I know what you’re thinking: No one said TikTok was for cooking. Still, mom-bloggers and professional chefs have slowly but steadily found their niche on the short-form video site formerly for teens and now colonized by bored millennials.
These videos crept into my life as part of one of my (many) new quarantine bad habits: going to bed late, only to scroll various apps, like Instagram and TikTok, for the better part of another hour. It’s in the pitch darkness that these moving images are so appealing: a Buffalo Chicken Quesadilla, you say? Wish I could have one right now! Easy Creamy Homemade Instant Pot Mac and Cheese? Dinner tomorrow night is sorted!
I’m new enough to the app that I wasn’t even sure if “liking” a video would also save it for me, so I downloaded the to-try recipes to my phone, just in case. (Central to TikTok is a limitlessness that leads me to believe I have to anxiously sprinkle bread crumbs if I ever hope to retrace my steps back to something I liked and might want to revisit.) But saving the videos feels good, like I have a plan and I’m seeking out new things to better myself, and I’m embracing things that feel good.
I’ve also never been much of a cook except by fits and starts, usually driven by stumbling across a recipe that has all the search terms “weeknight easy healthy” represented in the title. So I was primed to be taken in by the seductiveness of watching someone shout ingredients at you and then quickly whip up a (kind of) full meal, all while making it look easy.
And so my terrible cautionary tale begins.
Recipe One: Buffalo Chicken Quesadillas
I am a white person from the Midwest who likes Mexican food, so I love nachos and quesadillas. Sue me, I am who I am! This is to explain why this monstrosity caught my eye. I mildly like Buffalo sauce (usually on wings) and do not much care for ranch, but when this teen creator said “trust the process, OK??” I trusted the process. It helped that I had a going-downhill rotisserie chicken already in my fridge, begging to be made into buffalo chicken quesadillas.
I should’ve pumped the brakes when the guy suggested cilantro doesn’t taste like anything. But, as will become a theme, I was too far in to turn back now, having ripped up so much chicken that I had it embedded under my nails. Fun!
All that chicken-finger, sauce, and a bag of cheese later, I had a shit ton of Buffalo quesadilla filling. Far too much! My mixture also looked nothing like the model: it wasn’t wet enough (foodies know what a critical metric this is), it was difficult to spread across my tortilla, and I still have some of the filling left over in the fridge, waiting to give me heartburn once more.
Disappointment level: 3.5 out of 5 sad faces
Somehow, I was undeterred, choosing to take up a far more ambitious dinner project a few nights later.
Recipe Two: Pressure Cooker Mac and Cheese
Diving into cooking ‘Tok, I quickly discovered Sheeren (@cookingwithshereen), a motherly presence who half-shouts like a drill sergeant as she tosses ingredients together. I would like to file a complaint with Sheeren for the grief this recipe caused me.
“Did somebody want mac and cheese?” she begins the video. Yes, I want some mac and cheese. It was not to be.
The degradation started early. Unless I was missing it—and please don’t tell me at this point if I was—the directions and ingredients weren’t written down anywhere, so I had to write them down off the video, getting a little bit more each time while watching it on a loop somewhere around 5,000 times. (This was after abandoning the hairbrained idea that I would just make the mac WHILE watching the video 5,000 times.)
Another warning sign that I did not heed:
But as the lady said, I persisted. I was finally the one cooking dinner for my boyfriend and I, and it was going to be GOOD despite having come from an IMPROBABLE VENUE.
Once complete, it was mac n cheese, in a purely technical sense. But it was not at all as billed (pictured below)—the cheese sauce was runny, didn’t seem to bind to the noodles all that much, and I could taste the dijon mustard (which I substituted for dried mustard, I was doing it live!) My boyfriend and I were having bad days even before this. A failed dinner did not improve matters.
Disappointment level: 5 out of 5 sad faces
Recipe Three: the Viral Whipped Coffee Thing
This brings us to today, the day I was finally going to make the supposedly simple whipped coffee drink. This had already been “trending” on TikTok for weeks, so I’m late to it, but I did buy the instant espresso, full of hope and intention, weeks ago.
My God did this break me. (Again—do not make culinary promises to your quarantine partner based on TikTok recipes. You’re setting yourself up to fail.)
The recipe is simple: two tablespoons instant coffee, two tablespoons sugar, two tablespoons hot water. Whip the shit out of it, ideally with a hand mixer (which I do not own) or much more laboriously with a whisk. A small amount of research revealed people have supposedly also achieved the desired result by shaking it in a bag or other container.
I started with my ingredients in a metal bowl, mixing with an emulsion blender, but there wasn’t enough dark brown gunk in there for the blade to reach, so I transferred the mixture to a small tupperware container, thinking I’d cracked the code. Vigorously shaking the closed container did not work, so I transferred it back to the bowl, then spent the next 30-odd minutes switching between emulsion blender and whisk, desperately hoping for the stuff to turn into a heavenly whip, only to have my forearm cramped and splatters of instant coffee all over myself and my kitchen.
I finally abandoned the effort and fired up the drip coffee maker, defeated, and pledged never again to be taken in by the fool’s errand that is cooking TikTok.