Good Eats

What is it

Good Eats was and is a half-hour cooking show hosted by Alton Brown on the Food Network. Good Eats distinguishes itself from other cooking shows in 2 ways. The video editing and styling is very modern compared to the static camera typical of traditional cooking shows. In Good Eats, the camera is often placed inside the over or in a cabinet, and is often moving. The other way is that Alton Brown gets much deeper into cooking chemistry than most other shows, talking about why 350° is the magic number for baking, why sugar turns brown when you cook it, the difference between baking soda and baking powder, etc.

From the producer:

Equal parts smart and sardonic, creator and host Alton Brown uses a combination of classroom methods and wacky comedy sketches to explain not just how to whip up an excellent dish, but also why the ingredients interact as they do when you put them all together. Brown has said that the show’s inspiration is to combine Julia Child, Mr. Wizard and “Monty Python.”

Who is it for

This is a fun show for families to watch together, especially if the kids are interested in cooking.

The show is definitely not vegetarian or vegan, so young cooks avoiding meat and dairy will not find as much to enjoy.

What Kids Like

The editing and pacing is fast enough to not be boring. Alton Brown is avuncular and fun as a host. And the content has the right mix of humor, science, and cooking instruction.

Even if you don’t cook, or are not interested in the dishes being prepared, there is enough knowledge and entertainment to want to watch.

What Parents Like

I like that there is a show that I can watch with genuine interest along with my kids.

I also like that the explanation is about WHY to do something, not just HOW. Most cooking shows focus only on the how.

What the Critics Think

The show has been very popular since it debuted in 1999

9.4/10 on IMDb

8.7/10 on TV.com

and 92% by Google users

Concerns/Flaws

I don’t know whether this opinion is widely shared, but I much prefer the “classic” Good Eats episodes from the early 2000s. Alton Brown was more earnest then, still trying to prove himself. Brown’s persona now seems much more smug and often condescending. There also were more wacky antics with homemade props like you would see in a twisted episode of Mr. Wizard.

The older shows also had a wide open field of subjects, while now, twenty years later, he has to repeat himself or focus on more esoteric subjects.

So my recommendation is to watch the older episodes first.

A more general criticism is that there are often factual errors in the show. Not many, but enough that I (not a chef or chemist) have found a few.

And a final concern is that there are few if any vegetarian or vegan dishes prepared.

(Brown’s bio says he was born in L.A. but he speaks with a slight southern accent and is (or at least was) a big celebrity in the Atlanta area in Georgia. When I went through the Atlanta airport in 2009 there were huge [30+ feet high] banners of Alton Brown and Ludakris hanging from the ceiling. I mention that only to explain why I think the Good Eats menu seems to favor down-home country cooking. Another aside: the first time I went to Georgia I ate at some greasy spoon and noticed that the menu had a “veggie burger” only to discover that it meant the burger came with lettuce and tomato.)

Who Made it / History

The show began in 1999 by Alton Brown, who had made a name for himself as a videographer (he ran stedicam on an R.E.M. video). The ’90s were a busy time for the new Food Network, and many cooks (Emiril, Bobby Flay, Mario Batali) became household names.

The show ran from 1999 through 2012. In the intervening years, Brown has had many food TV roles, including as announcer for Iron Chef America as well as taking Good Eats as a touring road show. He has also had a surprising number of voice acting roles

The show has resumed production in 2019.

Where Can I Get it

Good Eats is shown on TV on the Food Network, and online on Hulu and YouTube TV. And you can buy individual episodes on YouTube and iTunes.

Mug Brownies

What is it

A mug brownie, or brownie-in-a-cup, is a single serving of brownies made in a mug and cooked in the microwave. They take just a few minutes to make, are vegan, and very tasty.

Mix equal parts flour, sugar, cocoa powder, oil, and water in a mug. Microwave for a minute. Done.

i.e. in a big mug
1/4 cup flour
+ 1/4 cup sugar
+ 1/4 cup water
+ 1/4 cup cocoa (this is unsweetened baking cocoa, not hot chocolate mix)
+ 1/4 cup oil

or:
50 ml flour
+ 50 ml sugar
+ 50 ml water
+ 50 ml cocoa
+ 50 ml oil

You can easily halve the recipe for smaller servings

Optional:
• a pinch of salt brings out the chocolate flavor
• add a dash of vanilla extract and/or almond extract and/or peppermint extract add/or a few shakes of cinnamon
• add 1/4 tsp (1 or 2 ml) of baking powder to make it a bit fluffier
• replace some (or all) of the flour with the same amount of cocoa powder for an extra chocolate-y brownie

Who is it for

Mug brownies are for anyone with a sweet tooth, but the activity of making them is for anyone who can manage a measuring spoon. 3+ is probably right.

What Kids Like

Kids are motivated by the speed of the process. From saying, “Let’s make brownies!” to actually having them in your mouth can take as little as three minutes. Cooking is a great activity to do with kids, but they often get bored or frustrated having to wait.

What Parents Like

Cooking is a great way to teach some basic math (how many teaspoons in a tablespoon? [3] how many milliliters in a quarter cup? [~60]) as well as basic cooking concepts (mix the dry ingredients before adding the wet, leveling the measuring spoons before dumping it) and this recipe lends itself to some scientific inquiry. For example, what happens if we add half the sugar, or half the oil, or use brown sugar?

Concerns/Flaws

Now, teaching kids to wait, and be bored for a bit is actually an essential concept these days, with instant access to almost anything, and these brownies are the food equivalent of on-demand streaming media, but they are fun and the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Good Eats

Watching Good Eats was one of my weekly rituals back in the ’90s, back when the Food Network was an emerging force on television. Unlike the standard TV chef format (cook looks across a counter at the viewer while preparing food), Good Eats’ Alton Brown gets into the science of food and does so in a fun and wacky way. This is great family viewing because parents learn about cooking and kids are entertained by the antics and learn some chemistry as well.

More on the show and some examples of Alton Brown’s style at foodnetwork.com