I'm not a big fan of the word diet, going on a diet sounds like a short term solution for a problem I often find myself in. Since Christmas, on finding myself at the heaviest weight I've ever known, I decided to take a good look at what I was eating with the intention of changing my lifestyle (again).
I've managed to lose weight before with the help of the Hairy Biker's Hairy Dieters cookbooks, but you can only cook the same meals so many times before you start falling into bad cooking habits (again). Thankfully Dannii Martin's book, “Hungry, Healthy, Happy” follows the ethos that being healthy and potentially losing weight can only be achieved with a lifestyle change - watching what you eat while still eating proper nutritious meals.
Like the Hairy Dieters, Dannii has been there. She has been at a weight that started to have health implications and then when trying to find a solution also found herself in a situation where she lost too much weight. She had to discover a sensible way of eating and exercising that would maintain a weight that worked for her.
Dannii's introduction, story and advice at the beginning of the book is open and honest, she admits to trying fad diets and remembers feeling sadness when struggling to use toilet cubicles, or desperately trying to wrap a towel around herself when it was just too small. For anyone that has struggled with their weight, Dannii is someone you can easily relate to.
She points out very early on that her weight loss was simple, "I just ate less, I ate healthier, and I started moving more", but then more importantly adds, "...but don't confuse simple with easy". This is so reassuring; so many people only ever say the first part of that statement without realising that it can make you feel like a sack of s@*t, (after all it’s not like the first part of that sentence isn’t obvious to heavier people too).
There are over 100 recipes including breakfasts, snacks, lunches, main meals, side dishes, desserts and drinks divided into seven chapters (she also suggests a two week meal plan). There are a wonderful range of foods including everyday classics like macaroni and cheese, bolognese, moussaka, and fish pie. They are filling foods with the emphasis on making healthier versions of meals we are already eating, for example, the macaroni cheese is bulked out with cauliflower, while the bolognese sits on a bed of courgetti instead of spaghetti.
There are great colour photos of all of the meals which really pleases me. I don't comprehend why some recipe books still don't include photos of a finished recipe, I like to see what it is I’m trying to make; I don't think I've ever used a recipe without a finished photograph.
As expected each recipe lists ingredients and has an easy to follow numbered method. We are also told how many people it serves and whether it happens to be vegetarian/vegan/gluten free/dairy free. Most importantly it gives you a nutritional breakdown of the food per a serving, you are given the amount of energy, fat, carbohydrates, protein, fibre and sodium. I honestly can't understand why all recipe books don't include this information. It is no wonder that so many of us are overeating, we don't know what we are eating, and that is just a nice excuse to delude ourselves! By being given nutritional information per a serving I can make a logical decision on whether I should have dessert or not. I'm actually put off from using many of my cookbooks because I don't know how calorific any of the meals are. It wouldn’t even matter if a meal I decided to make was fat and calorie heavy, at least I could balance it out with a sensible low fat/calorie lunch that day. Anyway, I digress, it’s fair to say that I appreciate the nutritional information that is included.
I don't always find the time to try recipes from the books I'm reviewing, but with this one I bookmarked so many pages it seemed a shame not to do so. So far I have made the chicken tikka masala, the ginger nut biscuits and a cross between the chocolate milkshake and the banana and peanut butter smoothie (a chocolate, banana and peanut butter milkshake).
I found the tikka masala very tasty. I found grilling the marinaded chicken on skewers before adding it to the sauce really added to the texture and flavour. I did add a little extra tomato purée for my own personal taste, just to give it a little extra tomatoey pop, but both my husband and I were surprised by how much we enjoyed this meal (we’ve not had much luck with homemade curries) and we'd happily make it again.
The ginger nuts were interesting. Usually when I bake anything using ground ginger I double the quantity in the recipe because I really like to be able to taste it, however on this occasion I considered two tablespoons to be enough. I'm not sure if it is a typo, as these little biscuits really do carry some heat but I still really enjoyed them. They had a lovely nutty texture and weren't too sweet (I had added a little extra maple syrup to help the dough stick as I don't have a food processor so the mixture was courser than it should have been), and I found the heat just on the right side of pleasurable, (I imagine some people would definitely want to adjust the quantity of the ginger).
As for the milkshake I'm not sure you can really go far wrong as long as you use a ripe banana. It makes a delicious breakfast, or maybe an afternoon snack, (when you get the munchies but are trying to hold off until your evening meal). I'd drink one every day if my bananas were ripe enough and I'd remembered to slice some up and put them in the freezer.
I love how accessible these recipes are. I've recently taken an interest in vegan and vegetarian recipe books in order to cut down on how much meat I eat, but it often feels like I need a whole new store cupboard made up of a dozen different types of flour, nuts and pasta in order to make just one meal. It is so nice to be able to flick through a bunch of recipes and think ‘yes I can make that’ without having to log on to Amazon and place an order first.
I wouldn't call this a coffee-table book, it isn't designer beautiful, but it is neatly laid out; it has clear images and is easy to follow. It isn't supposed to be dreamily flicked through while you think ‘oh that looks delightful I'll make it one day’, it is instead a real workhorse, a practical book that is supposed to live in the kitchen and be used. I've really enjoyed the recipes I've tried so far and I look forward to trying more!
Recipes and Images extracted from Hungry Healthy Happy by Dannii Martin
Photography by Jacqui Melville
Published by Jacqui Small