Food: A love story

For a comforting meal on a winter day, fire up the grill on the fireplace


One snowy afternoon years ago, a friend showed up at our door with two perfect venison fillets, part of his take from a weekend hunting trip. Inspired by the crackling of the fireplace inside, my husband and I took the rack off the summer grill, set it over the burning wood and had a memorable dinner of the grilled steaks with port sauce.

Americans are well-educated in the art of warm-weather grilling, but somehow little of it gets translated indoors to the fireplace. We seem satisfied to relegate hearth cooking to the Colonial era. But a fireplace dinner is a special addition to the indoor comforts of a winter day. For a Valentine celebration, there is no better place to cook and dine.

Our experience went beyond those first venison steaks and eventually led to the purchase of something called a Tuscan Grill, a special grate that fits into the fireplace and that encouraged other tasty dining adventures.

One Thanksgiving in a small rental cottage with no oven, we built our holiday dinner around the idea, bypassing the turkey for grilled game hens and a small pumpkin, which our daughter, Sarah, stuffed with wild rice and vegetables, then roasted in the embers.

Mostly though, grilling has been a simple and very pleasant way to prepare less complicated winter meals.

A few tips

The grill: A special grill isn't necessary. The grate from your summer grill, supported by some bricks or rocks on each end, will work fine.

The wood: Burn hardwoods only, and if you use oak, cherry or hickory, your meal will taste that much better. Tossing rosemary or thyme sprigs into the fire as you cook adds to the flavor of the food and the aroma of the fire. Do not use soft woods, like pine, which emit a residue. And never use barbecue charcoal indoors because it releases dangerous carbon monoxide.

The fire: Start with crumpled newspaper (old candle stubs rolled inside help get it going), topped with plenty of dry twigs, and then small dry logs. For most cooking, you'll want a fire that has burned for at least an hour, requiring several logs over that time. Let the fire burn down to a steady heat with low flames. Place grill over fire. When the grill is hot, brush with olive oil.

The table: If possible, set a low table in front of the fireplace to cook and eat right there. You may want to set up a separate small table or stool to hold your cooking utensils: a long brush and small bowl of olive oil, a pair of long tongs to turn the food, a platter on which to place items as they come off the grill.

Grilled Figs With Goat Cheese

Serves 2

4 to 6 ripe figs, sliced in half lengthwise

4 to 6 teaspoons soft, room-temperature goat cheese

Place figs cut side down on lightly oiled grill briefly, until just warm. Turn and cook briefly, but don't let the fruit get too soft. Spread each half with a dollop of goat cheese and serve.

Per serving: 86 calories, 2 grams protein, 2 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 15 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 37 milligrams sodium

Grilled vegetables

Serves 2

1 red bell pepper

1 yellow bell pepper

1 medium zucchini

1 large portobello mushroom

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt to taste

Cut the peppers in half lengthwise; seed and trim out white sections and stems; then cut into long slices about 1/2 inch wide. Slice the zucchini into long wedges of similar width. Cut the mushroom into thick slices.

Brush vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle with salt before placing on lightly oiled grill. Fire may flame up a little from the oil. Cook to desired doneness.

Per serving: 105 calories, 2 grams protein, 7 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 10 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 8 milligrams sodium

Fireside Lamb Chops

Serves 2

1/2 cup olive oil

1/3 cup red-wine vinegar

1 tablespoon dried rosemary

2 garlic cloves, minced

salt and pepper to taste

4 lamb chops, 1 1/2 inches thick

Combine olive oil, vinegar, rosemary, garlic and salt and pepper in a glass bowl and add chops, turning to thoroughly coat. Cover and marinate in refrigerator 4 to 12 hours, then remove bowl and bring to room temperature.

Remove chops from marinade, place on grill and cook about 15 minutes, turning once.

Recipes courtesy of Marcia Myers

Per serving: 550 calories, 24 grams protein, 49 grams fat, 13 grams saturated fat, 1 gram carbohydrate, trace fiber, 96 milligrams cholesterol, 76 milligrams sodium

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