Sweden was to-date my most fun country to research. My first real introduction to the Swedish culture was in college through one of my favorite families, the Brevicks. The Brevicks are a farm-raised, 7 children family, all blonde, all towering over me by at least a foot, and as nice as they come. I was fortunate enough to go to college with four of them and watch the other three grow taller and kinder as they aged. My “domesticated” education really began with the Brevicks, with Karin teaching me how to bake apple pies from scratch. The best part of fall for me were the days laying in their hammock, eating the leftover crust that we’d bake with cinnamon and sugar, while the sun was setting over the Palouse.
So when we chose Sweden, the Brevicks were the first I reached out to for recipes and advice. They gave me plenty of ideas including what they ate when they visited Sweden. The gist of their advice was broken into three parts; fresh, including fish and dill and salad; hearty, including meatballs and potatoes; and most importantly, sweets! Jams and cakes and chocolate and everything loaded up with butter. For as skinny as those Swedes are they have a huge sweet tooth.
I ALSO have a friend who majored in Scandinavian Studies! While she knows a plethora of Swedish dishes, she passed me along to one of her childhood friends, Lotti, who actually hails from Sweden. Lotti gave me a TON of tips about soup and herring and especially which type of alcohol to have with which part of the meal. I loved gathering up all of the advice and it was very much appreciated.
Then I went to Ikea. Ikea is an AMAZING resource for those looking to try pickled herring, without having to make pickled herring. It was also the best place to get lingonberry jam. While at Ikea I picked up some other goodies for a well balanced smorgasbord. Pickled Herring 2 ways, salmon roe, pickles, Swedish cheese, and rye crackers. While I personally didn’t care for the pickled herring, almost everyone else said they liked the sweet/salty taste.
For the first course Sergio made another amazing soup with his Vitamix. He made pea soup so creamy that I’m going to begin monitoring his trash for empty half and half containers after these dinners. He swears it was just peas. Pea soup may not sound that delicious, but the Swedes know how to do it up and “make sure to serve the split-pea soup with cubes of fried bacon and a dollop of French mustard”. Whatever you say Swedes! Sergio again brought out the good stuff- cubes of fatty bacon. The mustard is a fantastic suggestion. After a few bites you realize the soup is salty and slightly grainy, and the mustard really cuts through it. So does the Vodka 😉
For the main course I made Swedish Meatballs in a thick gravy. I defaulted to this Alton Brown recipe which is very straightforward. You definitely need to get a little messy shaping the balls, but using your hands is the best way to ensure you have equal amounts of meat and bread and onion in each ball. My meatballs may not have been perfectly round, but they were perfectly fried. I added simple, but hearty boiled red potatoes with rosemary, and topped the meatballs off with traditional lingonberries.. The Lingonberry jam is again, a great way to cut through the fat of the meat and gravy. We also bought a carton of bread mix from Ikea. You just add water, pour it into a bread pan, bake, and voila! You have some fresh rye bread. This bread was okay on its own, but because it was very thick and chewy, I would recommend using it to dip in a thinner soup.
For dessert, I seriously could not believe my eyes. Ashley and Sergio had made, from scratch, a Princess Cake! When I saw it I immediately thought “now THAT is what a Princess would eat”, or a 5 year old. Seriously Swedes love their sweets. The Princess cake is comprised of three layers of cake with fruit jam and pastry cream in between. The cake is then rounded out into a sphere, then covered with a layer of whipped cream. THEN the entire massive sugar overload is carefully covered with colored marzipan, and finally decorated to the delight of princesses everywhere. Sheesh. This was a masterpiece.
Fun Facts I learned from all these Swedish women:
- You have to hold your knife and fork the entire dinner, and flip your fork the other direction using your knife to push food on the back.
- You basically need to drink vodka with everything to cut the fat
- The Swedes love their flag
- Fernet helps with the digestion post meal
- Aquavit is a barrel aged vodka that travels on a boat around the equator twice. And when you drink enough of it there is a label inside telling you at what dates it crossed the equator. This bottle, we soon found, out crossed at 7/18/13 and 11/16/13 in sherry casks.
Oh and a nod to our guest of honor Jill and her beautiful hair.