I did a “New Recipes January challenge” – Here’s how it went (and what I cooked)

January is long, cold and dark (at least in the northern hemisphere), but it is also the start of a new year and I think it is important to find ways to make the month more enjoyable and fun.

This is why I am always hesitant to do any sort of January challenge that can potentially become an extra source of stress.

This year, however, I decided that I wanted to challenge myself in the kitchen. After some thinking, I came up with what I called the “New Recipes January Challenge“, which I was actually looking forward to take on.

These were the (self-imposed) rules:

  • Each time I cook a main meal, it will have to be a recipe that I haven’t tried before.
  • At least one fourth of the recipes should be vegetarian.
  • No more than one fourth of the recipes could include red meat.

Taking into account that sometimes I cook once for two or three days, sometimes I raid the leftovers and sometimes I eat out, I ended up trying sixteen new recipes, some of which I will keep on my speed dial.

One thing that turned out to be a massive source of motivation, and sometimes inspiration, was to share the cooking process on my Insta-stories (here’s where I shamelessly invite you to follow me at @gabyguedez).

Below, most the recipes I followed (there were two that I forgot to photograph because they were made in a rush), the end product (all photos are my own) and my notes, in case anyone wishes to add any new tricks to their repertoire.

Asian chicken salad

I tried this salad and felt it was tasty, but something was missing. After I decided to put it inside of a soft tortilla, and have it as a taco instead, the world was good again.

It was my first time cooking with fish sauce and my feelings about it can be summarised in the wise words of Rihanna: Where have you been? ♪ All my life, all my life ♪ Where have you been, all my life?

Find it at bbcgoodfood.com

Shiitake and grilled asparagus tacos

This was one of my favourite recipes, it’s delicious and full of veggies.

The original recipe was complicated and very time consuming, so I would go back to these ingredients (which I never though would go so well together!), but simplying the steps and possibly by cooking everything on the same pan (yes, I’m lazy like that).

Find it at goodhousekeeping.com

Vitality chicken salad with avocado dressing

Despite the silly name, I really liked this. It reminded me to a Venezuelan dish called Reina Pepiada but with lettuce instead of cornbread as a vehicle, and with the extra crunch of the cucumber and the green beans.

Find it at bbcgoodfood.com

Winter salad

I completely underestimated how much food there is inside of a cabbage, so I ended up having this salad two days in a row, then in sandwiches, then as a side with other meals.

It is cheap, tasty and filling. Chopping everything was a bit of a nightmare, but you can’t win them all.

Find it at jamieoliver.com

BBQ rainbow beef salad

I wish this hadn’t been so good because it’s such a pain to make. You see, the “rainbow” is comprised of colourful veggies, all chopped differently in the most inconvenient way.

I liked it so much I might prepare it again one day, but ufortunately, it’s not making the cut for the frequent rotation.

Find it at bbcgoodfood.com

Steak, roasted peppers and pearl barley

I had never cooked with pearl barley, even tough it’s an ingredient I really enjoy, so that on its own was a win.

The recipe itself was not too special, but it was easy, tasty and it reheated very well… In fact it’s one of those meals that are better the next day, which is great for work lunchboxes.

Find it at bbcgoodfood.com

Healthy tuna lettuce wraps

This time I tweaked things a little bit and used this recipe as the base for a salad instead of wraps.

Also, I didn’t realised it called for fresh tuna until the tin was open, so my result is a bit far from the original plan but… oh well #ShrugEmoji. It was the quickest recipe I made this month so my variation is actually a keeper.

Find it at bbcgoodfood.com

Niçoise Salad

I’ve had Niçoise Salad many times, but never homemade. It’s one of those dishes that you see in tourist traps and ready-meal sections of the supermarket, but the fact that it’s been done ad infinitum doesn’t mean it’s not a nice dish.

It was not the highlight of my month, but it surpassed expectations.

Find it at goodhousekeeping.com

Chicken and plum salad

I loved this one. It was insanely easy to make and the combination of chicken, plums and toasted almonds was just lovely.

I am not a dill person so I changed it for cinnamon, and no regrets.

Find it at goodhousekeeping.com

Chickpea & roasted pepper salad

Only after I was about to start cooking, I realised this was a side salad and not really main-meal-material, so I decided to bulk it up with chunks of Feta cheese and spinach.

It’s 100% a keeper, I could eat this once a week and not get bored (specially since it’s so easy, cheap and travels so well). I can picture this as a picnic staple.

Find it at bbcgoodfood.com

Super spinach pancakes

These were a revelation. I though they were going to be a mess to make and a pain to reheat, but I was proved wrong. I only wish I had taken a better photo, but now at least I’ve a reason to make them again!

These savoury pancakes were delicious and ideal for a homemade brunch. They do take a bit of time, but you can make a large batch and keep them for a couple of days for healthy breakfasts.

Find it at jamieoliver.com

Salmon and mango ceviche

Until the day I made this, I had an irrational fear about using salmon to make ceviche because I had only learned how to make it with delicate-flavoured white fish, and salmon’s taste is quite distinctive.

I think this was my favourite recipe of them all. And I loved how the mango and the salmon combined into this juicy, colourful dish that I need more of.

Find it at myrecipes.com

Fresh salmon with Thai noodle salad

This was the biggest disapointment: It took forever to make, even longer to clean after, and the result was not even that delicious (the fact that I messed up the noodles and overcooked all the greens was possibly the reason).

Attempting to mak this brought me actual anxiety. Would I try again? Nope.

Find it at bbcgoodfood.com

Quick bean & chorizo chilli

A no-nonsense dish that was basically assamblying tinned food and letting heat do its job.

Not one to make if you’re avoiding processed ingredients, but a fool-proof, tasty, flexitarian (it had only about a teaspoon of chorizo bits per portion) lunch for when you can’t be bothered but still need to eat.

Find it at bbcgoodfood.com

Aubergine involtini

This vegetarian Italian starter (which I can easily have as a main) didn’t come from the Internet, but from a real-life cooking class I took with a friend at Pinocchio Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar in Temple Bar.

A bit time consuming, that’s true, but it reheats well, so you can make a lot of it.

Bahia-style Moqueca prawn stew

Wow. I was looking for a recipe that worked for a dinner party with six guests, so it had to be tasty, don’t cost me an arm and a leg, and I should be able to make a lot of it at the same time. All the boxes were ticked.

It was my second favourite (see salmon ceviche above for the top spot) and one that I will keep on my list of party tricks.

Find it at bbcgoodfood.com

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