My idea of Julestue, when I started it three years ago, was for people to drop by for a nibble of something sweet, a sip of something Christmassy and then to move on. An informal event, some people standing, some people hanging around upstairs, some people sitting by the table chatting, some people boiling water for coffee in the kitchen. Mixing my family and Martins, and adding friends into the mix. Christmas Classics on the stereo, people wishing each other a Merry Christmas. Lots of cookies.
But you know, people don't seem to leave once they get here. They may not all arrive at the same time, but gosh darn it, none of them leave. It's not like I don't like having them around - I did invite them in the first place - and we do have a sort of large apartment - but 25+ people is just on the verge of what it's possible to have hanging around when they can't all sit down at the same time. And I think I figured out why they don't leave. They know proper food is coming later on. How do they know? Because the first time we had Julestue, we served a little savoury thing, but not until a little later on. Reversed meal, cookies first, then salty food later, and it wasn't mean to be a meal as such, but. Now we're stuck in it. Besides, it works. Once they've had their food, they seem to get it, and then they leave. After having another cookie or two, at least ;)
Feeding a crowd is one thing, but feeding a crowd when you have limited resources as to the number of plates, cutlery and seating spaces available, you are somewhat restricted. I told you about my love for glasses before, and Julestue is one event where I wouldn't know what to do without my (okay, HUGE) collection of glasses. Yes, I could use plastic cups (and I do use plastic spoons), but I'm a snob and a half and I like using real dinnerware or in this case, glassware, if at all possible. Apart from using glasses for glögg, coffee, tea etc., I serve soup in them. Besides the fact that it's practical, and, I think, pretty - is that your guests can easily stand up and spoon a little soup into their mouths, tapas-style. Soup is great for these kinds of events - people love a warm, creamy, pureed vegetable soup after having gorged themselves on cookies, you can make it in large quantities, it reheats easily and you don't necessarily need any form of garnish with it, other than maybe a hunk of bread.
So I serve soup, homebaked bread, Mom-in-laws leverpostej (liver paté), her pickled beets and some thinly sliced spegepølse (salami). People sitting down make sandwiches, pass them along on napkins to the people standing up or running around (that would be the kids) - and there is no real need for plates, yet people feel like they get proper food.
Feeding people like this, I'm pretty sure to have my home back in an hour. Maybe two. But sometimes, someone puts the kettle on for another round of coffee and cookies...;)
Creamy Tomato-Carrot Soup - a recipe Martin got from an old colleague
This is ridiculously easy to make. Cut up your vegetables, boil, purée. You can freeze it, but I find that it looses taste after having been frozen. I know, tomatoes aren't really in season, but sometimes, you need that little reminder of sunshine and summer in the midst of winter. Find the best ones you can. You could probably also substitute a good quality canned tomato, but I've never actually tried that myself.
8-10 large tomatoes
3 large carrots, peeled
2-3 large onions
3 cloves of garlic
1/4-1/2 head of celeriac, peeled
1 fresh red chili, deseeded
500 ml. cream
500 ml. full fat milk
salt and pepper to taste, maybe a pinch of sugar also?
Cut up all of your ingredients into 3-4 cm. sized bits. Put in a pot, pour over your milk and cream, and bring to the boil. Let simmer until the vegetables are soft, about half an hour. Purée in a blender - let it run for a while, making sure the soup gets really smooth. Reheat once puréed, then season to taste with salt and pepper. If you find the soup to be too thick, thin it with a little water, or more cream or milk.
Serve, if you wish, with a dollop of créme fraîche or a swirl of olive oil or maybe croutons, or how about pumpkin seeds? Or you could make basil oil - purée blanched basil leaves with a spoonful or two of your best olive oil, then swirl that on top. And I like a slice of homemade bread on the side, for dipping into the soup.