My Challenge: Cook all new recipes throughout January

Hello everyone! Congratulations on making it through January, it’s been a tough one as everyone I know seems to have been ill this month, myself included, but I hope you’re all looking forward to February and to spring making an appearance very soon :)

I haven’t really mentioned this before but I LOVE cooking! I have always loved food, but since moving in with George- a year ago today!- I have gained a real passion for cooking, as I never like to use processed sauces or stick-in-the-oven food wherever possible. So, at the start of January I set myself a challenge- to cook a new recipe for every evening meal for the whole month. Being in a bit of a non-routine from waitressing, interning, and optical assistant-ing meant that I was cooking the same things, or not really cooking much at all if I was working that night. I wanted to find some new favourites through doing this little experiment, so that I can expand my cooking repertoire for the future, and I am pleased to say it has worked! I love cooking, but as George so kindly pointed out the other night, this time last year my food was ‘f@%*ing horrible’ (he’s so complimentary). However, I am pleased to say that a year of practice his opinion has changed from ‘f@%*ing horrible’ to ‘spot-on!’ He thoroughly enjoyed all of these meals, and said I have really improved. I would also like to point out that I am completely used to his banter and did not take any offence to his previous comments, and he is very appreciative of how much cooking I do, as long as he washes up! I have 10 new recipes that I would like to share with you all, most of which I found on Pinterest. You can view my board here for some further inspiration! I’ll point out now that I very rarely cook recipes that contain more than 500 calories, and always try and incorporate some veg into them when I can. Most of these apply to this rule, and you can easily incorporate extra vegetables into any of these, as I have explained below. All recipes are credited, none of the pictures are my own as it’s too stressful cooking a new recipe for the first time whilst photographing it- plus the lighting in my kitchen is terrible!

Bacon Gnocchi

Baked Gnocchi with Tomato and Mozzarella via Simply Delicious

I love a good hearty Italian dish, but my first attempt at cooking gnocchi (even from a packet!) was abysmal as it turned out far too soggy. I was dubious about cooking this because of my previous failure, but it turned out really well! I didn’t use mozzarella on top because I wanted to use what I already had in, so I used cheddar cheese to top the dish before it went in the oven. It was so yummy, I don’t know what it is about gnocchi that is just so good! There’s lots of tomatoes in the dish which ups the veg, but you could also add additional tomatoes to make it go further as it only just served 2 of us over 2 nights, and maybe even some red pepper for a bit of sweetness. I served it with a large handful of spinach on the side. The smoked paprika gives the dish a beautiful taste, as I’ve not used this ingredient before.

My rating: 9/10

lemon-chicken-asparagus-pasta1

Lemon Chicken Asparagus Pasta via Simply Delicious

This is definitely more of a summery dish than a wintery one, but it still tasted delicious. I love asparagus, but if it’s not your thing you could use green beans, peas, courgette or another favourite green veg. I added a handful of green beans because I didn’t have as much asparagus as the recipe says, and it was nice to have a bit of variety in there. George isn’t a fan of anything lemony when it comes to savoury dishes, so I didn’t add the lemon zest and only used the juice. It was very garlic-y, which I love, but maybe use just one garlic clove if you’re not as much of a fan, as it does take away from the delicate lemon flavour. I used wholegrain tagliatelle for the pasta, as I’m trying to cut out white pasta, rice and bread. I also don’t like using cream in my cooking because of the saturated fat, so I opted for reduced fat creme fraiche and a splash of milk, and it tasted great! Unfortunately, there was only enough for 3 portions and not 4, despite using 4 average-sized chicken breasts and a decent amount of pasta. I would increase the quantity of veg to make it go further without adding a lot of extra calories.

My rating: 7/10

Cajun Chicken Alfredo

Cajun Chicken Alfredo via The Wholesome Dish

This dish seemed so indulgent, but because it doesn’t use cream or a heap of cheese like a original versions, it is almost guilt-free! Again, I used wholegrain tagliatelle, so even less guilt afterwards. The flavours of the cajun seasoning and the garlic are amongst my favourites- I would be tempted to add more cajun seasoning next time I make this. There’s no veg in the recipe, but you could add asparagus to the recipe like the previous one, or serve with salad on the side (we always have a big bag on spinach in the fridge because we both love it with any meal). A tip with this one: really watch the milk doesn’t over-boil as I had to constantly watch it once the lid was on the pan. The sauce took a while to thicken, but George blamed this on the fact that I didn’t simmer it on a high enough heat, which was because the milk kept bubbling up! Might try creme fraiche next time, as this seemed to thicken really well with the Lemon Asparagus Chicken pasta. We had to spread this pretty thinly to cover two days for both of us, so would do the same as above and add more veg to bulk it out.

My rating: 8/10

Sausage and Greens pasta

Penne Pasta, Sausage and Greens via Budget Bytes

This recipe had the potential to be really nice, healthy and simple. Unfortunately, and this was not George’s fault at all, he cooked it and added some leftover pulp from a vegetable juice we made. This had beetroot, carrots and celery in, amongst other things, and we thought it would help pad out the dish and make it super healthy. It did, but it also made it super gross. The beetroot gave it a bloody red colour which kind of freaked me out as it wasn’t like a normal tomato-red, and the pulp made the dish really bland. I saved it a bit when I reheated it the next day, by adding red wine, worcester sauce and every seasoning in my cupboard! This made it more edible, but I was completely put off. I used normal English sausages as Italian sausage isn’t as common here, and I don’t think this helped with the blandness- I would maybe add some chorizo in next time and add more seasoning to the sauce originally. The red wine worked really nicely, and there’s already plenty of veg so it’s a nice healthy dish!

My rating: 4/10 (for my version- will definitely give this another chance)

Chicken-Avocado-Buritos-3

Chicken Avocado Burritos via OMG Chocolate Desserts

This one was George’s favourite meal, and I have to admit they were pretty yummy! I didn’t use cilantro as I’ve never come across it in a UK supermarket (although I am terrible at finding things), but I did add brown rice cooked with chopped red and yellow peppers to replace it and make the mixture go further. I oven cooked the chicken breasts the night before, seasoned with paprika, salt and pepper, then I shredded the chicken and wrapped it in foil to allow the flavours to permeate the meat. I added soured cream, shredded iceberg lettuce and grated cheddar to the burritos, and mine were so full on both nights I had to have it open on the plate! George made two smaller ones for himself, and wrapped them like proper burritos. I love avocado anything, so this one is a complete winner for me as well.

My rating: 9/10

Bacon-and-Spinach-Pasta-with-Parmesan-skillet

Bacon, Spinach and Parmesan Pasta via Budget Bytes

This recipe has revolutionised my pasta experience! By using chicken stock to cook the pasta, it gives it an amazing flavour and the whole dish just tastes divine. It’s really simple, which means you can add pretty much anything to it. A bit of creme fraiche to make a creamy sauce? Why not! Add some peas? Go for it! This was probably my favourite, and one of the dishes I can see myself making more regularly because it’s so simple and tasty.

My rating: 10/10

Chicken-Arrabbiata-front

Chicken Arrabbiata via Budget Bytes

Well, I made this one just last night and it nearly blew my head off! It looked delicious while it was cooking, but I added a bit too much chilli and it drowned out the rest of the lovely flavours. Because it’s an American recipe, I didn’t know where to find ‘crushed red pepper,’ so I chopped a whole red chilli pepper at first, which didn’t seem like enough. I added around 3/4 of another pepper, which was where I went wrong! I would just recommend using one chilli pepper or, if you’re in the states, using crushed red pepper is probably the way to go.  I’ll be giving this another try, as it had the potential to be really delicious, and the use of chicken thighs meant we had plenty left over to eat tonight- think I’ll be spooning in some yogurt or something to cool it down though!

My rating: 8/10 (this will probably go up once I’ve cooked it again!)

Chicken-Tarrogan

Chicken Tarragon from my Good Housekeeping Cookery Book: The Cook’s Classic Companion (available here) and also online here

My grandma bought me this cookery book for Christmas, which is what inspired me to start cooking more different things. This recipe caught my eye, and ended up being another favourite. It definitely made me feel very chef-like, using white wine to cook with and making such a sophisticated dish! I think it would be good to make for a dinner party, and it tasted really good with served with rice, and would be equally good with pasta. What surprised me is how creamy it is, when it’s actually pretty low in calories!

My rating: 9/10

chicken-tikka-masala

Chicken Tikka Masala from my Good Housekeeping Cookery Book: The Cook’s Classic Companion (available here) and also online here

I hadn’t made a curry in a while when I made this, and it was actually my first January recipe! It was truly delicious, and I was really quite impressed with myself after I tasted it- I don’t normally big myself up, but I think it tasted just as good or better than a ready-made, or restaurant curry. Although curry paste is used in the recipe, to be honest I think it is difficult to make a curry from total scratch unless you really know what you’re doing. This was delicious, but not spicy at all as the yogurt flavour comes through, which I love. George isn’t as keen on yogurt-y sauces, but he still thoroughly enjoyed it!

My rating: 9/10

chicken casserole

Chicken Casserole (first, I was going to make the one from Jamie’s Ministry of Food cookbook by Jamie Oliver, available here, but I wanted to use up the white wine from the Chicken Tarragon so I adapted it and made one similar to this one here)

I hadn’t made a proper casserole before, but this one turned out really well! The recipe from the cookbook I had called for tomatoes in the chicken casserole, after giving you the veggies to use as a base, but I wanted a lighter sauce and I’d got a taste for cooking with white wine! Next time, I’m going to use chicken thighs- they’re a Godsend as they’re so much cheaper than chicken breast and work really well in dishes like this. I used them for the first time in the Chicken Arrabbiata, even though I was sceptical about using anything other than breast meat, but was pleasantly surprised at how good they tasted.

spanish-omelette

Spanish Omelette from my Good Housekeeping Cookery Book: The Cook’s Classic Companion (available here) and also online here

I have made a Spanish Omelette before, but not for a while. Although they do taste pretty good, and make a great lunchtime option as well as dinner, I found this one pretty frustrating to make. They just take forever to cook, and it’s difficult to judge the cooking times on the hob and under the grill, as you don’t want the omelette to start burning underneath, but if you don’t cook it for long enough then it stays runny in the middle. It tasted good with the addition of crispy bacon and a big handful of spinach, but I won’t be making another for a while unless I feel like spending a couple of hours boiling potatoes and watching the omelette pan like a hawk! The good thing about Spanish Omelettes is that you can add loads of ingredients to the mixture, like peppers, cheese, wilted spinach- pretty much anything you like!

I found this really helpful conversion chart from Simply Delicious, so I can interpret the American measurements used in almost all the recipes I find on Pinterest! Take a look at it here, or pin it from my board mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Do you like to cook? Have you got any favourite recipes? I’m going to carry on cooking new things, so any recommendations would be great!

  • Wow, looks really delicious! I love cooking too :)

  • Wanna try some of your recipes! :)

    • Thanks Aaron! Love the look of the recipes on your blog :) the blogs I found the recipes from are all great inspiration :)

      • Thanks Emma! I will let you know when I try some of them! :)

  • Oh wow these all look delicious! Definitely saving this post to help me with my own recipe challenge. Also, just so you know cilantro is just what we call coriander :) it’s a weird one thats different in the states for some reason – hope this helps!

    sophiecliff.wordpress.com

    • That’s great, glad you like the look of them! Hope the tips will help you make them better than I did haha :) ahh that’s great thank you! me and my boyfriend aren’t fans of coriander anyway so it’s probably best I left it out!

  • Oh wow I absolutely love this idea! My boyfriend and I try to cook every night too since moving in together, it’s a nice way of getting ‘us time’ after work. I really love this idea and straight after this post I’m going to get my cookbooks out and make a list of recipes. It’ll definitely help me with my resolution of eating new food. xx

    Rebecca
    rebeccamariee.blogspot.com

    • That’s great Rebecca! I’m glad you’ve been inspired :) it is a great thing to do, making food from scratch is so satisfying too! Me and my boyfriend can’t cook together we get too annoyed with each other haha, it’s great that you two can! Happy cooking :) xxx

  • this all looks so good, makes me wish i was better at cooking!

    • don’t worry danielle, I was rubbish this time last year- it just takes practice!

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