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It was a cold but beautiful weekend to be in one of the most beautiful places in New England, the Portland, Maine area. We’ve made several trips to Maine in the past and always look for reasons to visit. . . we even have a trip to Camden booked for April. I am counting the days until it’s warmer!

A few past Maine blog posts:

Freeport and Camden Maine

Hartstone Inn, Camden, Maine

Our friends recently moved to Maine, which gives us an important reason to visit. After our second annual Halfway to Dot Day 5k race (which was absolutely bloody freezing) we hit the road, stopping for lunch in Portsmouth and then heading on to beautiful Cape Elizabeth.

My first order of business was a New England-y photo shoot for Nautical Gin, a brand I have been working with this year. Our friends brought us to Kettle Cove, which was a stunning location and a place I would love to visit again when it is warmer than 10 degrees.

Kettle Cove Maine

After some snacks and relaxing, we headed to downtown Portland for drinks at the Top of the East in the Westin Portland Harborview.

Eastland Portland Maine The views and Christmas decorations were gorgeous, and the cocktails delicious. It was definitely the perfect place to kick off our night out in Portland.

Eastland 15th floor Portland

After our round of drinks, we headed to the main event, dinner at Sur Lie, where we had one of the best meals we’ve enjoyed in a long time and ordered half of the menu.

Cocktails Sur Lie Portland

First, more cocktails: Forest Moon of Endor {Four Roses bourbon, Applejack, Kina, pecan orgeat, lime, sassafras bitters}

This definitely had a nice, warming autumnal feel and taste; it was reminiscent of apple pie but not too sweet.

Fried Milk Braised Cauliflower

{Fried Milk Braised Cauliflower, honey soy glaze} – Sweet, with little kicks of spice, earthy, delicious, the way cauliflower should be

Smith's Log Smokehouse Sausage

{Smith’s Log Smokehouse Sausage, orange peel & honey pork sausage, house pickles, roasted garlic} I had heard great things about Smith’s meats, and they were confirmed when I had this sausage. Melty roasted garlic and paper thin slices of bread paired deliciously with it. ,

chicken croquettes

{Chicken Croquettes}

I was a huge fan of these when I was a kid, and this more gourmet version was even better.

 

IMG_0690

Pink bubbles go with everything. I am loving Franciacorta lately and Italian bubbly in general. This was the perfect choice for pairing with so many different dishes and for celebrating new beginnings.

the best scallops ever

{Seared Scallops, white sweet potato puree, pickled red onion, pineapple mojo, lime}

We agreed that these were some of the most perfect scallops we have ever had.

 

Captains' Cut Cod*

{Captains’ Cut Cod*, butternut squash purée, pecan, apple, maple syrup}

I normally wouldn’t think of cod and autumn flavors like these going together, but this dish was amazing. The fish was cooked to perfection, and everything just worked so beautifully.  This dish made me want to experiment with fish more at home.

 

 Panko Crusted Pork Cutlet*

{Panko Crusted Pork Cutlet*, L.P. Bisson & Sons pork loin, chicken gravy, Whatley Farm organic duck egg, house pickles}

We couldn’t decide between the two pork dishes so we ordered both. Again, cooked to perfection, and the meat was paired with seasonal, creative flavors.

 L.P. Bissons Smoked Pork Chop

{L.P. Bissons Smoked Pork Chop, carrot-cream cheese puree, walnut, torpedo onions, fennel, brown butter}

The contrast of flavors between the rich pork and carrot-cream cheese and the crunchy, tangy onions made this one of my favorite dishes of the night.

  apple cider donut {House Apple Cider Donut, apple cider donut, pecan maple syrup, pumpkin gelato}

Chocolate Pot de Creme

{Chocolate Pot de Creme, espresso gelato, orange laced madeleines}

Heavenly desserts could not be passed up, and we couldn’t get over how delicious both of these were. Every bite of this meal was so well-planned and thought out. The perfect ending to the night was a visit from the chef to see how things were. Between the service, the wine pairings, the ingredients, and the cozy, simple decor, Sur Lie quietly and understatedly outdid itself.

NespressoSunday brought a nice lie-in, Nespresso (which I hadn’t had in awhile. . . oh how I love it!), and a walk around Portland Head Light, which was decorated for Christmas and looking like a picture perfect New England scene. I love Maine.

Portland Head Light

Portland Head Light

 Portland Head Light  

Before we reluctantly made our way back to Boston, we stopped for brunch at The Porthole, a hidden-away diner-type restaurant and bar that we try to visit every time we are in Portland. Their brunch is great, and in warmer months, the patio is the place to be for live music and local Portland beer.

I had to go for the Lobster Bennie when in Maine!

lobster benedict

the porthole portland maine

It was an excellent weekend, and while we were sad to see our friends move away, they couldn’t have picked a better place for us to visit! I look forward to discovering more of Portland and the surrounding areas in the future, especially when the weather is better!

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Tags: blogging, brunch, cocktails, dinner, Food, Maine, ME, New England, Portland, Travel, travel blog, travel blogger, wine

Being a blogger has definitely given me some amazing opportunities, and this weekend, the chance to be a judge in the Hood New England Chef’s Challenge brought my first opportunity to judge a cooking competition.

Because I was a judge in the competition, my hotel room at the brand new Residence Inn in downtown Portland was provided for free. The hotel was beautiful, very clean, spacious, modern, and ideally located across the street from the Ocean Gateway Terminal, the site of the Hood events for the weekend. The hotel was also blocks from many great bars and restaurants and gave us a chance to go out and about after the competition.

The hotel was also practically connected to the Shipyard Brewing Company, so we also had the chance to visit the brewery store to pick up some great local beer to bring back to Boston.

Residence Inn Portland Residence Inn Portland
island roses Shipyard beer

Everything about the weekend was wonderful, from the waterside accommodations (where, as you can see, island roses were still blooming!) to the food, and most of  all the Hood New England Chef’s Challenge competition.

Portland Harbor

Prior to heading to the competition, I met up with Amy from Poor Girl Gourmet. Amy is one of my favorite bloggers and recently published a book. Once we were inside the Ocean Gateway Terminal, we met up with my friend and fellow blogger, Michelle from Fun and Fearless in Beantown. I was honored to be included on a judging panel with such fun, great writers!

food bloggers

Once the competition officially kicked off, the chefs had an hour to create a holiday dish using Hood sour cream. During that time, the judges were allowed to wander around to check in on what the chefs were cooking up. Our New England chefs were:

Connecticut, Chef “Red” Keith Lanphear, Black Rock Tavern

Massachusetts, Chef Josh Ziskin, La Morra

Rhode Island, Chef Matt Jennings, La Laiterie Bistro

Vermont, Chef Steve Atkins, The Kitchen Table Bistro

New Hampshire, Chef Evan Mallett, Black Trumpet Bistro

Maine, Chef Gary Cartwright, Stripers

Chef Keith Lanphear Chef Gary Caron
Chef Steve Atkins Chef Matt Jennings
Chef Evan Mallett Chef Josh Ziskin

The smells in the room were amazing, and maybe at times, a little overpowering! There was so much activity and prep going into each chef’s dish, and to help them out, they had culinary school students as assistants in their demo kitchens.

mushrooms

spices

harvest bread pudding

One of the standouts for me during the cooking portion of the competition was learning from each chef, as he cooked, how many local ingredients each of the chefs used. From locally foraged mushrooms to Granby Farms and Misty Knoll Farms turkeys, organic local sweet potatoes, and of course, the Hood sour cream, it seemed like the majority of the ingredients were carefully sourced from local farms. I think it was definitely reflected in the taste and quality of the food.

Harvest Bread Pudding

Each and every dish was beautiful, and it was difficult to decide on a winner!

chicken stuffed with kale image
chicken with spaetzle
The winning dish! A Hungarian-inspired chicken with spaetzle.
sweet potato gnocchiimage

As the chefs finished their dishes, the panel of judges went up to each station, were briefed on the dish, and then got to sample a bite before quickly moving on to the next chef. I think everyone agreed that the food needs to be cooked and tasted in a staggered time period next time as we were rushing around trying to taste everything right when it was done.

The final products were as follows: a harvest bread pudding with bacon brittle and sour cream ice cream from Chef Cartwright, sweet potato gnocchi from Chef Mallett, kale-stuffed chicken with mushroom polenta from Chef Ziskin, a chicken and spaetzle dish from Chef Lanphear, a deconstructed turkey pot pie from Chef Jennings, and a turkey tetrazzini from Chef Atkins.

We judged each dish on presentation, creativity, and taste, and when all was tasted and done, Chef Lanphear was the winner! I loved the rich, warm, spiced sauce and the tender chicken in Chef Lanphear’s dish, and I am not sure if I am allowed to say this. . . but it was my favorite. Each dish had some sort of outstanding quality, and I would have loved to have had the chance to sit down to eat more of each!

New England Chef Challenge

I love New England, the holidays, autumn, and Hood products, so it was a lot of fun to be able to judge chefs from around the region doing what they do best. I felt a little like a Food Network celebrity judge for the day, and I would judge another competition in a heartbeat! Thank you to Hood and everyone involved in making the weekend so memorable and fun.

Do you watch cooking shows or competitions on TV? What is your favorite?

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Tags: competition, cooking, Food, Hood, ME, Portland, sour cream

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