Episode 25: Emancipation Snacks and the War of Legume Pronunciation

Welcome to Four Courses! Winter never got very wintery this year, so Spring has had no trouble vanquishing it. The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and restaurants are opening their outdoor patios! Yay! Andy is joined this month by a favorite of the Four Courses listener base, guest host Tiffany Greenwood, who stopped by to talk about all sort of springy topics.

In this month’s Appetizer, we try out the charcoal-infused menu at Weber Grill. Then in the Intermezzo, we talk about America’s favorite legume with a chat about how to incorporate peanuts and peanut butter. Tiffany continues her reign of carb topics in our Entree abotu potatoes, while Dessert gets into the foods served at the traditional Judeo-Christian spring holidays.

Finally, in the Carryout, Tiffany describes a service she’s discovered that promises to enliven Classic Movie Night. Enjoy!

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Read on after the jump for a summary of the episode.
Continue reading Episode 25: Emancipation Snacks and the War of Legume Pronunciation


Recipes – Episode 24

In Episode 24, guest host Pamela Merritt and I covered a wide range of comforting foods, and wanted to make sure to embrace that in this month’s recipes. We opted for featuring our friend the bell pepper, as well as exploring an exotic and interesting member of the casserole family, so let’s dive in!

Follow the jump for some a jazzed up vegetarian stuffed pepper, and the most popular casserole of Portugal!
Continue reading Recipes – Episode 24


Research: The Pepper Heat Index

People are always competing to set some extreme record or other. Who’s built the tallest building? Who can swim the farthest? Who can live the longest? Competitions are not confined to the human race, though. For example, every time we think we’ve discovered the hottest pepper on Earth, another upstart comes along to set an even more painful fire on our tongues. In the past few years, the Ghost Chile, the Naga Viper, the Trinidad Scorpion Moruga, and the Carolina Reaper have all held the coveted title of Hottest Pepper.

Guest host Pamela Merritt and I talked a bit about hot peppers in Episode 24, but we only mentioned a few. Where do the rest of them fit in? And how do we go about comparing heat levels from pepper to pepper?

Until recently, the traditional method has always been the Scoville scale, named after a test that Wilbur Scoville devised in 1912. That scale measures Scoville heat units (SHU), which is a function of capsaicin concentration in each pepper. Way down at the bottom are our friends the bell peppers, which have a SHU of zero. Then come the milder zings like paprika and pimiento, which won’t crack a SHU of 1,000. In the 1,000-3,500 SHU range, you’ll find Pam’s and my current pepper of choice, the poblano. Jalapeño is the level above that, in the range that goes up to 10,000 SHU.

From 10,000-30,000 SHU, you’ll find serrano peppers and peperoncino. Cayenne and tobasco peppers lie in the 30,000-50,000 SHU range, while 50,000-100,000 SHU contains lesser known peppers, such as piri piri and malagueta. My painful experience with habanero makes sense, because it shares the 100,000-350,000 SHU range with Scotch bonnets. A specific type of habanero called “Red Savina” lies between 350,000-580,000 SHU, but even that pales in comparison to the peppers I mentioned in my opening paragraph. None of those peppers is less than 855,000 SHU.


All that SHU measurement is nice, but there’s a fatal flaw in the Scoville scale. It’s completely subjective, which I was shocked to learn. Decreasing concentrations of the extracted capsinoids are given to a panel of five trained tasters, until a majority (at least three) can no longer detect the heat in a dilution. OK, but… People’s taste buds differ from each other, and even on the same tongue, a taster’s receptors can be worn out or overused with multiple tastings, changing the results. Can you imagine if the official daily temperature was taken by people wandering outside and saying “Eh. It feels like it’s about 56° F today.”

Fortunately, these days, there’s a system that’s a lot more scientific. Using high-performance liquid chromatography, it can be determined how many parts-per-million of alkaloids (the heat-causing agents) are present in any given pepper.

Tastes in pepper heat vary across cultures (Asians seem to favor a sharp punch of heat at the beginning, while Americans favor a lower heat that sustains for a longer period of time), and some people have made it a personal mission to find the upper limit of what their taste buds can handle. I’ll leave all that record-grabbing to them, and just enjoy the gentler wallop of a dish spiked with cayenne.


Episode 24: Culinary Segregationists and the Sugar-Frosted Con Job

Welcome to Four Courses! February’s weather has veered wildly, but has “graciously” provided plenty of the blustery days it’s known for. In that spirit, we’re bringing you an episode bursting with topics to warm your belly. Joining Andy this month is special guest host Pamela Merritt, who definitely knows her business when it comes to fighting off the ice and snow with some spicy cuisine.

In this month’s Appetizer, we make our third official podcast visit to Vietnam with a delightful lunch at Pho Grand. Then in the Intermezzo, we delve into the world of peppers, from mild to hot. The Entree finds tasty comfort in the hearty tradition of casseroles, and while we’re talking about comfort… Our Dessert segment focuses a critical eye on Upscale Comfort Food.

Finally, in the Carryout, Pam tells us all about the organization she co-founded. Enjoy!

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Read on after the jump for a summary of the episode.
Continue reading Episode 24: Culinary Segregationists and the Sugar-Frosted Con Job


Research: The Brunch Backlash

In Episode 23, Kyle and I talked briefly about shifting social conventions. You never know what aspect of society these shifts will affect, and in an odd twist of fate, the ostensibly simple concept of brunch has become a big target.

A target of what? You name it. Sometimes, it’s singled out as the purview of irresponsible people with nothing more productive to do with their time. Chefs are accused of using brunch as an excuse to peddle substandard food, and diners are accused of using brunch as an excuse to eat without the courtesies afforded to the other meals of the day (tipping, for example).

There’s also the big matter of race and class privilege. As you could probably tell from my sputtering in the episode, I’m finding it tough to land on a position in regards to protesters’ tactic of interrupting diners’ brunches in order to address issues such as police brutality. It’s definitely an issue worth addressing, and the activists have a point when they point out that brunch is a public gathering at which a lot of affluent people who feel unaffected by the conflict tend to gather. Getting their attention is precisely the goal. It’s just such a strange situation we find ourselves in, in which it’s considered safe to assume that someone who’s done nothing more than go out to eat waffles must either be uneducated or uncaring.


Even leaving that aside, brunch has been facing some tough critics lately, not least of which springs from an article in the New York Times, which proudly proclaimed that “Brunch Is for Jerks“. Lots of people jumped into the fray after that, complaining about the self-entitled hipsters who pat themselves on the back for being so awesome as they guzzle their bottomless mimosas. Or they wrote about how terrible brunch is for the poor, overworked service industry.

If you’re a fan of brunch, take heart. Defenders have started swinging back against the haters.

All of these overwrought articles have left me more puzzled than anything else. I’m neither smug with satisfaction that these brunch-eating jackasses are finally getting what’s coming to them, nor am I angry at the snarky writers taking aim at these innocent diners just trying to enjoy some eggs and a drink with friends. It’s more a wonder at just how symbolic brunch has become for highlighting so many American social issues.

Who knows how much further the battle will go? Perhaps “Bloody Mary” will take on a terrifyingly literal meaning as the war over brunch gets waged.


Small Plate #4: Bloody Mary Vs. Mimosa

Welcome to Four Courses Small Plates! Okay so… Game: Check. Review: Check. Interview: Check. Debate: Bzzzzzzzt. Looks like we’re due for some smack talk!

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In the Dessert segment of Episode 23, guest host Kyle Kratky and I were talking about how the ritual of brunch is often just an excuse to get in some highly enjoyable day drinking.


But what should you drink when you go to brunch? If you’re in the vast majority of people, you’ll probably opt for a Bloody Mary or a Mimosa. Kyle and I are on opposing sides of this divide, so gladiators, enter the arena! Round 1…FIGHT!


Even when we disagree, I love having Kyle over to talk food and drink, so thanks to him for stopping by to fight with me! And please, feel free to stop by our Facebook page to vote on which drink should reign supreme.


Episode 23: Evening Egg Espionage and the #BrunchLivesMatter Movement

Happy New Year! Hopefully, 2016 is treating you well so far. Since January is all about new beginnings, we’re devoting this entire episode to the meal that kicks off the day. It’s time to talk about the wonders of breakfast. A special topic requires a special guest host, and we’re thrilled to welcome back Four Courses co-founder Kyle Kratky for his first “post-retirement” appearance. Hooray!

In this month’s Appetizer, Kyle and I brave a blustery snowstorm to get breakfast at the Goody Goody Diner. Then in the Intermezzo, we talk about one of the royal breakfast breads: Biscuits. Our Entree is a discussion of where breakfast stands in modern society, and our Dessert is all about the complications of brunch.

Finally, in the Carryout, we revisit last year’s Food Resolutions and set some new ones for 2016. Enjoy!

Click below to listen!

Read on after the jump for a summary of the episode.
Continue reading Episode 23: Evening Egg Espionage and the #BrunchLivesMatter Movement


Recipes – Episode 22

Baking took center stage in Episode 22, which is a natural topic to arise when it comes to the holidays. Guest host Chris Romer mentioned that he’d be willing to share the recipe for his December bread of choice, and while we studiously avoided a chat about Christmas cookies – we’ll devote more time to them at a later date! – we did mention gingerbread, so I’d be remiss in not recommending a spectacular cookie recipe that incorporates that most wonderful of holiday flavors.

Follow the jump for Chris’ Focaccia Potato bread, and the best gingerbread cookie of 2015!
Continue reading Recipes – Episode 22

Research: The Reputation of American Fruitcake

Right before we settled in to record Episode 22, guest host Chris Romer and I enjoyed some of the truly wonderful julekake he had baked for the occasion. And just as I sat down to write this post, I devoured a terrific little pannetone cake. If other countries have mastered the method for baking an actually tasty fruitcake, why does that word send a shiver down every American spine?

In a way, terrible fruitcake is all our fault. Back in the 16th century, European fruitcake was humming along quite nicely as a symbol of a successful harvest season, when suddenly, cheap sugar poured in from the American colonies. Candying fruit became a simple way of preserving it, making it available to places with a dearth of fresh produce. Inserting the sugared fruit into cake was a convenient way of making a buck, and since fruitcakes were heavily produced in the American South, cheap surplus nuts found their way into the recipe as well. Soaking it in booze helped counteract some of the sweetness, and no doubt gave people a handy way of coping with their families around the holidays.

Fruitcake was popular enough to become a Christmas staple, so what precipitated its fall from grace? A lot of it has to do with marketing, a problem that plagues white bread as well. In the early 20th century, industrialization transformed the food landscape. Mass-produced fruitcakes were sold via mail-order, and these newly available cakes definitely did not represent the height of quality. Fruitcakes became heavy and dry.


From there, its popularity began a steady decline it has never recovered from. It became associated with other bygone recipes of your grandmother’s kitchen, like aspic casseroles. Tales and jokes about people’s hatred of fruitcake proliferated; one article I found mentioned a soldier who received a gift of fruitcake on the front lines of WWII, shoved it in his bag, and discovered the uneaten cake 40 years later in his mother’s attic. Johnny Carson joked that “The worst gift is fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other,” a jibe that Chris repeated almost word-for-word in our episode.

Some American bakeries claim that fruitcake is making a comeback, but this doesn’t really pass the sniff test. Christmas baking displays often exclude them. Restaurants don’t serve them. Nobody I’ve talked to about it can seem to remember the last time they spotted one at a family gathering, unless one was served as a joke.

It’s not all bad news for fruitcake, though. There does seem to be one country that appreciates American fruitcake. Japan apparently can’t get enough of the stuff, enjoying the sweetness of the fruit and the dense texture of the cake. So, in the interest of the season of goodwill, let’s strike up a mutually-beneficial trade agreement. Japan can have all of our fruitcakes, and we’ll take Norway’s.