Thursday, February 26, 2015

Salmon Fury and the Tower of Spice

Four Courses Podcast - Episode 14

The cold weather continues, and has driven us indoors. Whether it's heaps of meat or heated breweries, we're doing the best we can to assure our caveman brains that we're going to be all right. We've got a range of topics and new segments starting this month, so tootle over to Four Courses for Episode 14. Or...just subscribe to us on iTunes and/or Stitcher and we'll appear like magic!


This month, we talk about Stacked Burger Bar, the beers at Perennial Artisan Ales, the way that mood can affect our cooking/eating habits, and which foods are best homemade versus getting them at the store. We go out on a brand new Carryout format, and introduce a culinary gladiatorial competition as well, so be sure to tune in! Email us at fourcoursespodcast@gmail.com with any feedback, and be sure to suggest more combatants for the Battle Royale!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Fireside Spirits and the British Literary Deception

Four Courses Podcast - Episode 13

It's a brand new year, but just in case you haven't noticed, it's still kind of...WINTER. The chill in the air naturally affects how we eat and drink, and this month's episode is a good one for topics regarding cold-weather feasting. If you don't have a subscription to the podcast on iTunes or Stitcher, you can always stream it through our site, so go give Episode 13 a listen.


Topics include Lemongrass (a Vietnamese restaurant in the South Grand area), Our Favorite Drinks: Winter Edition, and a discussion about the various meats and methods that go into cooking roasts. Dessert focuses on books with memorable eating scenes, and finally, in the Carryout, we set our food resolutions for the upcoming year. I hope you enjoy it, and feel free to email fourcoursespodcast@gmail.com with any feedback or suggestions for other topics!

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Check, Please

The new year is always a time for self-improvement. Among my other goals about weight, organization, and so on, I've made a couple of entertainment-related resolutions as well. One of those promises is to consume less cultural "homework". I am, in my heart, a completionist. That's why it takes me so long to finish video games; I'm always off making sure I've collected all the feathers and delivered all the notes.

That streak has also unfortunately led to a lot of wasted time as I watch, read, and play things I'm not really enjoying, just because I feel like I've made some sort of tacit agreement to stick it out. 2015 is going to contain less of that, and the first thing to be snipped is the rest of this season of Top Chef. I'm bored with it, I don't feel like I have anyone special to root for, and there's really nothing interesting to write about it here on the blog. So, I'm afraid this is goodbye to the Boston season.

That said, let's not end this on a sad note. The time I save by axing boring shows can be better spent on shows I'm actively enjoying, and I have to heartily recommend The Great British Baking Show. It was named The Great British Bake Off when it aired several months ago in Britain, and I have no idea why PBS changed the name for its airing in America.

Each episode centers around one type of baked good, and contains three challenges: The freestyle (in which the bakers are allowed to make pretty much whatever they'd like in the given category), the technical challenge (in which they must recreated a given recipe with only minimal information provided), and the showstopper (in which they make a intricate showpiece).

After two episodes, I'm already hooked. The competitors are genial and talented. The judges are firm and direct without being assholes. The challenges are well-planned. OK, the two hostesses are annoying, but they're mostly ignorable. Whoever is in charge of shooting the show needs about seventy awards, because it is insanely beautiful.

I'll review the whole season over at the Slice of Lime when it is complete, but for now, if anyone would like to chat about this disappointing Top Chef season or this wonderful import from England, here's the post to do it in. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Blackened Tongues and the Christmas Calamity

Four Courses Podcast - Episode 12

It's absolutely incredible to me that we're coming up on an entire year since my friend Kyle and I launched the Four Courses podcast. We all know that time flies, but I expected it to fly at the speed of an airplane, not the speed of a laser beam. My obsession with food and cooking continues unabated, so if you haven't downloaded it already, here is Episode 12, submitted for your approval.


Topics include the cozy atmosphere of Elaia, the best drinks for winding down at the end of the evening, the food-related disasters that have befallen us over the years, and a spirited debate over restaurants with a policy of not accepting reservations. We close out the year by revisiting the year's food resolutions to see how well we did at keeping our promises. I hope you enjoy it, and feel free to drop a line to fourcoursespodcast@gmail.com with any questions, comments, feedback, or suggestions!

Friday, December 05, 2014

Thanksgiving Tune-Ups and the Parsley Dispute

Four Courses Podcast - Episode 11

We've already had our first blustery snow days blow through, so it's almost officially time to bid adieu to the best season of the year. Before we do, though, we had one more harvest feast to celebrate - a little thing called Thanksgiving. We're at the peak of the food year, and Episode 11 has arrived just in time.


Topics include Fast Eddie's Bon Air, the essentials for both a home bar and a well-equipped herb/spice rack, and food trends that are dead and gone. We close with a nod to Thanksgiving by soliciting recommendations on how to update the use of cranberries. They're due for a change. Please enjoy, and feel free to drop a line to fourcoursespodcast@gmail.com with any questions, comments, feedback, or suggestions!

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Pilgrimage

Top Chef - Season 12, Episode 6

Previously on Top Chef: Head-to-head challenges allowed the chefs to work out some petty rivalries, and revealed that given the way they plan their strategies, you could probably beat them at chess pretty easily. Adam got caught in a Judge-22 for not assisting his weaker teammates, but that was quickly forgotten when the pimple on the face of this season was finally popped, and Aaron got booted to go abuse people off-camera. Nine chefs remain. Who will be eliminated tonight?

Monday Morning Quarterback Session. Everyone is thrilled that Aaron is out. Melissa talks about her girlfriend back home, and I'm immediately convinced she's getting the axe tonight. P.S. - I'd hate that haircut on most people, but Melissa really makes it work somehow. While the chefs are still rolling out of bed and getting ready for the day, Season 1's Tiffani sneaks in to surprise them. It turns out today, there's a pre-Quickfire challenge that'll test the chefs' athleticism. Oh, hooray. If there's one thing this show should attempt to hearken back to, it's that ridiculous triathlon from the terrible Texas season.

Actually, this one isn't too bad. Tiffani takes the chefs to a very pretty cranberry bog, and tells them that they'll have to wade out to the berries, fill some buckets, and bring them back to fill a crate. The first four chefs to fill their crates will earn an advantage in the Quickfire. Here's a spoiler for you: Katsuji is not one of those four, but let's count our blessings; he didn't succumb to the heart attack he was clearly about to have if forced to do much more physical activity. The top finishers wind up being Katie, Adam, Gregory, and Dougie. OK, let's get back to the Kitchen!

Quickfire Challenge. The chefs will be making a cranberry dish, obviously. This is fortuitous! I've been looking for interesting new ways to incorporate those into some recipes. The four top finishers' advantage is that they'll have access to more high-end, extensive ingredients than the other chefs, who must work with the basics. Immunity goes to the winner. Ready? Go! When the dust settles, Adam's cranberry-gathering skillz have not done him much good, as he lands in the bottom three for burning his food. He's joined by Stacy, who has underseasoned her dish, and Katsuji, who appears to be addicted to serving improperly-cooked meat. For the good news, Doug is in the top three for his cranberry-glazed pork tenderloin. Mei is also praised for her cranberry-sauced sweet and sour pork. Yes, please! Even that can't take the top spot, which goes to Katie for her wonderfully-inventive cranberry borscht. I'd be curious to taste that.

Elimination Challenge. In the same vein as the cranberry Quickfire, it's another Thanksgiving-related challenge. I will never get tired of watching these people pretend that holiday meals are happening in real time, and that they're not cooking and eating a Thanksgiving feast in, say, August. I'm on record as saying this season is one of the most boring to date, but I do have to say, this Elimination Challenge ranks among my favorite holiday challenges that the franchise has ever done. The chefs will be going to a local historical site (the Plimoth Plantation) and cooking one, big dinner, using only ingredients that the original settlers/Native Americans would have had access to. The diners will be descendents of both the original colonists and the Native tribes. In addition, all the cooking equipment will be of the time period, as well. That sounds very difficult, but I'm genuinely looking forward to seeing the dishes, which I can't say about any other episode so far.

Stacy video-chats with her boyfriend, throwing a wrench into my confidence that Melissa is in trouble. Side-note: I know the editors use this type of footage to provide background info on the chefs and/or to provide foreshadowing of the episode, but is anyone in the audience actually interested in them? That is to say, does anyone give a good goddamn about how Melissa's girlfriend, Stacy's boyfriend, or Kariann's kids are passing the time while the competition is going on? I'm not mad or anything. It's just a weird reality show convention.

Food prep. As expected, working with fire pits and cauldrons and iron spike spits proves to be more challenging than the parameters that many other challenges impose. Ingredients include things like wild greens, meats like goose and rabbit, and shellfish. Somewhere along the way, my family has picked up the habit of having oysters at Thanksgiving. I had no idea we were being so traditional! Despite all the hurdles the chefs must clear in this challenge, every single dish they make looks incredible. The judges and the diners are all blown away, and I actively wish I could be at that table. After the meal is over, the judges agree that this week's elimination will come down to minute details, since nobody out-and-out screwed up.

Judges' Table. Even among a table full of great dishes, some managed to rise above the others. Doug's slow- and spit-roasted rabbit, Katsuji's butternut squash with poached lobster, and Mei's cabbage roasted with duck fat and trout vinaigrette all get top marks. We're starting to get a good idea of these chefs' strengths and weaknesses, but I just can't get a read on Katsuji. Some days, he appears to be a creative, culinary wizard. Some days, he appears to not be able to scramble an egg. It's odd. It gets even odder when he wins the challenge, which surprises me. Not that his dish looked bad. It just seemed fairly simple compared to the other two. Now, for the bad news. As foreshadowed by those photos and phone calls, both Melissa and Stacy tumble, Melissa for an overly simplistic vegetable dish and Stacy for too much earthy grit in her clam dish. They're joined by first-time loser Gregory, who had issues with cooking his goose. No, I won't make a wordplay joke about that. You're welcome.

I have half an idea that since this is such a warm challenge about tradition and gratitude, nobody will be eliminated. They've done it before. Plus, all the food was good. If they were going to do a non-elimination episode, now would be the time. But as a lot of turkeys have come to know, Thanksgiving requires sacrifice. Stacy, please pack your knives and go. She has a refreshing exit interview, in which she is neither sad nor bitter nor regretful. Honestly, she seems relieved to be finished. She's happy with her placement, saying that she thinks she did her hometown proud. I like her, so I won't give her shit about Boston being happy with ninth place. So, happy Thanksgiving, all! I'm grateful for many things, but if we're keeping it to show-related issues, I'm thankful that this season has finally given us an episode worth watching.

Overall Grade: B+

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Declaration of Independence

Top Chef - Season 12, Episode 5

Previously: The chefs went to Cheers, and Gregory really embraced the "bar" aspect of the Quickfire by spilling food all over the floor. George Wendt displayed the boredom that all of us audience members are experiencing this season. The Elimination Challenge threatened to spark some actual interest by giving us an intriguing challenge about menu design. Aaron kept on fighting, Gregory kept on winning, and my boyfriend kept on dropping off to sleep during these episodes. James and Rebecca made an unceremonious exit, and I think Rebecca just might be the chef that's made the least amount of impression on me in the history of the franchise. Ten chefs remain. Who will be eliminated tonight?

Monday Morning Quarterback Session. Stacy is shell-shocked by how badly she and her team performed in the last challenge. I'm glad she was able to pull through, but yeah, step it up, girl. Quickfire Challenge. The chefs are met in the Kitchen by Padma and guest judge Jamie Bissonette, which is a name I feel like should be showing up in the Too Many Cooks intro. The theme of this week's challenges is battles, so it looks like I was right when I said "I guess Boston's current food culture is not enough of an attraction, so it's looking more and more like this season will be Quirky Challenges Regarding America's Past". This is like Assassin's Creed 3: Food Missions. Which actually sounds kind of awesome. Somebody make that game.

Anyhoo, in this week's Quickfire, half the chefs get to pick an opponent to cook against head-to-head. That opponent then gets to select a dish from a pre-set list that both chefs will make. There's no immunity, but the winning chef will get $10,000. That puts the chefs' game faces on pretty damned quick. Here's how the match-ups shake out:

Katsuji challenges Aaron, who picks smoked salmon. Doug challenges Adam, who picks mussels. Kariann challenges Stacy, who picks trout. Melissa challenges Katie, who picks BBQ. That leaves Mei vs. Gregory, and they'll be making steamed dumplings. There's naturally a lot of smack talk about who's weak, and who's a threat, and who's going down, and blah blah blah. Let's see who can back up their bluster. Ready? Go! The banter keeps up over the course of the prep, some more good-natured than others. When the dust settles, Padma and Jamie judge each pair of dishes. The winners and losers of each match-up will form a team of their own for their upcoming challenge:

Winners: Katsuji, Doug, Kariann, Katie, and Gregory
Losers: Aaron, Adam, Stacy, Melissa, and Mei

Mei looks piiiiiiiiiiised. Gregory not only beat her in the Quickfire match-up, but he is declared the overall winner, and gets to pocket the $10K. Elimination Challenge. As I just mentioned, the chefs who won their Quickfire match-ups are sorted into one team (Blue), while the losing chefs go to the other team (Red). For today's main challenge, the chefs can make whatever dish they like. They will then go head-to-head in another series of battles. Each time a team wins a battle, they get a point. First team to three points wins, and someone from the losing team goes home. The chefs may pick who participates in each battle, so this is very similar to that tennis challenge that we had such a rousing discussion about. Check the comments!

Shopping. Each team only gets $1000 to serve 100 guests, so they must split up their money and choose ingredients wisely. Which proceeds to happen with no issue whatsoever. Not that I want people pulling each other's hair over who gets to buy cumquats or whatever, but this season desperately needs a shot of adrenaline. Prep. Aaron is making a seafood noodle wrap very much like the one that edged out Katie's dish in that one Quickfire. Melissa interviews that she is confident about her soup. Then, thirty seconds later she interviews that she is concerned about her soup, because the texture isn't working out the way she'd hoped. Even the editors are too bored to pay attention to what's going on.

Service. The food is served outdoors, with people in Revolutionary War garb standing around playing with muskets. The hundred guests tear into the food, but have absolutely no say in whose dish is good or bad or better or worse than anyone else's. So...thanks for stopping by, everyone! The judges will be the ones deciding everything. Adam has taken a pseudo-leader role on the Blue team, but has the refreshing intelligence to realize that as long as he concentrates on making his own dish as good as possible, he's unlikely to be eliminated. Somewhere, Spike is watching this, smirking, then waltzing out the door to go lose yet another contest because he got more caught up in strategy than on making decent food. Aaron spills his dashi all over the ground. Mei has some instant dashi mix to loan him, which he hopes will be good enough to pull him through.

First battle. Adam goes up against Dougie. Katie screams "Go Dooooooooooooogie!" on the sidelines, causing a weary Katsuji to grumble "Please don't do that." Wooo, check out the enthusiasm of even the contestants for this season! The judges like both of the dishes, but Adam's grits with cheddar cheese, poached egg, bacon, and onion jam edges out Dougie's beef tartare. Adam's does look awfully good. The Red team earns their first point.

Second battle. Katsuji has a mini panic attack as he puts together yet another dish with forty-thousand components. Luckily, he's up against Melissa, whose soup has an extremely off-putting texture that the judges find watery and unappetizing. It's bad enough that Katsuji is able to take the battle, earning the Blue team their first point.

Third battle. Gregory goes up for Blue, so the Red team puts up Mei, which was a terrible idea. If you accept that Mei is a strong competitor (which both I and all the chefs do), the one chef you shouldn't pit her against is Gregory, who is the only person that consistently beats her. Put her up against somebody weaker so that she's more likely to grab a point. No time-traveler picks up on my brainwaves, so they are re-matched, and although Mei's strip loin in kimchi vegetables is given high marks, she cannot overcome Gregory's mushroom/coconut milk/tumeric green curry. Bad strategy, Red. The Blue team takes their second point.

Fourth battle. Kariann goes up against Stacy. A lot of Quickfire rematches are going on here, which Padma notes sardonically. I think she may be drunker than usual. No matter how much the judges disliked Melissa's soup, it's nothing compared with the revulsion that meets Kariann's herb meatball. The judges completely trash it. Stacy's marinated beets are nothing to write home about, but they're clearly better than the hated meatball, so Stacy wins the battle. The Red team gets its second point.

Fifth battle. It all comes down to Aaron vs. Katie! Aaron says that if Katie beats him, he will shoot himself in the face. Katie has made a chocolate cake with smoked sour cream, and Aaron implies that she's copped out by making a dessert. Huh? Dessert is usually what gets people kicked off the show. If anything, making chocolate cake takes far stronger stones than making a savory dish; especially a rehash of your own Quickfire entry from a couple of challenge ago. Tom essentially says the same thing. Aaron's scallop noodle and pork meatball is panned, and Katie wins the point, solidifying the Blue team's win. Katie lets out a pretty endearing Xena yell of victory.

Judges' Table. The Blue team is congratulated, and sent to the safe zone. They are shortly joined by Adam and Mei, who both made very good dishes, despite being on the losing team. Looks like Adam's strategy paid off. He's given some guff about it from the judges (and from Gregory on the sidelines, like thanks for chiming in, Golden Boy, but your opinion from the safe zone on this matter is less than essential). It's all bullshit, and Adam happily shrugs it off as such. That leaves Stacy, Aaron, and Melissa up for the chop. Stacy is a little surprised to be in danger, since she won her point. The judges tell her that she shouldn't be too proud about that, since she didn't win so much as Kariann completely blew it. There's a pretty stellar shot of Kariann's reactionary bitchface to this proclamation. All three of these chefs did pretty poor work today, but the one going home is...Aaron. Hooray!

In his final interview, he graciously admits that his personality may not be for everyone. And the Atlantic Ocean is a bit moist. I may have added that last bit. He is finally out of our lives, to the delight of everyone but his girlfriend, since the only food he's prepared for her is a knuckle sandwich. And not that I advocate violence, but Aaron did say that he'd shoot himself in the face if Katie won the point. People should keep their promises, don't you think?

Overall Grade: B-