Joe Wicks continues to prove that he is so much more than just a curly-haired heartthrob with a Greek god bod. And good on him.
His stats are pretty impressive: creator of the UK’s biggest online tailored weight-loss programme (The Body Coach’s 90 day Shift, Shape & Sustain plan), over two million books sold in the UK, a number one fitness DVD that’s sold over 100,000 copies (and counting), the star of his own Channel 4 series, and the best-selling non-fiction author of 2016.
Oh, and he’s also also the fifth most influential fitness person in the world according to Forbes. Not bad for a guy who rose to fame on Instagram for posting 15-second videos of himself making ‘lean’, 15-minute meals at home.
Now, The Body Coach has only gone and unleashed another cracking culinary read on the world – which he showcased to flocks of swooning fans (yes I was one of them) at a meet-and-greet at WHSmith in intu Metrocentre.
I sat down with the culinary hunk – who is just as lean, lovely and ridiculously down-to-earth in person as he is on TV and Instagram – for a behind-the-scenes natter about the new read.
Unlike his previous ‘Lean in 15’ releases – three chart-topping books centred around healthy, pre and post-gym grub and packed with no-nonsense nutrition advice and fat-busting workouts – Cooking For Family & Friends is a little more laid-back, this time focusing entirely on wholesome, good-for-the-soul food.
Illustrated with photos of Joe’s real family and friends, such as his brother Nikki, best mate Ted and nephew Oscar, and blessed with one or two hand-me-down recipes, such as his Nanny Kath’s beef stew and his Italian grandmother’s much-loved spaghetti bolognese, it’s a feel-good, fuss-free read that just gets tastier and tastier the more you dive in – perfect for home cooks.
The recipes (there are over 100 to try) lend themselves to all sorts of occasions and social gatherings, from barbeques and dinner parties to mid-week and weekend get-togethers, but, as you’d expect from Joe, won’t throw waistline-watchers off track.
You’ll discover that the meals are marked as either ‘reduced carb’ or ‘post-workout’, making it easy-peasy for dedicated gym-goers and healthy-eaters to decide what to try and when. Things like grilled prawn and halloumi salad and roast chicken with celeriac mash and bacon greens, and real crowd-pleasers like American-style blueberry pancakes and roast chicken and BBQ ribs with dirty corn.
For those I-just-need-sugar moments, there are a couple of naughty desserts thrown into the mix, too, like chocolate fondant and sticky toffee pudding. Because, as Joe believes, it’s all about balance – and food is there to be enjoyed.
“The question I get asked the most from my followers is, ‘how can I can hang out with friends, or go to a party, and still stick to a healthy diet?’, so I decided to create a ton of tasty, easy-to-follow recipes that prove it can be done.
“This book encourages people to eat and socialise with the people they love without the guilt; the meals are proof that you can still eat and enjoy delicious food while remaining lean and healthy.”
Another neat thing about the book is that it’s also divided into handy chapters, such as starters and sides, mains, smoothies and sweet treats, providing home cooks with heaps of inspiration – ideal if you’re the one in charge of hosting a dinner party, cooking a three-courser for the other half, or cooking up brunch for your chums.
The only hard part, I’ve found, is deciding which recipes are your favourites. There are many stand-outs, but the ones I’ve picked out are particular winners; comforting, warming and nutritious. Perfect for this time of year. Try them – see below!
CHICKEN & LEEK GNOCCI BAKE >>
(Prep: 15 mins, cook: 45 mins)
“Gnocchi is becoming my new favourite carb source. I can’t work out if it’s a potato or a pasta, but I don’t care because it tastes so good. The kids and adults will all enjoy this one.”
500g fresh gnocchi
100g kale, hard stalks removed
1 chicken stock cube
1/2 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp butter
1 onion, diced
2 leeks, cut into 5mm rounds
500g skinless chicken breast, cut into 3cm chunks
200g mushrooms, brushed clean and roughly sliced
25g plain flour
1/2 tsp English mustard powder
25g parmesan, grated
1/2 bunch of parsley, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
3 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
steamed vegetables, to serve (optional)
23 x 18cm baking dish
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil and preheat your oven to 190ºC (fan 170℃/gas mark 5).
When the water is boiling, drop in the gnocchi and cook for two minutes, then add the kale and cook for a further two minutes.
Use a mug to scoop out 300ml of the cooking liquid. Add the chicken stock cube into the mug, stir, and set aside. Drain the gnocchi and kale.
While the gnocchi is cooking, melt the coconut oil and butter in a large frying pan over a medium to high heat. When hot, add the chopped onion and leeks and fry for about three minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften. Crank up the heat to maximum and add both the chicken and mushrooms to the pan. Stir-fry for a few minutes or until the meat takes on a little colour.
Reduce the heat to just below medium and stir in the flour. Stir-fry for one minute, then gradually start adding the stock. Stir in a quarter of the liquid at a time to avoid lumps.
When all of the liquid has been added, bring to the boil, then take the pan off the heat and stir in the mustard powder, parmesan and chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
Tip the drained gnocchi and kale into the pan and gently stir everything together. Tip the mixture into a baking dish, sprinkle the breadcrumbs all over the top and then slide it into the oven.
Bake for 20 minutes or until the breadcrumbs are golden.
Remove the dish from the oven and serve on its own or with a big bowl of steamed vegetables.