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.

It’s one of the recipes that I made.  There’s a fair number of steps to achieve the flavor profile that she’s aiming for.  First is the preparation of the brine, in which the chicken marinates for 24 hours.  The brine is highlighted using juniper berries and for the whole brew to be boiled and then cooled (which could take half a day unless you put it on the back porch on a cold day or short cut the process by putting in some ice cubes and letting it cool down in the regrigerator).  The chicken is browned, put in the oven with a heavy skillet on top to bring the pieces in hard contact with the cast-iron surface.  The dish takes no time at all.  What emerges is a beautifully crisp chicken with lemon, rosemary and butter.  It’s not your typical Iron Chef recipe but rather one you can applaud  for its fine unfussy flavors.

Cast-iron roast chicken with lemon and rosemary

The same could be said for her clam chowder.  There’s not a hint of smokiness from bacon or salt pork which usually stud chowder recipes.  Instead the sweet clams, potatoes, cream, milk and herbs like parsley and dill create a fine creamy chowder whose main ingredient—local clams—is not upstaged by extraneous additions.

I’ve made two other recipes so far: Dad’s Meatloaf and the Parsley Dumplings, which are found in her recipe for moose stew.  Obviously, we’re not apt to come across moose at either a nose-to-tail butcher shop or supermarket—and she readily suggests using any cut of beef like chuck. She made the moose because her neighbor, a field guide, brought her some moose meat.  She substituted it in her mother’s wonderful beef stew recipe.  She adds the dumplings to the stew.

Dad’s meatloaf

As for Dad’s Meatloaf, it’s become a new favorite for me compared to the long list of meatloaf recipes that I’ve made over the years.

It has several distinctive  ingredients: shredded carrots and grated pecorino are  in the loaf mix, which is equal amounts of ground beef and pork.  For filler bread cubes from a country loaf are used instead of crumbs and the loaf  baked in a loaf pan is topped with a ketchup and mustard glaze.  But there’s one ingredient that really sets it apart: it has a heaping amount of chopped shallots instead of the usual onions.  These offer greater subtlety of flavor than onions.  I’ve made this loaf three times already and love it.

I made a few changes in the recipe mostly concerning the size.  I cut down on the meat to fit one loaf pan instead of the two that’s called for.  The other ingredients were minimally changed

Dad's Meatloaf

Yield: 3 to 4

Dad's Meatloaf

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound ground chuck
  • 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup grated carrots
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped shallots
  • 1/2 (scant) cup grated pecorino
  • Scant 2 cups bread cubes from a sour dough crusty loaf
  • 2 large sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 heaping teaspoon salt
  • 6 to 8 twist of ground pepper
  • Glaze
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Combine all of the meatloaf ingredients in a large bowl and use your hands to mix the until just evenly combined. Do not overmix. Fill a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan with the meatloaf mixture, patting it down to fit evenly.
  3. Glaze. In a medium bowl stir together all of the ingredients.
  4. Brush the top of the meatloaf with a thick coat of the glaze. Transfer to the oven and bake until an instant-read thermometer reads 150 degrees, about 45 minute or slightly longer.
  5. Let the meatloaf rest for 10 to 15 minutes then unmold. Use a spatula to lift out the loaf and place glaze side up on a serving platter. If you turn it out glaze side down and then right side up you’ll mess up the glazed top. The loaf lifts out easily.
  6. Cut into serving slices.
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