Photo by Laura Dean Bennett
Whether plans call for snowboarding, hiking or sitting by a window watching the bird feeder, a winter lunch al fresco may be just the thing to make a mild winter day extra special. Hand and foot warmers, lots of hot drinks and soup, and a picnic table laid with festive table linens beside a crackling fire will make your guests happy to be served outdoors.

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

Let the wind blow and let the snow fall, as long as there’s warmth, good food and warm drinks, you have the start of a memorable winter supper.

Of course, any elegant repast brought to a well-decorated winter table is going to be welcomed by your guests.

Nothing says winter feast like the smell of roasting meat, a fire in the fireplace and a kitchen and dining room draped in evergreen boughs.

But, maybe your guests would be up for something a little “outside” the norm.

If it’s a mild winter day, and not at all windy, consider serving a winter luncheon al fresco.

After a morning of ice skating, skiing, walking in the woods or just sitting at a window watching the birds at the feeder, what could be nicer than a winter picnic?

And you don’t have to go far outdoors to have one.

Set a spectacular table laid with pine branches and lanterns right on the porch.

A warm blanket draped over the back of each chair, festive table linens, hand and foot warmers at each place setting and carafes of hot drinks will keep your company cozy as they enjoy a snowy winter scene.

Some winter mood music will complete the picture.

Or, if your guests are really hearty outdoor types, wouldn’t it be adventurous to take your picnic outside around a crackling fire?

Once you have the fire started, set up a portable table and chairs. And don’t forget to line each seat with a blanket.

You’ll also need thermoses of soup, hot coffee, tea and/or hot chocolate.

Dessert should be easy and fun. Bring cookies, brownies or fudge, or really round out the picnic theme by having the makings for s’mores.

Now, for the menu…

Start with an appetizer of baked brie and crackers.

If you’ll be dining on the porch, how about maple vinaigrette grilled salmon and Brussels sprouts for the main course?

For a picnic, what could be nicer than roasted tomato soup and beef tenderloin sandwiches?

Whether you settle for eating on the porch or decide to sit out around a fire, a lovely winter picnic could be such fun that it might just become a new winter tradition.

Let’s get started:

Roasted Tomato Soup

This soup is perfect to take along in a thermos for a winter picnic. And, don’t put the recipe away in the winter file, because, in summer it can be served cold.

You will be starting with tomatoes.

Should they be in season, fresh tomatoes work best, otherwise, I’d recommend well-drained, sieved, home canned tomatoes for that just-picked taste.

3 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and cored, or 2 quarts canned tomatoes
1/3 cup olive or vegetable oil, divided
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme or 2 tsp. dried thyme
2 cups chopped onion
1/4 cup minced fresh basil or 1 Tbsp. dried basil
1 can chicken broth (14 1/2 oz.) or equivalent measure of fresh chicken broth
1/2 cup half and half
Salt and pepper to taste

Place tomatoes in a roasting pan; drizzle with 1/4 cup oil. Sprinkle with garlic and thyme.

If using home canned tomatoes, sprinkle a tiny bit of the oil in a hot roasting pan, add garlic and thyme to the tomatoes and pour them into the hot pan.

Roast the tomatoes, uncovered, at 350º for one hour, turning occasionally.

In a separate large saucepan, sauté the onion in remaining oil until softened. Add roasted tomatoes and basil; cook for 5 minutes. Put through a sieve or food mill; return puree to pan. In small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm cream (do not boil). Stir cream, salt and pepper into soup.

Yields 4-6 servings.

Holiday Roasted Tenderloin

This is a hearty feast! Serve with mashed potatoes and crusty rolls.

The leftovers make the best (hot or cold) beef sandwiches you ever ate. Ideal for your winter picnic.

This recipe for beef tenderloin has been one of my family’s favorite special meals for decades. You can adjust the garlic to suit your taste and you may substitute light soy sauce to decrease the amount of sodium. But I would recommend adding more water to the recipe to decrease the sodium, instead, so as not to change the soy sauce flavor too much.

The sauce for this recipe leans heavily on mushrooms, they add so much flavor to it. If you have guests who do not care for them, just brush them aside when serving.

You will need:

A huge piece of beef tenderloin

I recommend planning for at least 1/2 lb. per person, and for this recipe, at least a 5 or 6 pound tenderloin.

Depending on the number of guests and/or how much roast you will want for “leftovers,” you may want to double all of the following ingredients. I always do.

Cook and mash a suitable quantity of potatoes while the tenderloin is cooking.

You may cook the tenderloin on an outside grill or inside in the oven.

For the Sauce:
1/2 cup water
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
8 spring onions, chop-ped fine
1 clove garlic, diced
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/8 cup cornstarch, added as a paste with the water or soy sauce to avoid lumps
1 lb. of fresh, sliced mushrooms, cleaned and dry

Instructions:

Bring all sauce ingredients to a simmer and cook until thickened.

Have a deep roasting pan on hand – large enough for your roast – and several sheets of foil large enough to cover the pan.

Brown the tenderloin thoroughly on all sides – outside on a hot grill or in the kitchen under the broiler of your oven. Once browned, take meat away from the fire.

Turn the heat down on the grill to lowest heat setting, or, if using an oven, turn oven down to 375º.

Put the meat into the roaster, place raw mushrooms around the tenderloin and pour the sauce over the tenderloin.

Seal tightly with aluminum foil and place the roasting pan back on the grill over LOWEST heat or in the oven at 375º.

Cook for 30 minutes, then check for doneness by slicing in the center. Stir mushrooms in the sauce and spoon sauce over the tenderloin. Cover. If necessary, cook longer for required doneness.

Take tenderloin out when meat is slightly more rare than desired. Cover meat, and let it rest a few minutes and you are ready to serve.

Slice thick steak-like servings and serve with mushroom sauce poured over each steak and each serving of mashed potatoes. Place some sauce in a gravy boat for the table.

Serve to general approbation and expect a certain amount of swooning.

Use the leftovers to make delicious sandwiches – served hot or cold – on crusty bread or rolls – no condiments necessary.

Grilled Salmon and Brussels Sprouts ala Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette

For those who say they don’t like salmon or Brussels sprouts – this might change their minds!

For a traditional grilled winter meal, you can grill under the broiler in the kitchen.

First, you will need several fresh or frozen salmon fillets. I suggest you do as I have done and ingratiate yourself with someone who makes frequent fishing trips for salmon and is generous enough to share the catch.

You will also need maple balsamic vinaigrette. Here again, I have a recommendation.

I always keep a bottle of Pocahontas County’s own Frostmore Farms’ maple vinaigrette in my cupboard. Not only does it make a great salad dressing when mixed with a tiny bit of oil, but it comes in handy for grilling anything.

Salmon Preparation:

Slice away skin. Place salmon fillets in grilling pan and marinade them in the maple syrup vinaigrette while prepping the Brussels sprouts. Turn fillets and leave them in the vinaigrette for grilling.

Brussels Sprouts Preparation:

Slice off the stem ends and cut in half. Discard only any truly bad outer leaves. Any good leaves that fall off during preparation should be saved and grilled with the rest. Simmer or steam in a saucepan with water until al dente, then remove and strain away water. Place in grilling pan. Sprinkle liberally with maple syrup vinaigrette.

Grill Brussels sprouts under high broiler heat (or on a sheet of foil on an outdoor grill) and turn as soon as outer edges are dark brown.

You may grill salmon at the same time as the sprouts. If you are grilling on an outdoor grill, place a sheet of foil on the grill and lay fillets on that. Turn once and check for doneness. Do not overcook! Salmon flesh should have just barely turned white and flake apart when it is ready to be served.

Serve the salmon and Brussels sprouts side by side.

Ah! A winter feast – an idea that warms the heart.

Bon Appetit!

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