Food is an integral part of the Ikea experience. For many people, myself included, the trip begins with a helping of steam-table meatballs and ends with a 50¢ hot dog.
Somehow, though, the little grocery store just past the checkout never gets much love. The lure of the wiener stand, presumably, is too great.
But I was curious. Since everything else in my kitchen comes from the Scandinavian megastore, it seemed logical to slap some Ikea food on my Ikea plates. So, with the Swedish Chef as my muse, I decided to see what I could assemble from Ikea's grocery offerings.
Spaghetti and Meatballs
It might surprise you to know that there's not a thing in Ikea's signature meatballs that a conscientious home cook wouldn't put in his own.
I could have replicated the Ikea cafeteria experience at home, I suppose, but where's the fun in that? Instead, I dropped the frozen, fully-cooked beef-and-pork meatballs straight into a simmering saucepan of home-made marinara. Swedish meatballs are considerably firmer than their Italian cousins, but still fabulous over spaghetti.
Pommes Duchesse with Cream Gravy
Instant mashed potatoes, whatever you happen to think of them, have an even consistency that's ideal for piping or shaping into croquettes. And Ikea's version, containing nothing but dehydrated potato, is better for you than most.
Here, I piped the "Potatismos" into swirls of pommes duchesse, a dish not seen in fashionable restaurants since 1978. To recreate (or bastardize, call it what you will) this French classic, make up the mashed potatoes according to package instructions, but omit 1/4 cup of the milk; remove from the heat and stir in one egg yolk; spoon into a piping bag fitted with a star tip, and bake the swirls on a greased sheet pan in a 400 degree oven until lightly browned.
I served them on a bed of artificial but oh-so-good cream gravy (the kind normally served with the aforementioned meatballs.) Retrolicious!
IKEA Seafood: An Acquired Taste I May Never Acquire
Ikea has a moderate selection of bargain-priced seafood preparations, much of it from Swedish company Abba. I picked out a jar of herring in dill mayonnaise, a tube of crab pâté and some orange-red lumpfish caviar.
They also sell a Swedish flatbread that's moister and puffier than lavash, and less likely to split when rolled. I spread a sheet with the very crabby crab paste, rolled it up like a rug, and sliced it on the bias into 1/2-inch thick, maki-like rolls. Swedish "sushi", if you will, topped with a smidgen of the aggressively salty lumpfish caviar and a sprig of dill. If you like the pronounced flavor of oily fish like sardines and mackerel, you'll probably enjoy this hors d'oeuvre. If you don't, you'll probably gag.
The least successful of my endeavors was this open-faced sandwich of herring on rye bread. I baked the bread myself from Ikea's carton-o'-bread mix, which is an awfully cute concept, in its little carton, but far less cute when the dough simultaneously burns on the outside and stays runny in the middle. I salvaged the end pieces and topped them with the jarred herring, which, coated in a dill mayonnaise, was sweet, sour, and enduringly fishy, all in the same, deeply suspect mouthful.
Lingonberry-Glazed Sausage Bites with Crispy Onions
Fortunately, Ikea redeemed itself with this next trio of products: lingonberry jam, smoked pork-and-veal sausage, and, my favorite item of all, the 99¢ tub of roasted onions. These crunchy pebbles of golden onion are a miracle ingredient with a distinctly Asian flavor—ignore their Scandinavian origins and sprinkle them on your congee and noodle soup.
The sausages are fairly bland on their own, but once they're browned in a pan, glazed with lingonberry jam and topped with those crunchy onions, I wouldn't be ashamed to serve them at a cocktail party.
And to Wash It All Down
Since Ikea has not yet expanded into the alcohol market (a fact for which every liquor retailer in the world is probably very thankful), I used their sparkling pear juice and elderflower cordial to mix myself a virgin St.-Germain.
Best buys: Roasted onions, elderberry cordial, frozen meatballs
To avoid: Jarred herring, rye bread mix