A warming fire, bright candles and the rustic touch of pine cones, cedar branches and log chargers set the table for an elegant winter supper in the country. Photo courtesy of blovelyevents.com

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

When you have most of a day to putter around in your warm kitchen, and you are lucky enough to have wonderful neighbors who bring you fresh-caught salmon, or have found nice salmon at the store – why not put together an elegant winter supper on a cold, dark day?

But I will add one note of caution – only make this supper for people you really want to come back. Because they will!
While listening to Classical music – cup of tea or hot cidar optional – tie on a festive apron and plan to spend about 3 1/2 hours in the kitchen, cooking this feast.

I also recommend taking frequent breaks to sit down and watch birds at the bird feeder.

No use making a nice, relaxing supper for friends if you’re too frazzled to enjoy it with them. 

Prepare the bread pudding first, then the salad, then the soup, the orzo and finally, just before sitting down to eat, the salmon.

Cinnamon Bread Pudding

Preheat oven to 350°.
Mix 1/2 cup dried cherries (in a pinch, use dried cranberries) and 1 Tbsp. rum in small bowl.
Let stand 5 minutes.
Mix 1 cup sugar and 4 tsp. cinnamon in small bowl.
Reserve 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. of the sugar mixture.
Mix 4 eggs, remaining sugar mixture, 2 tsp. vanilla  and 1/4 tsp. salt in large bowl with wire whisk until well blended.
Stir in 3 cups milk.
Add 7 cups French, Italian or challah bread cubes and 2 ripe bananas, sliced; toss to coat well.
Pour into greased 13×9-inch baking dish.
Sprinkle cherries first, then 2 Tbsp. of the reserved sugar mixture on top.
Bake 35 minutes, or until knife slides in the center and comes out clean.
Let stand in a wire rack until ready to serve.
With an electric mixer, beat 1 cup heavy cream, remaining 1/4 cup sugar mixture and 1 tsp. vanilla in medium bowl just until stiff peaks form.
Refrigerate until time to serve with the pudding.
You may sprinkle a dash of cinnamon on top of the whipped cream, if you wish.

Beet and Mandarin Orange Salad 

Preheat oven to 375°.
Trim 8 small beets, leaving 1 inch of stems and roots; wash.
Place beets, 4 tsp. olive oil and 1/2 tsp. course ground pepper in large resealable plastic bag. Toss to coat.
Place beets on shallow baking pan. 
Roast 40 to 45 minutes or until fork tender.
Toast walnuts in the oven with the beets on separate baking pan 5 to 7 minutes or until golden brown, stirring once.
Cool beets. Peel and cut into 1/2-inch wedges.
Drain 1 can (11 oz.) mandarin oranges.
Refrigerate beets and oranges separately.
Mix 1/2 cup orange juice, 2 Tbsp. each olive oil and cider vinegar, 2 tsp. parsley flakes, 1/2 tsp. each course ground pepper and salt, and 1/4 tsp. garlic powder in a small bowl with a wire whisk until well blended.
Set aside at room temperature.
Divide 8 cups of mixed greens among 6 plates. Top each with mandarin orange sections and beets. Sprinkle with toasted walnuts and drizzle with dressing.

Creamy Spiced Carrot Soup

Toast 2 tsp. each coriander seed and cumin seed in a small skillet on medium-high heat 2 minutes or until fragrant.
Immediately pour out of hot pan to avoid over-toasting.
Finely crush seeds using a small food processor or mortar and pestle. 
Heat 1 1/2 tsp. olive oil in large saucepan on medium heat.
Add 1 large onion, sliced, and 2 cloves garlic, sliced; cook and stir 6 minutes or until tender.
Add 1 Tbsp. of toasted seeds, 1/2 tsp. ground ginger  and 1/4 tsp. salt; cook and stir 1 minute.
Add 4 cups chicken stock and 1 1/2 lbs. carrots, peeled and sliced; cover.
Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; simmer 25 minutes or until carrots are very tender. 
Spoon 1/2 of the carrot mixture into food processor or blender; cover.
With center part of cover removed to let steam escape, process until smooth.
Repeat with remaining carrot mixture.
Return to saucepan. Set aside at room temperature.
For the topping, mix 1 cup plain yogurt, remaining toasted seeds, 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro and 1/8 tsp. salt in small bowl.
About 10 minutes before serving, warm the soup on medium-low heat.
Ladle into soup bowls. Top each bowl with a dollop of the yogurt topping.

Orzo with Tomatoes and Parmesan Cheese

Bring 3 1/2 cups chicken stock to boil in medium saucepan.
Add 1 1/2 cups orzo; cook on medium heat 10 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.
Set aside at room temperature.
Mince 1 garlic clove.
Chop 1 cup plum tomatoes. Or, if you are short on fresh tomatoes, this is the perfect place for some of those canned romas from your garden!
Place garlic and tomatoes in medium bowl.
Chop 3 green onions.
Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in large nonstick skillet on medium-low heat.
Add tomatoes, garlic, 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning and stir 2 minutes or until tomatoes begin to soften.
Stir in 1 Tbsp. butter, cooked orzo and 1/4 tsp. course grind black pepper. 
Cook/stir 2 minutes or until heated through.
Add green onions and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese; and stir for one more minute.
It’s done!

Pan Roasted Salmon

For 6 generous servings, you’ll need about 2 lbs. of salmon (cut in 6 to 8 fillets), skin on.
You may need to prepare in 2 very large skillets if you do not have an extra, extra large skillet.
Mix 2 tsp. each, dried basil and garlic powder and 1 tsp. each, oregano, crushed dried rosemary leaves and sea salt in a small bowl. 
Sprinkle 4 tsp. of the mixture over the salmon fillets. Reserve remaining seasoning mixture. 
Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in an extra large skillet on medium-high heat.
Place salmon, skin-side down in skillet.
Cook 5 minutes without turning. 
Meanwhile, mix 1/4 cup sugar, 4 tsp. olive oil and remaining seasoning mixture in large bowl.
Add 2 medium fennel bulbs, cored and thinly sliced, and 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes; toss to coat. 
Turn salmon fillets. Place fennel mixture around salmon in skillet.
Cook 6 to 8 minutes on medium heat or until fish flakes easily with a fork. 
Check the heat and do not overcook.
Serve with lemon wedges. 

Plate up the feast, sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labors, as you receive the acclaim of your guests!