There is no correlation between how difficult something is to cook and how good it tastes. None whatsoever.
MasterChef is back on the telly and while it's a lovely and welcome distraction, it's not really a guide for your isolation cooking. Of course, if you're spending your time at home working up a yuzu cremeux or black garlic soubise, be my absolute guest.
For most of us, however, isolation is about getting food on the table every day, and making sure it's frugal, edible, reasonably tasty and hopefully simple enough to stop us from going mad.
The fact of the matter is in isolation you're probably cooking more than you've ever cooked before. And all that cooking can feel overwhelming. You need to find a way to make it bearable, and maybe even a little fun.
Here are some practical ways to simplify your cooking.
Roman-style pasta: Three-ingredient Rigatoni alla Gricia (recipe here). Photo: William Meppem
This would seem like a no-brainer, but overcomplicating food is the single hardest bad kitchen habit to break. This is because it's as psychological as it is technical.
For years we've been told by marketing, TV shows and chefs that cooking is hard and complicated. That message has eaten away at our confidence and so now we try to make our dishes more complicated in the hope that they'll be better.
It's a totally wrong approach. Cooking good food is simple and it always has been. For many of the world's greatest cuisines – from French to Japanese to Italian – a beautiful meal is not much more than a few fresh ingredients, seasoned well and cooked as simply as possible.
Stir-fry two ingredients, not 12: Stir-fried pork and celery. Photo: William Meppem
Use fewer ingredients
Using fewer ingredients is the answer to so many problems in the kitchen. It makes cooking simpler because you don't have to worry about differing cooking times or levels of seasoning, and the flavours of the ingredients are more pronounced because they're not competing with many others.
If you're worried about variety, don't be. You're going to have another meal. Probably in just a few hours. You can cook something different then.
Adam's 'Good green salad' with fried-onion vinaigrette (recipe here). Photo: William Meppem
Stock your fridge with homemade basics
Most of the convenience of convenience foods is just the fact that they're there. You won't need to make a salad dressing if you've already got one in the fridge. But that salad dressing in the fridge could easily be one you've made yourself.
A simple homemade vinaigrette takes less than five minutes, but a whole jar-ful that's good for five or six salads, takes the same amount of time. With homemade salad dressing, stock, jam, mustard, teriyaki sauce, curry pastes etc. in the fridge, cooking a meal takes no time at all.
Cooking has always been about convenience food, but if you want your food to be personal instead of mass-produced, try making it yourself. But on that point…
You don't have to make everything from scratch
It's not cheating to use pre-made ingredients. There's no such thing as cheating when it comes to cooking to feed your family.
If I ground my own curry paste every time I made green chicken curry, I probably wouldn't make green chicken curry very often. I make my own paste sometimes and it's not hard at all, but I also love the convenience of pre-made pastes.
Mix and match bought ingredients with homemade ones to the level you feel comfortable with. If you think making your own improves the way you cook and eat, it might lead you to try doing other things yourself. If it doesn't, that's fine too. I eat mayonnaise all the time but I haven't made it from scratch for years.
Make side dishes
Making more dishes might seem like a weird way to simplify cooking, but making a few simple dishes is much faster and easier than one complicated one.
Recipes will often focus on mains because that's what people look for when they're wanting to try a new recipe, but a meal is just as much about the side dishes – perhaps even more.
They don't need to be complicated. At my house the sides to a main dish of salmon might be some kimchi out of a jar, a bit of pickled celery, a five-minute omelette and some rice.
Side dishes for blackened salmon. Egg fried with garlic chives, kimchi and pickled celery. Pickles are the easiest way to add vegetable sides to a meal, and dramatically increase your vegetable intake by doing so. If you can get fermented pickles (like kimchi, nukazuke etc.) as well as pickles that are just preserved in vinegar, all the better.
My tip for most side dishes is just pick a single ingredient and try and think of something simple to do with it. It might just be quickly pickling some cucumbers, or making a simple dressing for tomatoes, carrots or spinach. It might even be roasting some broccoli, brussels sprouts or potatoes.
If you really don't want to make too much effort, it can even be as simple as sprinkling a little chilli powder on an avocado.
If these all sound a bit too simple to be good, it might be worth reminding yourself of where this article all started: There is no correlation between how difficult something is to cook and how good it tastes. None whatsoever.