December 2017

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.

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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.

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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

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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

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