Keeping toasty, inside and out, with fireside menus

The Front Burner

January 17, 2012|By Donna Ellis

Now that we've had a real taste of winter, and found out we're rather wimpy after all, we can give ourselves over to indoor entertaining with the cold months in mind. Our menus du jour will undoubtedly reflect our goal of fixing tummy warming treats for family and friends, with a secondary goal of spending some pleasant evenings in good company.

For our first "special dinner" of this new year, we plan a toasty feast by the fire – wood or gas is fine. (And failing that, crank up the indoor space heater.) Our menu for eight includes seafood and beef and other goodies in rather simple preparations designed to please the eye and please the palate even more. Begin the festivities early so that you can linger over coffee and dessert, and perhaps even a favorite card game – something simple so you don't have to think too much.

One entertaining resolution that lingers from year to year is to invite guests who enjoy employing the skills it takes to create, and savor, good food in good company. That way, you can feel comfortable asking them to prepare one of the dishes you've planned. A savings for everybody, and one they'll undoubtedly thank you for. (Well, probably.)

This bill of fare includes a first course of scallop and shrimp cakes with a Tex-Mex mayonnaise. You can serve a warmed, citrus-y white sangria with this, or white wine with a twist of lime. Or, of course, beer.

Our main course features chili-infused lamb chops sided by rice pilaf and sauteed winter greens.

And the dessert over which to linger? Caramel nut bars with ice cream. And coffee "warmed" with the addition of a favorite liqueur, e.g. Tia Maria.

Happy winter.

Scallop and shrimp cakes

This whole dish only takes about 45 minutes (or less), but you can prep in the morning, then sauté the cakes just before serving.

If you haven't used canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce before, remember to be cautious with the suggested amount we use in the accompanying mayonnaise. Start with half, then add as you see fit.

Seafood cakes

1 pound sea scallops, tough muscle removed if necessary

2 large egg whites

2 tablespoons finely chopped vidalia onion

About 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

2/3 cup heavy cream

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped (1/4-inch pieces)

About 1 cup each, plain dry bread crumbs and panko crumbs

About 3/4 cup vegetable oil

Fresh lemon wedges, for serving

Green and red leaf lettuces, for "bed," for serving

Crackers, for serving, optional

Tex-Mex mayo

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons finely chopped canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, plus 4 teaspoons adobo sauce (from can)

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

For the mayo, in a small bowl, stir together all ingredients. Taste for seasonings. Keep in mind that the "cakes" are rather delicately flavored, so they can take a bit of "heat" from the mayo. Cover and chill until serving time.

For the cakes, you're making 3 per person, for a total of 24 cakes, cooked in three batches:

In a food processor, puree the scallops, egg whites, onion, salt, pepper and cream. Transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in shrimp. Chill, covered, for 15 minutes. (If making mixture ahead, let stand at room temperature about 10 minutes before cooking.)

Combine bread crumbs and panko crumbs on a large piece of wax paper. Drop 8 (2 tablespoons each) mounds of scallop/shrimp mixture onto crumb mixture. Gently coat mounds, then shape into 3-inch "cakes." Set aside on a plain piece of wax paper. Repeat twice more with remaining scallop mixture and crumbs.

Heat oven to 250 degrees. In a large non-stick skillet over medium-high, heat half of the oil until hot but not smoking. Add eight cakes at a time to skillet, and fry, turning once, until golden and firm to the touch, about 4 minutes total. Remove to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and place in oven to keep warm. Repeat two more times, frying eight cakes at a time. Add more oil to skillet, if needed. Keep warm until ready to serve.

To serve, line a large platter or eight individual small plates with lettuce. Arrange three seafood cakes on each lettuce bed. Dollop each with a bit of Tex-Mex mayo (and pass the rest on the side). Add a lemon wedge or two to each plate. Makes eight servings of three seafood cakes each.

Spice rubbed lamb chops

You'll want to visit your favorite butcher for this dish; he or she can prepare the lamb for cooking. As to the make-ahead suggestion, you can brown the chops ahead of time (keep at room temperature), then finish them in the oven just before serving.

P.S.: We love those "jumbo" zip-top plastic bags; great for traveling. And for large marinating projects like this.

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