Main Dish Recipe Archives

Maine cooks are frugal cooks who serve up a variety of filling meals on a limited budget. Here’s some long standing family favorites from back in the early days of our website.

American Chop Suey was a regular at Maine tables when we were growing up. Heard it was invented in Gray, Maine! This isn't the canned spaghetti sauce version; its more like the stuff served at the old Larson's Lunch Box in Damariscotta.
Start by boiling water in a large pot. Add salt and 2/3 a pound of macaroni elbows. Cook until done and drain into a colander.

While the water is coming to a boil, cut up a large onion and a large green pepper. Put them in a large frying pan with some oil and start them cooking over a medium flame. Add about a pound of ground chuck. Break it up into bite sized pieces as you fry it. Don't overdo. Add some garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. When the mix is done, drain the fat off. Add a big can of diced tomatoes and a small can of tomato paste. Cook for a couple minutes on medium. Then return the elbows to the macaroni pot, mix in the sauce, and reheat the whole thing for a minute or two.

Variations: You might want to try ground turkey for a lower fat 

chop suey. We also add a little hot oil to the frying pan for a spicier sauce. Some people also add a cup of chopped celery.

My mother used to mix the sauce and elbows and put it in a casserole dish. Then she topped it with sliced sharp cheddar (not pizza cheese) and baked it for about 15-20 minutes.

This is a great meal for a cold evening. Plus, since it makes a big pot full, you can warm it up for lunch, and it tastes even better!

Chicken and Dumplings: Here's another another cold weather comfort recipe. Our recipe is simplified enough to be made up in about an hour and lower fat than Grandma's. Don't worry about cutting up a whole chicken and stewing it like Grandma did either. Also we don't roll out the dumpling dough and cut it up in strips like pasta. Our dumplings are lumpy and biscuit-like.

Use a two quart pot. Cut up four boneless chicken breasts into two or three pieces each. Saute the chicken, some garlic, a chopped onion and a green pepper in a little oil for about five minutes. Add four potatoes, four carrots and a couple celery stalks all sliced thick. Season with salt, pepper and a little rosemary or basil. Add a couple cans of nonfat chicken broth. It is important to have enough liquid in the pot as the flour from the dumplings will thicken the broth, and ingredients may burn on the bottom of the pot. It is better to add a little water or even another can of broth if you are not sure.

To make the dumplings, mix two cups of flour, a little salt and two tsp. of baking powder. Cut in a couple tablespoons of margarine. The texture should be grainy. Now add enough milk to make a soft sticky dough. To cook the dumplings, bring the soup to a low boil and drop dumpling dough onto the soup by spoonfuls. Cover the pot and cook for 6-7 minutes. Then remove the lid and cook until the dumplings are done. If you take a fork and pull open the top of a dumpling, you can check to see if they are cooked through. The dumplings should rise and fill the surface area of the stew. Keep an eye on the pot; you can't stir things to keep them from sticking. You might want to turn the heat down a bit if things get too hot.

Serve the chicken and dumplings in soup bowls. Pay attention to this warning! This is hot stuff! Wait for it to cool before you dig in. It'll feed about four people.

Variations: You could add a little of the basil or rosemary to the dumplings. You might also add some different veggies like broccoli, mushrooms or turnip.

Corn Beef Hash - I was thinking about an Irish - Maine dinner connection for a March recipe, but a boiled dinner seemed a no brainer. However, I just had a conversation with a dinner guest who thought it was just wonderful. "But," I said, "you just throw the stuff in a pot and boil it!" Well, there is more to it than that... but only a little!
So...if you made a corn beef dinner for St. Paddy's Day then chances are you have leftovers. And that means hash. If you think there is no connection here, then read Kenneth Roberts' Trending into Maine. Roberts goes crazy about food and goes on at length about hash. I have my own methods. Sometimes it is nearly vegetarian because we ate all the meat, but that doesn't matter because it is still good.
Start by chopping up your leftovers. Potatoes, carrots, onions, turnips, cabbage, beef (trim the fat), whatever is left. About a 1/2" dice is good. Make sure to drain off the pot liquor. Heat up a cast iron frying pan and add butter, (real) margarine or olive oil. Add the mix, salt & pepper and cook slowly until the bottom turns crusty and brown. Don't mix it up but you may want to separate the mix with a spatula into patties. You may need to add more oil. Don't run the heat too high - slow and steady is best. It takes a little while to cook the liquid out of the cabbage and onions. Roberts goes nuts describing just how important this crusty bottom is to a good hash. He's right- it is worth the effort!
When the hash is golden on the bottom, make a a depression in each patty. Crack an egg into each hole. Cook a little more to set the eggs, then put the pan under the broiler until the eggs are the way you like them. Serve with leftover soda bread. I like a little horseradish, but Roberts goes on about ketchup.
Variation: If you served beets with your corn beef dinner, then you might want to turn your hash into red flannel hash. Just chop the beets and add to your mix in the pan. The hash will be tinted red from the beets.

Corn Chowder Burrr! We need a nice hot soup to warm up with on a cold January day. No, I will not even attempt to get into the Chowder Wars. Check out Yankee Magazine's January 2001 issue for a pretty fair article on chowder making. Better yet, read Saltwater Foodways by Sandra Oliver (Mystic, CT: Mystic Seaport Museum, 1995) for the complete history of chowdah!

Here's a quick and cheap Corn Chowder recipe for a cold day: Cook 2-3 cups of diced potatoes until just tender, drain and set aside. Saute a large onion and a little garlic in olive oil in the soup pot. When they are softened, add the potatoes, a can of creamed corn and enough milk to make up the broth. Season with salt, pepper and a shot of Worcestershire Sauce. Simmer awhile on a very low setting to blend the flavors.

Serve with crackers or a good bread. This corn chowder is excellent warmed up, but don't let it boil!
Variations: Add chopped peppers and/or celery when cooking the onions. Or add a little leftover diced ham or some extra corn kernels to the soup. Try some different seasonings- basil, rosemary or oregano. Go Spanish by adding some chopped chilies, cumin and cilantro.

Today, we generally think of Fried Haddock in its deep fried, restaurant version served with a side of french fries. But you can home cook a satisfying and less greasy version for yourself.

Buy about a pound of haddock, always fresh - never frozen to serve three people. Cut it up into about six pieces. Mix an egg with a couple tablespoons of milk, a minced clove of garlic, salt and a dash of red pepper. Soak the haddock pieces in this mix for about 10-15 minutes.
Put about a cup of seasoned bread crumbs in a bowl or a small plastic bag. I use Progresso Italian Bread Crumbs. Put about an eighth of an inch of olive oil in the bottom of a cast iron frying pan and turn on the heat. When the oil gets hot swirl the pan around a little to cover the bottom evenly. Starting with the thicker pieces of haddock, dredge each piece in crumbs (or shake in the bag) until well coated. Arrange in the hot pan and cook for 3-4 minutes. Adjust heat so the fish does not burn or cook too quickly.
Flip each piece carefully with a spatula, but flip each piece only once in the cooking process. The fish should be golden brown. I dump the remaining egg over the fish and might add a little more oil if the pan looks dry. Fish should cook in another 2 to 4 minutes. The outside should be crunchy brown and the inside moist and just slightly translucent white.

Serve with ketchup or tartar sauce and cole slaw, pickled beets, squash or mashed turnips and carrots.

Last winter I had an email asking about Lobster Rolls. The person had evidently never eaten or even seen a lobster roll but had heard that even MacDonald's sells them in Maine. They wanted the recipe as they were skeptical about how great a lobster sandwich could be!

Summer in Maine would be incomplete without a lobster roll. They are deceptively simple but with some important requirements. You can go with the hotdog roll full of lobster chunks mixed with mayo or you can do the sandwich justice.

First, fresh cooked and picked lobster is required. Cut or break the meat up into smallish chunks and mix with a little (not too much) good quality mayo. There is no sense in going for the fat free stuff here. Second, use a better roll than those used for hotdogs - also bigger so you can get more lobster in it. (Italian sandwich or sub rolls work well. Emery's Market in Fryeburg has a really light Kaiser Roll that's good, too, even if it is round.) Slice the rolls open, then butter them (outside of long rolls cut side of round) and toast on a griddle. Next, maybe line the inside with a little shredded lettuce. Fill with lobster. Enjoy.

Variations: Add a little lemon juice or thinly sliced celery to the lobster mix. Sprinkle the top with paparika. Salt and pepper at your discretion.

My absolute favorite lobster sandwich is really, really simple. Melt real butter in a frying pan. Chunk your fresh lobster meat. Saute just until hot with maybe a little salt and pepper. Toast and butter two slices of really good bread - maybe homemade oatmeal or sour dough. Pile on the hot lobster and dig in.

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd president of the US and consummate gardener, loved peas. He and his neighbors held an annual contest to see who would have the first peas of the year. Here in Maine, peas are among the earliest veggies we can plant, but we still don't see a crop until late June into July. Perhaps that's why the traditional Fourth of July dinner is salmon and peas!

I love peas and will happily stand in the garden making a snack of fresh picked raw peas. Snow peas and edible pod peas are all the better because they don't need to be shelled. Here's my favorite and very simple recipe for an oriental style Peas and Noodles dish.

Pick a substantial amount of snow peas or (my favorite) Sugar Ann's - enough to feed whatever number of people you have. Slice a large onion into rings and a green or red pepper into strips. Mince a couple cloves of garlic and a slice of ginger root. Heat up your wok and add a couple tablespoons of oil. Season with a little salt and hot pepper or hot oil to taste. Stir fry your veggies until crisp but tender. Add a couple of tablespoons of soy sauce. Then quickly add enough hot pasta to feed your crowd; I look for about a 1:1 veggie to pasta mix.

This is a real simple quick meal that can be varied easily. I sometimes add mushrooms and even (at the end of the season when the peas are running out) a zucchini or broccoli. Fancy things up a little by using sesame oil or seeds or even a little oyster sauce. Any kind of pasta will do but you might want to try the soft Chinese noodles or Japanese buckwheat noodles. Make a quick lunch or meal for one with Ramen noodles!

Add some good bread and a nice salad and you have the perfect summer garden meal!

Pea Soup is another one of the great winter meals that warm you up from the inside out! Start by adding a nice leftover hambone and a couple quarts of water to a big pot. Season with salt, a dried red pepper from last summer's garden, a couple bay leaves, 10-20 black peppercorns and a lot! of garlic. Dump in a pound of split peas, green or yellow. Pick them over and rinse them off first. Simmer for a couple of hours. Stir often. The peas settle to the bottom and will burn if you aren't careful especially as they become cooked to a mush.

Next add a large chopped onion, three or four chopped carrots and an equal amount of chopped celery. Simmer some more and then add about four potatoes cut into large pieces. Continue cooking until the potatoes are done. I make my pea soup on a wood stove- stirring is really important at this point to prevent burning! Remove the ham bone and pick off any meat left on it. Serve with corn muffins or cornbread.
This recipe makes a lot of soup! There will likely be lots of leftovers. You will find the soup quite congealed when you want to reheat it. Just take a few glops of the green stuff and mix it with a little hot water and then reheat. I also freeze individual servings of the soup for a quick meal later on.

Pot Pie, meat pies and pasties have been with us since Medieval times and have a wider popularity, of course, than Maine and New England. In recent years they've been updated by frozen pies like those Swanson first brought to the market in the 1950's. Swanson's version was labor-saving but also, in the New England tradition, cheap. They were the ramen noodles of the baby-boomer generation and could be had for 4 or sometimes 5 small, soggy pies for a buck!

One could intentionally set out to make a pot pie from scratch but it is traditionally a meal made from leftovers tossed into a pot. "Scraps and crumbs of meat make a very good dinner, when made into soup", according to Mrs. E.A. Howland in her 1845 New England Economical Housekeeper and Family Receipt Book. "Put all your crumbs of meat into the dinner-pot. Slice in two onions, a carrot, salt pepper and water enough to cover...", she continued. The soup was thickened into a stew and topped with a crust. The end result, a pie-like casserole made from the tag ends of the pantry, became a staple in frugal Yankee kitchens.

To make your pot pie, you'll need a deep pie dish or casserole dish and a recipe of pie dough to line the dish and make the top. You can find a pie dough recipe on my Dessert page under Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. This is where the recipe part stops and what follows becomes almost cooking methodology instead. It's more a matter of what you have on hand; so be creative with your leftovers.

Basically, make your pie filling from leftover meats and vegetables bound together with a sauce or thickened soup broth. If you have leftover gravy, use that. Here's some ideas to guide you:

I make turkey pot pie from the final remains of the Thanksgiving turkey and use the last of the gravy and/or some of the turkey soup stalk. The remains of a roast chicken dinner, the last servings of chicken or beef stew or of pot roast work just as well. Diced ham, potatoes and green beans go well in a cheese sauce. Or go straight veggie in a cheese sauce.

You can use any leftover cooked vegetables. Or dice some onions, celery, peppers, carrots and/or potatoes in any combination. Use some frozen peas or corn. Be careful about combining raw and already cooked vegetable as one will end up too mushy or the other will be too hard if you don't make some adjustments.

You need about 4 cups of filling - Don't have enough? Add more veggies.

No gravy or soup? Try using a can of chicken, beef or vegetable stock. Yeah, I guess you could use bottled gravy or cream of something soup but...

Start your raw vegetables in a sauce pan in a little oil. Add garlic, salt, pepper and some herbs of your choice and saute for a few minutes. If you have gravy add that and mix in meat and other ingredients. Then fill your pie and bake. If you don't have gravy, then add a can of broth (or your soup stock). When it comes to a boil sprinkle with a couple tablespoons of flour and mix briskly until the broth thickens. Mix in your meat and veggies and fill the pie crust. Top with more crust, crimp the edges and poke a few vent holes. Bake 350 for 40-60 minutes until the crust is golden. Cooking time depends on whether your filling is hot or cold when you put the pie in the oven.

Be careful - Very hot! Let it cool off before you cut and serve.

Be a thrifty Yankee and whip up this easy recipe for Potato Crab Cakes that makes good use of those leftover potatoes.
Dice some onion, pepper and garlic fine and fry in a little olive oil. When the veggies soften up, spice the mix up with a little cumin, basil and hot pepper. Add this mix to the following ingredients. Use a cup of leftover mash potatoes or cook a potato and mash it up. A dryer mix is best. Add a can of crabmeat or use fresh. A one to one mix of potato and crab is good. If you use canned crab, you may or may not want to add some or all of the liquid depending on how wet the mashed potatoes are. Next add an egg and a couple of tablespoons of bread crumbs. You may or may not want to add salt and pepper depending on the seasoning in the mashed potatoes. If the final mix seems a bit too wet then add a little more bread crumb.

Heat up your cast iron frying pan and add about a quarter inch of olive oil. Form 4 to 6 potato-crab patties and place gently in the pan. Fry gently over medium low until the bottoms of the cakes get crusty and brown. Flip once and cook until brown on the second side. You may need to add a bit more oil. This should take about 8-10 minutes per side, but control the heat carefully so that the cakes don't burn.

Serve with a tossed green salad, corn on the cob and, of course, ketchup!

Shepherd Pie is yet another comfort recipe for those cold days. It is also an old stand by of the frugal cook and is easily adaptable for leftovers or "from scratch" cooking.

Traditionally, shepherds pie was made with leftover roast and gravy, presumably lamb but beef was also common. Chop up the meat, mix in the gravy and put in the bottom of the casserole. Add a layer of leftover veggies. Top with leftover mashed potatoes, dot with butter and bake until hot, bubbly and brown. Simple and cheap.

Along the way the recipe adapted to fit the circumstances of the moment. Fry up some hamburger and chopped onions in a little oil with salt and pepper. I also add garlic and peppers. I make my pie right in my big cast iron fry pan. So spread a can of creamed corn on top of the meat but don't mix. In the absence of gravy, cream corn works as a substitute. Use leftover potatoes or make up a sufficient quantity. Spread the potatoes over the top and dot with butter. Bake as above.

I've been making my shepherds pie with ground turkey lately. You might use a little poultry seasoning. Mix in a jar of (low fat) turkey gravy. I use either peas or frozen corn in the next layer instead of creamed corn. Top with mashed potatoes and proceed as above. Serve with cranberry sauce and cornbread.