5 Cookbook Authors Share Tips for Getting Out of a Cooking Rut

Even the pros find themselves unsure in the kitchen sometimes.

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First, take heart: Even the pros can find themselves wedged deep in a cooking rut sometimes. Ever since having her now six-year-old son, who’s still shying away from big flavours, food writer Anna Jones—of the single-pan supper cookbook One: Pot, Pan, Planet—says she’s become a bit more indecisive in the kitchen. (Her solution? Take a break and just order some take out.) New York Times staffer Eric Kim, who wrote the cookbook Korean American, knows he’s in a rut when, well, the food tastes bad. And Top Chef Canada star Adrian Forte, author of Yawd, admits that if he’s angry or sad, it’s showing up on the plate.

But getting stuck can lead to unexpected inspiration. When he was trying to add Caribbean flare to classic Filipino adobo, Forte struggled to hit the right note of flavours. It was only after he reached for that staple of Canadian pantries—a bottle of maple syrup—that he found his way through the recipe. Jones was reheating some leftover stove-top dal in the oven when she realized she’d hit upon a far better preparation. “I fell in love with the texture of baked dal,” she says. “It’s without question one of my favourite dishes in the book.”

One sneaky way to nudge yourself out of a cooking rut is to switch up a key ingredient or two. Among its 75 recipes for pasta, udon, pho and laksa, Mike and Stephanie Le’s That Noodle Life offers 10 ways to spice up instant ramen. Ali Slagle, of the reassuringly titled I Dream of Dinner (so You Don’t Have To), loves Laotian-style larb for its variability—she’s swapped the ground chicken in her recipe for “edamame, mushrooms, cauliflower, tofu or tempeh, fresh or canned fish, eggs, sausage and other things I’m forgetting.” Or just ease yourself into something new: Kim has a whole chapter in his cookbook on TV dinners. “These recipes have been the most popular, I think, because they’re so chill,” he says. (People often post photos of the jalapeno-marinated chicken tacos; each time he sees one, Kim immediately wants to eat it.)

Still, ruts have their upside. “If you can improve the dish, that’s a win,” Mike Le says. “But even if you don’t, getting better at cooking a dish is never a bad thing either.”

Next: 16 Berry Recipes to Make This Season

Originally Published in Best Health Canada