Wine tasting and glass blowing at Diablo Glass School

Flattened glass bottles on display at the Diablo Glass School in Roxbury.

About once a month — including tomorrow, Saturday, February 27 —  the Diablo Glass School in Roxbury transforms into the hippest place in Boston to have a glass of wine.

The glass school, located in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, regularly opens its doors for public wine tastings. The twist is that, as guests sip their wine, they also watch professional glassblowers demonstrate how a wine glass is made.

“I jumped on it like white on rice,” said Jen Thurber from her seat in the audience at a recent event. As soon as she heard about the wine and glassblowing combination, Thurber invited Sarah Clark, a wine-loving engineer who works for a glass manufacturer. “It’s the perfect place for us to be,” Clark said.

“People come to the wine events from all over the city, from all different walks of life,” said Emily Lombardo, studio manager. “We give them something to watch, and something to drink, and a place to be social.”

Throughout the evening the audience flows back and forth from the “hot shop,” where the furnaces are located and the glassblowers perform, to the “lab,” the separate room where Josh Eaton and Susana McDonnell pour the wines.

Eaton and McDonnell are also experienced glassblowers, and they run Terroir Wines LLC, a Cambridge-based importer of French wines from small producers. Eaton introduced the concept of pairing wine tastings with glassblowing demonstrations as a way to showcase his own wines. The idea took off, and for each tasting Eaton now pairs with a local retailer to handle orders from the audience.

Eaton coordinates the evening’s wine program so the audience can shift focus from wine to glassblowing and back again. He’ll pour two samples of 2004 Lamblin & Fils 1er Cru Chablis, for example, one from Fourchaumes and the other from Beauroy, so that the audience can compare and contrast the same grape from two different localities of the same producer’s vineyard.

“We want people to learn something, and we want them to have a really good time,” Eaton said. Normally he opens between 10 and 15 wines for each event but he always ends with what he calls a show-stopper, such as a 2005 Jaboulet Vercherre Pommard. “Inevitably, he said, “when people place their orders they’ll go for these.”

Inevitably, too, people are drawn back to the hot shop and the choreography of the glassblowers. Studio manager Emily Lombardo smiles. “The wine events gives us as glass artists the chance to be rock stars for a day.”

Seven habits of highly effective (and value-minded) wine drinkers

Bottles stored efficiently in the cave of a highly effective wine drinker in Beaune, France.

  1. Taste a little bit, even a sip or two, every day. The more you taste, the easier it becomes because the experience of wine grows increasingly familiar. The key is to start looking, and to get in the habit.
  2. Accept that you can do this on a budget. There is no better time to be a wine consumer. Why? Restaurants and wine shops all over town – there is bound to be one where you live – are vying for your business by offering special deals here, discount offers there, try-before-you-buy options somewhere else.
  3. Overcome feeling overwhelmed. Make friends with your local wine merchant. Sign up for wine communities online. There are resources available; find out that’s suited to your personality.
  4. Boston is a player in domestic and international wine sales. Which means winemakers and winery representatives visit the Hub on a very regular basis. Take advantage of these first-hand opportunities, like Philippe Blanck at BOKX 109, Jack Bittner of Cliff Lede at the Nantucket Wine Festival, Darioush at the Boston Harbor Hotel, and Patrizia Lamborghini at Gordon’s to name a few.
  5. Get your feet wet. Literally. Wine-producing vineyards are a short drive away, no matter where you live, whether it’s west of Boston, the Cape, Rhode Island, Connecticut, even New Hampshire.
  6. Connect with the brain trust. Link up with a tasting club. Take a class. Few urban areas boast the university culture that drives much of Boston’s energy and enthusiasm. All of those brain cells have a surprising thirst for wines of all stripes, from MIT to Boston University to Brandeis to Harvard.
  7. Whether it’s big-scale like a marketing campaign from Gallo, or small-scale like a person-to-person transaction in a tiny wine shop somewhere in Jamaica Plain, the business of wine is at its best when it’s making someone’s life better. Maximize those opportunities to move beyond your mundane daily concerns. Wine is a treat. Treat it like one.

Cooking with leftover wine

One idea for using leftover wine is to simmer it down to a concentrated sauce for use as an accompaniment to cheese.

By Julia Timakhovich

You don’t cook because you need to.

In our instant gratification-obsessed society, it is simple to order and pay. A whole industry makes a living devoted to the concept of feeding you.

You cook because you choose to. However frequently.

Because you like food.

Or perhaps you cook because you like to eat, and you are not afraid to learn what your roast chicken ate before it was your dinner.

Or you like to learn how to handle wild mushrooms.

Or why organ meats can be so valuable.

Food is like wine. When you honor it, it’s more than sustenance. Yes, it keeps you alive. But to know the difference between, say, sirloin tips and dry aged rib-eye, and to know the difference between Bordeaux and Napa Cabernet, is to honor both the living things – the cow, the grapes – that were once your food and wine, and those few people who grow, harvest and ferment the ingredients you buy at the store.

Wine is an omnivore’s product, meaning that it’s part of the edible universe that includes everything from grass to wild game. Which means that when it comes to cooking, you can’t ignore the wine.

At least that the premise of the “Cooking with Wines” class at the Boston Center for Adult Education.

Cooking with wine is something you arrive at organically, because it started with the question of what to do with your leftovers. Don’t like that experimental red? That acidic white? That cloyingly sweet port or stale bubbly?

Throw it in the fridge and use it as cooking liquid.

That was the message of instructor and chef Diane Manteca, a former owner of Brickyard Café in Cambridge, which she operated for seven years. Manteca demonstrated to a class of fifteen hungry adults what to do with each major type of wine—dry red, acidic (dry) white, and sweet port. Under careful supervision and collective slicing and dicing, the class concocted four speedy dishes—Chianti beef stew, chicken Marsala, ravioli in white wine sauce, and roast pork tenderloin in port reduction with dried fruit.

We learned tricks, like why garlic is not the first thing to sauté in a pan. (It burns too quickly.) And why you boil white wine for a few minutes before making sauce. (It tones down acidity and brings out the sugar.) And why you should only use a very dry red as marinating medium for beef. (Spicy and fruity wines can ruin the natural flavors of meat juices.)

Manteca loves cooking with real ingredients and good quality wines, but she’s sensible about it too. “You don’t want to use wines so cheap you wouldn’t drink them on their own,” she said. “But it’s not necessary to use your grandfather’s 100-year old port, either.”

Wine, it turns out, is easy to cook with. Once the alcohol evaporates, wine permeates its bouquet into the food and serves as a stoic, enhancing liquid. It’s able to withstand high temperatures and absorb spices and herbs without overpowering the dish.

Go ahead and experiment.

The worst outcome?

You lose the wine you sacrificed for cooking anyway.

The best?

A delicious meal.

Letter from Stockholm: A Chef Cooks His Way from Maine to Waltham and from Italy to Sweden

It’s a classic story. Young man leaves home. Young man finds a passion and follows it, despite obstacles and obstructions in his path. Young man discovers peace and, finally, a home of his own.

Jesse Marsh’s story is like that.

Chef Jesse Marsh prepares to plate a serving of his slow-braised beef cheeks alongside spinach risotto with taleggio chese. Marsh is in the kitchen at Terrenos Vinotek in Stockholm. Photo: Cathy Huyghe

Marsh grew up just outside Bath, Maine, moved to Somerville as a young adult, and found his passion while cooking at the Tuscan Grill in Waltham. He followed that passion all the way to a self-sufficient organic farm in Umbria where he cooked, made wine, harvested olives, slaughtered sheep, and cured cheese.

“The kind of food we were making there wasn’t about technique,” Marsh said. “It was about attentiveness and time.”

In Umbria Marsh also met his soon-to-be-wife, who is part Swedish. Today they live in Stockholm and Marsh is the chef at Terrenos Vinotek wine bar and restaurant, where his menu reflects the same philosophy of attentiveness and time.

In this photo essay, Marsh assembles a cheese plate consisting of Cabra al Romero (from Murcia, Spain, which is a goat cheese aged in rosemary), Pecorino Cantina (from Grosseto, Tuscany, an aged sheep cheese; and Roccolo Valtaleggio (from Val-talegio, Lombardia, a cow cheese aged on pine in caves). Accompaniments on the plates are grissini and a compote of dried figs with orange and lemon thyme.

View photo essay here: http://gallery.me.com/cathyhuyghe#100583

Heirloom Bakers: The Brass Sisters

Marilynn and Sheila Brass

You know the butterscotch pie recipe you always meant to get from your great Aunt Sally?

Marilynn and Sheila Brass have already done the leg work for you.

You know the top-secret ingredient to your Uncle Joe’s BBQ sauce that no one knows but him?

Marilynn and Sheila Brass know.

In fact, they make it their job to know.

That’s because the Brass sisters (Cambridge residents, life-long WGBHers, and authors of the award-winning Heirloom Cooking and Heirloom Baking cookbooks) are in the business of resurrecting old family recipes, whether those recipes come to them in whispers or on yellowed bits of parchment from the 18th century.

The best part?

They breathe new life into these heirloom recipes. They recreate them so the recipes are do-able in today’s kitchen, while still being true to their roots. And they invite you to send in your ideas and questions about an heirloom recipe in your own history.

No question is too arcane. Marilynn and Sheila love a challenge.

Lemon Chess Pie

Recipe by Marilynn and Sheila Brass

Yield: 8 to 10 slices

This pie needs only a bowl and a whisk to make, even just a spoon. It is very delicate, and may need to be tented with foil toward the end to prevent the crust from browning too far.

1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup butter, melted

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon corn meal

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (1 lemon)

1/4 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup lemon juice (1 lemon)

Sprinkle of nutmeg on top (optional)

1. Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9-inch ovenproof glass pie plate with vegetable spray.

2. In a small bowl, combine flour, corn meal and salt and set aside.

3. Using a whisk, beat eggs in a bowl. Add sugar and butter and whisk into eggs. Add dry ingredients and combine. Add grated lemon zest, milk and vanilla to mixture. Add lemon juice and whisk quickly to combine. Pour into prepared pie shell. Sprinkle with nutmeg if desired.

4. Bake pie for 20 minutes and cover with tented foil or ring made of foil if crust is browning too quickly. Do not allow foil to touch the filling. Continue baking for another 25 minutes and check to see if center is still loose. If loose (not wobbly), cover again with foil and bake another 5 minutes.

5. Remove pie from oven and place on wire rack to cool. Place pie in refrigerator, uncovered, for at least three hours before cutting. Filling will form custard-like curd. Decorate with puffs of sweetened whipped cream around the edge of pie before serving. Leftover pie should be loosely wrapped with wax paper and stored in refrigerator.

Dorm Room Cuisine: Illegal Equipment + Scavenged Ingredients = Best College Grub Ever

(Author’s name withheld upon request.)

“I have a hotpot stove thing.”

“The breadmaker works well too.”

“The George Foreman grill is usable.”

Eventually, my friend confessed, “I basically have a kitchen in my dorm room.”

Spurred on by the cornucopia at Russo’s in Watertown – it’s like the civilized offspring of a Chinese and Parisian open-air market or a homier Whole Foods – we decided to cook in her room the next day.

Cranberry beans, which I’d only seen in pictures, looked even more beautiful in person, and although I had no idea what to do with them, I still scooped up half a pound. We also took home some sugar snap peas and Asian pears.

Later, standing in front of the meat section at Shaw’s and wondering how to slice the meat thin enough for Korean barbecue, my friend casually mentioned that her parents had bought a deli slicer precisely to solve this problem. A rather extreme yet admittedly admirable act, I thought to myself. We grabbed some ribs and marinade and teetered home on bikes with handlebars laden with produce.

The next day, we convened in my friend’s dorm room. A couple plates of rice, salt, pepper, sugar, and oil had already been foraged from the dining hall. My friend had warned me during the day, when we had been exchanging recipe ideas via email, that her Foreman grill was “tiiiny.”

“How tiny?”

“Like the size of one burger patty. Ideal for a dorm room. I guess.”

She also mentioned that her roommates were slightly skeezed out by the raw meat marinating in their fridge. The results, however, were impressive and absolutely worth any doubts that we, or her roommates, might have had.

The Foreman grill did its job, no oil, no smoke-sucking hood needed. The meat was smoky, juicy, lightly charred with tones of peanut and soy sauce.

We sautéed the sugar snap peas with garlic and slivers of rehydrated shiitake mushrooms and dropped in bits of prosciutto at the last minute.

As for the gorgeous cranberry beans, I decided to simply boil and sauté them. While waiting for them to crisp up, I spied a jar of chili-lime popcorn seasoning on the shelf. I dropped a pinch of it on the beans, tasted, and then dumped in more. In the end, I wished I’d bought more of these beans at Russo’s.

Halfway through eating the Asian pears for dessert, we realized that we’d created a major faux pas. In Chinese, fen-li (splitting pears) is a homonym for fen-li (separation). Did this bode ill for our friendship? We were determined to ignore cruel fate and meet again for another delicious meal of dormitory cooking.

Wintertime Hideouts

Looking for hot food, warming drinks, and a cozy atmosphere?

These venues fit the bill. Our top three choices for wintertime hideouts are below.

Green Street Grill

The Green Street Grill in Cambridge

WHAT: Neptune Oyster
WHERE: 63 Salem Street, Boston
WHY: As big as a shoebox (18 seats). Food is almost as good as the atmosphere, especially if you’re having the Neptunes on Piggyback appetizer or the Vitello Tonnato sandwich. North End-worthy Italian wines on the list too.

WHAT: Green Street Grill
WHERE: 280 Green Street, Cambridge
WHY: Drink may be the most fanciful cocktail place in Boston, but Green Street is still the best for artfully made cocktails. The bartenders are professionals who take the business of putting together good drinks very seriously. As for food: lots of braising and grilling going on – time to warm up! — plus fun snacks if you’re just hanging out.

WHAT: Hungry Mother
WHERE: 233 Cardinal Medeiros Avenue, Cambridge
WHY: Southern cuisine, French twists, all kinds of homestyle charm. Killer cocktails and fantastic if tiny draft beer list too.