You never saw a "Good Eats" show about cooking rabbit in the 12-year, 249-episode run of Alton Brown's popular Food Network series.
"They don't want people thinking about eating Thumper," says Brown of network execs. No shows about kidneys or frogs or snails neither. His job was to deliver mainstream food and unearth the science behind it, in his own quirky fashion -- with crazy, custom-built models, hand puppets and crew members pressed into acting roles.
"Good Eats," which aired its final regular episode this summer (three one-hour specials will air later), set out to show us how to make a better pancake, green bean casserole, apple pie (see recipe) and much more. As a fitting coda, "Good Eats 3: The Later Years" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $37.50), the final book in Brown's three-volume series capturing every episode, has just been released in what amounts to a victory lap.
We talked to Brown about the show and his plans post-"Good Eats."
Inspiration: "Most of the kind of wacko stuff came from home. It's me wandering around the house in the middle of the night ... wondering how to do something better."
One example: "We made a derrick out of a ladder to safely fry a turkey. The crew thought I was nuts. But then when they saw how it worked, they say, 'Oh my god, that's beautiful.' "
What's next? Brown has several projects in development for the Food Network, but he declined to talk about them. For now he'll continue his roles on "Iron Chef America" and "The Next Iron Chef." Brown was willing, however, to talk about one project: video-enhanced e-cookbooks. "I intend to be one of the pioneers on that new frontier," he says. "I hope we do for that medium what we did for cooking shows, that is, something that hasn't been done before."
> Five principles
Here's what Brown says fans should take away from "Good Eats":
"You must learn to love heat, or you will never be a cook."
"Taste your food often while you're making it. Americans hate this. We want to make it by a formula and taste after it's done. If you don't taste food as you're making it, you're doomed."
"Weigh things. Our fixation with volumetric measurements has kept us in the Stone Age as cooks."
"The best knives are the sharp knives. Dull knives are just loaded guns waiting to go off."
"Water makes very few foods taste better. Water tends to dilute things. So if you are not extracting a flavor, if you're not using water as a medium, e.g., soup, then ask yourself why it's there."
Note: In Episode 186, Brown sets out to make a better apple pie. Grains of paradise are available in spice shops or online, such as at thespicehouse.com. (Or use caraway seeds, Brown says).
> Alton Brown's Super Apple Pie
6 ounces unsalted butter, cut in 1/2 -inch pieces
2 ounces vegetable shortening, cut in 1/2 -inch pieces
5 to 7 tablespoons applejack
12 ounces flour (2 cups and 6 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 1/2 pounds apples, about 6 large, a mix of Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Braeburn and Golden Delicious
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons tapioca flour
2 tablespoons apple cider
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground grains of paradise
For the crust, pulse the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor to mix. Add butter; pulse 5 or 6 times, until the texture looks mealy. Add the shortening; pulse 3 or 4 times until incorporated.
Sprinkle in 5 tablespoons applejack. Pulse 5 times. Add more applejack as needed; pulse until the mixture holds together when squeezed. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a disc; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
For the filling, peel and core apples; slice into 1/2 -inch-thick wedges. Toss with 1/4 cup sugar. Place in colander over a bowl; drain 1 1/2 hours.
Transfer the drained liquid to a small saucepan; cook over medium heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Set aside to cool. Toss the apples with remaining sugar, the tapioca flour, jelly, cider, lime juice, salt and grains of paradise.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove one dough disc from the refrigerator. Place dough on a lightly floured piece of waxed paper. Lightly sprinkle the top of the dough with flour; roll out into a 12-inch circle. Place in a 9 1/2 - to 10-inch tart pan that is 2 inches deep. Gently press the dough into the sides of the pan, crimping and trimming the edges as necessary. Set a pie bird in the center of the bottom of the pan.
Arrange the apples in the shell in concentric circles, starting around the edges, working toward the center and forming a slight mound in the center. Pour any liquid that remains in the bowl over the apples.
Roll out the second disc. Place over the apples, pressing the pie bird through the top crust. Press the edges together. Brush top with the reduced juice everywhere except around the rim. Trim off excess dough. Place the pie on a parchment-lined baking sheet with sides; bake on the bottom shelf of the oven until the apples are cooked through but not mushy, 30 minutes. Remove to a rack; cool until almost room temperature, about 4 hours.
One 9 1/2 - to 10-inch pie serves 10.
Per serving: 415 calories, 20g fat, 10g saturated fat, 37mg cholesterol, 57g carbohydrates, 4g protein, 284mg sodium, 3g fiber.