People born in January have a lot to suffer.
First, they always get "combination" gifts. Everybody says, "This is your combination Christmas and birthday present." All presents come wrapped in Christmas paper.
Second, Jan. 1 is the official end of the party season and the official start of the diet season, which means people with birthdays this month don't get a birthday party. Friends and family are broke, so they aren't up to taking anyone out for a fancy lunch or dinner.
So what we need is a birthday dinner that doesn't compound the post-holiday frazzles; something special but simple and fresh so tastebuds weary of holiday spirit aren't further fatigued. Fresh fish is a treat, especially when it's a thick salmon steak or red snapper fillet. These are really elegant fish, but expensive, too, and sometimes difficult to find. Be assured that bluefish, bass and trout bake nicely, too, as do familiar sole and flounder.
Flaming bananas provide the appropriate finale for a birthday dinner: The dish is a festive change from the sweets of the holiday season. Just caution the guest of honor against blowing out the fire--it's not that kind of dish.
As with other special occasions deserving modest celebration, you are asked to stop at the liquor store for brandy or rum (the bananas are nothing without the flambe'). Otherwise, the dinner should be no trouble to execute after a short trip through the express lane of the supermarket, provided you have flour, brown sugar, salt, pepper and butter already in the kitchen.
EXPRESS LANE LIST: red snapper fillet (or favorite fish steak or fillet), lemons, rice, broccoli, red bell peppers, imported black olives, bananas, ice cream, cinnamon (optional) and stop at the liquor store for brandy or rum. BAKED RED SNAPPER (4 servings) 2 pounds red snapper fillet Salt and pepper to taste 1/4 cup butter, melted 2 or 3 lemons 2 cups hot rice
Place fish fillets in a buttered baking dish. Salt and pepper lightly. Combine butter and juice of 1 lemon and pour over fish. Place in 400 degree oven and bake for 10 minutes (fish is generally baked 10 minutes per inch of thickness, measured at the broadest part).
Slice remaining lemons and use to garnish fish fillets. Serve fish on hot plates with rice. GREEK BROCCOLI (4 servings)
The olives are everything to this dish, but if you can't find them, use olive oil, garlic and a touch of vinegar to pour over hot broccoli and peppers. 4 red bell peppers 1 bunch broccoli, trimmed 1/2 cup pitted, chopped imported black olives, with juice from jar
Broil bell peppers very close to heating element until completely charred, turning to blacken all surfaces. When cool enough to handle, peel and seed the peppers. Cut them into strips and set aside. Place trimmed broccoli in steamer basket in large pot and steam over boiling water for 10 minutes or until barely tender. Add peppers and black olives to broccoli and toss the mixture with 3 or 4 tablespoons of brine from the olive jar. BIRTHDAY BANANAS (4 servings) 3 tablespoons butter 1/4 cup brown sugar Juice of 1 lemon 1 teaspoon cinnamon, optional 4 medium-sized ripe but firm bananas 1/2 cup rum Good-quality vanilla ice cream
Melt butter in a skillet (an attractive one makes a better ultimate presentation). Stir in brown sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon and cook over medium heat, stirring, about 1 minute. Halve bananas and cook briefly on both sides until slightly tender, basting with sauce. Remove from heat. Add rum (at tableside, if desired) and ignite. When the flames die, serve over vanilla ice cream.