An All-Ikea Meal

Okay, the meatballs were really great, and the potatoes were as good as mashed potatoes get. My guests liked the gravy. I didn't. Cream gravies are just not my thing. My Norwegian mother made meatballs often when I was growing up and added a little nutmeg to them, which sends them way over the top and is fabulous. She made a brown gravy with onions that was also superior to the cream gravy from Hungary. In her honor I thought I might try adding a little nutmeg to that cream gravy, but there wasn't any in the house and maybe it wouldn't have worked anyway. I have to be a little nitpicky about the lingonberry preserve. I have found that cranberries are better. They have a little more tartness and hence more personality.

Ikea doesn't sell any liquor so we had to wing it with wine--white wine with the fish course and red wine with the meatball entrée. If I was being really strict about this dinner I would have served aquavit and beer. It was sloppy of me not to. Mea culpa, mea culpa. But no one seemed to mind and we did polish off a lot of wine.

There was a large assortment of possible desserts available at the Ikea food market--cakes, cookies, and candies. I chose the "quick frozen" almond cake with dark chocolate--tarta mork choklad--made in Sweden. It is a thin, crunchy almond cake topped with a chocolate layer made up of 60 percent cocoa solids. To serve I defrosted, but left it chilled as instructed. The cake was a success all around.

I also bought something called punsch roll,a marzipan-covered marzipan roll that has been dipped into chocolate at each end. The marzipan on the outside is green and the marzipan on the inside is brown and flavored with punsch liquor. Very Scandinavian. I ate two of them. Mea culpa, mea culpa. And, to go with the dessert course Ikea sells coffee, both regular and espresso.

Ikea's food market also gives out a recipe card for Jansson's Temptation, a potato creation involving anchovies and cream. With this dish, you're on your own. They didn't sell it ready-made. It involves peeling potatoes and has to be baked in a 300-degree oven for 1 to 1 ½ hours and I didn't attempt it. Okay, okay, mea culpa, mea culpa. But now I think about Jansson. Who was he? Was he the chef who invented this temptation, or was he a poor soul who tried desperately to resist the potato casserole with anchovies in it and walked the streets of Stockholm fighting the temptation? And did he ever give in? I guess I'll have to attempt it next weekend to find out why it is so darkly irresistible.

So, I went to Ikea. I bought, I defrosted, I heated up, I served, and what did it all mean? Well, for one thing, I discovered you can make a satisfactory dinner entirely from foodstuffs bought at Ikea, but there is only one real entrée: the meatballs. There is a wide assortment of appetizers and cheeses and lots of desserts. I would definitely return to buy more of these. Also there are lots of breads and crackers. By the way, the prices are low in keeping with Ikea's policies.

And, I also learned not to use the microwave and the toaster oven at the same time, because the circuit breakers are activated.

Another thing I learned was that this meal called for a lot of plates and a huge assortment of different size forks, so I have another piece of advice: if you want to keep your kitchen clean, eat out!

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Alfa-Betty Olsen is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and television writer. More

Alfa-Betty Olsen is an award-winning author, screenwriter, and television writer. After graduating from The State University of Iowa in Iowa City, Olsen returned to New York and worked with Mel Brooks on The Producers and was the casting director of that film. She then worked with Marshall Efron on the landmark PBS series The Great American Dream Machine followed by an Emmy-winning career writing for television with Efron. They have also written many film scripts. Other Olsen-Efron collaborations have appeared in The New Yorker, New York Magazine, Esquire, National Lampoon and Spy. Their seven published books include several children's books, most recently Gabby The Shrew (Random House), illustrated by celebrated New Yorker cartoonist, Roz Chast.

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