Family Smorgasbord Night – No Cooking, Just Bonding

Do you ever have those nights when you – a.) don’t want to cook, b.) don’t want to go out, c.) don’t want to order Chinese or pizza, and yet, d.) want a special dinner?  For us, those nights call for Family Smorgasbord.  Wikipedia just told me that smörgåsbord is a Swedish word that originally signified a variety of both hot and cold dishes served buffet-style.  Now it just means a buffet of appetizer-like foods intended to be the main course.

For us, Family Smorgasbord is a mashup of little bites of stuff we like.  They don’t have to go together or have the same culinary roots.   They just need to taste good.

We linger over our dinner on smorgasbord nights.  When it’s just the Grill-Meister and me and the weather is good, we have it outside and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.

Smorgasbord for Two by the Pool
Smorgasbord for Two by the Pool
Smorgasbord for Two at Little House
We always have a smorgasbord the first night we’re at Little House in the Rockies; no cooking on travel days

Dinner (Smorgasbord) and a Movie

The Bridge on the River Kwai was a recent smorgasbord movie choice. It never gets old.
The Bridge on the River Kwai was a recent smorgasbord movie choice. It never gets old.

If our sons are in residence, we sometimes have our smorgasbord at the game room bar upstairs, where we might pop in a classic WWII flick and combine the smorgasbord with a movie night.  A good WWII movie never goes out of style.  Some of our favorites are The Eagle has Landed, Where Eagles Dare, A Bridge Too Far, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and of course, The Great Escape.  And how could I forget Kelly’s Heroes and The Dirty Dozen?  Or Casablanca?  A rousing old classic WWII movie is a perfect choice for a family movie night – there’s not much moral ambiguity, it’s clear who you’re supposed to root for, and the good guys usually win.

Smorgasbord at the Game Room Bar
Smorgasbord for Four at the Glover Gardens Game Room Bar

The Glover Gardens Smorgasbord Playbook

The trick with a Family Smorgasbord is NOT to cook, but rather to put out a selection of cheeses, meats, spreads, fruits, vegetables and nuts.  We want to eat food that feels like we’re splurging and spoiling ourselves without it being any work.  Assembly is acceptable, though.  This is when leftovers come in handy – who doesn’t like a bit of chicken salad on a water cracker, or a bagel crisp topped with pesto and a bit of ham?

Here’s a list of some of the selections you might find in a Glover Gardens Family Smorgasbord (a few of them do require assembly and there are links to the recipes):

  • Cheese, cheese and more cheese – some of our favorites are manchego, brie, cambozola, goat cheese, white cheddar, smoked gouda
  • One or more patés
  • Salami, prosciutto, chorizo, boudin
  • Slices of ham, turkey or chicken, or salads/spreads made from them
  • Tom’s Smoked Salmon or other smoked, grilled or pickled fish (herring or sardines)
  • Various breads and crackers, and sometimes chips
  • Spreads like pesto or pimento cheese, Smoked Salmon Spread and Tuscany-Texas Goat Cheese Spread
  • Hummus and pita chips
  • Pico de Gallo or Glover Gardens Salsa
  • Bruschetta
  • Olives, pickled vegetables, giardiniera, capers or pickles
  • Fresh vegetables like cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, green onions, cucumbers
  • Canapés from ingredients you have on hand, like the cracker smeared with pesto and topped with ham, or my Antipasto Fresco
  • Fresh fruit, such as sliced apples, berries, cantaloupe or pineapple, and dried fruit, like apricots, prunes or figs
  • Any kind of nuts
  • Condiments like mustards, pepper jellies (like the wonderful Just Pure Flavors Inferno Sauce), Tabasco and honey for drizzling
  • Fresh herbs if the garden is producing, to garnish the goodies
  • Bite-sized dessert items like cookies or chocolate-covered anything (most recently, it was dark chocolate-covered banana chips – yum!)

Strange Bedfellows are OK

This recent game room and movie smorgasbord included Boudin with its requisite accompaniment, Tabasco
This recent game room and movie smorgasbord included Boudin with its requisite accompaniment of Tabasco

It really is OK to assemble foods that don’t all go together, and we kind of think it makes the event even more fun.  You can even stumble into some cool combinations.  We had boudin and saltines along with some other goodies recently, and a bit of the honey that I drizzled on the Manchego cheese on my plate settled onto the boudin along with the Tabasco – and oh, wow!

Honey, boudin and Tabasco on a cracker was salty-sweet-spicy serendipity on a plate.

Make It Pretty, Make It Special

Chopping up a little Italian parsley to sprinkle over your smorgasbord masterpiece is a great finishing touch
Chopping up a little Italian parsley to sprinkle over your smorgasbord masterpiece is a great finishing touch

One of the things I do when assembling the smorgasbord that enhances the feeling of being pampered is to arrange everything beautifully and use attractive serving pieces.  And it doesn’t hurt to throw a bit of garnish onto the platters, and think about the colors of the various foods as you’re doing the assembly, arranging them for maximum contrast.  The final step is to have good wine for the wine drinkers and special drinks for the kids and non-drinkers, like fancy root beer or ginger beer, or sparkling apple cider.

The Historical Perspective

I would love to go back in history to see and taste the spread that was put on there.  
Photo from Nordstjernan accompanying the article about the Smorgasbord at the 1939 World’s Fair. I would love to go back in history to see, smell and taste the spread that was put on there.

Reading up on the origin of the smorgasbord, I learned from the Oxford English Dictionary that it stems from two Swedish words: smörgås ‘(slice of) bread and butter’ (from smör ‘butter’ + gås ‘goose, lump of butter’) + bord ‘table’.  The tradition dates all the way back to the 14th century – under another name, and more as a pre-meal bread, butter and cold meats snack-fest for upper-class Swedes, eaten while standing at a side table.  The smorgasbord-as-main-course  approach became popular in the 17th century and included both hot and cold dishes.  The Swedish paper Nordstjernan notes that the smorgasbord went international when it made a splash in the Sweden section at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.

This picture is from a Swedish couple now living in the U.S. who blog at Yellow & Blue Living - click it to read their smorgasbord memories.
This gorgeous smorgasbord picture is from a Swedish couple now living in the U.S. who blog at Yellow & Blue Living – click here to read their smorgasbord memories.

It All Started When…

My personal history with the delights of a smorgasbord-style meal began when I was a child; it was a Christmas Eve tradition in our family to open the Hickory Farms gift we received each year from Martha-Bill (actually a couple, but over time their names fused into one) and supplement the salamis and cheeses with other goodies like my Mom’s fondue and chili con queso and my Dad’s shrimp dip (click for an updated version of his recipe).  We didn’t call it a smorgasbord, but that’s exactly what it was.  From the menu (fondue and queso?!), you can see the origins of the idea that there must be many cheeses, and that’s it’s ok to mix many cuisines.  I’ll delve more into this story at another time as we get closer to the holidays, but for your viewing pleasure, I’ve shared a picture from one of those long-ago Christmas Eve feasts.

Christmas Eve feast at our beach house circa 1978-ish.
Christmas Eve feast at our beach house in Galveston County on the Bolivar Peninsula circa 1978-sh.  On the menu (clockwise from the top left): chile con queso, shrimp dip, fresh vegetables for the dips, salamis, cheeses and crackers from Hickory Farms, fondue and stale french bread for dipping, Gallo wine and Angels on Horseback (bacon-wrapped oysters, oh my! – my Mom was a goddess in the kitchen).

In addition to the food, please take a moment to note and enjoy the 70s decor:  shag carpet in attractive neutral colors, white wicker furniture apropos of the beach life, a beautifully painted and varnished rope or electrical cord spool that my Mom found at the beach serving as the coffee table, and the avocado green fondue pot.  Christmas indicators are the bow on the carpet on the top left and the holiday magazine on the bottom shelf of the coffee table.  I just love it all.

Make It Real

Back to the smorgasbord.  Saveur magazine published a menu in 2011 with recipes for a real Swedish smörgåsbord.  Maybe I’ll try it some day, but it looks like a lot of work.  For now, we’ll stick with Family Smorgasbord, the Glover Gardens way.

Our most recent smorgasbord sported cheeses, fruit, salami and other meats, and three different pates: country pate with beef and pork, duck liver mousse, and salmon pate. We were living' in high cotton that night.
Our most recent smorgasbord sported cheeses, olives and marinated vegetables, fruit, prosciutto, peppered salami, chorizo and ham, and three different patés: a country paté with beef and pork, duck liver mousse, and salmon paté. We were livin’ in high cotton that night.

5 thoughts on “Family Smorgasbord Night – No Cooking, Just Bonding

  1. Excellent post, Kim! The smorgasbords you prepare for our family are always different and always Awesome. Growing up, my mom did the German version (she calls it Brotzeit, which means “bread time”) every Christmas Eve. You’ve taken Family Smorgasbord at Glover Gardens to a whole new level, and I love that it can be any night throughout the year. I no longer have to wait 365 days for the next one….woo hoo!

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