We home cooks are a terribly boring and predictable lot. If we had to tease out a pattern for the year's most popular recipes at goodfood.com.au it would be comfort food; dishes as familiar and reliable as an old woollen jumper.
A pork noodle dish by Melbourne chef Brigitte Hafner took out top honours for most clicked recipe, followed closely by a Neil Perry lasagne. Jill Dupleix's pan-fried chicken with mustard cream sauce came in third. Dupleix, who's been writing recipes for Australian newspapers since the mid-1980s, says there are rarely any surprises when it comes to favourite recipe compilations.
"It's always pork belly and roast chook and lasagne," she says. "The home cook wants people to be happy, to please people... We cook food that brings people together." Dupleix hastens to add this is not a bad thing. "So much about our relationship with food is about familiarity and about ritual... Every family has a favourite dish, the one where you've just got to be there on the night it's cooked," she says.
Favourite recipes, like that woollen jumper, generally don't push boundaries, such as the traditional Sunday roast. As Dupleix points out, "No one says 'Dad's doing sous vide on Sunday night, let's go around."'
Dupleix's own family go-to is lamb chops, done on the barbecue with a nice Greek salad on the side. "It's simple... but very rewarding."
Dupleix has a theory that as our lives get busier and more hectic, family food rituals become even more important. "The old favourites work. They're what bring people together and that is more precious than ever."
The star rating function on goodfood.com.au recipes gives readers the chance to share how much they liked a dish. One of the year's most highly-rated recipes was a Frank Camorra apple cake. The Movida chef got his first taste of writing recipes for the masses when he began a column in The Sydney Morning Herald about one year ago. He confesses that initially he was a little frustrated by the brief to keep things simple: "But then I realised that that's the sort of thing I like to cook at home."
The Camorra family's go-to dish is a pot-roast chicken with baby onions, fresh bay leaves, a splash of sherry and some herbs from the garden. And herein lies another trait of popular recipes; they often have an idiosyncratic touch. Dupleix points to Neil Perry's buffalo mozzarella lasagne, the second most-viewed recipe on goodfood.com.au this year: "Everyone loves lasagne, but mum might be bored sick of making lasagne so a buffalo mozzarella recipe is a new, exciting way of doing something familiar and might just become the new family favourite."
Karen Martini's "deluxe shepherd's pie" recipe is another example of an old favourite that takes a slightly different direction and in so doing, stretches the home cook just enough. "Recipes evolve you as a cook," Dupleix explains. "I might adore certain dishes but I perfect them over time [by] making them perfect for me."
While we may like the familiar to fall back on, it seems we also like to move with the times. Readers sought out recipes that added a fresh, often ethnic twist to the dinner table. Neil Perry's guacamole recipe scored highly with readers, averaging 4.6 stars out of five. Not too far behind were Perry's Mexican-style braised beef ribs (4 stars).
"Mexican" was one of the most popular search terms at goodfood.com.au in 2013, reflecting our hunger for a cuisine that has been rejuvenated by savvy chefs getting authentic as part of the street food craze sweeping the nation. Perry's guacamole recipe, with its jalapenos, coriander, lime juice and freshly ground pepper offered readers a restaurant-like experience that was easy to re-create at home; or in Dupleix's words, so much more than "the green mush" we used to make. (See photo gallery at top of story for top 10 reader-rated recipes.)
On the prowl
The need for something a little different, a little exotic to lift our favourite recipes to a higher plane may also explain the popularity of quinoa, used now much more frequently as an alternative to rice, pasta and cous cous. Readers were on the hunt for quinoa recipes this year, second only as a search term to a hunger for recipes featuring versatile, family-friendly chicken. Salmon recipes were also popular, not surprising given that farmed Atlantic salmon was the most popular seafood consumed in Australia this year; according to the federal government's Fisheries Research and Development Corporation we ate nearly 44,000 tonnes. Wild-caught prawns were the second most popular seafood in Australia in 2013; we ate 18,600 tonnes.
While lamb and pork clearly remain popular choices on Australian dinner tables, vegetarian recipes grow in popularity every month. This perhaps reflects ethical, health and environmental concerns with heavy meat consumption, and the growing awareness generated by campaigns such as Meat-free Monday, World Vegetarian Day (October), and locally, the launch this year of Meat Free Week (March).
But while we're getting busy in the kitchen, it seems more Australians are investing in gadgetry that can perform some of the hard work for us. According to Google, recipes written for slow cookers and Thermomixes featured strongly in top recipe searches this year.
Top 10 Google recipes searches
1. Pancake recipes
2. Slow cooker recipes
3. Chocolate cake recipes
4. Thermomix recipes
5. Scone recipes
6. Fried rice recipes
7. Carbonara recipes
8. Crepe recipes
9. Soup recipes
10. Pork belly recipes
The year 2013 was by far the most successful for Thermomix in Australia since the whiz-bang German appliance first sold here in 2001. Incredibly, 50,000 Australians invested in a Thermomix this year (January 1 - November 30) in figures provided to goodfood.com.au by Thermomix, up from about 38,000 in 2012. Perhaps 2014 will be the year we de-clutter our kitchens and do away with stoves, food processors, scales and ice-cream machines? Although as far as we know a Thermomix can't wash dishes.
It was also the year of "almond-gate", when we got stuck into celebrity chef Pete Evans because he publicly declared his preference for "activated" kernels, over the boring, static, everyday kind of almonds. But while we laughed, we joined Pete is getting in touch with our inner cave-dwellers and hit our search engines for non-cultivated paleo recipes.
Paleo was the No. 1 trending diet term searched on Google in Australia this year. Followed by Atkins, Dukan and gluten-free.