Mains

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…

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…

On the bone –or not–is a choice to make when you buy any of the big cuts of beef, lamb or pork. Generally, I prefer roasts that are on the bone.  They have more flavor and produce richer juices than their de-boned counterparts. The recipe I offer here is for a beef chuck roast on the bone.

Certainly, there are those who, for example, prefer a standing rib roast on the bone (without it how can it stand?).  Conversely, the boneless cut is easier to carve, cooks in less time and is just neater.  If the flavor difference is not crucial, boneless is a doable alternative.

Chuck roast on the bone

Read more…

If there is one essential pair of late-spring early-summer vegetables to pair now it’s new potatoes and summer shelling peas.  I haven’t seen this duo in Portland’s farmers’ markets yet, but I encountered them at Beth’s Farm Market in Warren, the midcoast farm-store behemoth that always seems to be the first with the gems of summer produce.

Beth’s market in Warren–early strawberries, shell peas and new potatoes are plentiful now

At a recent trip there, the peas were just out, still somewhat small but bulging pods with sweet green peas.  Nearby were the basket of new red potatoes and those precious baby carrots that are just being pulled from the ground.

Baby carrots, peas and new potatoes

At the Portland Farmers’ Market today, English peas from Goranson Farm

Read more…

As a child at the family table, rice was anathema to my foodpreferences.  Yet my mother served it often as the side dish to a main course.  That box of Uncle Ben’s held a prominent place in the cupboard.  But the best I could do was grit my teeth and roll it around my fork soaking up its starchy blandness.  In fact, the only way I would eat it was with a good pour of maple syrup over it, presaging my sweet-tooth proclivities.

Rice grits (photos courtesy of Anson Mills)

Read more…

At the  fabled Bisson’s butcher shop on Meadow Road in Topsham, where the beef or dairy you  buy there comes from the cows grazing across the road, the least likely treat from their freezer case is Bisson’s  salmon pie. It’s an old family recipe that’s highly regarded by regulars and staff.   As with the other pies that the shop makes–beef and chicken–salmon seems an unlikely choice where meat otherwise reigns.

Bisson’s salmon pie

Read more…

All those holiday roasts that we painstakingly prepare and from which we covet each luscious bite sometimes seem destined to be the prize at the end of the road: the leftovers.

The Christmas menu was roast prime rib, thrice baked potatoes and carrot souffle

Read more…

Franks and beans are as much of a tradition in New England as attending the Magic of Christmas celebration at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium. I’ve only gone once to that wonderful extravaganza, but baked beans have a much larger meaning for me.  For one I’ve not been a great baked-beans cook.  I usually add too much liquid and over- or under-cook the beans—basically it’s not my culinary métier.  Though I’ve found that the recipe on the back of the State of Maine beans package sold in local supermarkets is a classic, standard recipe that works well.    But this go round last Saturday night, I used a recipe that was one of those wonderful hand-me-down formulas–often the hallmark of great home cooking.  I found it in Linda Greenlaw’s wonderful book, Cooking on a Very Small Island–chockful of regional recipes that are so good.

Baked Bean Supper

Read more…

Perhaps the enjoyment of comfort food—seeking out solace with knife, fork and spoon—is more warranted than ever.  We have the growing morass of Washington politics within The New Disarray as pathological as urinary incontinence as some Americans grapple with the likes of  the threats to put an end to climate control policies, the EPA agency and the standards it protects, cannulating immigrants to what amounts to exile  and even the department of Education is under the gun as the new leader-to-be of the free world takes an ax to all that we’ve been used to for decades in the name of shaking up the establishment like a deadly virus. Or was it all a fatal scam to get elected?

That’s why I may turn to my favorite palliatives–butter, cream, sugar, flour, beef, poultry, anything sweet, pastry–loading up on carbs and the like, at least for a while as classic comfort food fills my fantasies.  I’m even renewing my penchant for Dunkin Donuts.

The basic beef pot roast

The basic beef pot roast

Read more…

I don’t know how I developed my passion for the cooking of the south.  In fact I haven’t traveled to the south much at all.  I went to Savannah once and recall a wonderful meal at The Olde Pink House.  I’ve been to Williamsburg and dined at the Williamsburg Inn that evokes the old south with black waiters in livery.  I’ve been to Atlanta and Florida but didn’t seek out regional cooking. I wish I had also spent more time in Charleston, South Carolina where it has the biggest concentration of southern chefs doing great things.  I subscribe to the southern lifestyle magazine Garden and Gun and import soft wheat southern flour milled in small granaries in the South.  What more can I do from my perch up north?

Clockwise: fried chicken at the old Caiola's; a generic portrayal of fried chicken ; fried chicken at BJ's

Clockwise: fried chicken at the old Caiola’s; a generic portrayal of fried chicken ; fried chicken at BJ’s

Read more…