The stale, crusty edge of winter lingers forever, it seems. And while I know Shakespeare called April the "cruelest month," I feel February is a strong contender for the title.
What's to be done with these days in which citrus season is closing and spring shoots and greens are still weeks away?
I'll throw in my vote for that greatest of Swedish traditions... and no, I don't mean IKEA, I mean the Smorgasbord.
A group of friends, a selection of hot and cold tasties freely sampled and maybe a few merry nips of akavit... it all seems like just the thing to relieve late-winter doldrums.
So then, what goes on the smorgasbord? To my mind, considering the menu is half the fun.
I think a proper smorgas spread includes a tantalizing array of foods common in Sweden, such as sliced dark rye or pumpernickel bread (for making open-faced sandwiches), spicy mustard, sliced cheeses, cold meats such as ham, sausages, Swedish meatballs and lingonberry sauce, cold shrimp salads, potato salads dressed with dill, beets (pickled or not), pickled veggies, pickled and smoked fish (salmon and herring are popular), cardamom cake, warm rice pudding and coffee.
And though I mock IKEA's world domination a bit, they probably are the best source of smorgasbord ingredients for most folks. With reasonable prices on lingonberries and a selection of Swedish delights in their food area, I'd encourage you to browse through their offerings if you're interested in setting up a savory smorgas of your own.
Meanwhile, I'll offer my own tasty Swedish Meatball recipe, which makes a delicious meal whether you're feeding a crowd or just serving dinner.
Swedish Meatballs (Makes about 30 meatballs)
2 slices fresh bread (white or whole-wheat)
1/4 cup milk
2 Tbsp butter, divided
2 Tbsp canola or peanut oil, divided
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 lb ground chuck
1 lb ground pork
1 large egg
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups beef or chicken stock
3/4 cup sour cream
1. Tear the bread into bits and place it in a small bowl with the milk. Allow the mixture to soak for 5 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and one tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Sweat the onion until softened but not browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. When tender, transfer the onions to a large bowl, but reserve any of the oil/butter mixture left in the skillet.
3. Put the ground beef and pork in a large bowl and blend in the sweated onions, egg, salt, pepper, allspice and nutmeg.
4. Squeeze any excess milk out of the bread crumbs and blend into the meatball mixture.
5. Form golfball-sized meatballs with your hands, stacking the balls on a clean plate.
6. In the same skillet you used to sweat the onions, add the reserved tablespoons of butter and oil and heat over a medium flame.
7. Add the meatballs in batches (don't overcrowd the pan), and saute until well-browned on all sides — about 7 to 8 minutes. Move cooked meatballs to a wire rack or plate covered in paper towels.
8. When the meatballs are done, reserve the fat in the pan, sprinkling the flour into the skillet. Continue heating, stirring the flour and oil with a wooden spoon.
9. Add the stock to the pan, stirring to loosen any bits at the bottom of the pan. Simmer and stir until the stock reduces and starts to thicken. Season with salt and pepper, lower the heat and stir in the sour cream.
10. Return the meatballs to the saucy skillet and coat well with the sauce. Serve hot with lingonberry sauce on the side.
Lingonberry sauce is pretty quick to make on the fly... just warm a half-cup of lingonberry jam or jelly in a saucepan with a few tablespoons of water, whisking the mixture until it's a uniform, pourable sauce.
And what if there's no lingonberries to be found? Just substitute a currant, blueberry or blackberry jam. It'll be just as tasty.
Yours in Winter Feasting!