Stuck in a quarantine cooking rut? Work your way out with Adam Liaw's tips and ideas

Adam Liaw
Spice things up: Add some lamb shanks to your shopping trolley and make this curry.
Spice things up: Add some lamb shanks to your shopping trolley and make this curry. Photo: Edwina Pickles


Since March you've probably cooked a lot more than you ever thought you would. 

Swap chicken breast for duck, and try new flavours in Adam's duck and grapefruit salad with honey-miso dressing.
Swap chicken breast for duck, and try new flavours in Adam's duck and grapefruit salad with honey-miso dressing. Photo: William Meppem

But what happens when the initial rush of pandemic-induced kitchen enthusiasm dies down? What percentage of the people who cleared the shelves of flour at the start of the year are still making their sourdough

Even the showpiece dish you nailed back in lockdown 1.0 is starting to wear thin after a dozen appearances at Tuesday dinner, but you've still got to get something on the table. 

Never fear. Here are some tips to work your way out of a cooking rut.

Shop differently

If your cooking is starting to feel a little same-y, it starts with how you shop. What if instead of your regular weekly run for the same old meat and vegetables you just did it … differently. 

Grab duck breast instead of chicken, lamb shanks instead of chuck steak, brussels sprouts instead of frozen peas, silverbeet instead of carrots, Spanish mackerel instead of salmon, or oranges instead of apples. It's simple to do, but just one shop would change your whole week of eating. 

Don't worry about not knowing what to do with whatever you bring home, there are PLENTY of recipes on Good Food to guide you through the unknown.

Adam Liaw recipe : Miso-roasted eggplant
Photograph by William Meppem (photographer on contract, no restrictions)

Adam's miso-roasted eggplant is a simplified version of classic Japanese dish, dengaku eggplant (recipe here). Photo: William Meppem

Lean in

If you want to find more inspiration in the kitchen, that might involve putting in a bit more effort. I can feel your eyes rolling already. 

I'm not saying you have more time on your hands because we're in a pandemic – anyone who's done distance learning with their kids knows that absolutely is not the case – but I've always said the conventional wisdom of not having enough time to cook needs a dramatic rethink.

I sound like a broken record talking about how cooking doesn't need to be time consuming, how simple dishes are often tastier than complicated ones, how the entire concept of not having enough time to cook is a construct designed by advertising agencies in the mid-twentieth century for the sole purpose of selling you convenience foods. 

Still, I get it. Nobody feels like they have enough time for anything, but it truly is a matter of what we see as a priority. 

Any personal trainer will tell you that the folks who get to the gym five times a week don't have easier jobs or fewer children than those who get in there once a fortnight. They just choose to prioritise their time differently. 

What if you could plan themed weeks for your dinners like on MasterChef? Do a self-guided course in Japanese cooking (here are 50 recipes to get you started)? Grab that folder of recipes you've cut out of the paper but never actually got around to trying? 

Sound crazy? These are things that under ordinary conditions might not warrant contemplating, but in a pandemic isn't cooking something that we should be emphasising more than before? 

Think of the stress relief, the health benefits of eating well, and the mental satisfaction of a home cooked meal over your regular order from the Thai place where the curry is too sweet, but you keep ordering it because it's easy. 

If in ordinary times your default is trying to avoid cooking as much as possible, perhaps now is the time to lean in to it.

Adam Liaw recipe : Roast beef with Joe’s gravy
Photograph by William Meppem (photographer on contract, no restrictions)

Get ahead and get a roast on the go during the afternoon. Photo: William Meppem

Take advantage of the timeframe

Even if you don't want to prioritise cooking, the reality of spending more time at home than usual affords you some opportunities you might not have had before. 

You may not have inclination to spend more of your time cooking, but what you do have is the ability to spread whatever cooking time you do have out over the day. Quite simply because you're living your life 10 steps away from your kitchen.

If "cooking time" under normal conditions is compacted to a mad half-hour between arriving home from work and the family revolting, you now have the relative luxury of doing perhaps five minutes of prep mid-morning, maybe whacking a roast in the oven at 3 o'clock, and then finishing off a salad à la minute before you sit down. 

Let inspiration come to you

I write hundreds of recipes every year and I'm often asked how I find inspiration for them. The thing is, I don't set out to find inspiration. I just let it come. It might be seeing some great looking produce at the greengrocer, a picture of a friend's dinner on Instagram, finding a few things in the fridge that might work well together, or even a comment from my kids about something they'd like to try. 

If you keep an open mind you'll be surprised by how the pieces of some very complicated puzzles just seem to fall into place without you having to force it at all.

And most importantly…

Adam Liaw recipe : Boiled potatoes with baked camembert
Photograph by William Meppem (photographer on contract, no restrictions) 

Adam Liaw's glorified winter cheeseboard can be your back-up plan (recipe here) Photo: William Meppem

Don't be afraid to fail

A big part of feeling uncertain about taking a risk with your cooking is fear of the ultimate disaster: an inedible dinner. 

In reality the likelihood of that happening is just about zero. Even the biggest kitchen failures rarely render something inedible. And even if it did, would it be so bad? You have a light meal instead. 

If you really want to insure yourself, pick up a nice piece of cheese in your weekly shop. If everything really does go to hell then your dinner can be a plate of cheese and crackers with a glass of nice wine. 

Doesn't sounds so bad, does it?