For many of us, skiing isn't ski boots and snow slopes; no, skiing is big, stuffy armchairs; wide, snapping fireplaces; and apres-ski drinks. For us, skiing is not a sport, it's an attitude.
We prefer soft, warm sofas to slippery slopes and our stretch pants in black velvet. Frankly, we think T-bars are best broiled, paralleling is difficult to do in the city and stem christies should get plenty of light. And about the coldest we get is from poking our noses around in the refrigerator. So when the bulk of our family marches out onto the slopes, we remain in our dens very happily sipping teas, hot ciders and rum. Often happily mixed together.
But when the shivering, sniffling, puddled mass shuffles back into the haven, a bracing victory meal is generally loudly demanded.
Snow sports, or at least the dishes that fuel them, excite us. And whether snow-tipped or not, the cold outside is certain to beef up any appetite. But after a season of dining on predictable traditional fare, anything with turkey, roast beef or cranberries is firmly nixed. So the menu below steers as clearly away from the celebration meal as possible and stresses the hot and the hearty. And since weekends after hectic holidays take on a lazy, almost sleepy atmosphere, the meals have flexible cooking arrangements so no one is pressed, not even those whose most strenuous exercise consisted of bench-pressing heavy mugs.
To banish the chill in your bones after a long day of skiing, sledding or snoozing, start off with a thick pea soup, chunky with sweet Italian sausage, short ribs of beef, and sliced vegetables. Easy to make ahead, it can be warmed when the troops return from the slopes and served immediately.
As perfect an accompaniment to skiing as strawberries and cream are to tennis, raclette demands no preparation aside from boiling potatoes. A Swiss treat with a French name meaning "to scrape off," raclette is traditionally served as a half wheel of cheese that is systematically melted before an open fireplace and portioned off onto sizzling hot plates. Luckily, electric raclette makers are now available which can melt up to six individual portions simultaniously so that every one can enjoy the hot dish together. The cheese can also be sliced beforehand onto ovenproof plates and melted under an oven broiler. It is accompanied by potatoes, cornichons and small onions and a generous grate of black pepper.
Another sumptuous treat with raclette is roasted garlic. Whole bulbs are roasted in the fireplace embers and become deliciously mellow and creamy enough to pop from their skins and be spread on hunks of French bread.
Saute'ed pears are a novel break from the usual potato; buttery and delicious, they provide the proper balance to an otherwise very savory entre'e.
Finish the meal calmly with a homey apple casserole. It can be prepared ahead of time and wait for hours until baked for only 15 minutes and served bubbling hot right out of the oven. It is the perfect simple country-style dessert after a day of country-style exercise.
And while the Swiss prefer the swiss white wine, Fendant or black tea as an accompaniment to raclette, Americans might enjoy a jeweled bottle of dark imported beer or hot buttered rum, made first as a batch of batter to which you simply add hot water as needed, all through the day. A THICK AND MEATY PEA SOUP (8 to 10 servings)
1 pound green split peas
1 pound Italian sweet link sausage
3 to 4 short ribs of beef
3 fresh carrots with greens on, scraped or peeled if necessary and thinly sliced
1 rib celery, rinsed and thinly sliced
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 quarts water
Bouquet garni: 3 parsley sprigs and 1 bay leaf tied together with string
1 teaspoon thyme
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Rinse and sort peas in a strainer under cold running water and set aside.
Brown sausage over moderate heat in the bottom of a heavy 6-quart stockpot. Remove sausage and drain on paper towels. Brown short ribs well on both sides in sausage drippings. Place carrots, celery, onion and meats in pot with 2 quarts water to cover. Add a bouquet garni to the liquid. Bring to a boil, skimming the surface well of the scum that rises. Repeat procedure 2 to 3 times until liquid is clear.
Continue cooking over moderate heat at a brisk simmer and slowly add split peas so that the bubbling does not stop. Add thyme, garlic, salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir to mix. Taste to adjust seasoning if necessary. Cover and cook over low heat for about 2 hours. Remove short ribs and sausages and set aside. Remove bouquet garni and discard. Allow soup to cool slightly.
Ladle the soup and vegetables in batches into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with steel knife or into a blender and pure'e until very smooth. Transfer to a clean bowl as you process each batch. Return to a rinsed saucepan when all the soup is pure'ed.
Cut sausages into 1-inch lengths; remove meat from short rib bones and cut away as much fat as possible. Discard fat and bones. Add meats to the soup and heat through for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
Ladle into warm large soup bowls and garnish with shredded carrots. From "Cooking at Cooktique," by Silvia Lehrer, (Doubleday & Co., 1984) RACLETTE (4 servings)
A special cheese, bagnes, is generally used for making raclette, though a young fontina or mutschli (mountain cheese) can also be used. It is very important to use heat-resistant plates; the cheese must not be placed on cold dishes.
1 pound (a 6-by-6-inch slice) bagnes, fontina, natural gruye re or mutschli cheese
8 boiled potatoes
Dill pickles or cornichon for serving
Cocktail onions for serving
If using a raclette maker, fill each tray with a 1/4-inch thick slice of cheese. Offer bowls of boiled potatoes, cornichons and small onions. Pass around the pepper grater. If you are using your broiler, put cheese in individual fireproof dishes and broil approximately 4 inches from the heat. As soon as the cheese is melted and bubbling, remove from the oven, and place this hot plate on a cold service plate (otherwise guests may burn fingers on hot plates). The cheese can be scraped over and mashed into the potato. It is so utterly simple it sounds like nothing -- but try it, you'll find it delicious. SAUTEED PEARS (8 servings)
This dish must be done at the last minute to prevent the pears from discoloring.
4 large pears
2 tablespoons butter
Peel and core the pears and cut them into 1/4-inch slices. Sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Blanch the slices by plunging the slices in boiling water for 2 minutes. Coat a saute' pan with butter and gently saute' the pears over low heat until they wilt, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately. GARLIC ROASTED IN ASHES (4 servings)
An excellent way to cook garlic if you have an open fire. If not, wrap whole garlic bulbs in foil and roast them in the oven.
2 to 3 garlic bulbs
Bread and butter
Cover the whole bulbs of garlic with hot wood ashes and incandescent embers. Cook until the outside cloves are superficially charred and the inside cloves thoroughly softened. Timing depends on intensity of fire. It will take about an hour in the oven at 400 degrees. Serve very hot and eat with bread and butter. For each bite take a clove of garlic and squeeze out its pulp onto the bread like a fragrant cream. From "Vegetables," by the Editors of Time-Life Books (Time-Life Books, 1979) DOWN HOME APPLE CASSEROLE (4 to 5 servings)
Creamy with an almond and macaroon topping, this dessert is very easy to make, and can be prepared ahead of time before being baked. If you use Italian amaretti macaroons, they do not have to be dried, as they are already dry when you get them. Other macaroons, which are moist, should be dried ahead of time in a slow oven until they are crisp.
1/4 cup crushed dried almond macaroons
1/3 cup thinly sliced unblanched (natural) almonds
2 pounds tart cooking apples
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar (approximately)
1/4 cup raisins
1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch mace (optional)
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and firm
1 to 2 tablespoons additional sugar
Crush the dried macaroons until they are coarse, and then grind them in a food processor or place them between pieces of waxed paper and pound with a wide cleaver. Place the ground macaroons in a bowl with the sliced almonds and stir to mix.
Adjust a rack one-third down from the top of the oven. Peel, quarter and core the apples. Cut them into slices (if the apples are large, cut each quarter into 4 slices; if they are small, cut each quarter into 2 slices).
Place the apples, water, sugar and raisins in a large, heavy saucepan with a tight lid, but uncovered, over moderate heat. Stir occasionally until the liquid comes to a boil, then reduce the heat slightly, cover and let boil for a minute or so to reduce the liquid just a bit; do not cook longer than that -- there should still be plently of juice in the pan and the apples should not be overcooked.
Remove from the heat. Add the lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and optional mace. Stir/fold gently to mix.
In a small bowl, whisk the cream and the flour together. Strain through a fine strainer, and then add to the apple mixture. Stir/fold again gently to mix.
Turn into a buttered shallow baking dish with a 6-cup capacity. Smooth the top. Sprinkle with macaroons and almonds, dot with small pieces of butter and sprinkle with additional sugar.
This can be baked right away, or it can be covered and kept at room temperature for hours, or it can be refrigerated. If it is refrigerated, remove it from the refrigerator ahead of time to come to room temperature before baking.
Bake for about 15 minutes in a 400-degree oven until it is bubbling hard around the edges. Then broil for a minute or two, 7 to 8 inches below the broiler to caramelize the top.
Serve immediately or let it cool, refrigerate and serve it very cold. From "Maida Heatter's Book of Great American Desserts," by Maida Heatter," (Alfred A. Knopf, 1985) HOT BUTTERED RUM (16 servings)
FOR THE BATTER BASE:
2 1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch ground cloves
2 tablespoons dark rum
2 cups dark rum
16 cinnamon sticks
In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, butter, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg and sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons rum to soften mixture. Blend together and refrigerate until ready to prepare drinks.
To serve, place a heaping tablespoon of the batter base in each mug. Add an ounce of rum to each mug and pour in enough hot water to fill mug. Place a cinnamon stick in each mug as a swizzle stick and serve. From "Outdoor Pleasures," by Elizabeth Sahatjian, (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, N.Y., 1985)