It all began when I got on the scales last week and had to finally admit that I've put on weight. No, it wasn't water retention. No, not that time of the month either. I was definitely not bloated, or puffy, or heavy. Just, put simply, fatter. I had been feeling it in my jeans for a few weeks, and now there was no avoiding the facts. Food intake needed to be curtailed. I did not half starve myself for six months only to fall off the wagon a year later and put it all back on again, dammit! So naturally, while archiewood was on his way to see me for our regular weekly jazz date, I was scouring the supermarket shelves for something that would be quick, easy and above all low-cal.

It all started with a Carbonara. Except they didn't have any reduced fat bacon, and even though I could have trimmed the fat off of some regular bacon, I was being lazy, so that was out. The Debutante has a great recipe for a smoked salmon based Carbonara-type dish, which would have been great if I'd been certain archiewood wasn't one of those strange people who despise fish in all its forms (they don't know what they're missing!). But I wasn't sure, so that was better left for another time. What to do?

Chicken! Chicken is the dieter's friend, and it just so happens that there was diced organic chicken breast at a discount in the shop that day, so chicken it was going to be. Having said that though, chicken breast is a bit, well, bland frankly - so how to spice it up? Here is what I did:

I took:

  • Two skinless chicken breast fillets, diced
  • 1 teaspoon English mustard
  • 50gr dried Porcini mushrooms
  • 2 Cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 150gr low fat cream cheese (5% or less)
  • 2/3 cup skimmed milk
  • Salt and pepper aplenty
  • A little nutmeg, freshly grated (the pre-ground stuff is about as useful as powdered brown watercolour paint)

And then I:

  1. Soaked the mushrooms in 1/2 a cup of boiling water for about 20 minutes. While those were soaking, I put the chicken pieces in a bowl, seasoned them well and mixed in the mustard until they were all fairly covered.

  2. Then I sat down and twiddled my thumbs for a bit 'cause archiewood was stuck in traffic.

  3. In due course I heated up the oil in a deep thick bottomed pan and fried the garlic slices for about 3 minutes. Then I added the chicken and fried that for a bit, turning it a little so it was sealed on all sides.

  4. When the chicken pieces were all white and sealed, I drained and squeezed the mushrooms, chopped them finely and added them to the pan. Remember to always reserve the liquid when you reconsitute dried Porcini! In that went after a couple of minutes, and the whole thing was left to simmer for about 5-7 more minutes until the water had boiled off and only the fungoid goodness was left behind.

  5. Meanwhile, I put the cheese and milk in a bowl and whisked vigorously to create a cream-like liquid (only not nearly as lardy, natch). When almost all of the juices in the pan had cooked off, I added the creamy mixture and brought the whole thing back up to a gentle simmer, checking and adjusting the seasoning as I went. Most crucially, I bunged in a good 10 grates of nutmeg. Mmm, nutmeg.

  6. A little before I did that, I'd been thinking to myself that this would go well with rice, which prompted me to have the existential panic in the title of this node. I've gone and checked since though, and beef Stroganoff involves, well, beef obviously, but also soured cream and button mushrooms and no mustard or nutmeg. Mmm, nutmeg.

  7. So anyway, in the event I boiled up about 300gr of spaghetti till it was three quarters of the way cooked (bite one - it's the only way to tell), drained and rinsed it, shook the hell out of it to get the water off and added it to the pot with the sauce in. A good mix, bring it up to the simmer again, and off it goes onto waiting plates and into expectant gullets.

We were both starving, so I made loads. This would definitely do for 3 people, 4 if you include a starter and some salad. And of course if you're not on a diet, this can still be lovely, with real cream instead of my version and with maybe a splash of white wine added just before the mushroom soaking liquid. And loads of Parmesan cheese on top. Mmm, cheese...

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