The Daily Dish

Anne Amie winemaker dinner at Grill 23

By Judy Lebel
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The last time Thomas Houseman, winemaker for Oregon’s Anne Amie Vineyards, was in Boston, he ran the marathon on Patriot’s Day, 2004.

This time around, Houseman tackled Grill 23, not Heartbreak Hill. This time, on Wednesday, April 14, Houseman was more concerned with his pinot noirs than his mile splits.

The wine dinner at Grill 23 last week was no less intense an effort, however, because it’s the intensity of Anne Amie’s wines that make them work. It’s the intensity that enables Anne Amie’s pinot blanc and pinot noirs to stand up to Grill 23’s award-winning steakhouse cuisine. That’s right, pinot noir – not a cab, not malbec, not sangiovese – with steak.

These are not just any pinot noirs. Most of Anne Amie’s grapes come from two estate vineyards, which are both certified by Salmon Safe and LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology). These organic practices along with intentionally reduced yields give the remaining fruit extraordinary depth and complexity.

Within an hour’s drive of Portland, you find yourself in the Yamhill-Carlton area of Oregon’s famed Willamette Valley.  The mission of this winery, named after owner Dr. Robert Pamplin’s two daughters, is to make memorable wines with a sense of elegance. Grill 23’s wine director, Alex DeWinter, and chef Jay Murray set the table to match that mission.

Dinner began with the 2008 Cuvee A “Amrita,” a jasmine-scented, white-wine blend of six grapes, offering just enough spice on the palate to complement Murray’s fresh California maki rolls and grilled scallop sushi. It’s the perfect fruit-forward quaffer to have at the ready for spring and summer.

For the next course, the lightly grilled, smoked salmon atop a velvety cauliflower puree and ricotta blini would have been tasty enough. But it was the flair of lemon mascarpone that brought out the Meyer lemon and crisp apple nuances of Houseman’s award-winning 2008 pinot gris.

Next up was a warm Rawson Brook chèvre cheesecake with pistou and a robust olive tapenade. With it, Anne Amie’s 2006 pinot noir, bringing berry and mushroom elements that embraced the rich, full flavors of the cheesecake.

Pinot noir is a tempting choice to serve with slow-roasted beef cheeks, especially when they’re served with bacon-wrapped salsify on a bed of forest mushrooms. Anne Amie’s 2004 “La Colina,” from the red volcanic soils of Oregon’s Dundee Hills, worked exceptionally well.

The dinner finished with three local cheeses from New Hampshire and Vermont paired with the elegant 2006 “L’Iris” Pinot Noir, followed by an assortment of mignardises, but I kept coming back to those beef cheeks. If you decide to roast your own beef cheeks, Beacon Hill’s Savenor’s Market will gladly special-order them for you.

Judy Lebel is the guest author for today’s Foodie Blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, where we explore myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Tips for getting adventure and value from your wine

By Cathy Huyghe
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Kerri Platt, owner of The Wine Bottega wine shop in the North End, has her internal lie detector tuned to high.

All. The. Time.

Which means that when a wine rep comes into the shop hoping to sell Platt on some wines, most will quickly fail her sniff test. That’s because Platt stocks her shelves with wines from vineyards she has either visited herself or that she and her staff have gone to great lengths to find that meet her qualifications:

Small producers. Organically farmed. Biodynamically produced.

All popular catch phrases these days — lots of shops claim to support such practices — but Platt is serious about it and she can tell, easily, when sales reps are just paying it lip service.

That’s why you’ll find wines on The Wine Bottega’s shelves that you literally will not find anywhere else in Boston or all of Massachusetts: they take the time, and make the effort, to source wines that meet the small-producer, organically-farmed standards through and through.

That makes The Wine Bottega the perfect destination when you’re hunting for, say, a bottle of wine for someone who already knows a lot about it. You are bound to find something unique.

You are also very likely to find unique bargains. At a blind tasting Platt conducted for members of the Boston Wine Meetup group on Wednesday night, she poured five wines and four of them cost less than $15 even though they tasted, at least to me, like they were worth well over $25.

As Platt spoke to the group about the wines we were tasting, she also relayed tips that she and her staff have picked up recently. It was, in essence, a small treasure trove of helpfulness for those of us looking for adventure and value in our wine choices.

And who wouldn’t want that? Here are a few of the gems she shared:

   1. Keep an eye out for pinot noir from Provence. Not a typical grape from not a typical place but, if the wine Platt chose to pour on Wednesday night was any indication, we’re in for some things good.
   2. Look for Barbera on a wine list, as it tends to be a lovely, exceptional wine at a great value.
   3. It’s okay to ask for your red wine to be chilled for a bit before it’s served, especially if the bottle has been stored behind a restaurant’s bar and especially if the bottle in question is meant to serve as a nice early-summer red.
   4. The reason you add milk to your tea is the same reason a fatty steak goes so well with a tannic red wine: the fat (from the milk and the steak) balances out the tannins (in the tea and the wine). That’s why it works.
   5. Platt and her staff like to play with expectations, like light-colored tannic reds and reds that show pretty fruit and earthiness but then switch it up with a hefty dose of tannins. Anyone in the shop can point you directly to some examples on their shelves.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Music, dancing, and loukaniko: Greek Independence Day in Boston Common

By Cathy Huyghe
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In honor of the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire (and Greek pride in general), the Greek Independence Day festival took over Boston Common on Sunday. The festival gave a hint of the wonderful culture — and food — one might experience on a visit, as with WGBH’s upcoming LearningTour.

Dessert of the Week: Real-Kind Lemon Meringue Pie, at Hi-Rise Bread Company

By Cathy Huyghe
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Lemon meringue pies, the real kind, are seasonal. That season started in February and — as lovers of real lemon meringue pie know — our favorite season is coming quickly to an end.

That’s what the people say at Hi-Rise Bread Company in Cambridge.

We’ll stop making them within the month, they say.

But why, you say.

We make all of our tarts and pies according to the season, they say.

Well, okay, that’s a pretty good reason. It just sounds odd because we don’t normally think of lemons as seasonal the way we think of fiddlehead ferns or huckleberries as seasonal.

I suspect the seasonality of the real-kind lemon meringue pies at Hi-Rise — the kind Julia Child herself (who lived not so far from Hi-Rise) praised for their essence of lemony-ness — also has to do with the melting factor of meringue. That is, in hot weather, meringue melts. So the making of the pies, and the lovely eating of them too, needs to be done when the temperature is cool.

Fair enough. For now. And only because The Time is still here.

It’s the finding-a-substitute part in about a month, when lemon meringue pie season is over, that things get sticky.

So let’s look ahead a bit. What are your favorite early-summer desserts? Drop us a line and let us know!

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Healthy Habits Kitchen: A different kind of take-out

By Cathy Huyghe
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It isn’t just the cooking that makes healthy eating untenable. It’s also the shopping, organizing, and clean up that needs to happen in addition to the cooking.

Those are exactly the things that Susan Schochet and her staff at Healthy Habits Kitchen do (exceptionally well, I might add). Healthy Habits Kitchen in Wellesley offers meal assembly and preparation services for individuals and families, which removes the stumbling blocks from regular healthy eating.

“Meal assembly” works like this. You schedule a time to come to the Kitchen. You choose which meals you want to prepare. When you arrive — as I did last week, along with my two children — your station is set, your ingredients are portioned, and you’re ready to fly into the preparation of healthy, quick meals.

The process goes super-fast. The ingredients are at your fingertips and the recipe is right in front of you, printed out and standing in a plastic clipboard. And you aren’t expected to clean up. And –bonus — the average price per person for a meal at Healthy Habits Kitchen is less than $4.

Susan Schochet holds an assembled meal kit that her customers take home and store until they're ready to cook the meal.

There were unexpected bonuses from my trip to Healthy Habits Kitchen, both during the assembly and during preparation at home. First, the kids loved being at the Kitchen. It’s a neat, organized space, their roles were clear, and Schochet clearly has a lot of experience dealing with young people.

Leo takes a break from meal assembly to lick a spoon of honey.

A second bonus is the peace of mind when you know you won’t be home to cook for your family. Anyone at home is empowered to put a healthy meal on the table. All of the ingredients are there, plus clear instructions for cooking the meal, all stickered to the Ziploc bag holding the kit.

The third bonus was a certain sense of confidence. You start to think, “It really isn’t so hard to cook good, healthy food.” You can imagine getting the hang of it. And maybe, little by little, you start taking steps to replicate the process for yourself. That would be the healthy habit-forming part of a Healthy Habits Kitchen experience. And it’s a consequence Schochet, with her passion for sharing healthy cooking, wouldn’t mind one bit.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Half-and-halfers: Your ticket to knowing new wines

By Cathy Huyghe
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“But what is this like?”

Ever notice how often you ask yourself that when shopping for new wines?

Especially when it comes to taste, we fumble about for something related, something familiar on which to anchor our perceptions as we explore – either tentatively or at full speed ahead – uncharted territory.

Take Sonoma cab. I tried one recently from Chalk Hill, called Imagine — it was new for me — at Grafton Street in Cambridge. It was like cabs I know from Napa (an anchor to something familiar), except it wasn’t. It was also like reds I know from Sonoma (another anchor) except it wasn’t that, either. It was its own thing but it was close enough to things I know to make trying it an experience that was, at once, both comfortable and adventurous.

Take a southern Italian red called Nerello Mascalese. I tried one – a 2007 from a producer called Passopisciaro – at a Boston University event a few weeks back. I’d never heard of the grape nor the winery so, whether consciously or not, I immediately started groping for clues in this wine that would help me to put it into the perspective of other wines I know better. Its color, for instance, was a lovely, translucent ruby that reminded me (there’s that anchor again) of some pinot noirs. I was grasping, and this was just a toehold, but it was enough to move me forward.

Those toeholds serve however precariously in situations like these to balance the old and the new. Balancing old and new when it comes to learning may be familiar territory to philosophers or educational theorists, but when it comes to wine, it is the fairly new realm of something I’ve come to call the half-and-halfers: that is, wines that are half of something familiar (like one of the “universal” grape varieties such as chardonnay and merlot) and half of something indigenous (that is to say, something most of us have never even heard of before).

Anchoring yourself to the familiar makes it easier to branch out and try something new. And in the world of wine these days, something new is always just around the corner.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

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