Best Main Meals of 2014

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While dinner is actually my least favourite meal of the day, it is actually the meal I spend the most time planning, preparing and actually cooking so I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at it. It’s also the fact that I’m home for dinner and there is no rush to get a meal on the table that helps me to continuously grow my skills in this area. I’m comparing this to a rushed breakfast before work (or at work in my case) and a quick bite on a lunch break that isn’t really long enough to linger over a meal.

Basically what I’m saying is that I try hard to make sure I have a healthy dinner each night. And if it’s not healthy, at least I made it so I know exactly what’s in it.

Lamb Shank and Orzo/Risoni


I’ve probably said this before, but I don’t like meat. I would call myself a vegetarian who eats fish and chicken, but it’s been pointed out to me that I’m actually a non-red meat eater. So why do I mention this when talking about lamb shanks? Because while I don’t like to eat the meat I do usually eat the sauces the meats are cooked in (extra vitamins and minerals are always important) and I love experimenting with techniques. And cooking lamb shanks is a technique I’m trying to perfect – one that I am getting closer to finally perfecting.

I found this lamb shank and orzo/risoni recipe in a Women’s Weekly cookbook. It was easy to make and tasted totally delicious. The orzo/risoni (they are the same tiny pasta product, right?) is cooked in a rich and thick tomato sauce that is really yummy addictive because you just want to eat more, especially on a cold winter night. And cooking the lamb shanks in the oven, while it takes 2-3 hours, means the meat just falls from the bone.

Just a note on technique: Watch the water when you’re cooking for hours as the oven is a dry heat and sauces can evaporate without your realising, so check it each hour and add water as necessary.

I’ve never been a huge fan of soups, but this past winter I decided to learn to appreciate soup. I made many new recipes including curried pumpkin; ginger and lentil soup; minestrone; potato and leek; and of course the pea soup with mint pistou.

What is pistou? It is the French version of pesto, just without the nuts that are commonly used in pestos. Fresh mint smells really nice and when you make the pistou about half an hour before eating the soup it tastes really amazing!

A tip about the soup itself: to get the vibrant green colour add the peas right at the end, about 2 minutes before you blend the soup. If you add them before this they lose the bright green colour and you get a darker, less appetizing soup (like in the picture below). When I made it a second time I got it to be bright green just like the picture in the recipe.

Below is the original recipe I found by Women’s Weekly, in the middle is my soup (doesn’t look too bad compared to the original) and the last picture is the mint pistou before I blitzed it.

These are just so delicious! And I say that as a non-meat eater who actually eats these. You have to try them, at least once, because not only are they tasty, they are pretty easy to make too. You just fry some onions and mince, add the spices and sultanas then throw in the cooked couscous and some feta. After that you just roll it into cigar shapes using sheets of filo pastry, sprinkle over some cinnamon and flaked almonds and dust with icing sugar before you bake them in the oven. Ta-dah!

Pastillas can also be called bastillas or bisteeya and were originally a Moroccan dish. I’ve seen recipes for the pastry being stuffed with beef, lamb, chicken and even pigeon so it really is up to you what you want to put inside it. I also discovered that these pastries are made as small balls rather than cigar rolls and served as entree or as part of a mezze selection. And it seems a version of the recipe dates back all the way to the time when the Moors were in Andalusia in Spain. That’s one amazing recipe right there!

Roast Chicken with No Backbone

This sounds like a silly name for what is essentially just a roast chicken, but this meal showed me just how far I have come on this cooking journey of mine. Take a look at my Roast Chicken: Take 5 post from last year and you’ll see for yourself that I just wasn’t very good at cooking a whole chicken. And yet, a month or so ago I was able to not only cook it perfectly, I was able to cut out the backbone, lay the chicken flat and roast it in half the time!

I have no butchery knowledge whatsoever and I really don’t want to know that much about slicing up animals (sorry, meat) but I took a course for this one. Well, when I say I took a course that’s really…well…okay, that’s not actually true. I watched a YouTube video on how to do it. It took me all of 2 minutes to learn how to flatten a chicken and it was probably the best 2 minutes of learning I’ve ever done. It was certainly the most useful.

The thing that still amazes me is that I just got in there and hacked away at it and I didn’t gross myself out. I think this shows that I have a new appreciation for food and where it comes from.

I found this recipe on Taste.com.au, like I find a lot of my recipes, and what drew me to the recipe was the mix of colourful vegetables and the brightly coloured tomatoes on top. Its like a birthday cake, only healthier and you can eat it every day if you wanted to.

I found the recipe pretty easy to follow, but I would suggest adding an extra egg or two if you don’t have a springform pan like me. The rice was yummy but was really crumbly so it was almost not worth the time to make it into the pie if it was just going to fall apart on my plate. But it was pretty tasty and one of my favourite meals this year. This recipe started my exploration of roasted tomatoes and I’ve now included them in other recipes, like my gnocchi with smoked salmon sauce. The addition of the pesto lifts this recipe, but don’t think you have to make the pesto like the recipe says, I just used a jar of pre-made pesto cause that’s what I had in the fridge at the time.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of ‘Best Bits of 2014‘. I’ve loved writing them because its made me reflect on a pretty good year. I’ve done so many things, seen so many things, and cooked my way through a great year. And I can’t quite believe that in January I will have been writing on this blog for 2 years! Thanks for reading along with me, and for sharing in my ups and downs with me.

How has your year been? Have you enjoyed the year? Have you cooked your way through the year like me? I’d love to hear some of your stories. Leave me a comment.

Thanks,

Marielle 

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