The cool autumn breeze has started to drift in through my bedroom window again. It wakes me up in the morning with a gentle kiss upon my bare shoulder and a deep breathe of cold air filling my lungs.
Autumn has arrived. And with it, dark nights, low lighting, cosy candles and comfort food. It also brings back one of my favourite things, dinner parties with great friends. I hear you already, but Kelly, you can host dinner parties all summer long? Yes, I can. I even do on occasion. But in the autumn? I can crank up the oven. Light a thousand candles. We can keep our home nice and cosy. Instead of, you know, boiling with an overwhelming heat.
Having friends gathered round in the autumn just feels right. It feels more lively. Exuberant discussions over spiced red wines and piping hot plates, well, it’s one of my favourite things.
It turns out, this American gal is not so one-of-a-kind with my love for autumn dinner parties. Did you know that it’s a Swedish thing too? Maybe I have a descendent who’s Swedish? That must be where I get it from.
Anyways! The Swedish tradition is all about coming together and enjoying dinners with friends all while using simple ingredients. In case you thought I was a culinary wizard, I’m not, so simple ingredients is my cooking mantra. Less is more. And more is best left for when someone else is doing the cooking.
So I set to the task, with an icy Wild Berries Rekorderlig cider in hand to set the tone. Now, every good dinner party starts with a cocktail hour. At least, that’s my personal opinion. I’m more of a savoury than sweet girl so I like to start with drinks and you know, cheese. A hearty baguette or bread alongside it won’t go amiss.
For the starters I went with two creamier cheeses. In the winter, it’s always nice to tuck into a tasty Danish blue cheese and a piping hot creamy Camembert. Of course, like any good Swedish dinner party, you want drinks to pair with the foods. And the Rekorderlig ciders of choice for cheeses? You’ll find Mango-Raspberry works well with creamy cheeses like the Camembert. And I may have varied a little, but the Wild Berries works perfectly with the blue (also goes very well with brie FYI).
Now for the entrées, I decided to go for something everyone would enjoy. Using inspiration from my Swedish cookbook, Scandinavian Comfort Food, I chose to make the Chicken, Apple and Tarragon. The recipe calls for rhubarb, but as I couldn’t find any at the store as it’s just out of season, a quick Google search said apple was a good substitute. I picked up all my supplies at my local Waitrose.
Roasted chicken with apple and tarragon
- 1 organic or free-range chicken
- 2 shallots (I used two onions)
- 3 garlic cloves, halved
- 10 tarragon springs
- 500g/1 lb 2oz rhubarb (or apples, I used 3 large apples)
- 50g/ 1/3 cup caster (granulated) sugar
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200ºC / 400ºF
Cut the chicken into 8 pieces and the shallots (or onions) into wedges. Put the chicken pieces in an overproof dish with the shallot wedges, garlic and tarragon. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut the apples into chunks and mix with the sugar in a bowl. Take the chicken our after the 30 minutes and place the apples around and under the chicken. Cook for another 20 minutes. Check to see if the chicken is done (if not, roast for another 5-10 minutes more). Served with new potatoes, green salad.
PS. You’ll think cutting a whole chicken into 8 pieces is a piece of cake. It’s actually not. Buy chicken breast, thighs or wings instead. So much easier. And it will save you wrestling with a whole chicken and shouting at it in front of dinner guests.
Now according to the cider experts at Rekorderlig, the chicken is best served with a refreshingly cool Strawberry-Lime cider. But for this dish in particular, I think one of their Spiced Plum ones fits the bill too.
Also, I know dinner parties are meant to include dessert. But I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. And to be totally honest, I’d rather have a drink at the end of dinner than eat anything else. And what could be better than a Swedish dinner party ending with another round of ciders?
Nothing is the answer. Absolutely nothing. Skàl! (Cheers!)
So you’ve seen that I can actually host a dinner party, you lucky things. Now, here’s the fun part.
6 tips on how to host your very own Swedish dinner party this autumn
1. Invite your pals!
I encourage fun loving mates that enjoy the finer things in life. Like drinking until the sun comes up and feasting on whatever you make them. Side note, it’s considered rude at a Swedish dinner party to not eat the food. So take note, if your friend is taking the time to cook for ya, well, you better eat! Luckily, everyone at the table from our feast tucked in for more. So I think I did OK.
2. Prep ahead of time
This means, drinks on ice. Dishes washed and ready to go. And most of the leg work already prepped. I did a lot of the apple chopping, measuring and potato cooking ahead of time. The only thing I didn’t cut up ahead of time was the chicken. And well, it wasn’t a pretty sight for my pals to witness.
3. Mix up your seats!
You know that weird thing in Bridget Jones’ Diary where she’s not even sitting near Mark at the big lawyers dinner? Apparently at Swedish dinner parties that’s a total do. The whole point of a dinner party is to mix, mingle and engage with everyone around you. So maybe sit across from your partner instead for this one and get to know your friend’s new pal from dance class.
4. Think about the food and drink pairings ahead of time
Any Gilmore Girls fan will have seen the episode where Sookie’s famous risotto is only given a rating of ‘fine’ by a food critic. Why? He drank the wrong wine. Don’t let your food be defined by a poor drink choice. Even ciders can have proper pairings based on notes, body and flavour. For those planning your Christmas parties, the Spiced Plum cider goes well with Duck and Gingerbread.
5. Mood is everything
Basic but true. Candles, pumpkins, squash and the table decor set the scene for the evening. This isn’t a totally Swedish tip, but if you wouldn’t Instagram your table, then neither will your guests.
6. Have fun!
It sounds silly, but having fun is the whole point of a dinner party. If something doesn’t go according to plan, don’t sweat it. But the Swedish do have it right with the whole, simple ingredients thing. Don’t overthink your menu. Simplicity makes for an uncomplicated evening of relaxing with friends. I guess the Hygge claim to fame is there for a reason, right?
PS. This post is in collaboration with the folks at Rekorderlig Cider but all views, writing, cooking and photography are my own. Happy cooking!