The Daily Dish: Creamy Thai Basil Polenta

By Ming Tsai of Simply Ming

Serves 4

4 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, minced
4 cups whole milk
8 cups chicken stock
3 cups instant polenta
1 cup packed Thai basil leaves
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns, hand cracked
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Add 1 tablespoon butter to large sauce pan over medium-high heat and melt. Add onion, sauté until softened, and season with salt and pepper. Add milk and stock and bring to a simmer. Whisk in polenta and cook until creamy and smooth. Check flavor and season, if necessary. Whisk in remaining butter. Meanwhile, toss Thai basil with lemon zest and juice and season with salt and pepper. Serve polenta in bowls and top with Thai basil salad and pink peppercorns.
chef ming tsaiMing Tsai is the host and executive producer of public television series Simply Ming. Each week, Simply Ming brings mouthwatering recipes inspired by the combination of East and West into homes across the country.


Anne Amie winemaker dinner at Grill 23

These are the wingtips of Thomas Houseman, winemaker at Anne Amie Vineyards, shoes he wore at last week's dinner at Grill 23, not to run the 2004 Boston Marathon.

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.

Mollie Katzen and a celebration of spring, with recipes

Mollie Katzen's Mediterranean Yogurt which, she says, "started out as a multi-herb Mediterranean pesto with a touch of fruit."

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect: it was just the right day, and just the right weather, with just the right sort of food arranged around the right theme, presented by the right person.

That person was Mollie Katzen (of Moosewood Cookbook and restaurant fame), at a recent lunchtime seminar at Dudley House in Harvard Square, organized by Theresa McCulla and the Food Literacy Project at Harvard University.

Herbs were Katzen’s focus, and guests received recipes showcasing herbs for all the dishes available at the lunch: Mediterranean Yogurt, Persian Eggplant Appetizer, Spring Vegetable Herb Salad, Couscous-Quinoa Tabouli, Creamy White Beans, Chimichurri (either with tofu or salmon), and Crispy Sage Leaves.

Katzen — no surprise to anyone who’s used her cookbooks — is at her best with a wide variety of fresh (but not exotic) ingredients, guiding cooks through easy, yet revelatory, preparations.  In addition to their signature Katzen style, the recipes evoke visions of the Mediterranean — the sights, sounds, and tastes travelers will experience on WGBH’s Mediterranean Voyage of Discovery.

For the Mediterranean Yogurt recipe, for example, she uses many ingredients you’d expect such as cilantro, mint, and lemon juice. But then she throws a curveball you never saw coming: dried apricots, giving the recipe all manner of “special something” to it. Whether that came from the apricots, or the mix of herbs, or the raisins, or the walnuts, or the combination of all of those is deliciously hard to tell.

Here’s the recipe. Give it a whirl, and see for yourself.

Mediterranean Yogurt

Reproduced from the handout at Katzen’s lunchtime seminar, “Fun & Creative Uses of Fresh Herbs,” sponsored by Harvard University Dining Services and the Food Literacy Project.

1 medium clove garlic

1/3 cup parsley

1/3 cup cilantro

1/3 cup fresh dill

1/3 cup fresh basil leaves

1/3 cup fresh mint leaves

2 tablespoons fresh thyme

3 or 4 dried apricots (a soft, tart variety)

1/3 cup golden raisins

1/3 cup toasted walnuts

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Preparation: Place garlic, all herbs, dried fruit, and walnuts in a food processor, and pulse until it forms a paste. Transfer to a bowl and stir in lemon juice and yogurt. Add salt and cayenne to taste. Cover tightly and refrigerate until serving. Just before serving, you can sprinkle a little extra cayenne on top and decorate with small sprigs of parsley and a few walnut halves, for a finished look.

Optional garnishes: a light dusting of cayenne, small sprigs of parsley, and/or walnut halves.

This sauce can be served alone, as an appetizer, or as a light lunch entrée — and it is amazingly compatible with a number of foods. You can serve it as a dip for raw or steamed vegetables, in pita bread with anything and everything, as a sauce for vegetables or grains…the list is endless. Mediterranean Yogurt keeps for about a week in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.

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.

Postcards from Ireland: The Ballymaloe Cookery School

Building on yesterday’s musings about the reality of Julia Child presented at Ballymaloe Cookery School, and the sense of her spirit, one of the best ways to convey both is through photos of a recent event at Ballymaloe.

Chef Darina Allen prepares apples with caramel sauce for a classic tarte tatin. Allen recently led a two-and-a-half day course called “Homage to Julia Child.” Afternoons were devoted to cooking demonstrations of many of Julia Child’s classic recipes (such as tarte tatin and duck en croute), and in the mornings students headed into the kitchens to prepare the recipes themselves. More than 50 students from five different countries gathered at Ballymaloe for the course.

Chef Rory O’Connell demonstrates deboning a duck in the demonstration kitchen of Ballymaloe. The demonstration kitchen is outfitted with 11 gas burners, two video screens, and an enormous mirror overhead to reflect a bird’s eye view onto the dishes and activity below.

A visiting student to the “Homage to Julia Child” short course debones a duck for the duck en croute recipe.

Butter and leeks wait on a prep trolley for students to prepare the Buttered Leeks recipe during the Julia Child course.

One of many compost buckets at Ballymaloe. Kitchen scraps are used for compost and to feed the chickens.

One of several coops to house two Ballymaloe hens each.

Fresh eggs from Ballymaloe’s own hens.

Fresh, colorful peppers within easy reach of the cooks at Ballymaloe.

Flowers in the organic gardens just outside the doors of Ballymaloe Cookery School.

Timmy Allen, husband of Chef Darina Allen, gives a walking tour of the Ballymaloe gardens to the local chapter of GIY, or Grow It Yourself Ireland, an enormously popular gardening group that aims to “take the self out of self-sufficiency.”

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.

Letter from Ireland: The spirit of Julia Child at Ballymaloe Cookery School

Chef Darina Allen demonstrates Julia Child's recipe for tarte tatin.

There’s a sense of the reality of Julia Child at Ballymaloe Cookery School, and then there is a sense of her spirit.

Both reality and spirit are embodied by Chefs Myrtle Allen and Darina Allen (Myrtle’s daughter-in-law), founders of the renowned Ballymaloe House and restaurant and the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, Ireland.

Myrtle Allen is more of Julia’s generation. She and Julia share common histories as pioneering women and authors in their countries’ culinary history, and both are grounded firmly in classical French cooking technique, adapted in their own ways to suit and appeal to their local cultures and ingredients.

Darina is like Julia as well, post-publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. That is, she is her country’s culinary celebrity, generous with time and energy, and involved the way sincere representatives are for their endeavors. With Julia, the endeavor was to bring the pleasures of French cooking and eating to the American public; for Darina, it is training new generations of cooks and shepherding micro-produced ingredients and products to the marketplace.

Both streams, one more historical and one more of-the-moment, merge this week at Ballymaloe Cookery School where Darina hosts a two-and-a-half-day course called “Homage to Julia Child.” Mornings, the students are devoted to executing recipes in Ballymaloe’s three student kitchens, while afternoons are full of cooking demonstrations led by Darina and her brother, Rory O’Connell, an accomplished educator and chef in his own right.

The historical reality of Julia’s recipes is evident, from the duck en croute to the tarte tatin, but it is their spirit that is executed here. That is, the recipes that are demonstrated and prepared are “shorthand” versions of Julia’s meticulous, multipage originals. The recipes are no less successful for the abbreviations, as they have been mainstays of the restaurant at Ballymaloe and at the Cookery School for decades.

And that perhaps is the most salient lesson from this course so far: success through repetition and a firm grounding in technique. Add healthy doses of humor and camaraderie along the way and your satisfaction – not to mention an exceptionally delicious meal – is secure.

Julia would have approved.

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.

Lunch (and an excellent one) at Masa in the South End

Just one of the dessert options with Masa's $7.95 three-course lunch special.

As a change of pace from my standard weekday routine as part of WGBH’s Membership team, last week I paid a visit to Masa, chef-owner Philip Aviles’ South End restaurant. The restaurant’s interior (unlike the dreary Boston weather we slogged through) is warm and inviting; the walls are embellished with wrought-iron tracery featuring chocolate tile centers and mirrors, connoting a feeling of airiness. Tucked in the corners are terracotta jugs filled with daffodils, giving the room a touch of spring.

It was a working lunch, but I indulged and ordered a margarita, with just the right amount of bite. The meal itself overflowed with Southwestern flavors, representative of a menu that offers refreshing twists on traditional Latin favorites.

I started with a bowl of butternut squash chowder topped with crispy lardons, smoked Gouda, chile poblano, and tortilla strips. Then on to the achiote-marinated fish tacos dressed with the relatively mild earthy spiciness of chipotle tartar sauce and the crunch of pickled onions.  But the corn tortillas were the surprise. It was the first time I had eaten freshly made tortillas, and this was the perfect venue – masa means tortilla dough in Spanish — though I’ll never be able to enjoy those hard shells in quite the same way.

I ended the savory portion of lunch with a salad of field greens with prickly pear passion fruit vinaigrette, Spanish cabrales, jicama, and chile walnuts, a mix packed with amazing flavors and textures.

I ended with Masa’s signature chocolate tamale, and our server suggested the key lime pie for complementary flavors. Both desserts had layers of complex richness, co-existing without competing — the perfect ending to my midday feast.

Masa brings an inventive style to Mexican cuisine. Chef Aviles’ inspired menu is chock full of authentic Mexican and Spanish ingredients and prepares them in earthy and elegant ways.

Germaine Frechette is the guest author for today’s Foodie Blog and part of the WGBH Membership team. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, where we explore myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.

Lunch with the ladies: Swanee Hunt at No. 9 Park

Tune into WGBH on any given day, and you’ll find a lot of amazing ladies.

Ladies taking on the news of the day.

Ladies who know their music.

Even ladies championing “nerd pride.”

And while all this is going on in Brighton, No. 9 Park restaurant on Beacon Hill invited ladies of its own last week with its Ladies Who Lunch series, welcoming Swanee Hunt, former US ambassador to Austria. Hunt was the fourth guest speaker in the series, addressing the professional women who had gathered in No. 9 Park’s dining room to socialize and network.

“It’s hard for us to get out and meet smart, professional women,” said chef-owner Barbara Lynch at the beginning of the lunch, which is why she and her staff initiated the Ladies Who Lunch series last year. The phrase “ladies who lunch” may conjure certain retro images, but this event clearly was not about conservative traditions.

It was about breaking them.

“The United States ranks 85th in the world in terms of women’s representation in Congress,” Hunt said in her address to the audience. “You have to ask each other to run for Congress. I want every table in this room to nominate one woman to run. Politics is a nasty business, but we will have a different world if we go into a situation where women are affecting public policy.”

As No. 9’s staff served a three-course lunch, Hunt discussed her work: “I work in war zones, in 40 different conflict areas like Iraq, Haiti and Afghanistan,” she said. “Women reach across. Women know how much a bag of rice costs, and we know where the unhappy 18-year-old lives who’s sleeping with a machine gun under his bed.”

It was a powerful image from a powerful woman. How many of the women listening will become politically involved as a result of Hunt’s encouragement remains to be seen, but it is difficult to imagine any of us being unmoved by the idea.

Find out more about Swanee Hunt and No. 9 Park.

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.