February 23, 2021
I have lived in Maine for almost 15 years now. One of the greatest things about this “Vacationland” is Mother Nature’s gift of having all four seasons. Leaf peeping in the fall, skiing in the winter, mud season in the spring and outdoor shenanigans in the summer, make Maine an absolute wonderland. Because Maine’s natural food supply is based on the different seasons, so are our kitchen menus. Think pumpkins in the fall, stews in the winter, ramps and fiddleheads in the spring and of course, the quintessential lobster in the summer. Erin French is the owner and chef of the critically acclaimed restaurant, 𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐋𝐨𝐬𝐭 𝐊𝐢𝐭𝐜𝐡𝐞𝐧. Not only is The Lost Kitchen nestled in the small rural town of Freedom, Maine, but it was also named a 𝘛𝘐𝘔𝘌 world dining destination. Not too shabby! In The Lost Kitchen cookbook, French takes her readers though each of the four seasons, one bite at a time. Using the simplest of ingredients, French’s cookbook is a delicious treasure that belongs on every home cooks’ shelf… no matter where they live.
Who isn’t in the market for simple and mouth watering recipes? There is a time and place for convenience meals (frozen meatballs and jarred sauce anyone). But it does feel extra satisfying to step it up just a wee bit more on some nights, especially given my family’s love of food and eating all things fabulous.
French’s stunning cookbook is divided up into the four seasons. Each season has its own lineup of Firsts, Mains and Sweets and includes delightful commentary on small town living, French’s childhood memories and where your food is actually coming from. Cooking with what is in season truly disentangles the notion of complicated cooking. If you are using what is fresh and available in your kitchen, all will be well in your culinary creations. AND…if you are a lover of a glorious cocktail from time to time, you are in luck. French has a bunch of Divine adult drinks for winter, spring, summer and fall. Cheers to that thirst quenching section of the book!
Because it is winter here in Maine, I dove right into the recipes of this chilly season to start. For me, meatloaf and mashed potatoes are the ultimate comfort food in the dead of winter. In all honesty, meatloaf is one of those dishes that I “freestyle” all the time. Ground meat, an egg, some breadcrumbs and a bunch of random veggies and spices smothered in ketchup usually does the trick in my house. I was of course eager to try French’s Dad’s Meatloaf immediately. It had a fraction of the ingredients that I use when I am “throwing ” together my version of this classic dish, so I wondered if it would really be that much better. I’ll come right out and tell you that it was WAY better than anything I have concocted in the past and I am here to tell you why. French’s recipe has basic ingredients that pretty much anyone can find in their local grocery store. The quality of the ingredients and my attitude towards using them was the game changer for me. For example, instead of buying pre-shredded cheese, I took the time to select a block of cheese from the case then enjoyed the process of shredding it myself. I also bought the fresh sourdough bread and diced it up wicked fine for my breadcrumbs in lieu of the canister of breadcrumbs that’s been sitting on the shelf for weeks on end. I used the whole milk in effort to not skimp on the fat and I twisted my pepper mill the full eight times just like French instructed. Lastly, French calls for mixing in some brown sugar and a bit of dijon mustard to our Heinz ketchup to add a little pizazz to this magical loaf. All of these small steps turned this uncomplicated recipe into a five star palette pleaser!
I always serve my meatloaf with mashed potatoes. It’s an obvious pairing I never think twice about. However, I shook things up a bit in my kitchen and served French’s meatloaf with her Parsnip Puree. At first glance, this pureed root vegetable looked like the smoothest mashed potatoes I’ve ever seen. My husband and boys were literally drooling over their plated dinner. Parsnips, heavy cream, butter and salt turned this side dish into something quite decadent. A piece of the meatloaf with a dab of this sweet and creamy creation nestled on my fork was absolute heaven in my mouth and my husband was in full agreement. My teens and tween however were surprisingly not fans, which I still can’t understand. As the adults savored each bite and continued to share enthusiasm for this scrumptious recipe, our boys carried on about how much better mashed potatoes would be with this award winning meatloaf (which they did gobble up), and begged us to stop talking about how “velvety” the parsnips were in our mouths. My advice to readers is to ignore my kids and make the parsnips…you will have no regrets!
What I really found quite soothing in French’s book is her DIY activities embedded between all of her tasty recipes. How to tap your maple tree for sticky and sweet syrup, to making your own cloth napkins, French had me inspired to live more of a simple life using all the beauty that is around me. One thing I grow in my garden in the summer months is lavender. I plant a plethora of this soothing plant all around my chicken coop for its beauty and ability to mask any undesirable smells. When dried, lavender can be used to make scented sachets for your drawers, air fresheners, teas (if edible) and homemade beauty products. French recommends mixing dried up lavender with baking soda for the ultimate kitchen sink cleaner. Because it’s the middle of the winter here in Maine and all my gorgeous lavender plants are a thing of the past, I decided to grab myself some store bought dried lavender and make myself a chemical free kitchen sink scrub with the baking soda I had in my baking cupboard. My white mini kitchen sink and main farmhouse sink never looked better after using this simple mash-up. And let me tell you how splendid this cleaning process smelled!!!!! I am now looking forward to putting all my home grown lavender to good use this summer!
I plan on using French’s impressive cookbook more and more with each season. Spring is right around the corner and I am dreaming of earthy salads, tender asparagus and some juicy lamb to fill my plate. Bon Appetite!
If you are obsessed as I am with Erin French and her unbelievable restaurant, The Lost Kitchen, be sure to pre-order her upcoming memoir, Finding Freedom (Celadon Books ) ASAP!