Siri, show me the world's best modern cooking hacks.
Ask and you shall receive, in spades.
Once upon a time, recipes and cooking tips were handed down generation to generation, grandma's spidery handwriting revealing the secrets and miracles of her culinary wisdom just as her grandmother had passed them down before her.
But in the digital age it's all cooking tips, all the time; cooking is non gender-specific (in future, grandpas will pass down their TikToks); and we don't call them tips any more. They're called hacks, and social media platforms are groaning under the weight of them.
Such is the global popularity of weird and wonderful kitchen adventures that last year there were reports of viral TikTok recipes contributing to food supply problems for some in-demand ingredients.
"How TikTok is teaching a generation of people about food," said a CNN headline, above a story that reported: "TikTok is literally shaping culture. And … that includes the way we eat."
It's not just TikTok, of course. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are also clogged with amateur cooks sharing hacks that leave you itching to try them – even when they sound ridiculous on the face of it.
Indeed, the more ridiculous they sound the more tempting it can be to try your luck. (Indeed, there is a sub-genre of cooking hack videos, in which amateur cooks check whether other amateur cooks are making things up for clicks.)
Your reporter is an avid amateur cook, a collector of kitchen gadgetry and a keen consumer of "cooking hack" videos, which he has been known to watch for hours on end. But for this experiment, I decided to be practical — there were no attempts at some of the stomach-churning cooking experiments often seen online.
Instead, the aim was to use kitchen appliances – the air fryer, the pie maker, the slow cooker and the microwave – to make things that I would actually want to eat, and that held a reasonable promise of success. My list was assembled with the aim of producing a table of food in the quickest and – crucially – most unusual way possible.
Here it is:
- A loaf of bread made in a slow cooker
- Hard-boiled eggs made in an air fryer
- Parmesan chips (cooked in a microwave) to accompany a wheel of baked camembert (cooked in an air fryer)
- Chinese restaurant-style crispy chicken and crispy vegies made in an air fryer
- Pancakes made in a pie maker
- Cinnamon scrolls made in a slow cooker
- Mini cheesecakes made in a microwave
- And leaving the best 'til last: a pavlova cooked in an air fryer
Handed the above menu and told to knock it all together in an afternoon, many amateur cooks would find it challenging and some would think it impossible. But I did it – admittedly not all in one go, but it came to about two-and-a-half hours at the bench, and that includes cleaning up as I went.
Siri, start the clock...
Clockwise from top right: Air-fried hard-boiled eggs, a wheel of camembert cooked in an air fryer and bread baked in a slow cooker. Photo: Neil McMahon
The two most intimidating dishes were actually the easiest.
The bread dough doesn't require kneading, so it was knocked together in 15 minutes. (The time was in proofing the dough, eight hours overnight, and two hours in the slow cooker.)
The pav took 15 minutes to make and 45 minutes to cook, and it emerged from the air fryer a miracle of perfect shape and texture. Sacrilege? Yes, but worth it.
The cheesecakes took less than half an hour: 20 minutes for the crust and filling, two minutes in the microwave, then chilled. Yep, they worked.
Now for the snacks: air fryer eggs (14 minutes for hard-boiled) were spot on, and the cheese wheel was throw-and-go for about eight minutes while the air fryer did its thing.
The revelation of microwave parmesan chips is one I'll be returning to. They are simply little mounds of parmesan grated on a sheet of baking paper and zapped for a minute or two. Crispy and crunchy, and no, it doesn't make sense to me either.
The slow-cooker cinnamon scrolls (20 minutes prep, 90 minutes baking) were messy to make (kids would love it) but soft and sweet, as were the pie maker pancakes (use the premix stuff, cook for five minutes, flip once, smother in something. Eat.).
The main course – crispy chicken and vegies – involved 10 minutes prep and 25 minutes in the air fryer, with no oil and barely any mess. The soy chicken, based on one of the most popular of all TikTok videos (below), was a winner.
@tiffycooks Air fryer Soy Sauce Chicken #recipes #airfryer #easy #asianrecipe #foodie #fyp ♬ The Chicken Wing Beat - Ricky Desktop
The conclusion? Hacks work, but choose wisely. And if anyone sneers at your pavlova from the air fryer, pay them no mind. They don't have to eat it.
Siri, stop the clock. We're stuffed.