Learning a lot from cooking T.V. shows

No matter what your mom might say, television can be educational. Anyone who grew up on a rigid diet of Rugrats, Doug and Scooby Doo has all the tools for social interactions, school life and dodging vigilante laws.

In at least one respect, things haven’t changed much since ’90s-era Nickelodeon programming. If everything in your kitchen except for the microwave is gathering dust, flip on the T.V. and check out Food Network. Watching a few specific shows can teach you everything you need to get started on culinary adventures. Consider it night class.

Iron Chef America

It’s 9 p.m., you haven’t been grocery shopping in two weeks and you’re starving — oh, and a hobo stole your wallet, precluding the possibility of takeout. What could gourmet chefs like Bobby Flay or Masaharu Morimoto possibly teach you about slapping together a half-tasty dinner?

In Iron Chef, it’s a level playing field. Chefs are given a secret ingredient, which can be anything from beef jerky to cantaloupe. The contestants then have an hour to concoct a five-course meal.

The show proves you can make decent food out of anything. Would you ever think to combine collard greens and tamale mix? With a bit of creativity, you can whip up something as eclectic as a Dali painting, without a repeat of your Easy Bake Oven experimentations.

Meanwhile, Iron Chef isn’t about carefully constructing a precise piece of foodie artwork — it’s about cranking out five courses in 60 minutes. Watching Iron Chef illustrates that good food can be made on the fly, with some deft knife work and timesaving substitutes like baking soda.

The next time you open your cupboard to find only a banana, pinto beans and some leftover mole sauce, don’t despair and reach for the Frosted Flakes — bring some excitement into your life and get cooking!

30 Minute Meals with Rachael Ray

This is the best show for the cook who wants to make something simple, fast and budget-friendly. Many like to hate on Rachael Ray and claim she is not a “real cook,” but anyone who makes a salad with hotdogs and pickles gets an A in my book.

Ray’s list of ingredients can actually be found in Superior Grocers, or at least Ralphs. Delicate omelets and painstakingly braised beef are forgone in favor of hearty frittatas and juicy seared steak. Because each show is 30 minutes, the cooking techniques are never particularly involved, and Ray emphasizes going by feel and adjusting to taste.

For a straight-up cooking demonstration for everyday food, Ray rules. Pork chops with beer bacon gravy, anyone?

The Best Thing I Ever Ate

Sometimes you just don’t want to cook. Who better to recommend a restaurant than chefs who routinely make a conscious choice between Meyer and Lisbon lemons? In The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Food Network stars, such as chef Giada De Laurentiis and Ace of Cakes’ Duff Goldman, name their favorite dishes from specific restaurants. Each episode has a different theme, which have included “Crunchy Edition,” “The Classics” and “Sugar Rush.”

Many of the restaurants are in New York City, but don’t discount Los Angeles for eating options. The legendary Number 19 from Langer’s Deli and the Brazilian Chicken Pot Pie from Wood Spoon have both made an appearance.

Impress all your friends when you suggest a seemingly random restaurant for a Saturday lunch. Most of the dishes do not actually come from fancy restaurants, so even broke college kids can enjoy fine dining.

Good Eats

Some say food is an art. With Good Eats, engineering and chemistry majors can totally get in on the food scene. In each episode, food nerd Alton Brown teaches you how to prepare a certain dish, such as beer bread or curry. Along with plenty of random humor and pop culture references, Brown goes into the history and science behind dishes such as corned beef, gravies and omelets. Brown also shows how virtually any food, from doughnuts to gyros, can be made in your own kitchen.

A blossoming cook can also pick up neat little tricks in the kitchen. For example, did you know it is actually better to add water to an omelet mix than the typical cream or milk? All recipes also appear on the website, providing weeks’ worth of tasty eats. If you watch the show, you will know just how to make them — complete with a side of interesting table talk.

Diners, Drive-ins and Dives

Few know host Guy Fieri as a particularly delicate chef, and that’s just fine. Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, a.k.a. Triple D, follows Fieri across the country as he explores America’s greatest greasy spoons. Restaurant owners show off their most popular dishes and take viewers through the whole cooking process. Forget foie gras and crème fraise — Triple D is all about the burgers, grilled cheese and pizza, but only the tastiest, craziest of each make the cut and appear on the show.

Those wanting to take the Great American Road Trip this summer will get a list of delicious, cheap places to grab some chow. But Triple D goes beyond restaurant recommendations — it’s a perfect muse for culinary adventure.

These out of the way diners churn out some awesomely crazy eats. Hash made out of quinoa, kettle corn-flavored milkshakes and cheeseburger Reubens are just a few of the interesting dishes for those who like to play around in the kitchen.

Mimi Honeycutt is a sophomore majoring in print journalism. Her column “Gingersnaps” runs Wednesdays.

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