Every year for the past 17 years, my good-hearted friends have allowed me to plan our menu for our year-end progressive dinner. They really are silly about the whole process — each year thanking me profusely for planning the menu and giving out assignments. Don’t they know that this is an ideal situation for me?? Have fun planning a lengthy menu and then give out assignments for everyone else to prepare?? It is second best only to having a commercial kitchen and staff at your beck and call.
Our annual progressive dinner menus are typically tied to my travels — with this year’s menu inspired by my recent visit to Scandinavia. Whether the food is from Scandinavia, the Continent, the Maghreb, or Down Under, I always try to meet the criteria developed when I was catering parties for a living.
When I worked as a private chef, the near-disasters that are now etched into my brain were almost always planning errors and not cooking problems. A bad plan perfectly executed is still a bad result. So, why not start with a good plan: a tasty and workable menu.
A tasty and workable menu requires more than randomly selecting a few of your favorite dishes. If you’re cooking in a typical in-home kitchen, you’ll also need to work your menu around your physical and human resources. Here are some things I think about for an in-home dinner buffet menu:
- Most or all items must should be do-ahead. This will free up the time you need for heating, assembly and plating at service time.
- A significant portion of items should be served at room temperature unless you have a kitchen with a 6-burner range and 3 ovens (not your typical home kitchen).
- There should be a mix of stove-top and oven heating, and the buffet should include warming dishes/steamers. Some warm items, like a tart, work fine if they reach room temperature on the buffet. Others, like meatballs, lose their texture and appeal. It is hard to get enthusiastic about a meatball glued to its congealed sauce!
- Some items should be vegetarian and gluten-free since, with a large number of guests, identifying dietary restrictions ahead of time is a challenge.
- Look for great presentation – as there’s nothing better than eye appeal to get people intrigued by your food. Not all dishes need to be beautiful, but, like a good painting, the overall buffet should create some color balance and lead your eye from place to place.
- Include a mix of basic dishes (for the fussy eaters) and more exotic fare for the adventurous eaters.
- Have a mix of vegetables, different meats, at least one seafood and a couple of starches.
- For inherently unattractive, but tasty, dishes, like the delicious potato dumplings shown below, plan the garnish ahead — in this case a ring of steamed broccoli and sprinkled parsley.
- Include at least two desserts – allowing a choice of either or a taste of both.
Our 2012 Smorgasbord menu met most of these criteria. It enabled us to easily heat, assemble and serve dinner for 24 people out of a small kitchen (dessert was at a second home).
I’ve kept the assignment names in the menu so you can see how many hands were at work here. As long as you start with accommodating friends, a good menu plan and tested recipes, it will all come together easily — even for a crowd. So don’t let a long guest list scare you away from an elegant meal. Plan your menu, enlist your friends and start cooking!
2012 SMORGASBORD PROGRESSIVE DINNER MENU
Inlagd Sill (Pickled Herring with Pickled Cucumbers and Purple Eggs) served with Aquavit – Sally/Donn and Jeannee/Dan
Gjetost, Nokkelost and Jarlsberg Cheeses with Knackerbrod and Lefse (Flat Bread) – Suzanne/Scott
Smorrebrod (Shrimp and Beef Open-faced Sandwiches) – Elaine/Bob
Rodbetesalad (Danish Beet Salad) – Sally/Donn
Morbra (Pork Tenderloin Stuffed with Prunes) – Susan/Todd
Farikal (Norwegian Braised Lamb with Cabbage and Tomatoes) – Leslie/Paul
Fiskeboller (Norwegian Fish Balls in Shrimp Sauce) – Jeannee/Dan
Kroppkakor (Swedish Potato Dumplings) – Cari/Mark
Kottbullar (Beth’s Grandmother’s Swedish Meatballs) – Beth/Jim
Limpa (Swedish Rye Bread) – Karla/John
Dommekage (Danish Dream Cake) – Jane/Jim
Kransekake (Norwegian Wedding Cake) – Deb/Corey
Highlighted menu items link to recipes found elsewhere on A Global Garnish; other menu items will follow. If you’d like to read the story about the beautiful Norwegian Wedding Cake, look here.
In the meantime, I wish you all a very Happy New Year filled with lots of good food and friends — or perhaps I should wish you a year full of hygge??
Pingback: Scandinavian New Year’s Eve Progressive Dinner Party – 2012 | Housewifery
Sounds amazing! I’ve never been to Scandinavia, although I’d really like to visit. So, I’ve never had this type of food before. Well, unless you count Swedish meatballs at IKEA in North London – I don’t!
You can also thank IKEA for popularizing Swedish potato dumplings, but I think I’ll also stick with the ones we had – rather than IKEA’s 🙂
Scandinavia is beautiful — a treat for me since my maternal heritage is Norwegian and I had never been there. Everyone we met was sooooo nice and helpful…
What a lovely idea! I really like the theme of the menu. Someone has to plan what to make and what to bring or else it could go in all sorts of unplanned directions. Thanks for sharing! I adore the color on those eggs!
Spoon Feast – Thanks. If you like those eggs, I suspect you could even use juice from a jar of pickled beets, but recipe for the salad/eggs here will follow soon.
I had a couple of eggs left that I didn’t slice for the table and made an egg salad sandwich out of them. What a color riot. That would make a colorful little finger sandwich as well!
I look forward to your recipe! That color is fantastic!
that coloured eggs are truly moving thing on whole table! I’ll wait for the recipe too
Thanks very much. I’ll try to get that recipe out soon!
that would be nice, I saw some strange eggs, hand crafted by Hungarian lady, made for Easter with two gradients of the same organic paint (onion or wallnut shells) but I didn’t got how she makes it
Oh, these were very much edible eggs — just colored with pickled beet juice.
Your smorgasbord sounds like a fun and delicious evening with friends.
Thanks Karen. How can you go wrong with good food and friends??
Beautiful presentation on all of those dishes! ~ Kat
Thanks Kat. It is so much fun to pull this together as a group — especially when everyone does such a great job.
What a feast! I can definitely hear the voice of experience in your advice for planning and executing such a meal. A good plan is a must with so many hands and so many dishes for so many guests. From what I was shown, it looks like you had a very good plan, for everything looks so appealing and was certainly delicious. And I’d be willing to bet everyone enjoyed their time in the kitchen, too. 🙂
Thanks. Yes, it was a great evening with some special friends.
On another subject, I was looking for a Bolognese recipe on your blog, but couldn’t find one. There are so many different ways to make i (just beef or with veal/pork, herbs or no herbs, milk or no milk), I was wondering what you considered traditional. Any plans for a recipe in the future? No hurry. Just thought you and Zia would know….
I hope to be able to post a recipe for meat sauce next week, depending upon how soon I get over this bug. Ours is not a true Bolognese, although I do make one. Our meat sauce does not use any milk/cream. We’ll use beef, although pork may be added to it. Our sauces all start with onions, so sugar is never added. For the herbs, parsley was always used, basil used very often, and marjoram was used sometimes, depending upon who made the sauce. Marjoram, not oregano, is favored by cooks from Le Marche, where the Bartolini come from. It is a straight-forward recipe, like most of my family’s made with a few, common ingredients. I hope this helps.
John – I hope you’re better soon. Nasty stuff going around this season.
And thank you for your helpful comments. I’ll be looking for your recipe, but no urgency. Just get well.
You have quite the feast here. YUM!!! 🙂
Thanks Anne. And, right, there was no shortage of food. I felt like a stuffed little piggy by the end of the evening 🙂
Hi, congratulations, that was really a Scandinavian meal! Wow! Even the great cake (tårnkake), which I like quite a lot, it goes with everything from icecream to cloadberry cream. I know all of this except the potato dumplings. By the way I am also not familiar with tomatoes in the farikal (fårikål), only meat, cabbage, salt, pepper, dash of water, and some people put 1-2 spoons of flour to ticken the gravy/sause that is in the pot. Loved the post, it must have been a nice meal!
Good catch. I added the tomatoes, which I had seen in one other Farikal recipe, because I thought the dish needed some color. My mother didn’t add tomatoes. Either way, I love Farikal.
The cake was delicious. My friend did such a great job on it.
Thanks so much for your very knowledgable feedback!
What a wonderful post. My grandparents came from Sweden and settled in northern Minnesota and I’ve always loved the traditional Scandinavian foods. I’m hoping to go to Sweden to visit some of my relatives who stayed there.
Thanks so much. Are you still in MN? I’m here this week visiting family. I love MN and particularly northern MN – so beautiful but soooo cold!
No, I’m living in Oregon now. I grew up on the shores of Lake Superior in the small town of Grand Marais. Most of my family still lives there though, but they’re down in south central MN.
Interesting. I spent many winters cross-country skiing on the Gunflint Trail. I know Grand Marais well. Even saw the BearGrease one year….
It’s a small world. I spent many hours in the BWCA. It’s a beautiful area and I like to go back when I can. Haven’t seen the Beargrease though. Always wanted to. Its coming up soon.
Now that is one huge feast! You might need a few plates to give everything a try. Those Swedish potato dumplings look especially delicious and I am sure my boys would love that.
Yes, those dumplings were a big hit. How can you not like potatoes with bacon?
i’m just curiour how that you’ve made that pink egg…
The color is from the pickled beet juice. Hard boiled eggs are soaked overnight in the juice. I’m going to get the recipes out soon, but have been a bit behind on my blogging….
Pickled Herring? Another one of my favorites. Ok, I’m going to seriously get fat reading your blog!
Gorgeous blog! I have family in Sweden so I’ve been there a couple of times… I struggle with their meat and carb based food, and the pickled herrings… ugh! Your smorgasbord does look beautiful though. You’ve done well adding some colour into what would have otherwise been a very monochromatic meal. I always keep parsley and mint in the fridge when I’m entertaining, a sprinkle of garnish goes such a long way!! 🙂
Thank you so much for the nice comments 🙂
Agree that Scandinavian food is not for everyone (although I do love pickled herring and Farikal). One of my friends (who grew up with Scandinavian food) expressed curiosity at some of the tasty dishes at our New Year’s Eve menu. I said simply: “I changed them.” The Pork With Prunes (recipe yet to be posted), for example, the Scandinavian version was simply pork stuffed with prunes. Period. Not exactly what you look for in a party menu. So, I added seasoning to the stuffing and a balsamic glaze to the finished dish – nothing too complicated, but subtle enough that nobody noticed the deviation from tradition. Hey, it was my menu, right??
Thanks again. And love your Mess.
Your versions of the pork and fish dishes sound absolutely delicious… I do think that some little adjustments can make such a big difference for those who aren’t used to the Scandinavian diet! I’d happily eat at your table 🙂 Thanks for checking out the Mess too… your comment was so lovely. Can’t wait to swap more recipes and stories together xx