Wine dinners—and nowadays craft-beer pairing extravaganzas — that most restaurants host for visiting vineyards or local breweries showcase both the restaurant’s cooking and the winemaker’s wares. For me it’s generally too much food and wine in a progression of courses that often yields a reach for Gelusil, the iconic antacid from the last century. Yet after seeing the menu for the Wild Game Dinner with wine pairings held at Little Giant last month I learned that there was nothing diminutive coming from their kitchen.

The bar room and main dining room

The revelation was this:  Little Giant’s chef Rian Wyllie—where until now have you been hiding? He came from Boston where he cooked at two restaurants that had elevated casual menus––what I call guilty of sloshing around the world cuisine orbit. His alma maters, Lone Star Taco Bar and Deep Ellum, in no way indicated the depth of this chef’s abilities that he presented at Little Giant’s recent special dinner.  All six courses featured sophisticated renditions perfectly executed and paired by an unusual spectrum of esoteric wines, cordials and cocktails from Haus Alpenz distributors.

Read more…

Cookbooks by restaurant celebrity chefs can be exciting, even revelatory.  Yet sometimes they should be taken with a grain of salt.  Generally, their recipes are overly complex and time-consuming, loaded  with steps that are best accomplished by professionals in a restaurant kitchen.

The Lost Kitchen cover photo

But Erin French’s new cookbook, “The Lost Kitchen” by the chef/owner at the highly acclaimed restaurant, The Lost Kitchen, in the far reaches of Friendship, Maine, is a case in point that’s an exception. Her book is the essence of simplicity.  Which doesn’t mean that all the recipes are a cinch to make.  Rather they are built on flavor profiles that are exacting. Given her location in the farm-rich fields of Freedom, Maine, and its environs, there’s an assumed locality in her ingredients that are so readily accessible in her neck of the woods.  She’s not apt, therefore–nor should you–to go to the supermarket to get a plastic wrapped chicken for her cast-iron roasted chicken with lemon and rosemary.

Read more…

Certain dishes remain locked up as seasonal holiday preparations when they could easily be unleashed to enjoy any time of the year.  Some examples include goose or prime rib for Christmas, lamb or ham for Easter and corned beef, the centerpiece of a New England boiled dinner, traditionally served on St. Patrick’s Day. But these are wonderful whenever you want to have them.

That’s what I thought when on a recent weekend I was at Bisson’s, the Topsham butcher, and spied their corned beef, which is in the meat case year-round.  It’s a great cut of beef, prepared traditionally–with the dividend of leftovers in sandwiches or corned beef hash.

Bisson’s corned beef wrapped and ready brined with salt, sugar, and pickling spices

Read more…

Opening day, this past Saturday,  at Portland’s new location for its indoor winter farmers’ market was a hallmark event.  If you haven’t been yet, then get yourself there next Saturday at 9:00 AM when the market opens at the Maine Girl’s Academy in the far-flung reaches of Stevens Avenue.

Entry way to the Maine Girl’s Academy and the farmers’ market inside

Read more…

My small soiree for Thanksgiving dinner  turned out to be one of the best I’ve made (modesty aside) because the menu was simple, the ingredients the best available from local sources.  And I didn’t have the stress of serving a  crowd.

The turkey was from Alewive’s Brook Farm. It’s not organic but as close as one can get without the labeling. These are birds that flock and peck in the open, eating whatever is on the ground.    And they’re so fresh: slaughtered on Tuesday, they’re available at the farm or at Wednesday’s Monumemnt Square farmers’ market.

When I picked up the bird at the farm I asked Jodie Jordan, the patriarch of the farm, how long does it need to cook.  Fifteen minutes per pound? I asked.  He shook his head, answering, ” I cook it until it’s done, no hard and fast rule.” Figure on 15  minutes per pound, more or less; just use an instant read thermometer to register about 165 degrees; remove, tent with foil to rest.

Local turkey

Read more…

The $15 hamburger has become standard fare in Portland at some of our finer restaurants.  That price  gets you rarefied beef blends (short-rib and brisket are a favorite) molded into the shape of a typical hamburger and sandwiched on a hand-made roll like brioche.  Add hand-cut fries made from heritage potatoes and slices of heirloom tomato and local lettuce and the picture is burger heaven.  But where oh where are those less costly burgers that are as good as their pricier counterparts?

Ruski’s dive bar vibe

Read more…

No dish typifies New England cooking better than baked haddock fillets topped with a white sauce and buttered crumbs.  The flavors are so inimitable and pure.  I like haddock best for this dish but cusk or pollock, though not as flaky, are fine alternatives.  What’s more, these fish, from local waters,  are so economical, running anywhere from $3.99 to 6.99 per pound. In New York at specialty fishmonger, Citarella, they’re priced at $15.99 per pound, termed  “wild caught” in New England waters (most likely Maine).

Season the haddock fillets on both sides before topping with sauce to bake

Read more…

If you’re planning to visit the East Bayside Portland indoor winter farmer’s market, which has been held at 84 Cove St. for several years, remove it from your GPS.  The building, which resembled a dude cave more so than a farmer’s marketplace, is no more as we know it. The location has indeed changed–but no one knows for sure where it will be held.

It’s still scheduled to open on Saturday, December 2, for the 2017-2018 season.  But an entry on the Maine Farmers’ Market website lists the site as TBD.

It’s not clear why the market organizers left their Cove Street space, except that the lease held by Swallowtail Café and the farmers’ market is being taken over by Taproot Magazine.

The tables at the year-round Swallowtail cafe at Cove Street

One reason might be pure economics regarding the tenancy on a 12-month basis.  The market operated there for 5 months along with Swallowtail’s Café and Market Place, which might not have been viable   economically to keep as a year-round space. Read more…

Pudding cakes are an alchemy of baking, a luscious dessert that has two layers: a creamy pudding underneath crowned by a sponge cake that rises like a soufflé.

It takes minutes to prepare and the one featured here is a lemon pudding cake.  The batter has just few ingredients: egg yolks, whipped whites, melted butter,  flour, sugar, lemon and milk.  Voila! It puffs up in the baking leaving behind a luscious pudding underneath.

Serve the lemon pudding cake warm or refrigerate and serve chilled with whipped cream

Read more…

The new, much awaited endeavor, Toast Bar from Scratch Baking is, among other attributes, a luxurious use of dining options in our region.  I mean, a toast bar?  What is it exactly?  I pictured rows of toasters lined up on a counter in various stages popping out puffy browned breads.

The Toast Bar carries on the bakery’s high standards to bring some of the best baked styles of bread- making around.  Of course, there are their famous flakey-crusted croissant-like lightly sour-dough bagels along with their great breads.  If, for instance, you haven’t picked up a baguette from Scratch baking, it’s one of the best baguettes around. And it’s a marvel of bread making. Their starter has a slight zing of sourdough from long fermentation, and added shelf life, exhibiting a crunchy outer crust and intense bread flavor.  There are 12 to 13 breads made at the bread shop, the selection of which changes daily.

the Toast Bar for breads and bagels and spreads

Read more…