid. Add the chopped tomatoes, stir, bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer while you cook the rice - or veg. (Steamed broccoli would work well). Check the seasoning of the curry, adding more salt if necessary and pepper and lemon juice to taste. Stir in the coriander leaves and heat through. Stir through the yoghurt or crème fraîche if using and serve with rice or a green vegetable.

About 175 calories without the yoghurt or crème fraiche (about another 20-25 calories). 75g of cooked rice would be an extra 80 calories - you could, of course, have less.

Friday 4 October 2013

What to do with tons of plums including a great plum jam

I've been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks which means that probably all your plums will have fallen but you may still be able to find some in the shops. And, if not, hopefully it will be useful for next year.

A fortnight ago we spent a weekend with some old friends (old as in we've had them for a long time not that they're ancient) who had a plum tree that was absolutely laden with fruit.

We'd thought of doing a bit of preserving but ended up having to think of other ways we could bring plums into the day's eating which included supper for nine.

This is what we made:

Roast plum relish and salsa

A plum salsa from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Guardian column. We didn't have any lime so I used lemon. This was really good - I'd definitely make it again. We had it with chicken but it would be even better with lamb.

A roast plum and onion relish to go with the cheeseboard. Just because I wanted to see how it would turn out if you roasted plums. Slightly dull is the answer. Don't bother.

Baked amaretti plums from a Woman and Home recipe for which we used an ancient (and on this occasion I do mean really old) bottle of cream sherry rather than the recommended marsala. Also delicious and incredibly easy.

A spiced plum chutney from the Woman and Home site. We didn't have any raisins so we used a mixture of dried cherries and cranberries. It tasted pretty good when we'd finished but it needs to mature another couple of weeks.

And this incredibly good (though I say so myself) plum jam which I invented largely to compensate for the plums' lack of flavour. The pomegranate molasses made it so don't leave it out and it needs the cinnamon too. Note there's far less sugar than in most recipes so it'll be a bit runny but add more if you want.

Plum and pomegranate jam
Makes about 4 x 400g jars

1 kg plums
250g preserving sugar
300g granulated sugar
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
6-8 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 tsp ground cinnamon
100ml water

Halve the plums, twist and remove the stones, then cut into 2 or 3 pieces. Place in a large saucepan or preserving pan with the sugars, pomegranate molasses, cardamom pods, cinnamon and water. Place over a very low heat until the sugars have completely dissolved then bring to the boil and boil hard for about 15 minutes until the jam is set. Skim off any scum, fish out the cardamom pods, rest the jam for 10 minutes then pot into hot, sterilised jars*.

* If you don't know how to sterilise jars there's a useful post here.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

The tomato salad that turned into an aubergine bake

You'll have to allow me the pleasure of crowing about this dish - a rescue remedy for a leftover tomato salad.

I'd always taken the view that salads were unrescuable. Of course you could finish off the leftovers but not turn them into anything else. Or nothing that my husband would eat anyway, having an aversion to cold soups like gazpacho.

But we had so much left over I couldn't bring myself to throw it away so I tipped it into a pan and just simmered it until it took on a jammy consistency. And you know what? It didn't taste bad.

I then decided to use up another couple of leftovers - a couple of aubergines and some Comté to make an aubergine bake which would have actually fed 4 at a pinch, certainly three but the two of us scoffed the lot. Here's roughly how it was done

2 medium sized aubergines
About 300g leftover tomato salad cooked down to a sauce or homemade tomato sauce made from 1 onion cooked in a little oil until soft,  1-2 crushed cloves of garlic and 1/2 a 400g can of chopped tomatoes
Any stray herbs - I had a bit of fresh basil
About 4-5 tbsp olive oil
75g-100g Comté, Gruyère, or other leftover cheese plus a little parmesan if you have some
Salt and pepper

Cut the stalk off the aubergine and slice into 4 lengthways. Salt generously and set aside for half an hour or so. Cook down the tomatoes or make a simple tomato sauce - or even use a jar of pasta sauce if you have one knocking around that needs using up. Add a bit of extra garlic and chopped herbs if you like.

Rinse the aubergines and pat dry with kitchen towel. Heat a couple of tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan and fry half the aubergine slices until browned, turning them a couple of times. Press them against the sides of the pan as you remove them to let as much oil run out as possible and repeat with the remaining aubergines. Warm through the sauce and adjust the seasoning.

Heat the oven to 200°C. Lay half the aubergines in a shallow dish and top with half the sauce and grated cheese. Repeat with the remaining ingredients, finishing with some grated parmesan if you have some. Pop in the oven for 20 minutes and bingo - there's your parmigiana. (Actually, you might want to flash it under the grill for an extra-crisp topping and grate over a bit more parmesan to serve. Oh, and a green salad on the side wouldn't go amiss.)

What's your most triumphant use of leftovers?

Monday 12 August 2013

Are fritters the way to get fussy kids to eat veg?

Coincidentally I came across fritters twice last week - once in Caroline Conran's superb 'Sud de France' which I've been working my way through down in the Languedoc, the other at a neighbour's house when she invited us over for an impromptu lunch. And the dish that her grandchildren tucked into most avidly was the courgette (zucchini) fritters.

Of course I'm not suggesting you fry every vegetable in sight to get kids to eat their greens - and other veg for that matter - but you have to admit it's a good way to win round recalcitrant eaters. And they're cheap. You can have them on their own with a dip or salsa or as an accompaniment to stretch a piece of meat or fish.

Having mastered courgettes I then tried some Santorini-style tomato fritters but they were a great deal more fiddly and no tastier, to be honest. And with courgettes bang in season at the moment, I reckon that's the place to start your fritter-frying. Here's my slightly tweaked version of Caroline's recipe. She just used onion so you don't have to add the garlic, chilli and mint if you don't want though I like the kick it gives them.

Courgette fritters
Serves 2-3 adults or a couple of adults and 2 kids

350g courgettes
4 tbsp sunflower oil or other oil for frying
1 small onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint or a good pinch of dried mint or herbes de Provence
2 eggs
2 rounded tbsp plain flour, sifted
Salt and pepper

Wipe and top and tail the courgettes and grate coarsely. Put them in a colander and salt generously. Leave for 20 minutes then rinse. Take handfuls of the courgettes, squeeze and place on a clean tea towel. Twist the tea-towel to extract as much liquid from the courgettes as possible.

Meanwhile heat a tablespoon or so of oil and soften the onion in it for about 10 minutes. Add the chopped garlic towards the end of the cooking time then the chilli flakes and mint or other herbs, if using. Tip onto a saucer or plate and set aside to cool.

Beat the eggs and add the sifted flour bit by bit, whisking as you go. You want a thick-ish batter. Season with pepper.

When you're ready to serve the fritters, mix the grated courgettes and onion mix into the batter and add a little salt. Heat the remaining oil over a moderate heat and fry the fritters in batches - about 4 tbsp of mixture to the pan. Flip them over after about 2 minutes and cook the other side. When they're nicely browned and crisp transfer them to a plate lined with kitchen towel to drain off the oil and serve as soon as possible - with fish or meat as suggested above or with tomato salsa or tzatziki (cucumber and yoghurt dip) which would also work well.

I reckon you could add a tablespoon or two of grated parmesan to the mix if you have some or even some crumbled feta for a more substantial meal.

Do - or would - fritters go down well with your kids?

Saturday 27 July 2013

Apricot and cardamom jam

I can't believe I've got to the age I have (don't ask!) without ever having made a pot of jam. Marmalade, yes, as regulars may recall from this post but jam and chutney, never. Which makes no sense considering the cost of good preserves these days - about £3.50-4 a small jar in farmers' markets and posh delis.

I decided this year was going to be the year to break my duck and lugged down a large bag of jars and an armful of preserving books to our house in the south of France. After all fruit and veg is cheap down here so it sounded like a good holiday project.

It's actually been so hot for the last few days I couldn't face it but yesterday I made my first batch of apricot jam (my favourite) based on a recipe in my friend, cookery writer Thane Prince's Jams and Chutneys. Needless to say I couldn't resist going off-piste a little - I like my jam slightly less sweet than most and had this hunch that cardamom would be a great addition (it is!) but Thane's recipe gave me an excellent basis to work on.

Apricot and cardamom jam
Makes about 4 x 400g jars

I kg of apricots (not over-ripe which shouldn't be a problem in the UK as they never are)
Juice of 1-1 1/2 lemons (about 4-5 tbsp)
8 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
900g jam sugar (with added pectin. If you like your jam tart you might even be able to do with a little less)

You will also need 4-5 350g-400g sterilised jam jars and a cold saucer to test the set

Wash the apricots and quarter or halve them depending on how large they are. Put in a large saucepan or preserving pan with the lemon juice, crushed cardamoms and 400ml water and bring slowly to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the apricots are soft but still retaining their shape, skimming off any scum (that sounds horrible doesn't it? Let's call it froth) that appears on the surface.

Turn off the heat and tip in the sugar and gently stir then leave the pan for a couple of minutes off the heat for the sugar to dissolve. Gradually back to the boil and boil hard for 5 minutes or so until the jam looks like setting, skimming off the scum (sorry, froth) as you go. Take the pan off the heat and spoon a little onto your chilled saucer. Leave it a minute then run your finger through it. If it's set it should crinkle slightly. If not boil (the jam, not your finger) for 3-4 minutes more.

Once the jam is set take off the heat. Warm the jars in a moderate oven. Stir the jam then ladle or pour into the hot jars. Seal with the lids or a cellophane jam jar cover, wiping the outside of the jar with a damp cloth. Label once cool. Slather over baguette and French butter. Drool.

Just a wee taster to make sure it's OK ...

Cost? Apricots around €2.60 a kilo, sugar 1.28€ a kilo bag (I used slightly less), lemon about .30€ and cardamoms I already had so roughly 1€ (86p) a jar for the most heavenly scented apricot jam you can imagine. Can't wait to make more.

Are you also a novice or a regular jam maker and what are your favourite jams?

Saturday 22 June 2013

Hugely versatile broad bean and herb salad

I love recipes you rustle up from what you have in the fridge, freezer and storecupboard. It lends a creative edge to cooking that you never get when you've gone out to buy exactly the right ingredients for a recipe.

I bought some tongue from Hobbs House butchery when I was there for a cookery course yesterday and was thinking what would go well with it. Salsa verde would have been a good accompaniment if you were serving it hot so why not, I wondered, use some of those flavours in a salad?

Broad beans are in season but you know what? They're expensive to buy and incredibly labour-intensive to prepare with larger beans needing to be skinned so I used a pack of frozen broad beans I had in the freezer. I added a couple of spring onions, sweated off in a little olive oil, some chopped gherkins and juice from the pickle jar and some chopped parsley and mint (very important the mint) and bingo!

I can think of a few good variations (see below) but in the meantime try this as your base:

Serves 2-3

250g frozen (or fresh podded broad beans if you grow them yourself)
3 tbsp olive oil
half a bunch of spring onions, trimmed and sliced
about 5-6 gherkins, finely chopped + some juice from the pickle jar
2 heaped tbsp freshly chopped parsley
1 heaped tbsp freshly chopped mint
Salt and pepper, preferably white

Bring a pan of water to the boil, salt and cook the broad beans for about 3 minutes until tender. Drain and rinse in cold water. Heat the oil and cook the onions gently until soft. Tip in the broad beans, finely chopped gherkins and herbs, season with salt and white pepper. Either eat as a veg (it would be great with roast lamb) or a warm salad with cold meats or cheeses (see below)

What else you could add. (Here's where it gets interesting):

*Some roughly crumbled goats or young sheeps cheese and a little grated lemon rind

* Give it a Spanish twist by adding some chopped chorizo when you fry off the onion - or add some shreds or serrano ham. I'd probably be inclined to leave out the mint in this case

* Add some steamed or boiled new potatoes, dice them and add them to turn it into a ritzed-up potato salad.

There are probably other possibilities. Any thoughts?

Sunday 9 June 2013

5:2 Hot smoked salmon, avocado and asparagus salad

You might well have wondered what happened to the 5:2 diet which has been conspicuously absent from the blog lately?

Well, I'm still on it. Sort of. Six months on it's not as regular as it was - I've been busy and travelling a lot but have also found ways of keeping my weight under control without it simply by skipping the odd meal. However I managed to have a fast day last Sunday (no, not ideal) and again today as I'm off to Holland for 5 days next week. Which is bound to mean loads of cheese and Dutch baking.

Anyway if you're going to fast on a Sunday you might as well have something nice and this was tonight's supper, built around some leftover asparagus and some other bits and pieces in the fridge and storecupboard (See! Frugal habits die hard!). I made double the quantity but always think it's more useful to have quantities for 1.

Hot-smoked salmon, avocado and asparagus salad (275 calories)
Serves 1

75g cooked asparagus spears (trimmed weight) - or steam, simmer or microwave it and cool it. No oil or butter, obviously.
20g cooked fresh or frozen peas. Again, NO butter!
A good handful of rocket (about 30g)
A spring onion, trimmed and very finely sliced (optional - just flung it in 'cos I had some)
Half a small avocado (mine weighed 45g) roughly broken up
50g hot-smoked salmon fillet, flaked (I got mine from the Co-op*)
A few torn mint leaves. Not essential. Just because I had them.
1 tsp olive oil
A good squeeze of lemon

Cook the asparagus and peas if you need to and cool. Arrange the rocket on the plate, top with the spring onions and avocado. Arrange the asparagus on top and flake over the salmon. Tear over the mint leaves and scatter with the peas. Season with salt, pepper and a good squeeze of lemon juice. and drizzle over the oil (which I left out when I made it because I thought it might take the day's intake over the 500 calorie limit. I needn't have worried.)

*In the mis-named Truly Irresistible range. I could have resisted it if I'd wanted to. I'm hard after months of 5:2!

Friday 7 June 2013

3 meals for two from a £1 bag of veg

Having bought a £1 bag of veg at the Feeding the 5000 event last Saturday I decided to make it the basis for the next day's meals - fortunately a quiet Sunday at home with just me and my husband to cook for. I decided I wouldn’t buy anything extra and make do with what we had in the house.

The tomatoes went into a tomato bruschetta - simply quartered, seasoned, anointed with olive oil and, at the last minute, a drizzle of balsamic (you could use a few drops of wine vinegar instead). Oh, and a sprinkling of fresh thyme - I didn’t have any parsley, basil or chives.  I split two of the rolls I'd also picked up, toasted them and rubbed a clove of garlic on the cut sides as the base. If I’d had some feta or goats cheese I’d have crumbled a bit on top.

I could alternatively have fried the tomatoes, added a dash of chilli sauce and served them with eggs for breakfast. Or turned them into a fresh pasta sauce or a tomato and rice salad like this one on the blog.

Next, what to do with the lettuce and leeks? I washed the lettuce and decided to make a soup with the outer leaves and two of the leeks along with a handful of frozen peas from the freezer to give it a bit more colour and texture. This is roughly the recipe I used though you could easily vary it. It was so delicious I'll make it another time.

Leek and lettuce soup

(enough for 3-4)

1 tbsp olive oil or other cooking oil
A slice of butter (20g or thereabouts)
2 leeks, trimmed and sliced or a large sweet onion
A handful of frozen peas (about 50g)
Outer leaves from a round lettuce, washed and roughly sliced
700ml vegetable or light chicken stock
sprig of fresh mint (optional but unnecessary if your peas are minted)
Salt and pepper, preferably white

Heat a saucepan over a moderate heat, add the oil and then the butter. Once the butter has melted, stir in the sliced leeks, put on a lid and cook over a low heat until the leeks begin to soften. Add the peas, cook for another couple of minutes then tip in the lettuce and the mint, if using and stir. Pour over the hot stock bring to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes until the leeks and peas are cooked.

Take the pan off the heat and cool slightly then ladle the lettuce and a few other chunky bits into a blender or food processor. (Leave some behind for texture*). Whizz then return to the pan. Adjust the seasoning and reheat gently but don't cook it too long or you’ll lose the colour. If you had a little leftover cream to stir in at the end or some extra herbs to scatter that would be extra good.

You could also add some fried bacon or ham if you had some for the final heat-through which would make it more substantial. Even then we had enough for 4 bowls.

The remaining leek went into a favourite pilaf along with the mushrooms (could have sworn the recipe was on the blog but I can’t find it. It’s in the book though). It wasn’t as good as usual as I didn’t have any cashew nuts (I used walnuts instead which were a touch too bitter), had to use tomato paste instead of fresh tomatoes and had no fresh coriander.

As you can see it was all a bit brown, relieved only by the remains of the lettuce which I served as a salad with a yoghurt dressing (see below) and a slosh of hot pepper sauce which I acquired from a guy in a pub. As you do . . . Easily enough for 3 though, especially given the soup we had first.

What else could I have made with the mushrooms? A pasta sauce. Garlic mushrooms on toast. A sort of stroganoff if I’d had a dash of cream. Mushrooms à la grecque. And with the leeks? A frittata. Leeks vinaigrette, This smoked cod and leek chowder. Leek bhajis, maybe (I did think of that but didn’t have any gram flour).

The main thing, as I said at the beginning, was I didn’t buy anything I didn’t already have in the fridge or the storecupboard even if it meant altering an idea or a recipe. And that’s the whole point - to adapt what you cook to what you have available, which is easy enough to do assuming a basic set of spices and seasonings (though I accept this is tough on a really tight budget). For most of us though it’s primarily a question of not wasting what we have. And that’s what this event was all about.

What would you make from these ingredients?

For more information about Feeding the 5000 and Fare Share UK visit their websites. 

* Or, if you prefer or don't have a blender, just serve the veg un-whizzed which also preserves the colour better. (Note how the arty photography app Oggl I was playing about with also improves the look of the dish ;-)

** (1 tsp Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp cider or wine vinegar, 3 tbsp olive or other oil and 2 tbsp plain yoghurt - and a splash of water to thin it)

Sunday 2 June 2013

Bristol’s 'feedingthe5000' and some thoughts on street cooks

How do you make people - enough people - care about an issue like poverty? The answer might seem superficial but it’s to give them a good time as yesterday’s #feedingthe5000 event on Bristol’s College green showed.

The (rare this year) sunshine obviously helped. There was free food - obviously a winner though stewards were quite rightly asking for contributions towards the meal (veggie curry, rice and salad) which was provided by the local Thali Cafe.

There was some great music from Joe Driscoll and kora player Sekou Konyate which gave the event a festival-like atmosphere. And there were cooking demos by well known local chefs and cooks such as Richard Bertinet and Tom Hunt of Poco who was apparently smoking cod with used tea bags (shame I missed that)

This week a report by Oxfam and the Church Action Poverty Group revealed that half a million people in the UK now rely on food banks, a situation they describe as a ‘national disgrace’. One way FareShare South West and Feeding the 5000, the charities behind the Bristol event, are tackling the problem is by drawing attention to the amount of food that is thrown away, their catchy slogan being ‘feed bellies, not bins’.

To underline the point they were handing out £1 bags of vegetables which would otherwise have been chucked away. I'm going to use the one I bought to cook with today. But the thing is - I can work out some good things to make with them. It’s a lot harder for inexperienced cooks.

How can we get round this? It’s a well-rehearsed observation - most recently by Michael Pollan - that the huge number of programmes on TV hasn’t resulted in more people cooking from scratch in their own homes. Fewer do, if anything.

An idea I’ve been thinking about for a long time is that there should be street cooks where a designated cook - or two - in each road offers to teach their neighbours how to make simple meals - or even makes home-cooked food for those who don't have the time or energy to make meals themselves - new mothers or those who are recovering from an operation, for example.

It could be a great thing for older people with time on their hands to get involved in and a way for younger people to learn provided bureaucracy in the form of health and safety regs doesn’t stand in the way. Well worth a pilot project or two I’d have said.

What do you reckon? Would it work?

Saturday 27 April 2013

Could you live below the line?

On Monday a major campaign kicks off called Live Below the Line to show that it is possible to feed yourself on £1 a day for 5 days - i.e. £5 for the whole week.

As I'm not taking the challenge (a long-standing few days away with my husband) I feel a bit hypocritical about urging anyone else to do so. Particularly as I know that I could have offered to do it another time but it's not easy to find the time when you make your living out of eating and drinking (no, I don't expect any sympathy for that!)  I have the luxury of choice about the matter. Many people don't.

Anyway if you're feeling inspired to have a go there are plenty of tips on the livebelowtheline.com website including a downloadable recipe book and video testimonies from those who did it last time.  And some ideas on this blog like my 2 meals to make from a 15p bag of carrots post though some of the spicing might take the recipes over budget.

Jack Monroe whose blog A girl called Jack I flagged up a couple of months ago has been active in promoting the campaign on radio and TV - she's consistently shown that it's possible to not only eat cheaply but well. Possible, but no joke when you have to do it all the time.

If you want to support her or anyone else who's doing the challenge or one of the partner organisations you can do it through the Live Below the Line donations page.

Sunday 31 March 2013

Do you really need a 5:2 cookbook?

Given the success of the 5:2 diet it was inevitable that there would be a rash of cookbooks cashing in on it but having looked through a few I’m wondering how useful they really are.

I mean how much do you actually want to cook on fast days? Not much in my case - the less time I spend faffing around in the kitchen the better. If I do cook I want it to be tasty, of course, but above all quick and simple. Ideally not involving more than 5 or 6 ingredients.

Yesterday's fast day supper for example was a piece of grilled tuna and a salsa/chopped salady sort of thing made from cucumber, tomatoes, spring onions and some marinated olives which contributed enough oiliness to do without olive oil. Squeeze of lemon, handful of rocket - 10 minutes work max.

The idea that you want recipes for 4 or more seems just plain daft. Most books emphasise that kids shouldn’t be on the 5:2 diet so you wouldn’t be cooking for them.

For your friends? Why not have them round on a feast day when you can cook and eat what you like?

You’d only need recipes for more than 1 or 2 in the hypothetical situation that you have 4 or more adults in the house, ALL on the 5:2 diet. Which is obviously not impossible but highly unlikely. And recipes that cater for more don't take account of the fact that those of us who are overweight are unlikely to stick to our allotted portion. The temptation to overeat is just too great.

Two of the books I’ve read have recipes that are not written by cooks but by nutritionists. While I’m sure that makes them healthy and accurately calorie-counted it doesn't necessarily make them inspiring - or even easy to follow.

I tried a mushroom and artichoke bake from The 5:2 Cookbook at 168 calories a head - one of the few recipes in the book for 2. The quantities were confusing: 500g canned artichoke hearts, drained - was that the  weight of the artichokes or the weight of the can? If it was the artichokes you’d need two cans - a lot for two people. I made do with one and adjusted the amount of mushrooms - an over-generous 300g - downwards too.

It wasn’t very frugal either - fresh basil and oregano - surely you didn’t need both?  Lemon juice and white wine - would you open a bottle just to take out 1 tablespoon? A tablespoon of brown breadcrumbs. Dried or fresh - and why brown?

I adapted it slightly but was still underwhelmed with the result. My husband chomped manfully through it but I definitely won’t be making it again. (The artichokes on the other hand are rather useful. I can imagine combining them with hard boiled eggs and tinned tuna for a simple low cal salad.)

If you’re short of inspiration there are more appetising suggestions on some of the women’s magazine sites, the Channel 4 website, on established cookery sites like the 200-400 calorie meals on the BBC Good Food website and in some of the other new diet-conscious books like Gizzi Erskine’s new Skinny Weeks and Weekend Feasts which I’ll be reviewing shortly.

But in general I think it’s more about having a simple repertoire of dishes made from ingredients you know are low in calories rather than trying to push the boat out and experiment on your fast days. After all we’re only talking about two days a week.

What do you do about recipes? Do you have one of the 5:2 diet books and if so what do you think of it? Do you spend much time cooking on a fast day?

Saturday 16 March 2013

Why Frenchwomen don't get fat - mark II

After 9 days in Paris (it should have been 7 but we got marooned when Eurostar services were suspended) I was dreading getting on the scales. What would the damage be from a week's solid eating - the first time off from fast days since I started the 5:2 diet? An extra 2 kilos, 3 even?

You know what? I only put on half a pound. Incredible, eh?

I ate exactly what I wanted. Charcuterie, bread, cheese, wine, desserts, pastries - not in ridiculous quantities but enough to pile on the pounds - or so I thought. Hearty helpings too - nothing pickily pushed to the side of the plate as I always suspect those fabled Frenchwomen do. On one day (inadvertently) we had two four course meals.

Yet next to nothing on the scales.

The secret? We walked. And walked. And walked - all over Paris. At home I sit in front of my computer for hours on end - sometimes not leaving the house at all if I'm busy. And I wonder why my weight plateaus for weeks.

So back on the diet today - and off for a walk

As many have said: Eat less. Move more.

Monday 4 March 2013

Does the 5:2 diet work?

The question I get asked most often (mainly on Twitter) is whether the 5:2 diet actually works. And the answer is? Absolutely, yes it does. In the three months I've been on it I've lost almost a stone and a quarter (8kg) and dropped a size. I needed to, mind you, but nevertheless it's a massive achievement for one who has never managed to say no to food for that length of time before.

It doesn't tell the whole story though. I haven't lost much in the last 3-4 weeks and have been trying to work out why. Maybe being slightly less careful on the 'feed days' although at least I've got in the habit of skipping dinner when I've had a big lunch. Maybe being busier than I was just after the new year. And eating (and drinking) out more. You actually have to be quite mindful about your eating on non-fast days. It's not 'anything goes'.

A few other things I've noticed. If I'm active rather than sitting in front of my computer all day I tend to lose more. (No surprise there but I hadn't realised how big a difference it made.) When I say active I don't mean going to the gym (god forbid!) but just going for a reasonably brisk walk. Even getting up from your chair every 20 minutes is advisable, according to Dr Michael Mosely author of The Fast Diet. In fact essential. 'The chair kills!", he's just tweeted.

Meals that are heavy on salt, fat and sugar put on A LOT of weight. I was 3lbs heavier after my Chinese New Year feast and it took a couple of days to lose it again.

I don't get so hungry on fast days and slightly less ratty (although my nearest and dearest might tell you otherwise). I can manage on two meals now instead of having three and a snack. On the other hand the rather wonderful feeling of euphoria the morning after a fast day has diminished. I guess the body just gets used to semi-fasting.

I am, if I'm truthful, slightly bored with it at times. Less inclined to dream up ingenious ways of creating meals at less than 250 calories - fewer still if/when I have lunch. But that's not good because bought-in diet food like miso soup and milkless porridge (above) is boring - though I have, as I mentioned, come round to cottage cheese.

I think I probably need to shift another 2-3lbs to rekindle my enthusiasm though as I'm just about to disappear to Paris for a week during which I don't intend to fast at all, that certainly isn't going to happen any time soon.

So my mid-term report is 'could do better' and certainly 'could get her butt off the chair more often'  but I still have 10lbs to lose. I''ll let you know how it goes.

How's it going for those of you who have been on the diet for a while?

Friday 22 February 2013

Brown shrimps: a 5:2 diet treat

Fellow 5:2 dieters will almost certainly have discovered prawns are a great fast day food. What you might not know is that brown shrimps even tastier.

Not that they’re cheap - a 90g packet will cost you about £3.40-something in Waitrose although they’re currently on offer in Sainsbury’s at £6 for two packs - but because they’re so small it looks like you’re getting far more than that weight suggests (great psychology).

The other advantage is of course that unlike potted shrimps they’re not coated in calorific butter which makes them only 87 calories per 100g - or 39 calories for half a pack.

I’ve scattered them over the top of a finely sliced fennel salad (with chilli, mint and lemon juice) and also added them to celery to jazz up a piece of baked fish. Incidentally celery is another wonder ingredient that contains practically no calories at all, if you can face it. Try it this way.

Baked cod with celery and brown shrimps
Serves 2 at 189 calories per portion

1/4-1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
1/2 tsp coarse salt
300g cod (300 cals)
125ml veg stock made with 1/2 tsp bouillon powder (6 cals)
10 sprays oil (10 cals)
50g brown shrimps (44 cals)
110g celery stalks and leaves (10 cals)
1 tsp fish sauce (3 cals)
white pepper
A wedge of lemon (5 cals, if that)

Heat the oven to 190°C. Grind together the chilli and salt. Season the fish on both sides with the chilli mixture and pepper.

Spray half the oil over a baking dish, place the fish in the dish and spray with the remaining oil. Bake for about 10-12 minutes until just cooked. Set aside in a warm place to rest.

Wash, de-string* and slice the celery. Put in a pan with the veg stock and fish sauce, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the shrimps.

Serve the cod on warm plates with the celery and prawns and a wedge of lemon.

De-stringing celery really helps makes it more digestible. just snap it in half and pull away the strings away from the stalk. Simple

Friday 15 February 2013

5:2 How I learned to love (or at least like) cottage cheese

Sooner or later everyone on a diet turns to cottage cheese. Everyone except me, up to now. I’ve always loathed the stuff.

But with ordinary cheese ruled out, on fast days at least, and feeling equally lukewarm about tofu it struck me that it must be possible to make it taste good.

It is.

I’ve had it three ways recently - twice for breakfast and once, just now, for lunch. And it’s tasted good every time.

The key, of course, is to make it not taste like cottage cheese - unless you’re a cottage cheese fanatic in which case you probably won’t have got beyond the first paragraph. And that is by adding low fat yoghurt which zips it up and gives it a much better texture. About half as much yoghurt as cottage cheese does the trick.

Breakfast idea no. 1 was to serve it (or rather my yoghurt/cottage cheese combo) Turkish style (above) with cucumber, tomato and a seeded flatbread with a sprinkle of za'atar (a middle-eastern blend of dried, sesame seeds and sumac) sprinkled over the top. The second time I had it with blueberries and grated lemon rind (below). I really liked this.

And the picture at the top of the post is today’s salad which is slightly more calorific than it need have been due to the sprinkle of seeds. You could leave them out or pass on the Ryvita Thin I ate with it. Or both.

Cottage cheese, spring onion + beet salad (157 calories)

60g cottage cheese (44 cals)
35g 0% Greek yoghurt or other low fat yoghurt (20 cals)
1 spring onion, trimmed and very finely sliced or a heaped tbsp of chopped chives (2 cals)
100g cooked beetroot, drained and cubed (48 cals)
1 tsp balsamic vinegar (optional - 7 cals)
25g spinach and watercress salad (6.5 cals)
1 tsp (5g) seed sprinkle (optional - 29 cals)

Weigh out and mix the cottage cheese with the yoghurt and finely sliced spring onion. Add a little water if you’re using a very thick yoghurt like Total.  Drain and cube the beetroot and mix with balsamic vinegar if you fancy it - though if you’ve deliberately bought it because it wasn’t in vinegar that might not appeal.

Place a handful of salad on a plate, top with the cottage cheese mixture, scatter over the beetroot then sprinkle with the seeds if using. Or za'atar, a pinch of cumin or more chives or spring onion.

As I said, I added a 37 calorie Ryvita thin which brought the calorie total to 193.5. And doesn't leave me much for the rest of the day. But this was pretty filling.

Are you a cottage cheese lover or loather? And if the former, how do you eat it?

Thursday 14 February 2013

5:2 A 100 calorie lunch (near as . . .)

Although I find I can skip lunch more readily than I used to when I started the 5:2 diet there are days when the hunger pangs just won’t go away - particularly if I’ve eaten lightly the night before. This salad was in response to just such an emergency.

I’d been thinking if I had one egg instead of two that wouldn’t gobble up too many of the evening’s calories. I had a tomato and a spinach, watercress and rocket salad in the fridge but the ingredient that brought them all together and which turned out to have a welcome lack of calories was capers. They gave the salad punch and the liquid from the jar provided an instant, calorie-free dressing. Result!

Egg, tomato and caper salad (107 cals)

1 egg (78 cals)
1 tomato (115g) (21 cals)
2 tsp capers (10g) 1.4 cals + some liquid from the jar
a handful of watercress or watercress, spinach and rocket salad 25g (6.5 cals)
freshly ground black pepper

Hard boil the egg. Skin and slice the tomato. (Actually you don’t have to skin it but I think it tastes better). Arrange both on a small plate thus creating the illusion of greater quantity. Place a handful of watercress alongside. Spoon over the capers and trickle some of the liquid from the jar on the tomatoes and salad leaves. Grind over some black pepper. Voilà!

Confession: I also had a 34 calorie Peter’s Yard crispbread with it which brought the total to 141 calories. But that’s still not a lot.

Thursday 7 February 2013

Spiced root vegetable soup

I know I've been banging on a lot about 5:2 lately so here's a recipe which isn't part of the diet or that you could run up after a fast day on which you've made yesterday's dal.

The only ingredient you need if you've already bought a bag of mixed carrot and swede and have the spices in your store-cupboard is an onion. Which makes it super-cheap.

Serves 4

3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
400g mixed carrot and swede, cubed (see previous post)
1 tsp cumin seeds or ground cumin
1 tsp coriander seeds or ground coriander
1/4 tsp chilli flakes or a pinch of chilli powder
1/2 tsp salt if using whole spices
1/2 level tsp ground turmeric
750ml light vegetable stock made with 1 tbsp Marigold vegetable bouillon powder
chopped fresh coriander or parsley
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok and stir in the onion and diced carrot and swede. Cook over a low heat until the vegetables start to soften*.

If you're using whole spices grind the cumin, coriander seeds and chilli flakes together with a pestle and mortar with 1/2 a teaspoon of salt then mix with the turmeric. Otherwise simply mix the ground spices then add salt and pepper to taste.

Add the spices to the vegetables, stir and continue to cook until they begin to colour. Stir in the stock and cook until the veg are completely soft.

Strain the vegetables over a bowl then place the cooked veg in a food processor or blender and whizz until smooth, adding as much of the reserved cooking liquid as you need to get a smooth purée. (You may need to do this in two batches.)

Tip the puréed vegetables back into the frying pan - or a clean saucepan if you don't mind the extra washing-up - and add back the remaining stock plus as much liquid as you need to make a smooth soup (I added another 150ml).  Reheat and adjust the seasoning.

Serve with a few chopped coriander or parsley leaves if you have some and a dash of hot sauce if you fancy it.

* You could also roast the veg if you wanted to. I did as the Aga is on all the time and it gives the soup a nice roasted flavour but it's not necessary.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

5:2: Quick red lentil and carrot dal

After 24 hours of eating pure protein* I was gagging for something veggie tonight and hit on the notion of trying to make a low calorie version of my favourite dal. I found a couple of packs of pre-prepared veg in the local Tesco (don't hate me) and that clinched it.

I'll probably tweak it a bit. The carrot made it a little on the sweet side so you could cut it down or up the lentils slightly although that will obviously make it more calorific. On the other hand if you just chopped up a carrot and some swede it might clock up fewer calories - I found the bag I'd bought had some potato in it.

Normally I use a fair bit of oil to fry the onion and spices so they weren't quite as enticingly crispy as usual. But it's not bad. Not bad at all. Particularly for a cold February night.

Serves 2-3 (500 calories total so about 200-250 cals per portion)

1 large onion (150g) (47 cals)
200g mixed carrot and swede, cubed (82 cals)
80g red lentils (265 cals)
5g chunk of fresh ginger, grated (2 cals)
1/2 level tsp turmeric or a little more if you're into turmeric. It is very healthy (4 cals)
750ml light vegetable stock made with 2 tsp Marigold vegetable bouillon powder (24 cals)
50g sliced cabbage or raw spinach leaves (16 cals)
about 5g chopped fresh coriander (2 cals)
1 tsp cumin seeds (8 cals)
1 tsp coriander seeds (5 cals)
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp coarse salt plus a little extra salt to taste
1 tsp oil (40 cals)
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely sliced (2 cals)

Halve the onion, chop half of it roughly and set the rest aside. Put the chopped onion, carrot and swede in a saucepan with the red lentils, ginger and turmeric. Pour over the stock, bring slowly to the boil, skim off any froth then simmer for 20-25 minutes until the vegetables are soft, adding a little extra water if you need it. Take off the heat and mash roughly, just to break the veg down a bit.

Blanch the cabbage briefly in boiling water. (If you're using spinach you don't need to do this.) Drain and add to the lentils along with most of the chopped coriander leaving a little for garnish.

Thinly slice the remaining onion. Grind together the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, chilli flakes and coarse salt with a pestle and mortar.

Heat the oil in a non stick frying pan and add the sliced garlic and onion. Cook over a moderate heat for 2-3 minutes then add the roughly ground spices. Continue to fry over a low heat for another couple of minutes taking care not to scorch the spices.

Serve the lentils and cabbage topped with the spicy onions and a few extra coriander leaves.

If you can't be bothered faffing around with whole spices you could always add some diluted curry paste to the dal as I did with the Spicy 5 Vegetable Stew I made recently.

*I was at a scallop dinner last night. Then ate scrambled eggs and smoked salmon for breakfast today.

Sunday 27 January 2013

5:2 diet: Cutting down portion sizes

It is, of course, not just what you eat on a fast day but how much you eat of it. 500 calories a day (or 600 if you’re a lucky male) is not a lot so every calorie counts.

Surprisingly one of the easiest ways to do that is to cut down on the recommended portion size on ready-made products. The manufacturers of big 600ml tubs of soup, for example, assume you’re going to divide the pot between you. In fact you can divide it into three - 200ml is quite enough for a bowlful, especially if you add a splash of water to thin it out. (Most ready-made soups, I find, are too thick and gloopy*)

40g of porridge oats clocks up 138 calories. Reduce that to 30g - and allow yourself a teaspoon of cinnamon sugar which at least makes it palatable - and you’ve only used up 123.

The recommended 75g helping of rice (190g cooked weight) amounts to a scary 260 calories. Weigh out 50g of cooked rice - enough to bulk out a meal - and it’s an affordable 56.

Of course it doesn’t work with everything. 20g of cheese - hardly worth having which is why I rarely bother with it on fast days - is still ridiculously calorific but you get the point . . .

*While on the subject of soup - watch out for the sugar content. Sugar in soup? Absolutely. I was perplexed as to why Waitrose own brand soups were so much more calorific than the Tideford soups that my local health food shop stocks. (Their tomato, red pepper and lentil soup, for example, is only 52 calories for 200g.) The answer seems to be that most contain sugar.

Friday 25 January 2013

Katie Stewart's apricot teabread

I was particularly sad to hear of the death of cookery writer Katie Stewart the other day as her books were a bible as I was learning to cook. (No, please don't work out how old that makes me.) Other people on Twitter clearly felt that way too so we had a bit of a Katie Stewart love-in last weekend when we all cooked a favourite recipe.

Mine was a teabread, the sort of cake that's gone out of fashion but which was both delicious and economical because you could slice it so thinly. It's also incredibly easy to make - a bit like a boiled fruit cake.

At the time I used to follow recipes religiously, terrified that even the slightest deviation would result in disaster but emboldened by having written a few cookery books of my own I realise they're only a guideline. Revisiting the recipe I cut down the sugar and ground cloves and would certainly use mixed spice instead of the three different ground spices Katie recommends if I didn't already have them in my storecupboard.

The central ingredient, apricots, has also changed in that unsulphured apricots are much more widely available than when the recipe was written and also tend to be sold in a ready-to-eat version. That admittedly makes the teabread less colourful but improves the flavour. (They were also a £1 a pack cheaper in my local health food shop.) You do however need slightly less liquid than the original because you don't need to rehydrate the apricots - I've made that adjustment in my version below.

Makes 1 large loaf

225g dried apricots, preferably unsulphured
200-250ml water depending whether your apricots are read- to-eat or not (less if they are)
150g caster sugar (unrefined caster sugar for preference)
75g butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
225g (8oz) plain flour
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 level tsp salt
1/2 level tsp ground cinnamon, 1/4 level tsp ground cloves and a pinch of nutmeg or 1 tsp mixed spice

You will also need a lightly oiled 9 x 5 x 3 inch (2lb) non-stick loaf tin. If you haven't a non-stick tin, line it with baking paper

Snip the apricots in small pieces (easiest with kitchen scissors) and place in a large saucepan. Add the water, sugar and butter and place over a low heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar then bring up to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Draw the pan off the heat and allow to cool until the hand can be comfortably held against the side of the pan. Beat in the egg.

In the meantime preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas 4. Sift the flour with the bicarbonate of soda, salt, cinnamon, ground cloves and nutmeg (or mixed spice). Tip the sifted flour mixture into the apricots and beat thoroughly.

Transfer the mixture into the loaf tin and spread evenly. Place in the centre of the oven and bake for an hour until well risen and firm. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes then tip out of the tin and cool on a wire rack. Serve sliced with butter or on its own. It also freezes well.

The recipe came from a rather charming collection called Katie Stewart Cooks which accompanied an ITV series and cost all of 40p. You might also enjoy her The Times Cookery Book and the more recent Katie Stewart's Good Food.

Saturday 19 January 2013

5:2 Easy spicy 5 vegetable stew

Looking at the arctic scene out of the window this morning I must admit the last thing I wanted to do was fast but having worked out today was the only day I could fit in over the next 3 days I reckoned I'd survive provided everything I ate was hot.

I was thinking vegetable curry but it somehow morphed into a soupy stew. A rather more calorific one than I'd intended as I hadn't checked out the calories in parsnips or Jerusalem artichokes which have almost as much as potatoes. But it still came in well within the daily allowance especially as I only had just over a third of it.

Dieting or not it's a really good frugal recipe too as you can use whatever veg you have to hand - even a small potato wouldn't be a problem though I might skip the artichokes and use swede instead if I was in danger of exceeding my daily limit.

I don't think tomato would add much unless you had a couple of squishy tomatoes you needed to use up (skin and chop them first. Leave the seeds in - they're fine). Celery or fennel would be good as would a handful of shredded greens or spinach chucked in towards the end. If it wasn't a fast day you could add chickpeas or lentils or serve it with naan. Or tweak the seasoning and turn it into a couscous.

The most significant thing though was that I didn't use any oil. The veg are just boiled which keeps the calorie count down and speeds up the recipe to about 15-20 minutes. Probably 5 minutes in a pressure cooker, which I still have to master . . .

Spicy 5 vegetable stew (376 calories)
Serves 2-3 at 125 calories a bowlful

1 medium onion (100g) 31 calories
1 medium carrot (105g) 30 calories
1 medium parsnip (105g) 69 calories
1 medium to large turnip (150g) 47 calories
4 Jerusalem artichokes (145g) 105 calories
1 tbsp korma curry paste (25g) 55 calories
750ml hot vegetable stock made with 1tbsp Marigold vegetable bouillon powder - 36 calories
A handful of chopped coriander leaves (10g) 3 calories
Salt and pepper

Peel and cut up the veg into chunky pieces. (Do the artichokes last as they discolour.) Put them in a saucepan or casserole, cover them with the hot stock and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer until the veg are almost tender. Some will cook faster than others - it doesn't matter. You can mush them up to thicken the stew.

Weigh out the curry paste, mix it in a bowl with 2 tbsp of the stock you've cooked the veg in and add it back to the pan. Reheat and simmer until the veg are fully cooked (another few minutes). Add the chopped coriander and season to taste. That's it!

PS A less successful experiment was unsweetened porridge made entirely with water and a sprinkling of cinnamon. I know the Scots eat it that way (except for the cinnamon) but to me it tasted like soggy oat-flavoured cardboard. I think next time I'd have to include a teaspoon of sugar which would be only 16 calories. Not a disaster.

Sunday 13 January 2013

A couple of great frugal blogs

I don't want you to think I've entirely forgotten the main point of this blog which is about eating frugally, not just fasting on the 5:2. And I've recently discovered a couple of blogs that do that job incredibly well.

One is A Girl called Jack written by a single mum who feeds herself and her son on £10 a week. Ten pounds! It's also far more than a food blog but covers politics, volunteering and other aspects of life in Southend. Her latest post is on a delicious-sounding fig, rosemary and lemon bread she made for 26p. And there's a great post about how the price of supermarket basics is sneaking up.

The other is written by a guy who calls himself The Skint Foodie which is more food-focused but is particularly interesting in that he's used the blog to overcome his mental health issues, an admission he makes in this admirably frank post.

It's also beautifully written - how's this for a line? "I turned love into hate, respect into pity, affection into disdain."

And he ends up. "At the heart of the concept of recovery in mental health is the idea that for anyone to have any kind of meaningful life these three elements must be present: hope, control and opportunity. If you're an alcoholic mentalist on the dole those things tend to be in short supply. Writing this blog and volunteering have, in the last year, given me a glimpse of all three."


PS He also has admirable taste. There are many good, simple recipes on the blog like this Indian takeaway substitute.

Friday 11 January 2013

What to drink on the 5:2 diet

Given that you’ve only got 500 calories to play with it seems a bit of a waste squandering a quarter of them on a glass of wine - or any alcoholic drink. But the diet is all about choice so if that’s your special treat you might want to know exactly how much your favourite tipple will set you back.

The good news is that a 125ml glass of champagne only tots up 95 calories but if you’ve a taste for full-bodied South American reds or shiraz at, say, 14.5% and you drink a ‘normal’ 175ml glass of it, that’s 140 calories gone*. A double whisky is 122 calories. Add a non-diet mixer and that’s 178 calories. Makes you realise where all those excess pounds come from, eh?

I don’t bother with alcohol at all when I’m fasting but a food writer friend who saves up her calories to enjoy in the evening likes a gin and diet tonic. A single measure of a 37.5% gin like Gordon’s with a low cal tonic comes to just 54 calories - almost exactly the same as the square of dark chocolate I treat myself to if I have calories to spare. Horses for courses.

Another option is a small dry fino sherry - if you can stick to 50ml (a small glass makes that seem more) it’s only 49 calories a glass.

It’s when it comes to non-alcoholic options that it gets tricky. Most fruit juices and soft drinks are in fact quite high in calories. 200ml of Copella apple juice for example adds up to 92 calories. However tomato juice is roughly half that at 44 calories per 200ml. Add a dash of Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco or a pinch of celery salt and a slice of lemon and you’ve got yourself a non alcoholic cocktail (a Virgin Mary) that doesn’t make you stand out in a crowd.

I’m not mad about diet mixers except for the Fever-tree range which, although they’re higher in calories than, say, Schweppes, don’t have that slightly metallic taste you get from most low cal mixers. They do a Naturally Light Tonic Water (20.5 cals per 100ml) and a Naturally Light Ginger Beer (24.8 calories per 100ml). With ice, 150ml gives you a decent drink

Tea has been my lifeline during the 5:2 diet and, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been exploring different loose leaf teas at no calorie gain at all - provided you don’t take milk or sugar. I don't take sugar, except occasionally in mint tea and have pretty well weaned myself off milk over the last six weeks. Herbal infusions are also calorie free. I particularly like a fennel infusion with a slice of lemon.

Milk is even more of a factor when it comes to coffee. If you take it black, which I invariably do on a fast day, a small black coffee is just 2 calories though a black Americano which I often drink when I’m out I was rather surprised to find was 15 according to myfitnesspal.com. And a double espresso is 10.

An instant coffee with skimmed milk (bleugh) will set you back 6 but a large latte can mount up to 180-190, over a third of your daily allowance. So no visits to Starbucks on a fast day - or on any other day so far as I’m concerned.

PS the Bristol-based producer of an interesting Japanese-style soft drink called Koji picked up on this post and offered to drop a couple of bottles round. There are two flavours, Lemon and Ginger, which would do duty for white wine and Mandarin and Cranberry which looks much like a rosé. I find the latter too sweet and too obviously orangey though I can imagine it going with spicy food like a curry. However the slightly herby lemon and ginger is really rather delicious - so much so that I demolished the rest of the (330ml) bottle. 

The best thing about them though is that they're only 49 calories a bottle which would make a 165ml  glassful just 25 calories. Perfect for those who like a drink at the end of the working day.

At the moment you can mainly find them in Bristol shops, cafés and restaurants (Chandos Deli apparently stocks them) but they've just delivered to a number of London wholesalers so you should be able to find them there. And they're also planning to sell them online. Check out their website kojidrinks.com for updates on stockists

*The unit calculator on drinkaware.co.uk is particularly helpful for working out the calorie count of different glasses of wine depending on their alcoholic strength.

Image © Bratwustle - Fotolia.com