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Can you actually learn to cook from watching food shows? We gave it a go

A kitchen noob challenged herself to make a three-course meal (including a chocolate matcha lava cake) just from watching cooking shows. This is what happened.

Can you actually learn to cook from watching food shows? We gave it a go

(Art: Chern Ling; Photos: Foodnetwork.com, Honeysuckle, Joyee Koo)

My skills in the kitchen are singular: I am exceptionally talented in the field of dishwashing. I’m so good, in fact, that the epitaph on my tombstone could conceivably read, “She couldn’t poach an egg, but boy, could she make a teaspoon sparkle.”

In short, I do not cook – I am cooked for. Unless parboiling tofu at Hai Di Lao counts as cooking – in which case, yes, I am Gordon Ramsay.

But here’s my confession: In spite of not having actually cooked a meal since I was in university – and even then, only out of sheer necessity – I love watching food programmes.   

Travelling the world in search of gastronomic indulgences on Best Places To Pig Out? My kind of entertainment. All those little kids on Chopped Junior making piquant sauces out of jawbreakers? Gripping stuff. Giada De Laurentiis tossing fettuccine in tomato sauce while wearing a white shirt? Suspenseful and satisfying.

This is May, whose kitchen skills are ordinarily limited to reheating pizza. (Photo: Joyee Koo)

So, when my editor challenged me to make a three-course meal, with each course originating from a different food programme, I thought breezily to myself: How hard could it be? After all, Giada makes it look so easy. Even I could do what she does, just in a slightly less Italian manner. Right?

Prep time: Watching The Kitchen, The Pioneer Woman and Unique Sweets on Food Network (Ch 252 on Singtel TV and Singtel TV GO). To quote fry cook extraordinaire Spongebob SquarePants: I'm ready!

STARTER: FARMER’S MARKET FLATBREAD, AS SEEN ON THE KITCHEN

This is what Katie Lee's Farmer's Market Flatbread looks like. (Photo: Foodnetwork.com)

As a kitchen noob, I knew that I had to work smart, not hard. For my first course, I decided to pick something that was easy to throw together but would also make it look like I knew what I was doing.

I chose a Farmer’s Market Flatbread – largely, I admit, for the edgy-sounding name of the dish. No one needs to know that the farmer’s market in question is actually Cold Storage.

Katie Lee, also the host of Beach Bites With Katie Lee, made this for the cooking-themed talk show The Kitchen. The dish is essentially a pile of salad on top of ricotta-topped naan. Only some grilling and assemblage required – score! And naan automatically makes it cool and current and exotic – never mind that our forefathers in South Asia have been eating it for centuries.

I ran into a hurdle quite early on: The recipe called for radishes, but I couldn’t find any at the local farmer’s market-slash-Cold Storage.

No matter – the secret to being a great cook, I thought to myself, is having a healthy disrespect for following recipes.

May's Farmer's Market Flatbread. (Photo: Joyee Koo)

So, my flatbread went radish-less (sorry, Katie) and I also forgot the step where you’re supposed to shave parmesan onto the naan before you put the arugula on it, but, ah, details, details.

I served it on a fancy little wooden board (IKEA, I love you) so it looked pretty darn Pinterest-worthy, if I do say so myself. Yup, thanks to Katie, I had this domestic goddess thing down pat – no sweat at all.

ENTREE: BURGUNDY BEEF STEW, AS SEEN ON THE PIONEER WOMAN

This is what The Pioneer Woman's Burgundy Beef Stew looks like. (Photo: Foodnetwork.com)

There’s something charmingly quaint about the modern covered-wagon life championed on The Pioneer Woman, so I’m mildly fascinated by this cooking show hosted by blogger and food writer Ree Drummond, who lives on a ranch in Oklahoma, homeschools her kids and has friends with names like “Hyacinth”.

For my main, I picked her Burgundy Beef Stew, which, in spite of its French-sounding name, is really more of a classic American pot roast.

Admittedly, after doing the prep work of finely chopping onions, celery and carrots, I was already exhausted. Ree, multitasker though she might be, obviously does not chop her own onions. You can tell from the fact that her eyeliner is never smudged.

But I trudged on, resolved to fake it till I made it.

I was happily frying my chopped veggies in two tablespoons of oil when I observed a slight burning smell. Uh oh. I’d been overenthusiastic with the fire. Everything had to be fished out and the pot scrubbed before I could start over. Noob mistake. Oh, well, a little bit of carcinogens wouldn’t hurt, right?

Unfortunately, my overenthusiasm also extended to the addition of pickled pearl onions, which, due to my heavy-handedness, made the stew taste rather acidic, so I ended up having to add some butter for balance. Oh, well, a couple of extra calories never killed anyone. Erm... right?

May's Burgundy Beef Stew (Photo: Joyee Koo)

Anyway, what’s really important is that the stew came out looking really awesome, and I garnished it with spring onions like a pro. When I fed it to my photographer, she exclaimed that it tasted really good. Which is kinda like getting a Michelin star, if you think about it.

This proved one thing: That just from watching The Pioneer Woman and absorbing her wholesome, competent vibes, I, too, was already a domestic diva. Two for two!

DESSERT: CHOCOLATE MATCHA LAVA CAKE, AS SEEN ON UNIQUE SWEETS

Feeling my confidence soaring, I moved on to the last course.

Dessert, I knew, had to be a showstopper, because you can’t send your guests home on an anti-climax. So, inspired by the dark chocolate matcha lava cake that was featured on an episode of Unique Sweets, a show that profiles the innovative desserts and nibbles found at bakeries, cafes and restaurants across the USA, I decided to make one exactly like the one served at Spot Dessert Bar in New York City.

Obviously, the original recipe wasn’t available, but I’m a smart cookie – I Googled and found a few recipes that claim to replicate the dish.

Lava cakes are all about timing, and on my first attempt, alas, the matcha lava didn’t flow out of the chocolate cake. At all.

It was crushingly disappointing. But by this point, obsession had overtaken me. I was a food show inspired domestic goddess, gosh darn it, and I wasn’t going to give up until lurid green lava gushed out of that chocolate cake like blood from an alien’s jugular vein.

I adjusted the proportions and the baking time, and on my third attempt, I succeeded. The matcha lava flowed like a radioactive Mount Vesuvius.

May's Chocolate Matcha Lava Cake (Photo: May Seah)

I was invincible. And power hungry. (But not hungry, because look at all that food I’d just cooked.) I surveyed my dessert dish critically. This perfection could be further improved upon. After all, I had not yet succeeded in fashioning the perfect quenelle of ice cream.

I grabbed the remote control and turned the TV back on.

All shows mentioned are available on demand to Singtel Cast subscribers on their phones, tablets and more. In partnership with Singtel.

Source: CNA/my

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