A Meal Fit For a Princess

It was a big day yesterday in Sweden. One of the Princesses took a husband! Sweden has a royal family, led by King Carl XVI Gustaf. The King and his wife, Queen Silvia, have three children: Victoria, Carl Philip, and Madeleine. Victoria, who will eventually become Queen, got married three years ago in a lavish celebration that was spread over 3 days. This happened during my last visit to Sweden, and it was quite the event: billboards and posters everywhere, official (and unofficial) souvenirs and knick-knacks in all the stores, and round-the-clock television coverage.

Yesterday, Princess Madeleine got hitched. The celebration wasn’t nearly as extravagant, partly at Madeleine’s request, and partly because she’s not heir to the throne. But it was still a reason to celebrate, so Katherine and Peter, my wonderful friends and hosts, threw a party in honor of the occasion, and they didn’t mess around. It was a 4-course dinner. I can’t claim ownership of any of it – Katherine was the mastermind behind it all – but I helped chop, prep, and clean. We spent nearly an entire day putting this meal together.

I took pictures of everything, but first, here’s the happy couple:

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Madeleine married a British man named Christopher O’Neill. They met in New York, where they both have been living, and where they’ll continue to live. Chris kinda reminds me a little bit of Dermot Mulroney, except that Christopher is oddly emotionless and has a weird smile that hardly looks like a smile at all.  “I wonder,” I asked out loud while we watched the coverage, “If Madeleine can see emotions on his face that no one else can see.”

On to the meal! Katherine’s goal was to cook the meal that the wedding guests would be eating at the palace, but the palace didn’t release the menu ahead of time. So, instead, Katherine chose to recreate a dish served at Victoria’s wedding, and pair that with other dishes that the royal chef is known for making.

First Course:

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Foie gras with rhubarb compote, almonds, and sourdough toast. The rhubarb came from Katherine’s garden. I’ve possibly had foie gras, a fattened duck or goose liver pate, once before and it’s very good. It’s also very expensive and controversial (it’s banned in some places, including California – you can look it up on your own if you don’t already know why), and while I certainly don’t intend to make it a regular part of my diet, I’m fine with having it twice in my 34 years on this planet. The foie gras that was purchased for this party was labelled as ‘natural,’ although it’s not clear if that means it’s organic or if the birds are naturally-fed. We optimistically chose to use the latter interpretation.

Second Course:

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Langoustines with nettles soup and caviar. I’ve never had langoustines before, which are a very popular shellfish in Europe. They’re small lobsters, about 8 or 9 inches long, and they’re eaten like lobsters: you crack open the claws and tail. They don’t yield much meat. The tail has a piece that about the size of my index finger, and the claws have slivers of meat at best. But, like lobster, they’re rich, buttery, and smooth, and in Sweden, fishmongers sell them already boiled, so you don’t even have to cook them. Katherine had a little fun by plating mine in a… um… sexually suggestive arrangement, and the entire table had a good laugh.

Nettles are another food that I was completely unfamiliar with. Nettles are actually a weed that Katherine has in abundance in her yard, so this soup was made from plants harvested a few feet outside the door. Nettles are a giant pain in the ass. First of all, they sting, so it’s not wise to handle them without gloves. For cooking purposes, you’re only supposed to pluck the young, tender leaves off the plant, and Katherine and I spent at hour at her thatch of nettles, with Katherine, in gloves, clipping nettles and me holding open the bag. Katherine cursed a lot during that hour, because the gloves didn’t prevent every sting, plus, it was nighttime, and there were approximately 10 million mosquitos buzzing around our heads.

Once you harvest the nettles, you have to pull the leaves off the stems (a process that also requires gloves and results in lots of swearing) and then you boil them, after which they don’t sting anymore. The benefit of nettles is in their health benefits. They torturous to work with, but they are a superfood.  They’re more dense in nutrients and vitamins than spinach, plus they have anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants. After boiling them, Katherine added potato, onion, broth, and a few other things and, after it all cooked, blended it into a puree that she topped with a dollop of yogurt.

The caviar was served on a phyllo dough crisp that Katherine and I made, with a dollop of creme fraiche.

Third Course:

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Slow roasted ribeye (at less than 200 degrees F) with a sherry sauce, roasted potatoes, asparagus. I did all the legwork for those potatoes – I washed them, sliced them, and arranged them in a shallow casserole dish:

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Katherine topped them with some fresh lemon thyme from her garden and a few slivers of cheese, and that’s all they needed.

Fourth Course:

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Lilac custard, with vanilla ice cream, meringues, and chocolate sauce. The ice cream is the only item that wasn’t homemade. The lilac custard was made with lilacs from Katherine’s garden, and while I harvested, plucked, and chopped a lot of lilac, it didn’t infuse much flavor. The custard had a slight floral note, which was a little disappointing, but it was still tasty. And because custard only uses egg yolks, Katherine had a bowl of egg whites that we turned into the meringues.

Oh, and did I mention that every course had a wine pairing? I normally don’t drink. The last time I had a drink of any kind was on New Year’s Eve. It’s been years and years since I’ve been flat-out drunk. But I can now reset that counter, because I got plastered last night. I don’t remember how much I drank, but I pretty much passed out on the couch and had a terrible hangover in the morning. I don’t need to drink again for months. I don’t need to get drunk again for years. A little goes a long way for me. But I had a great time, and the alcohol calories were worth it.

The wedding party outfit I brought with me is purple – it’s actually the outfit I wore on “The Jeff Probst Show” – and when we were in Stockholm the other day, I found the perfect accessory. Katherine’s son Kai is modeling it in this picture, but believe me, it looks awesome on me, too.

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We went for a hour-long walk today, and tomorrow we’ll be walking around the city. A few more days in Sweden and I’ll be heading back to the states.

Keep it up, David!

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