I made breakfast after dinner the other night. I had to, after watching two hands whip up spinach and tomato mini-quiches in under a minute in one of those recipe videos that pepper my Facebook newsfeed. It looked too good and too easy not to try.
With the video’s jazzy jingle in my head, I sprayed the cupcake tin, stuffed it with baby spinach, sprinkled chopped tomatoes on top, then poured in the eggs. I popped it in the 350-degree oven, set the timer, and waited, feeling quite proud of myself.
Fifteen minutes later, my ego deflated a bit when I saw raw egg floating atop the spinach and tomatoes. Ten minutes later, the egg was still slightly runny.
Truth be told, the result wasn’t bad. The egg set and the tiny quiche made a tasty, fast weekday breakfast. And the video inspired me to think outside my egg carton. I’ll just increase the cooking temperature when I try again.
That’s what I love about the onslaught of fast-moving cooking videos that originated with Buzzfeed’s Tasty Youtube channel but are now mainstays for virtually every food site on the Internet. They inspire experienced home cooks with new ideas and give novices the confidence to try something new.
“Often the videos show that cooking can actually be easy and versatile,” said Natalie Meador, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Cary. She believes the “videos serve a good purpose in that they empower people to feel like they can actually cook a meal.”
Unfortunately, looking good and being good for you are often two different things. Some of the most popular dishes featured in those videos ooze high-fat gooey cheese or are dipped and deep fried for extra crunchy goodness. And, they often “do not take into account proper serving sizes of the foods featured,” Meador cautioned.
That was definitely the case when a video recipe for baked shrimp linguine scampi caught my eye. I watched the recipe and thought it would be a snap for dinner. Then I looked at the ingredients. The recipe for four called for a stick and a half of butter and one tablespoon of salt. I like butter and salt as much as the next person, but that equals three tablespoons of butter per person! Instead, I sauteed my shrimp dinner for four with just one or two tablespoons of butter and a pinch of salt.
I encountered the same caloric dilemma when my husband wanted me to try a video recipe for Philly cheese steak sliders with pepper jack cheese on King Hawaiian bread. Honestly, the sliders were yummy, but the melted butter I brushed on top and pooled steak juices under the bread made them grease bombs. We won’t be making those again.
One of the easier and healthier video recipes I tried promised: “this one-pan pork tenderloin is perfect for a fall dinner!” I’d rate this one a keeper, even though my version didn’t look nearly as pretty as the video.
That’s OK, said Sheri Castle, a cookbook author, recipe developer and cooking instructor in Chapel Hill. “Professionals who make a recipe designed for visual impact are doing things that can’t be done by people who are just preparing a recipe to eat and enjoy at home.”
That certainly was true for a video recipe I attempted to follow for cracker candy during the holidays. I thought I’d have a homemade gift in no time after watching the anonymous hands lay out the saltines, cover them with caramel sauce they’d whipped up, sprinkle with chocolate chips and toasted pecans. Then I tried it. Making caramel is way harder than it looks. The brown sugar wouldn’t melt into the butter. I almost tossed the whole pan in the garbage after I poured the buttery mess over the saltines. I forced myself to finish the recipe. Figured I could always throw it out then. To my surprise, the caramel disaster actually tasted great and looked pretty good once it was smothered by chocolate and nuts.
However, my cracker candy experience demonstrates one of the biggest problems with these video recipes: They lack instruction. A seconds-long video can’t cover all the details involved in a recipe that may take an hour to prepare, Castle said.
“It’s like the difference between a movie and a movie trailer,” Castle said. “These are to capture your attention and make you interested and curious, but they can’t possibly be your full story.”
My curiosity was piqued when I tried what was billed as a “life hack” in a video called “Super Quick Potato Peeling!” Rather than boil peeled, cut potatoes, the two hands, and text suggested cutting a slice into the skin around the potato’s fat middle, then boiling the potato whole. Within seconds of video time, the two bare hands were gliding the potato skin off in two easy pieces.
In reality, whole potatoes take much longer to cook than chunks. And trying to pull the skin off a potato you just scooped out of boiling water is going to burn your fingers. I know. I tried. So, while I saved time peeling and cutting my potatoes, I wasted it waiting for the potatoes to cool so I could get the darn skin off. And no, it doesn’t come off quite that easily after all.
Still, I keep trying. The pizza puff pastry twists looked fast and easy when I wanted to make a quick lunch. They were easy to make until it got to the twisting part. And, as in my previous attempts, the recipe took longer than directed to cook. My first bite was tasty — it was puff pastry after all. But my husband thought they were a bread bomb. I had to agree. There just wasn’t enough tomato and cheese for all the dough involved.
I won’t be deterred. Next up is Easy Chicken Fajita Rice Bake and Hasselback Eggplant Parmesan. From previous experience, I know to add a healthy dose of skepticism and my own cooking instincts to each video recipe I re-create.
I originally wrote this story for the News & Observer.