When Emily Brecher, 38, of Fishtown, scrolls through her Facebook feed, she finds an endless list of things she could cook -- no, things she must cook.
"The articles do use a lot of hyperbole like, 'This two-ingredient thing will change your life!' But, for whatever reason, I believe them," she said. "The banana pancakes -- they had some headline like that: 'It will change your life.' And, it totally did."
Those were pancakes made from nothing but a banana and a couple of eggs, a recipe (if you can call it that) that circulated in fitness magazines and on websites for years before making its way more recently to untold hundreds of Pinterest boards. Brecher said she's made them almost every morning for the last five weeks.
Lately, the proliferation of food hacks -- creations that are not quite recipes, but not quite not recipes -- has culminated in a nearly constant stream of videos, recipes, slide shows, and listicles that have found their way into our Facebook feeds, if not actually into our kitchens.
• Do you have a favorite food hack? Leave it in the comments below.
They include untold "genius" two-ingredient dishes, too-weird-not-to-try mashups, and anything that can be cooked with an unlikely implement (a toaster, a microwave, a hair-straightening iron?). Or they repurpose prefab foods for off-label uses: Cut up Pillsbury cinnamon buns and make bread pudding, or mix a can of apple-pie filling with a box of angel food cake mix for a two-ingredient (if corn-syrup-forward) apple cake.
So, will these hacks really change your life? We put them to the test.
Hack 1. Put it in a toaster.
Did you know that you can pop a slice of sweet potato in your toaster and have delicious, gluten-free toast? Or that you can turn your toaster sideways to make effortless grilled cheese?
No, you did not. Because you really can't.
Sweet potato toast, on the other hand, is merely disappointing.
"Don't try this," my friend Jan Cohen warned. "Life is too short to toast a sweet potato."
I did it anyway. I had to press the toaster button down eight times -- eight! -- until the slice of sweet potato was burned in parts and more or less soft in the middle. I tried it with peanut butter and jelly, just as the internet advised. It was weirdly bitter and lacked the crisp, dry crunch you want from toast.
Hack 2. Two-ingredient wonders
Two ingredients, it turns out, is a big thing on the internet -- for good reason.
I tried the banana pancakes: Mash a banana, beat two eggs, mix it together, and pour it on a griddle prepped with cooking spray. Aside from an oddly sweet, banana flavor, the pancake texture was spot-on. It's decent with maple syrup, better with peanut butter (and possibly still better with a few more ingredients, like a spoonful of flour or a handful of blueberries).
Hack 3. The booze hack
If you like red wine and you like hot chocolate, it's safe to assume you will want to get drunk on red-wine hot chocolate. This craze swept across the web over the winter, a couple of years after a food blogger came up with the idea. It probably should not become a daily habit, but if you find yourself at home on a Friday night, it's not bad. (Or just wait for summer and make yourself a wine slushie -- a.k.a. frosé.)
Hack 4. The microwave miracle
Why bake a cake when you can microwave it? Well, for starters, because it tastes so much better.
I, for one, love baking actual cakes -- the alchemy of it, the sense of creating something worthy of a special occasion. So I admit I had low expectations of the "mug cake," an instant dessert-for-one that is the very embodiment of all my fears of dying alone and unloved.
I used a recipe from a Nutella mug-cake cookbook. It did puff up impressively, but the result was more like a steamed egg souffle than a gooey chocolate cake. I never knew dessert could be so sad.
Hack 5. Vegan manna
Even Philly's most celebrated vegan pastry chef, Kate Jacoby of Vedge and V Street, sometimes picks up tricks from internet message boards. Like, for instance, aquafaba -- a more palatable name for the water left over from canned chickpeas that can be used in place of egg whites in cocktails, pastries, meringues.
"Apparently, you can get baptized in it," my friend Galeet Cohen told me.
So, I put the chickpea water in a stand mixer for 15 minutes and watched in amazement as it turned into a beautiful white cream with stiff peaks, then added sugar and vanilla before baking it on low heat for a couple of hours. The result was a very classy tray of meringues, with just the right crumbly, crunchy exterior and airy, light center.
Hack 6. Frankenfood
If the Cronut and the Ramen Burger have taught us anything, it's that combining two foods that have no business commingling can result in a viral combination. So, we have an endless stream of recipes for cheeseburger onion rings and banana-bread-bottom cheesecake.
Add to the list cauliflower grilled cheese (a dish that could also be filed under the food hack category "Sandwiches on Things That Are Not Bread.") If you're imagining two slabs of cauliflower around a slice of cheese, you are imagining something that is much less work than this. Galeet and I tried it. First, we had to rice the cauliflower, then add Parmesan and egg, make a patty, scoop it onto a griddle, fry it into pancakes, and only then add a sprinkling of cheese to make a sandwich.
That might be more cooking than hacking. But at least it was pretty delicious.