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Winter Warmers, part 2

Short dreary days, long chilly nights, and quixotic New Year’s resolutions can leave us feeling terribly mean-spirited come mid-January.

Cheering ourselves with a restorative, warming cocktail is a wonderfully comforting act. It’s these little indulgent rituals that help us keep our spirits up during the dark winter months.

However, a spirituous hangover is nothing to be trifled with.

Too much cheer on an empty stomach may leave one feeling lethargic. One might start suddenly depriving ourselves of companionable creature comforts and resort to contemplating the bleak nightmare that was 2016.

To counteract this impending gloom, following the tried-and-true advice — eat something — is the best defense. And while we’re at it, let’s do as the Danish do: invite like-minded friends over for a round of drinks and a cozy warm meal.

Oh, clementines!
Give your energy levels a boost with these!
Denmark, the southernmost and smallest of the Nordic countries, has been ranked as the “world’s happiest country” nearly every year since 1973, a real tour de force for a land of legendarily long winters. These Scandinavian masters of simplicity know how to revel in life’s little pleasures, and nothing is more pleasant than preparing a colorful, easy-to-make dinner in a cheery kitchen.

As no Dane lives further than 30 miles from the ocean, seafood is often what’s for dinner. Cod, plaice, herring, and smoked or preserved salmon are the most common fish served. Baked or broiled fresh salmon dishes have also become quite fashionable as elegant entrees for Danish home entertaining.

Just like a bowl of vibrant citrus placed in a neutral room, colorful plated food soothe the senses, a small but vital step toward overall contentment and renewed energy.

Potatoes, ubiquitous in Danish cooking, accompany every hot meal. Subbing a mix of sunshiny sweet potatoes and carrots  provides a healthy foundation for perfectly glazed salmon fillets. A gorgeous tomatillo and quinoa pilaf adds bright fruity balance par excellence.

A final word on the Danish way of hygge: cozy food and drink, Faroe Islands sweaters, fuzzy socks, glowing candles, crackling fires, and warm atmosphere aside, hygge is first and foremost a gentle, restorative way of living.

Hygge dinners take place within homey places, doors shut against the uncaring world. People speak to and listen to each other while dining.

Self-understanding, acceptance, and a community feeling of togetherness dominate the conversation: should someone start a disagreeable discussion (politics, economics, and child-rearing are verboten), someone else is sure to employ that famous withering Danish humor to change the topic.

Cozy Salmon Supper

Serves 6

This colorful, warming meal is designed with company in mind. Salmon and two South American natives (sweet potatoes and quinoa) take the lead. Sweet maple syrup, fragrant spices, and citrusy flavors complete the cast.
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 3x1/4-inch sticks
  • 4 large carrots, peeled, cut into 3x1/4-inch sticks
  • 1 1/2 cups white quinoa, rinsed
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup prepared tomatillo salsa
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro
  • 6 skin-on center-cut salmon fillets, 4-6 ounces each
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil; set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, orange juice, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and 2 teaspoons salt.

In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes, carrots and oil-spice mixture. Spread vegetables on reserved baking sheets; place in oven. Roast for 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small pot, bring water to a boil; stir in the quinoa, then turn down the heat to low; cover and simmer gently, until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in prepared salsa and cilantro.

While quinoa is cooking, prepare salmon: In a small bowl, stir together maple syrup, mustard, and salt and pepper, to taste; set aside. Rinse fish and pat dry; season generously with salt and pepper.

When vegetable timer is done, remove baking trays from oven, push vegetables to the edges of the trays. Place salmon filets in center, leaving 1/2-inch of space in between each filet. Brush syrup-mustard mixture onto filets. Return trays to oven, and roast until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork, about 8 minutes.

To serve: In a small bowl, mix zest, butter and salt to taste (start with 1/4 teaspoon). Divide roasted vegetables among six plates and set the salmon filets on top of the veggies; place some zested butter onto each filet. Serve with quinoa on the side.