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??