Hosting Over an Open Fire

Hosting Over an Open Fire

Embrace Maine’s winter with these recipes for outdoor celebrations this holiday season.

by Briana Volk
Photography by Andrew Volk

Issue: December 2020

My husband and I moved to Maine in the middle of a very cold December. We had been living in the South, so when we came here, I didn’t own socks. Andrew, my husband, was kind enough to let me steal his until I came to my senses. This was my first time experiencing a winter with below-freezing temps, icy sidewalks, and Nor’easters. But after ten years of winters here, I finally have the hang of it, and am ready for a winter of outdoor, socially distanced small gatherings and holiday celebrations.

This season I will be outside, bundled up (with socks on!), and cooking over a fire. This is the time for especially warm, hearty, stick-to-your-bones dishes. Don’t forget to continue that sentiment with yours drink, too: hot cocktails go a long way when you’re braving the cold. I am also stocking up on extra blankets, hand warmers by the gross, and firewood.

Even as we have to make sacrifices to what our normal life looks like, I still believe in one thing: cooking for others shouldn’t be hard. If you’re not having fun, then what is the point? You can cook these dishes in one pot, outdoors on your grill or over a fire, and not have to stress about it. This is going to be a weird winter, but that doesn’t mean the food and drinks you make should be any less satisfying.

Cauliflower Steaks and Chimichurri

Cauliflower is amazingly versatile because it can be a standalone dish or used as a side to fill out a meal. This dish can be a main or a side. It goes great with any meat, fish, or shellfish. And cooking it over a fire gives the cauliflower a great char. This is a dish you can cook at home, or in the middle of nowhere, and it will always taste great. If you’re serving this as a main, I recommend two “steaks” per person. As a side, just one. And if you don’t have a grill, you can cook these using your oven’s broiler with very similar results. Just put a rack on the top level, place the steaks just beneath the broiler, and flip once to cook both sides.

1 shallot, chopped
1 red chile, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1⁄2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp kosher salt
1⁄2 cup cilantro with stems, chopped
1⁄4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
3⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper to taste 2 large heads of cauliflower, trimmed

To make the chimichurri sauce, combine all ingredients except the olive oil, cauliflower, salt, and ground pepper into a blender. Run the blender on low speed while slowly adding olive oil until the sauce begins to come together. Increase speed and blend until desired consistency. Add any remaining olive oil and stir together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Slice the cauliflower into thick slices—think of a thick-cut steak—and lightly oil and salt and pepper each side.

Heat the grill to 400 degrees and place the steaks on the grill. Cook 4 to 5 minutes on each side, letting the flames char the steaks just a little bit. Remove from the heat and top with a healthy spoonful of the chimichurri.

Cardamom Pancakes

I developed this recipe for my first cookbook, Northern Hospitality, but it didn’t make it in. It is based off a recipe my grandmother, Verna, would make for me as a child. I’ve continued to tweak it and have turned it into a dessert board that feels like a mix of comfort and fun. Below are some recommendations of what you can add to the board, but this is really based off what you like, so go crazy.

1 cup all-purpose flour 1 cup cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp brown sugar
1⁄4 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 1⁄2 cups whole milk or buttermilk 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Whipped cream Maine maple syrup Blueberries in olive oil Fresh jam
Sliced fruit
Rosemary sprigs
Soft cheese

In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together. In a medium bowl, lightly beat the two eggs, add milk and olive oil, and mix well. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix with a fork until there are no large clumps. If the batter is too dry, you can add milk by the tablespoon. If you have the time, let the batter sit for an hour before using.

Preheat a pizza stone or cast-iron pan over a fire or on a grill. If you’re using a stovetop, heat the pan on medium. Add butter to the pan, and once it has melted, add 1/3 cup of batter. Cook the pancake for about 3 minutes on each side. It should rise up a little and be nicely browned without the middle loosing moisture. Serve with whatever accompaniments you choose.

Hot Toddy

A winter classic that we’ve been serving at our Portland bar, Hunt and Alpine, since our first winter, a hot toddy is one of my favorite warm wintertime cocktails. Keep the water hot by using a large thermos, so everyone can make their own at the table and add whatever they like to it.

1 1⁄2 oz brandy or bourbon
3⁄4 oz fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 oz ginger syrup (see recipe below)
3 oz hot water
Orange twist and cinnamon stick for garnish

Preheat a glass mug by filling it with hot water for 2 minutes.

Remove the warming water and add the brandy or bourbon, lemon juice, and ginger syrup to the mug. Stir gently until heated through. Top with 3 ounces of hot water. Express the orange twist over the drink and place the cinnamon stick and twist in the drink.

250 grams whole ginger, chopped into one-inch pieces 250 grams white sugar
250 grams hot water

Put all three ingredients into the bowl of a blender and blend on high speed until smooth. Pour through a fine mesh strainer to remove ginger fibers. Use immediately or place in a sealed container in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to one week.

Pot Roast and Winter Vegetables

This whole dish can be done in a single (large pot) and isn’t super hands-on, so that means more time to relax while it is cooking.

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and ground pepper
2–3 pounds beef chuck for pot roast (ask your butcher to tie the roast with twine)
3–4 medium yellow potatoes, peeled
3–4 large carrots, peeled
1–2 large onions
1–2 fennel bulbs, trimmed of stems
2 heads of garlic (or more if you’re into that) 3 tbsp tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
3 cups beef stock
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1⁄4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
Fresh parsley for garnish

Pre-heat your oven to 350°F. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, heat olive oil. Salt and pepper each side of the pot roast. When the olive oil starts glistening, place the pot roast in, cooking each side for 5 to 6 minutes, getting the outside crispy.

Remove the pot roast from the pot and place on a cutting board. Roughly chop the vegetables into similarly sized pieces. Add the potatoes, carrots, onions, and fennel bulbs and cook for about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then add the tomato paste, stirring it in well. Add the bay leaf and thyme.

Place the pot roast back into the pot and add beef stock. Cover with a lid, and place in the oven for 2 hours.

After the pot roast is done, remove it from the pot to rest on a cutting board. Cover it loosely in aluminum foil. Remove the bay leaf and thyme. With a spider or slottedspoon, remove the vegetables and place them into a blender. Add 1⁄2 cup of the broth from the pot, along with the butter and heavy cream. Blend until smooth. Add more liquid to your desired consistency.

Add salt and pepper to taste to the remaining broth in the pot. Return the broth to medium heat and reduce until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in apple cider vinegar.

Slice the pot roast. To serve, spoon a hearty amount of the puree onto a plate. Place 3 to 4 slices of the pot roast on the puree and drizzle the broth jus over it. Garnish withfresh parsley and serve hot.

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