Whole Lemon Meringue Pie Bars

July 3, 2020

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So here we are, just moments away from Independence Day. Certainly not the 4th of July for this year that I imagined last year. Not that the Husband and I have made a habit out of heading off to big fireworks displays on the 4th, but still…Needless to say, we’ll be spending this one right here at home. Where we have been. For oh – months and months. Perhaps years at this point. 2020 has certainly made months seems like they go on for years. Facing the tedium of yet another social distanced holiday, I thought it might be nice to make the Husband a little treat. Now I’ve told you how he absolutely loves any fruit based dessert and of the many fruit desserts out there, lemon bars hold a special place in his heart. So I was absolutely delighted when I saw that Smitten Kitchen – one of my favorite blogs – had just shared a recipe for Whole Lemon Meringue Pie Bars. Clearly, it was just meant to be!

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And the whole lemon thing is true. Yup – you actually use a WHOLE lemon in this recipe. Well – you take the seeds out and remove the stem, but otherwise the whole thing – skin and all.

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I was afraid that the whole lemon might have caused the lemon filling to be bitter, so I kind of held my breath a bit when the Husband took his first bite. Hooray! Not bitter at all. I think using the whole lemon actually gave it a much more – well lemony taste. I mean these bars actually tasted perfectly sour and tart and also sweet. But just the right amount of sweet. Sometimes when I’ve gotten lemon bars, they taste very, very cloyingly sweet with only a slight hint of lemon. Like maybe someone had only waved a lemon over the mix. That is certainly not what the Husband is hoping for in a lemon bar. He wants that pucker up sour citrus zing of a real lemon. Let me tell you, these bars definitely delivered in that regard.

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And although I have made lemon bars before, I had never added the meringue layer on top. With these Lemon Meringue Pie Bars the sweet marshmallowy toasted meringue works to perfectly balance the lip puckering intensity of that velvety lemon filling. Both the Husband and I were very well pleased.

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I don’t know what you’ll be getting up to this 4th of July, but I do know that no matter what it is, these Whole Lemon Meringue Pie Bars will make it better. Make yourself a batch today!

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Whole Lemon Meringue Pie Bars

  • Servings: 12 - 16 bars depending how you slice them
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Smitten Kitchen who sourced it from Susan Spungen’s Open Kitchen 

Ingredients:

For the crust:

  • 9 whole graham cracker sheets (1 sleeve), broken into pieces or 1 1/2 cups (150 grams) crumbs
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
  • Large pinch of salt
  • 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes

For the filling:

  • 1 whole (preferably organic) lemon, any variety (see Note below in filling directions), scrubbed
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 8 Tablespoons (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
  • Pinch of salt

For the meringue:

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Directions:

Make the crust:

Heat your oven to 350°F [180°C]. Line an 8-by-8-inch [20-by-20-cm] baking pan with two pieces of parchment trimmed to fit, going in both directions, with some extra hanging over the edge so that you can easily remove the bars later.

Place the graham crackers, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until the fine crumbs form. Add the cold butter and pulse until the cold butter blends into the crumbs. It should look and feel like wet sand. Transfer to the prepared pan and mix it up with your hands to make sure the butter is well distributed. Press into the pan, going up the sides a bit, and bake for 10 minutes, or until just golden. Let cool while you make the filling.

Make the filling:

Note on lemons: Deb Perelmen of Smitten Kitchen advises that you can use any variety of lemon but that you want to stick to a smaller lemon weighing approximately 4 – 4.5 ounces and that you do not want the skin to be too thick. The pith (white bit) should not be over 1/4 inch. If you feel the lemon you have is a bit too thick skinned, simply remove half of the skin from the lemon before proceeding.

Trim the stem end of the whole lemon and cut it into thin slices. Remove any seeds. Add to a food processor or blender jar (preferably a high speed blender) along with the lemon juice, egg yolks, butter, sugar, vanilla and salt and blend until very smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Pour over the crust (it’s ok if it’s still warm) and bake for 30 minutes, or until it is bubbling and browning around the edges. It won’t look at all set, and might even look like a total mess (unevenly browned or bubbly), but it will set up as it cools. Place on a cooling rack. After about 10 minutes, run a small, sharp knife around the edges. Cool completely, then chill until cold (you can speed this up in the freezer). When completely chilled, carefully remove the parchment and, using a spatula, transfer to a small baking sheet.

Make the meringue:

An hour or so before serving, make the topping. Combine the egg whites, sugar, vanilla, and salt in the metal bowl of a stand mixer and set over a pan of simmering water. Keep the mixture moving, using a whisk or the whisk attachment, until the sugar is completely melted and it’s hot to the touch (or 160°F). Transfer to a stand mixer and beat on high speed until glossy and very stiff, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the top of the lemon bars, smooth out, and use a large serving fork to create a pattern in the meringue, or the back of a spoon or offset spatula to make swirls.

Finish the bars:

When you’re ready to finish, use a kitchen torch or your oven’s broiler to brown the meringue. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Use a knife dipped into hot water to cut bars into 12 to 16 squares, depending on how large you want them.

Enjoy!

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Whole Lemon Meringue Pie Bars:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Cuisinart Pro-Classic Food Processor

Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer by Thermoworks

Breville Fresh & Furious Blender

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Sondiko Butane Torch

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook– This recipe is not in this cookbook, however a ton of other great ones are!

Smitten Kitchen Everyday: Another awesome cookbook by Deb Perelman

 

 


Kjötsúpa – Icelandic Lamb Soup

June 30, 2020

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Today I’m going to share with you a delicious recipe for Kjötsúpa – Icelandic Lamb Soup. Kjötsúpa actually means “meat soup”, but in Iceland the meat will almost always be lamb.

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The Husband absolutely loves to get a bowl of this when we visit Iceland. So I really wanted to try to find an authentic recipe that would taste a close as possible as I could get it to the soup we enjoy there. And the happy news is that this recipe, along with a secret ingredient I will tell you about a bit later, has done the trick!

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Annnnd…I also want to tell you all about a trip to Iceland that the Husband and I took with our parents in tow back in September 2018. You see? I am making progress writing up travel posts on the backlog of trips we have taken. What with the quarantine grounding us, I will soon be caught up and maybe then can actually post about eagerly awaited upcoming trips in a more timely fashion. (Hope springs eternal…) Anyhoo…Iceland has opened its borders to tourists from the Schengen area, EU/EEA, EFTA and UK Nationals, on June 15th, and plans at this point, to open to most countries from outside of the Schengen area on July 1st. Originally this was to include folks from the U.S. Much to my dismay, it looks like the US will now be excluded since Covid-19 cases are still on the increase here. Now be aware, Iceland has not just thrown their borders open willy-nilly. They have done a magnificent job managing Covid-19 for their citizens and are not just throwing caution to the wind at this point. So be aware that until further notice, anyone arriving in Iceland, with a few exceptions, will need to fill out a pre-registration form BEFORE they jump on a plane. You can find this form, along with official Icelandic government information on Covid 19, here. Basically folks arriving at Keflavik airport will either need to go immediately into 2 week quarantine, or will be required to have a PCR test done. The results of the test will be available 3 -5 hours later. And you will be encouraged to download the contract tracing app Rakning C-19 to your phone as well. After you have successfully navigated the safety measures which the Icelandic government has put in place to protect its citizens and visitors alike, this blog might be of some help to you with your planning for the rest of your adventures in the country. Make sure you take a look at all of the travel links I have listed at the end of this post and if you are still looking for further inspiration, you can also take a look at previous travel posts I have done on Iceland.

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By September 2018, the Husband and I had visited Iceland eight times (as of this writing, we have visited the country eleven times and are eagerly monitoring the Icelandic governments Covid-19 travel guidelines, so that we can get back for or twelfth trip). Our parents had heard all about it from us and were eager to experience it themselves. Seeing the Northern Lights was on the Father-in-law’s bucket list. So we decided to play tour guides and show them around. You read a lot about planning kid friendly holidays/vacations, but not so much about parent friendly ones. The Husband and I usually incorporate a lot of hiking and outdoor activities in our travels. But we knew that would not really be appropriate or quite frankly of interest to the Parents, whose ages range from mid 70’s to early 80’s. They would want a more sightseeing type of itinerary. We only had one week to work with, so we did not feel that a rushed driving around the entire ring road would be a good experience for them. We know that the South Coast of Iceland is gorgeous, has lots to offer and is easily accessible from the airport. This seemed like an ideal spot to take the parents. And although we have been there many times ourselves, we can never get enough of any part of Iceland, so off we went. We chose to go early in the month of September because the weather is still (hopefully – you never know with Iceland) good, it is dark enough for Northern Lights at night and there was not likely to be any snow or ice where we were visiting (a couple of the parents do have some mobility issues).

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We flew with Icelandair, rented a big SUV from Blue Car Rental and set out for the South Coast. The Lava Centre in Hvolsvöllur was our first stop. The Lava Centre sits squarely between five of Iceland’s greatest volcanos. This new award winning attraction provides a multimedia interactive experience on Iceland’s formation, earthquakes and its many volcanos. Great introduction to the country!

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Then we headed off to our hotel. We had booked with Hótel Rangá for our first two nights. Back in December 2012 as well as December 2013, the Husband and I had stayed with them for four wonderful nights in their Antarctica Suite.

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Antarctica Suite at Hotel Rangá

We had told the Parents all about it. And the Mom had seen it on one of those Housewives shows, so she was very intrigued.

IMG_0688Hótel Rangá is the only 4 star resort in South Iceland. This lovely boutique hotel is situated rather remotely next to the East Rangá river, somewhat near the small town of Hella. This remote location, far from city lights make it an ideal place to view the Northern Lights should they make an appearance. Being well aware that many of their guests are keenly interested in viewing this natural wonder, the hotel offers a service where you can sign up to be notified if the lights do show up.

Aurora over Hotel Rangá

Amazing Northern Lights we saw at Hotel Rangá on our first visit in December 2012.

The quirky decor is reminiscent of a hunting lodge

and there are several geothermal hot tubs available if you need a good soak.

This was the perfect place to stay at the beginning of our journey. Everyone was very tired after the overnight flight and the folks at Rangá, friendly and charming as always, had us relax in their plush upstairs lounge, while our rooms were readied. They were even able to get us in a bit early.

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Another great reason to stay at Rangá is their amazing restaurant which serves modern Nordic cuisine with and emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.

The next day, after partaking in their extensive Champagne buffet breakfast, we piled into the car to check out the Golden Circle. First stop: Geysir! As if you hadn’t guessed, Geysir is a geyser. In fact it is from Geysir that we get the word geyser. Geysa is an old Norse verb meaning “to gush”. Geysir doesn’t actually erupt very regularly at this point. However, Strokkur, another geyser nearby, is very predictable, erupting every 5 -7 minutes.

Then onto to Gullfoss or the Golden Waterfall. One of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls, the water cascades down over several levels.

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The Husband wasn’t about to pass up the chance for a bowl of Kjötsúpa at the Gullfoss Kaffi, which is located inside the visitor center. Now I usually wouldn’t recommend dining in a touristy shop, but I gotta admit – you should get a bowl of Kjötsúpa here. We had enjoyed it on a previous visit and knew it was really tasty. Trust me!

Then on to Þingvellir National Park . This World UNESCO site is gorgeous!

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And lucky us, we did have a small glimpse of those elusive Northern Lights that evening.

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The third day we headed east towards the lovely village of Vík, taking in Seljalandfoss waterfall along the way.

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The weather was not too bad that day, and the Husband and I have all of the waterproof kit at this point, so we did walk behind it. The Parents decided to sit that one out.

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Magestic Skógafoss was next on the itinerary.

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Continuing eastwards, our next stop was at Sólheimajökull, a glacial tongue of Mýrdalsjökull. We didn’t go for a glacial hike while there, but just took in views.

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Then onto Dyrhólaey

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and Vík í Mýdral’s (often just known as Vík) black sand beach.

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According to legend, those large basalt columns, or sea stacks that you see right off the coast are trolls which didn’t make it back inside before sunrise and were subsequently turned into stone.

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We had definitely seen a lot on our first three days in Iceland. To see all the live action take a peek at the video below. And stay tuned to see what we get up to on day four!

But wait – don’t go! I have yet to tell you about today’s featured recipe. Kjötsúpa is a vey traditional soup and each Icelandic family likely has their own version of it. Some folks have been known to thicken the soup with rice or oatmeal, but this version remains very soup-like in consistency. Homey and very comforting, it is just the thing to warm you on any chilly day.

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As I mentioned, I am quite pleased with this recipe because it tastes very similar to the Kjötsúpa we have enjoyed in Iceland. I think this is due in no small part to a secret ingredient, which gives it such an authentic flavor.

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I will keep it a secret no longer – Icelandic Soup Herbs. This is a mixture of arctic thyme, birch leaves, bilberry and juniper. You can find this in pretty much any grocery store in Iceland and I’ve included a link at the bottom where you can purchase it online. It will truly make a big difference. So, what are you waiting for? Make up a big pot of this Kjötsúpa to fortify you while you plan your Icelandic adventure!

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Kjötsúpa - Islandic Lamb Soup

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds lamb on the bone
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 onion or leek, chopped
  • 1 -2 Tablespoons soup herbs (see note that follows)
  • 1 pound rutabaga (or turnips), peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 pound carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup green cabbage, roughly chopped

Directions:

Trim excess fat from the meat. Place it in a large dutch oven. Add 6 cups water and salt. Slowly bring to a boil. Add pepper, soup herbsand onions. Continue to simmer for 45 minutes.

Add all of the vegetables, except for the cabbage, to the pot and continue to simmer for 15 more minutes.

Add the cabbage and simmer until all of the vegetable are fork tender.

Remove the meat from the soup. Separate out the bones and chop the meat into bite sized pieces. Add back to the soup.

Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

You can serve this soup immediately, however we usually let soup sit overnight to develop the flavors. If you so choose to rest the soup,  let it cool and then put in refrigerator overnight. Another great thing about letting the soup rest in the fridge overnight is that it is easy to skim off any excess fat, as it solidifies on top. Reheat soup and garnish with fresh parsley, chives or chopped celery leaves.

*Icelandic soup herbs are a mixture of thyme, birch leaves, bilberry and juniper. I have included a link where you can purchase it online. That is if you don’t remember to pick so up while you are visiting Iceland. Good substitutions are thyme, parsley, bay leaves.

Enjoy!

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Kjotsupa:

Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir – great cookbook!

Urta Villikrydd (wild herbs) – Soup herbs I mentioned above. This link is for a site called Nammi which sells all sorts of Icelandic products. Nammi also sells another brand of soup herbs (Sûpujurtir), but I have not tried it.

Links for Planning a Parent Friendly vacation in Iceland:

Covid-19 InformationPlease make sure you familiarize yourself with all of the Icelandic Government’s travel requirements BEFORE you head out. All of the official information can be found here.

Travel Planning Guide:

I Heart Reykjavik– An invaluable resource for all things Iceland! I Heart Reykjavik is a small, family run company that offers you personalized service. Planning a holiday can certainly be stressful which has become even more so with rapidly changing safety requirements due to Covid 19. I Heart Reykjavik is keeping up to date with all of the government guidelines and can provide guidance here. Additionally, they can help you plan a fantastic vacation to Iceland in a couple of ways. You can browse and book tours directly on their website. The advantage here is that I Heart Reykjavik has vetted all of the companies on their carefully curated list. Often they have even gone out on the tours and you can read a review of their experience on their blog. Their recommendations can save you a ton of time pouring over tours and reviews online and let you know which company you can best trust with your money . Another advantage is that if you book all of your tours through them and then a unforeseen change due to the weather or some sort of thing, I Heart Reykjavik can suggest changes to your itinerary and assist you with rebooking. And speaking of itineraries, if you are the type of person who likes to plan out everything yourself, I Heart Reykjavik can still be of assistance. They offer an Itinerary Review service, where they can take a look at your upcoming plans and make sure everything makes sense – such as if you have allowed enough travel time. They can give you feedback concerning accommodation and alert you if there is a must see in the area you are visiting which has not found it’s way into your plans. They are truly an invaluable resource!

Getting There: Icelandair! We love Icelandair and have always had great experience with them. Take advantage of their Stopover program on your next flight to Europe.

Car Rental:  Blue Car Rental: We ALWAYS rent our car from Blue Car Rental. Friendly Icelandic company, well maintained, newer, quality vehicles – they’ve never let us down and at this point we have rented from them on six different visits and have had excellent experiences every time. The price they quote on their website has all of the insurance included so there are no surprizes when you show up at their rental desk. Highly recommend!

Accommodation:

Hótel Rangá – Gorgeous 4 star boutique hotel, decorated in a rustic hunting lodge or ski resort style. It is located out in the country (hence no light pollution), about two hours from Reykjavik. Hotel Rangá caters to folks hoping to get a glimpse of the Northern Lights and will give you a wake up call should you desire if the elusive lights do make an appearance. The rooms range from cozy standards to quirky spacious suites. Expansive breakfast buffet. Comfortable laid back lounges. Relaxing geothermal hot tubs, private observatory with telescopes for sky gazing and an on site restaurant serving up delicious modern Nordic cuisine. All of that with a friendly, helpful & welcoming staff. Highly recommended.

Destinations:

The Lava Centre: Located in Hvolsvöllur, The Lava Centre sits squarely between five of Iceland’s greatest volcanos. This new award winning attraction provides a multimedia interactive experience on Iceland’s formation, earthquakes and its many volcanos. Great introduction to the country!

The Golden Circle: This popular tour route usually begins Reykjavik, loops around for 140 miles to include three stunning locations: Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area & Gullfoss Waterfall and then ends up back in Reykjavik. It generally takes 3 1/2 hours to complete the drive and that is without stopping at all, which I don’t know why anyone would want to do that. So, it is definitely an all day activity when you factor in stops along the way. Many tour companies offer Golden Circle tours. If you are interested in driving it yourself, take a look at I Heart Reykjavik’s Guide. Here you will find answers to many of the questions you might have as well as a google driving map which not only includes the three main areas of interests, but also restaurants along the way, and other attractions which you might want to add to your itinerary.

Geysir Geothermal Area – See the original Geysir as well as Strokkur and other geothermal attractions.

Þingvellir National Park– Unesco World Heritage Site. First Icelandic Parliament, or Alþingi, was held here in the year 930 AD. It is also the place where you can see the rift between the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates. You can literally walk between the continents.

Gullfoss – Stunning multi level waterfall located on Hvítá river in south Iceland. Gull means “Gold” in Icelandic and Foss means “waterfall” – hence Golden Falls. One of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls.

Seljalandfoss – A beautiful waterfall located just off of Route 1 on the South Coast. If the weather is good and you don’t mind getting a bit wet, you can walk behind this waterfall.

Skógafoss – Another beautiful waterfall located just off of Route1 on the South Coast. Due to the amount of spray from the falls, if the sun is out you will likely see a rainbow in front of it.

Sólheimajökull– A glacial tongue of Mýrdalsjökull located just off Route 1 on the South Coast of Iceland.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach– Famous picturesque black sand beach located near the village of Vík. Please be careful at this beach. The waves and rip currents are quite powerful. There are sneaker waves which can seemingly come out of nowhere and travel much further up the beach than expected, knocking you off your feet and potentially pulling you out to the freezing sea. Never turn your back to the waves. Unfortunately there have been several fatalities at this beach.

Dyrhólaey Peninsula – Stunning views of Iceland’s south coast and over to Reynisfjara Beach.


Soft Sandwich Bread & Butterflake Rolls

June 11, 2020

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Aaaand……I’m back to bread today – Peter Reinhart’s Soft Sandwich Bread to be exact. This Classic Sandwich Bread is wonderful! It comes together very easily and bakes up very tall with a lovely soft crumb.

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And bonus! This recipe can also be used to make these gorgeous little Butterflake Rolls, or a combination of one loaf of bread along with some rolls, such as I did.

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This dough does require an overnight rest, but otherwise everything about this recipe is quick and easy. And the bread…oh so amazing! There are few things that beat the smell of freshly baked bread wafting from the kitchen.

IMG_0255This bread is lovely and soft, but sturdy enough to hold up to any sandwich. Wonderful for grilled cheese and delightful when simply toasted and slathered with butter.IMG_0272And speaking of butter – these Butterflake Rolls are the bomb! To make them you roll the dough out, brush melted butter all over the surface, cut it into strips, stack them and then bake them in muffin tins. Just look at all those lovely flaky buttery layers just waiting to be pulled apart!IMG_0298

Truth be told, I originally baked this loaf of sandwich bread to use in another recipe that I have been working on. I don’t want to give too much away, because I hope to post that one soon, but lets just say it is a sandwich like none other! How’s that for a teaser?!! And this bread was nothing short of perfection!

 

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Take my word for it! You will LOVE this Soft Sandwich Bread!

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Soft Sandwich Bread & Butterflake Rolls

  • Servings: 2 loaves or 1 loaf & 10 -12 rolls or a whole bunch of rolls
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon (.33 oz/9 grams) instant yeast
  • 1 3/4 cups plus 2 Tablespoons (15 oz./425 grams) lukewarm (35°C/95°F) milk
  • 6 1/4 cups (28 oz./794 grams) unbleached bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons (.5 oz./14 grams) salt, or 1 Tablespoon coarse kosher salt
  • 5 1/2 Tablespoons (2.75 oz. /78 grams) sugar, or 1/4 cup honey
  • 6 Tablespoons (3 oz./85 grams) vegetable oil or melted unsalted butter
  • 1 egg

Directions:

Whisk the yeast into the lukewarm milk until dissolved. Set aside for 1 to 5 minutes.

Combine the flour, salt, sugar, oil and egg in the bowl of a stand mixer, then pour in the milk mixture. Using the paddle attachment mix on the lowest speed for 2 minutes.

Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed for 4 to 5 minutes, or knead by hand on a lightly floured work surface for 4 to 5 minutes, until the dough is soft, supply and tacky but not sticky.

Knead the dough by hand for 1 minute, then form it into a ball. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for up to 4 days.

On baking day, remove the dough from the refrigerator about 2 1/2 hours before you plan to bake.

If you would like to bake two 8″X4 1/2″ loaves, divide dough in half. Each piece should weigh about 25 ounces (709 grams). For a 5″X9″ loaf, like I baked, you will need 794 to 907 grams (28 – 32 ounces). I then used the remaining dough to make the Butterflake Rolls.*see below for shaping method.

Shape the dough into sandwich loaves and place in greased loaf pans to rise. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover the pans loosely with plastic wrap.

Let the dough rise at room temperature for about 2 1/2 hour, until it domes about 1″ above the rim of the pans.

About 15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350°F. (177°C)

Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate the pans and bake for another 20 -30 minutes. The bread is done when the top is golden brown, the sides are firm and brown, the loaf sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom and the internal temperature is at least 185°F (85°C) in the center.

Remove from the pans and cool on a wire rack for at least 1 hour before slicing or serving.

For the Butterflake Rolls:

Roll the dough to a 1/4″ thick rectangle. Brush the surface of the dough with melted butter. Use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into four even strips, then stack the strips neatly on top of one another. Use a pastry scraper to cut the stacked strips into 1″ wide     pieces. Place the small stacks on their sides in an oiled muffin tin. Proof and bake following the recipe. It should take 15 -20 baking time total for rolls.

Enjoy!

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Soft Sandwich Bread & Butterflake Rolls:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer by Thermoworks

6 Quart Dough Rising Bucket

SAF Instant Yeast

Wilton 9″X 5″ Loaf pan

Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Everyday Cookbook

 


Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake

June 4, 2020

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Did someone say Chocolate & Peanut Butter? Cuz those are without a doubt two of my favorites! Even better – those two delicious words were followed by Icebox? I’m in! Today I am sharing this glorious recipe for a Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake with you.

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Now I’m sure you already can tell that this confection is going to be amazing just by looking at the ingredients – chocolate, peanut butter, cream cheese, heavy cream and crispy chocolate wafers. I probably don’t even need to say another word.

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However, I would be remiss if I did not point out some other aspects of this recipe which make it so magnificent. Foremost in my mind is that you can prepare this tasty treat without ever having to turn on your oven! It is supposed to reach 95 degrees F today (35 C)! Needless to say, I am not at all happy. Swampy old Virginia summer has indeed arrived. I do not want to be stuck in the hot kitchen with the oven on for even one second. This Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake is perfect in that sense.

IMG_8188Also it is not only easy to make, but also can be made ahead of time. Yup – an icebox cake keeps very well in the icebox. And while it’s chilling in there, those Chocolate Wafers are becoming soft and wonderfully spongy. It is as if you baked the thinest cake layers. But the good news is that you had to do nothing of the sort.

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Once you are ready to dig into the cake, simply turn it out of the pan onto a serving tray and decorate it with a dusting of cocoa powder and some peanuts. This Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake is a perfect summer indulgence. Folks will be delighted!

 

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake

  • Servings: 8 - 10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Once Upon a Chef

Ingredients:

  • 113 grams (4 oz.) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 260 grams (1 cup) smooth peanut butter (I use Skippy All Natural, No Need To Stir)
  • 120 grams (1 cup) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 480 grams (2 cups) cold heavy cream
  • 50 Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers, from one box (see note)
  • Cocoa powder, for dusting
  • 35 grams (1/4 cup) unsalted dry roasted peanuts

Directions:

Line a 23×12.5-cm (9″X5″) loaf pan with two pieces of overlapping plastic wrap, allowing the excess to hang over the edges of the pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Do not over-whip. Set aside.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, peanut butter, confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, and salt together until smooth.

Add 1/3 of the whipped cream to the peanut butter mixture and beat with the mixer until smooth. Add the remaining whipped cream and fold with a rubber spatula, turning the bowl as you go, until the mixture is evenly combined and uniform in color and texture.

Spoon about two-thirds of the cream into the prepared pan. Starting at a short side of the pan, arrange 12 cookies in the cream, standing them on their edge in a row. Do the same with a second row of cookies, slightly overlapping the cookies from the first row. Continue with two more rows for a total of four rows. Save the last two cookies for the topping.

Cover the cookies with the remaining cream. Smooth the cream with a spatula, gently pressing to make sure any gaps between the cookies are filled.

Cover the cake with the excess plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to 48 hours. When ready to serve, peel the plastic wrap from the top. Set a platter on top of the pan and invert the cake onto it. Lift the pan off and gently peel away the plastic wrap. Use a warm offset spatula to smooth the edges, if desired. Dust the cake lightly with cocoa powder through a fine sieve. Crush the remaining wafers and scatter the peanuts over top, pressing down on them slightly so they adhere. Slice with a sharp knife and serve cold.

 

Enjoy!

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Wilton 9″X 5″ Loaf Pan

Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers – Here is a link which will show you what the chocolate wafer cookies look like. I think you should be able to find them in your local grocery, either with the cookies or with ice cream fixings. This amazon price seems a bit high to me, so definitely take a look in your local store if you can.

Once Upon a Chef, the Cookbook by Jennifer Segal – You will not find the recipe for the Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake in this cookbook, but will find a bunch of other awesome tasty recipes. I love this cookbook, as well as the Once Upon a Chef blog. All of Jennifer’s recipes are easy to make and absolutely delicious!

Valhrona French Chocolate Pearls – This is what I used to decorate the top of the cake. It is a crispy bit of cereal coated in dark chocolate. This link if for a much, much bigger bag than you would need for just this dessert, but I wanted to let you know what I had used.


Zucchini Boats filled with Spicy Lager Lentils

May 28, 2020

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I’m going to take a bit of a break from bread recipes today and tell you all about these Zucchini Boats filled with Spicy Lager Lentils! If you are a fan of spicy, Tex-mex cuisine, you need to add this recipe to your repertoire.

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The Husband and I absolutely love zucchini. Can’t get enough of the stuff, which is a bit strange because neither of us liked it one little bit when we were kids. Now I want to eat it all the time. One of our absolute favorite sides are these Zucchini Spicy Grilled Corn & Cheese Pancakes:

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And zucchini adds moisture as well as flavor to my favorite Banana Bread recipe:

Zucchini Banana Bread

So yeah, we are all about zucchini here. Stuffing a few of them with some spiced up lager lentils seemed like a great idea. And boy was it ever! I first told you about these lentils when we made tacos with them. Absolutely delish!

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Now we’ve got those same spicy lentils wrapped with zucchini, rather than a tortilla. This is great news if you are trying to cut back on carbs. And you still get to top these Zucchini Boats with all the same fun toppings you would put on a taco.

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Another win is that these little boats are perfect for a Meatless Monday! I swear you won’t miss that meat at all.

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Later this summer, when you are absolutely swimming in zucchini, you will be so happy that I shared this idea with you. And the recipe is easily customizable, so if you are a hardcore carnivore – go ahead and add some meat. Turns out there really aren’t any rules. So have fun creating your own version of these Zucchini Boats today! (but I gotta say…these Spicy Lager Lentils are pretty amazing…)

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Zucchini Boats filled with Spicy Lager Lentils

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe inspired by: The Mountain Kitchen’s Meatless Mexican Zucchini Boats

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup lentils, cooked (you will end up with about 2 cups of lentils when cooked)
  • 1 white onion, finely diced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 oz. chopped green chilis
  • 1/2 cup salsa (your favourite – We love Green Mountain Gringo Salsa)
  • 6 oz.- 8 oz. lager beer (I used Estrella Damm, Dos Equis would be great too )

For the spice mixture:

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon Spanish Smoked paprika
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

For the Zucchini Boats:

  • 4 medium zucchini – halved and with a channel scooped out for the spicy lentils
  • Shredded Mexican Cheese
  • Toppings: sour cream, Cotija Cheese, salsa, fresh jalapeños, fresh cilantro

Directions:

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan or dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook for 4-5 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and tin of green chilis, cook for another minute or two.  Add the spice mixture and cook, stirring frequently. You don’t want to burn the spices just crank up the flavor by cooking them.

Add the lentils, salsa and 6 ounces of the beer and stir to combine. Let cook for 2-3 minutes. Using a potato masher or fork, gently mash the lentils until the mixture reaches the consistency you are happy with. Cook another few minutes until hot. If the lentils start to dry out, add another glug or two of the lager. ( If you haven’t slurped it down…cooking is hard & thirsty work!)

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper.

Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise. Use a small spoon to dredge out a channel for the spicy lentils to sit in. Don’t remove too much of the zucchini. Take care to leave at least 1/4″ flesh in the zucchini. Just remove the center seeds and discard.

Place the zucchini on the prepared baking sheet.

Fill the prepared zucchini boats with the spicy lentils. Sprinkle shredded Mexican style spicy cheese over the tops.

Bake for 30 – 40 minutes until the zucchini are fork tender.

Remove from oven. Add any additional toppers you would like.

Enjoy!

Zucchini Boats filled with Spicy Lager Lentils brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)


Bon Appétit’s Best Buttermilk Biscuits

May 21, 2020

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I have been all about bread recently…Skillet Cornbread and then, most recently, Buttery Potato Burger Buns. And guess what? I must be on a roll (ha! pun intended), but I’m going to stay the course today and share a recipe with you for Buttermilk Biscuits. And not any ole buttermilk biscuits, but these golden delicious darlings happen to be Bon Appétit’s Best Buttermilk Biscuits!

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Now I must admit the Husband and I do love our buttermilk biscuits and have always been on the lookout for the “best” recipe. I took a look back at my catalog of past recipes and found four different ones for the elusive best buttermilk biscuit. There were the Buttermilk Biscuits that I baked for my Spicy Pork & Chorizo Breakfast Biscuits

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The Mile High Buttermilk Biscuits

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The Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits

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And finally those Buttermilk Biscuits that I baked to go with my Nashville Hot Chicken

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That is a lot of Buttermilk Biscuits, no? So what makes these biscuits Bon Appétit’s best?  And perhaps more importantly are they our best? Well, there does not  seem to be any secret ingredient to be found in this recipe – it’s flour, butter, buttermilk, baking powder and soda, a little salt and sugar. Nope, it isn’t the ingredients. It is all about the technique. You need to use cold butter. You need to work quickly and have a very light touch. Overworking the dough will result in tough biscuits. Nobody wants that. Tender, fluffy & flaky are what we are going for!

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As you are mixing these biscuits up, you are probably going to think that the recipe is too dry. Resist the urge to add any more buttermilk. Just continue to lightly work that shaggy, craggy, crumbly dough as best you can into a square that is 1″ tall. As the dough sits it will continue to hydrate. Believe me. I was skeptical as I was doing it, but it really does work! Another trick that makes these biscuits so irresistible is the stacking of the dough. This ends up creating layers of thin sheets of butter. Kind of like that laminated dough I told you about when I made these Spinach Croissants

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It is these little butter rivers running through the dough that expand upon baking to create this lovely tall layers.

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Final tip – when you cut the dough into biscuits, use a sharp blade and push your blade straight down to cut. Do not saw back and forth. This will help to give you biscuits the tallest rise possible.

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And perhaps the best thing about this recipe for me is that you can make up a big batch of biscuits ahead of time and freeze them. Then when you get a hankering for a biscuit, be it for breakfast with some egg and sausage or even country ham, or slathered with butter and drizzled with honey or maybe to go along with your Sunday dinner, just grab however many you want out of the freezer and pop them right into a hot oven. A mere 20 -25 minutes later these exquisite golden tall flaky biscuits will be ready. Now you can’t beat that! But back to that question “Are these Buttermilk Biscuits our best?” Hmmm…these are definitely up there! They were so buttery & golden and rose so high with lots of flaky layers, but I’m not sure the quest is over. Certainly the continued pursuit will lead to even more biscuit sampling, which is always a good thing in my book!

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Bon Appétit's Best Buttermilk Biscuits

  • Servings: 9-12 depending on how big you cut them
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Bon Appétit

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for surface
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces, plus more melted for brushing over the tops
  • 1 cup chilled buttermilk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425° F. Pulse baking powder, salt, sugar, baking soda, and 3½ cups flour in a food processor to combine. Add chilled butter and pulse until largest pieces of butter are the size of a pea. Transfer to a large bowl and gradually drizzle buttermilk over top, tossing with a fork as you go to incorporate. Knead mixture a few times in bowl until a shaggy dough forms (mixture will look a little dry), then turn out onto a clean surface and pat into a 1″-thick square.

Using a knife or bench scraper, cut dough into 4 pieces. Stack pieces on top of one another, sandwiching any loose dry bits of dough between layers, and press down to flatten. Lift up dough with bench scraper and dust surface with flour. Roll dough into a 1″-thick rectangle and trim a thin border around sides of dough to create clean edges. Cut into a 4×3 grid to make 12 biscuits (don’t reroll scraps). Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing 2″ apart; freeze 10 minutes.

Brush tops of biscuits with melted butter and sprinkle with flaky sea salt if you desire and place in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 400° and bake biscuits until deep golden brown on bottom and golden on top, 20–25 minutes.

Do Ahead: Biscuits (unbaked) can be made 1 month ahead. Freeze, uncovered, on baking sheet until solid, then transfer to a resealable plastic bag. Do not thaw before baking, but add a few minutes to baking time.

Enjoy!

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Bon Appétit’s Best Buttermilk Biscuits:

Cuisinart Pro-Classic Food Processor

Oxo Multipurpose Scraper

Dough Rolling Mat


Buttery Potato Burger Buns

May 15, 2020

IMG_9980So let me get this right…last weekend we had a freeze/frost warning which had all the gardeners out there scrambling and me cooking up a pot of chili. Today, just six short days later, it is forecasted to be 86° F (that is 30°C)!?! That is insanity from the weather. Kind of goes along with the surealness of this Covid-19 crisis. I am definitely not pleased about either one. However, I know that a lot of folks out there will be happy to see this what I will call “hot” weather. They will be firing up their grills. And I’ve got a great Burger Bun recipe for you just in time: Buttery Potato Burger Buns!

IMG_9974Apparently pandemics bring out the bread baking in everyone out there. Folks have bought up all the flour, all the yeast. Hopefully you’ve managed to score some. Besides regular all purpose flour, this recipe does also call for potato flour, which I know is an ingredient that you might not have on hand. Don’t despair, you can just sub in some instant potato flakes and you’re good. Also, don’t worry if you don’t have a hamburger bun pan, you can make due with a parchment lined baking sheet.IMG_9972These buns are so amazing! I could not have been anymore pleased with them. If you’ve ever had a Martin’s Potato Roll – they are like that ‘cept better! I didn’t have any fresh hamburger meat in the house when the whole lockdown thing started, but we had some burger patties in the freezer. Believe me, these buns stole the show! I can’t wait until the day, you know a year or so from now (just kidding! I hope…) when I can actually get some ingredients that will be worthy to put between these fantastic, tender, buttery buns. In the meantime, I’m thrilled that these Buttery Potato Burger Buns are the thing that truly make us look forward to our quaran-burger dinners.IMG_9968

Buttery Potato Burger Buns

servings = “6 Burger Buns” difficulty = “easy”]

recipe from: King Arthur Flour

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups (361grams) All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 cup (43grams) Potato flour or 1/2 cup (43grams) dried potato flakes
  • 1/4 cup (35grams) nonfat dry milk
  • 2 Tablespoons (25grams) sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 4 Tablespoons (57grams) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (227grams) lukewarm water (95° F)

Directions:

Combine all of the dough ingredients and mix and knead them — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a soft dough.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until it’s almost doubled in bulk.

Turn the dough onto a lightly greased surface, gently deflate it, and divide it into 6 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.

Place the balls into the greased cups of a hamburger bun pan, flattening gently. Or place them on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about 2″ to 3″ between them; flatten gently.

Cover and let rise until the buns have doubled in size, 60 to 90 minutes. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake the buns for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they’re light golden brown.

Remove them from the oven, and brush them with melted butter, if desired.

Transfer the buns to a rack to cool. Store buns, well-wrapped, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.

Enjoy!

Buttery Potato Burger Buns brought to you by: RuncibleEats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Buttery Potato Burger Buns:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer by Thermoworks

6 Quart Dough Rising Bucket

SAF Instant Yeast

Hamburger Bun Pan

 


Skillet Cornbread

May 12, 2020

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So Winter hasn’t given up yet around here! Over the past weekend there were frost warnings and forecasts of snow out in the mountains. Not that I’m complaining…I’d rather keep things on the cool side rather than move right into the hot, muggy unpleasantness that is often a Virginia summer. With the chilly weather, I decided to make up a big ole pot of chili, White Chicken Chili to be exact. And what goes better with chili? A big ole pint of beer? Well, yes. Beer is good. But how about a big ole hunk of cornbread slathered with butter! Now you’re talking!

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The Husband and I love cornbread. And I’ve posted quite a few recipes in the past. But I gotta say – I think we’ve found a new favorite: Skillet Cornbread. This cornbread has it all! It is moist. It is buttery. It has crispy crunchy edges. And it is not too sweet. A little brown sugar and a bit of honey gives it just the right amount of sweetness.

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I’ve always thought that Northern Cornbread was sweeter than Southern Cornbread. When I did a bit of snooping around online, I found out that I had stumbled into a raging debate. A lot of folks out there have some definite ideas about that topic and can get downright prickly over it with statements such as “If God had wanted sugar in cornbread he would have called it cake”. Hmmm…

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There is no doubt that cornbread is associated with the South. This is likely due to the fact that cornbread was the bread that was eaten there daily from colonial times up to the 20th Century. As it turns out, corn was the South’s main crop. Wheat tended not to do so well in the heat & humidity there. So although I know Buttermilk Biscuits are also considered a Southern thing, in the past they were only baked for special occasions or maybe for Sunday dinner. Folk’s daily bread was cornbread.

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I was fascinated to discover that back in the day, the type of corn predominantly grown in the South was a white corn. This corn was left in the fields to ripen completely and then taken to a water mill to be stone ground. Eventually, with industrialization, these stone mills were replaced by steel roller mills. This type of mill took away much of the corn kernel and thereby the flavor. Furthermore, these roller mills preferred to use unripened yellow corn, which was not as sweet. In order to get that sweet flavor back in their cornbread, guess what folks added – you got it, sugar.

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So, this recipe does have a little bit of sugar in it, but not so much sugar that you are going to be thinking you are eating a cake. But I think the thing that really makes this cornbread so spectacular is that it is cooked in a blazing hot cast iron skillet. Pouring the batter into that hot skillet sears the edges and caramelizes the sugar in the batter to give you that scrumptiously crunchy crust, while keeping the middle nice and tender and moist.

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Yum, yum and yum! Whether you’re from the North, or the South or any other place, you are going to agree, this is some super tasty, buttery delicious cornbread! Pull out your cast iron skillets and bake a batch of this cornbread today!

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Skillet Cornbread

  • Servings: 6-8 servings
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Sally’s Baking Addiction

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (120grams) cornmeal
  • 1 cup (125grams) all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (115grams) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1/3 cup (67grams) packed light brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons (30ml) honey
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 2 Tablespoons minced jalapeño peppers (optional – you could also throw in some cheese or bacon or even dried cranberries – or leave it plain, your choice)
  • 2 Tablespoons salted butter, melted
  • Maldon flaky sea salt to sprinkle over top

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F (204°C). Grease a 9″-10″ cast iron skillet. Set aside.

Whisk the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the melted butter, brown sugar, and honey together until completely smooth and thick. Then, whisk in the egg until combined. Finally, add in the buttermilk and mix to combine. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Add the jalapeños if you are using them and whisk until just combined. Take care not to over mix, or beat the batter or the cornbread will be tough.

Pour batter into prepared baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown on top and the center is cooked through. Use a toothpick to test. Edges should be crispy at this point.

Paint melted butter over the top of the cornbread and sprinkle with a bit of flaky Maldon sea salt.

Allow to slightly cool before slicing and serving. Serve cornbread with butter, honey, jam, or whatever you like.

Wrap leftovers up tightly and store at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Enjoy!

Skillet Cornbread brought to you today by Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Skillet Cornbread:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Le Creuset Cast Iron Skillet

Le Creuset Handle Sleeve

 


Kanilterta (Icelandic Cinnamon Cake)

May 8, 2020

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Today I would like to share this Icelandic recipe for Kanilterta with you. This delicious treat boasts four layers of cinnamon spiced buttery cake separated by sweet vanilla whipped cream & topped with silky decadent chocolate. I even bet you have all the ingredients necessary to make it in your pantry right now.

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Oh, and I also want to tell you all about our visit to Iceland for an amazing Ice Cave adventure back in February 2018.

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Now I know when folks are planning a get away in February they might be dreaming of a sunny Caribbean island or something. Iceland might not be the country that comes to mind. However, anyone who knows me, or has read my blog at all knows the Husband and I are not beach people at all. We much prefer the colder climes and absolutely love Iceland at anytime of the year. We had taken a trip to Scotland to go to Up Helly Aa– Europe’s largest Viking fire festival, which takes place at the end of January. So we decided to take advantage of Icelandair’s Stopover offer. You see, if you fly to any of their destinations you can add an up to a 7 day stopover in Iceland at no charge! So it was a no brainer for us. We actually ended up spending one night in Iceland on the way to Scotland and then spent an additional 6 nights on the way back to Virginia.

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And in addition to Icelander’s fantastic Stopover offer, on certain flights they also offer the option to “Class Up” from economy seats to Saga Premium. So, how it works is 10 days prior to an eligible flight, you will receive an email asking if you would like to place a bid. You are then able to decide the amount you are willing to pay, in addition to the cost of your original ticket, to have a Saga class seat.

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You should keep in mind that it is per seat. So if you bid $200 and there are two of you on the ticket, then you have actually bid $400. And this is per segment of the flight. So if you have a roundtrip flight, you would be bidding on the flight over as well as the flight back. If your bid is not accepted, nothing changes with your original ticket. You still have the same seats. However if your bid is accepted, you will find yourself in Saga Class. We made a bid and it was accepted!

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Our flight arrived in Iceland around 6:30 am and we were not headed on to Scotland until 7 am the next morning. So we chose to stay close to the airport rather than to travel into Reykjavik. Tired after our overnight flight, we checked into the Silica Hotel at the famous Blue Lagoon.

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The Blue Lagoon is located near the town of Grindavik and is only about a 15 – 20 minute drive from the airport. The Silica Hotel is only about a 3 minute drive, or a short stroll through the beautiful green moss covered lava fields, from the Blue Lagoon. Needless to say, we arrived well before our check-in time, but were able to take advantage of their abundant breakfast buffet while we waited for our room. Since the hotel was not very busy, being February and all, they were able to get us into our room a bit early.

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View from our room at The Silica Hotel

After some shut eye, we took a stroll over to the Blue Lagoon

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Strolling through the lava fields

to enjoy a delicious dinner at the Lava Restaurant.

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We did not spend any time in the actual lagoon at the Blue Lagoon on this trip. We have several times in the past and truly enjoy it and do recommend it, even if it is a bit touristy. There is a reason why folks love it! And I should mention that when you book a room at the Silica Hotel, premium entrance to the Blue Lagoon is included. That is really quite a perk, especially in the summer time. The Blue Lagoon has become so popular at this point, it is unlikely that you could gain entrance without booking in advance. But there is also even another perk to staying at the Silica Hotel – they have their own private lagoon for folks staying with them! How awesome is that!!!

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Now there isn’t a swim up bar, like there is in the main Blue Lagoon, however you can place a drink order with one of the Silica employees and they will deliver it to you while you soak in the Silica Lagoon. The Husband and I loved this little private oasis. Not crowded at all, very quiet. We spent quite a while relaxing and unwinding here on the first night of our trip!

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After all of our adventures in Scotland, we arrived back in Iceland and taxied into Reykjavik. We had been dreaming of visiting an Ice Cave for sometime and February was the perfect time to go on an Ice Cave adventure. You see, it needs to be cold to safely visit an Ice Cave, so most of these tours take place from October – March. February was just perfect! So I booked a two day tour, which would take us and a small number of other guests (no more than 8) out along the South Coast, stopping to visit Seljalandfoss & Skógafoss Waterfalls, the Reynisfjara Black Sand beach, and Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. Then we would spend the night at the tour group’s cottage, have a traditional Icelandic dinner and enjoy the Northern Lights if possible. The second day we would visit the Diamond Beach, Jökulsárlón, walk on a glacier, go to an Ice Cave and then be back in Reykjavik by around 21:00 – 22:00. Two full days without a doubt! Even though we had seen a lot of the South Coast, we were happy to see it again. And even happier to sit back and let some other folks do the driving. On the day our tour began it was raining. And I don’t mean just a little drizzly, just spitting a bit…I mean all out, cats and dogs, RAINING! Sure, it will let up soon I thought…HA! If anything it intensified throughout the day! But we didn’t let it stop us! We had all our waterproof gear at the ready.

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Drenched at Seljalandfoss.

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Soggy at Skógafoss

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Soaked before the Basalt columns at Reynisfjara Beach

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Drowned at Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

 

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We arrived in a big water-logged heap at the cottage, which was quite charming and thankfully warm.

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The tour company had prepared a lovely Icelandic lamb dinner for us. But first they wanted us to try an Icelandic national delicacy – Hákarl, which translates to rotten or putrefied shark. Yup, you read that right. You see Greenlands shark meat is actually poisonous when fresh due to its high levels of urea and trimethylamine oxide. However after it is buried in sand and pressed down by stones, hung to dry for weeks and then cured for a month or so more, it is just fine! Usually eating a bit is followed quickly by taking a shot of Brennivín – an Icelandic liquor also known as Black Death. The Husband is allergic to seafood, so he got a pass on the putrefied shark and merely concentrate on the shots of Death. Lucky me, I got to sample both. Hmmmm… Rotten Shark & Black Death…what could go wrong?

So how did it taste? Well, the smell was worse than the taste. The taste wasn’t great, but probably not the worst thing ever, though I certainly have not found myself craving either. Needless to say, the Northern Lights did not make an appearance that night. Or if they did , the heavy cloud cover and pouring rain obscured them. But, good news, when we woke in the morning the rain had decided to move on. It was cold and windy, but all things considered and knowing what it was like just the day before, not too bad for February in Iceland. We ate breakfast and then set out for the day. First stop, Diamond Beach & Jökulsárlón.

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And finally, the time had arrived! We met up with some local ice cave guides, boarded their modified 4X4 and set off on a very bumpy ride towards Vatnajokull to explore an ice cave!

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Ice caves in Iceland are formed from beneath by the canals of water which run under the glaciers. In the summer these caves are often filled with water and impassible, but with the coming of cold water they freeze and voila – ICE CAVE! Incredibly otherworldly and stunningly beautiful – I’ll just let my pictures do the talking:

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We not only got to see a traditional ice cave, but after a short walk across the glacier, we got to see a convertible type of ice cave – you know…one with the roof off. Really, it was more like a fissure in the glacier. Also, incredibly beautiful.

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And the great news is that new caves form every year, so you could likely go again and again and it would always be different!

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Alas, it was time to head back to Reykjavik. We stopped for a short look see at Svínafellsjökull (the glacier where the scenes from North of the Wall in Game of Thrones were filmed), but then got right on the road.

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I had been monitoring the weather on my phone throughout the day and was worried about a storm that was moving in. Sure enough, the weather soon turned bad. We thought rain was a problem, but not so much. What we ended up with on the way back to the city was much worse – very windy and driving snow. There was little visibility, multiple cars had gone off the road and driving was treacherous!

When we finally arrived in Hveragerði at the foot of the Hellisheidi Mountain Pass, the one that we needed to take to get back into Reykjavik…yeah, that one…we found that it was impassable and closed.

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We sat and waited to see if a plow might make it across the mountain somehow, but after about an hour and some consulting with other stuck tour drivers as well as the police, we realized that we were going to have to go around. Yeah….go around a mountain! Thus turning what should have been about a 40 minute drive over the pass into a 2 hour + blizzard driving odyssey! But I gotta give it to our driver. He was awesome. Calm and confident. We finally showed up back in the city around 2 am! Let me tell you, that was the point where we were really glad we weren’t the ones doing the driving, but rather were in the expert hands of a driver who was experienced driving in Iceland’s tricky, ever-changing winter weather. Although this two day Ice Cave trip turned out a little different than we might have imagined, we ended up having a fantastic time and quite an adventure!

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The rest of our time in Iceland we spent relaxing in Reykjavik. We stayed in an AirBnB which was in a great location and had a lovely view.

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We went shopping and wandered about town

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took in the street art

stopped for coffee at Reykjavik Roasters,

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visited our favorite restaurants like Íslenski Barinn and Snaps,

enjoyed a kanilsnúðar or two from Brauð & Co.

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and stopped by our favorite bars

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and of course, ate a hot dog or two or so…

 We were lucky that the Winter Lights Festival was taking place while we were there. This festival is an annual February event in Reykjavik which celebrates both the Winter world and the growing sunlight after a long period of darkness. Every night during the festival various buildings throughout the city have light installations. You can get a map and stroll through the city to see them all.

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And we got even more snow, which made me a very, very happy camper. So yeah, February is a great time to visit Iceland! To see all the action as it happened, take a look at this video:

But oh yeah, I was supposed to tell you about his Kanilterta. This traditional Icelandic cake was often baked around the Christmas holidays and served with hot chocolate on Christmas Day. However, in recent years it has lost some of its popularity, being seen as rather old fashioned. Old fashioned it may be, and perhaps not very polished or fancy looking, but it is truly delicious!

IMG_0019I know I’ve told you before that the Husband doesn’t really like sweet desserts. Well, he absolutely LOVED this cake. Has asked for multiple slices!

IMG_0109The layers are more like a cookie or soft shortbread than a traditional layer cake. They are incredibly buttery and decadent. The vanilla whipped cream between the layers serves to light each bite.IMG_0024The top layer of silky dark chocolate is absolutely amazing. Where has this cake been all of my life?!!

 

IMG_0135Wonderfully rich and buttery with warm cinnamon and chocolate notes, this Kanilterta is absolutely irresistible! It is welcome all year round in our house. Once you give it a whirl, I’ll bet you’ll be hooked too!IMG_0029

 

Kanilterta - (Icelandic Cinnamon Cake)

  • Servings: 12- 14 slices
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe slightly modified from: Þjóðlegt með kaffinu

Ingredients:

  • 260 grams salted butter
  • 350 grams sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 300 grams all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 4 dl  (400 ml or 13.5 oz) cream
  • 3 Tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
  • 75 grams dark chocolate
  • 1 Tablespoon butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C).

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing until incorporated.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour and cinnamon together. Add flour mixture to the butter mixture. Mix until just combined.

Butter four to six 8″ round cake pans and line with parchment. Divide the dough equally between the pans and spread it out into an even layer. Or, if you do not have the round pans, you can draw 4 – 6 circles measuring 8″ in diameter on parchment paper and bake on a cookie sheet.

Bake each layer for 12 -15 minutes or until set. I baked four layers. If you are making six layers, the baking time will likely be closer to 8 – 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely on wire rack.

Whip cream until it starts to thicken. Add confectioners sugar, cream of tartar and vanilla bean paste and continue to whip until stiff peaks form. Spread whipped cream mixture evenly between each layer of the cake, leaving the top layer bare.

Place layered cake in refrigerator or freezer briefly while you prepare chocolate for the top layer. Melt chocolate and butter over low heat.

Once chocolate has cooled to room temperature, spread chocolate over the top layer of the cake.

Enjoy!

Kanilterta brought to you today by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Kanilterta:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

8″ Round non-stick cake pan

Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla Bean Paste

Valhrona French Chocolate Pearls – This is what I used to decorate the top of the cake. It is a crispy bit of cereal coated in dark chocolate. This link if for a much, much bigger bag than you would need for just this dessert, but I wanted to let you know what I had used.

Links for Planning your vacation in February in Iceland:

Getting There: Icelandair! We love Icelandair and have always had great experience with them. Take advantage of their Stopover program on your next flight to Europe.

Accommodation: 

Silica Hotel at Blue Lagoon: Lovely hotel with its own private lagoon for guests. Extensive breakfast buffet and very close to Keflavik Airport as well as (of course) the Blue Lagoon.

Once in Reykjavik, we stayed in an AirBnB on this visit. Planet Apartments were the folks who managed the unit we stayed in. They have several lovely apartments with great views of the sea. Very friendly & helpful folks to work with.

Car Rental – We did not actually rent a car this time, but relied on taxis. When we do rent a car, here is the company we love:

Blue Car Rental: We ALWAYS rent our car from Blue Car Rental. Friendly Icelandic company, well maintained, newer, quality vehicles – they’ve never let us down and at this point we have rented from them on six different visits and have had excellent experiences every time. The price they quote on their website has all of the insurance included so there are no surprizes when you show up at their rental desk. Highly recommend!

Tours: So visiting an Ice Cave was a lot of fun. We definitely recommend it. I did want to take this time though to impart some advice. Visiting an ice cave is weather dependent in a couple of ways. First of all you need to visit between the months of November – March, when the weather is cold enough that the caves are more stable. Second of all, weather in Iceland is unpredictable. Tours are often cancelled in the winter, so you need to try to remain flexible and go into it knowing your tour might be cancelled due to the weather. That being said, you have to consider how you will be getting to the ice cave. Some of the best caves are located in Vatnjökull, which is about a 5+ hour drive from Reykjavik. You could drive yourself out that way to meet up with a tour – a lot leave from Jökulsárlón. However, keep in mind you will be driving in Iceland during the Winter, so you might end up having to deal with less than favorable to downright dangerous winter driving conditions.  Rather than driving yourself, you could book a tour which leaves from Reykjavik and let a local do the driving, like we did. A word of caution here – although they do offer day tours out to Jökulsárlón, I do not recommend them. You will spend at least 10 hours driving – so that is a long day in a car. And keep in mind, the days have less daylight hours at this time of year, so most of it will be in the dark. I think a two or three day tour is a better option. I bet you think that the two day Ice Cave & South Shore tour that we took looked like a lot of fun. It really was and I would have recommended the tour company that we used with out hesitation. The problem is that they sadly ended up going bankrupt in 2019. However, I know a lot of other tour groups out there do similar tours to this one. Which brings me to my actual recommendation here: I Heart Reykjavik! If you are familiar with my past recommendations for Iceland, you will be familiar with this company. We have gone on a couple of walking tours of Reykjavik with them which were fantastic! It was as if you had a local friend there who was able to give you the inside tip on the best restaurants, pubs and shops while telling you all about the city. And I also follow their blog, which offers just a ton of useful advice and tips for your visit.

I Heart Reykjavik– An invaluable resource for all things Iceland! I Heart Reykjavik is a small, family run company that offers you personalized service. They can help you plan a fantastic vacation to Iceland in a couple of ways. You can browse and book tours directly on their website. The advantage here is that I Heart Reykjavik has vetted all of the companies on their carefully curated list. Often they have even gone out on the tours and you can read a review of their experience on their blog. Their recommendations can save you a ton of time pouring over tours and reviews online and let you know which company you can best trust with your money . Another advantage is that if you book all of your tours through them and then a unforeseen change due to the weather or some sort of thing, I Heart Reykjavik can suggest changes to your itinerary and assist you with rebooking. And speaking of itineraries, if you are the type of person who likes to plan out everything yourself, I Heart Reykjavik can still be of assistance. They offer an Itinerary Review service, where they can take a look at your upcoming plans and make sure everything makes sense – such as if you have allowed enough travel time. They can give you feedback concerning accommodation and alert you if there is a must see in the area you are visiting which has not found it’s way into your plans. They are truly an invaluable resource!

Here is a link to an excellent, informative blog post I Heart Reykjavik wrote about visiting Ice Caves just last year. They can help you find the best tried & tested company to take you on an Ice Cave Adventure, according to your individual needs.

Destinations:

Seljalandfoss – A beautiful waterfall located just off of Route 1 on the South Coast. If the weather is good and you don’t mind getting a bit wet, you can walk behind this waterfall.

Skógafoss – Another beautiful waterfall located just off of Route1 on the South Coast. Due to the amount of spray from the falls, if the sun is out you will likely see a rainbow in front of it.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach– Famous picturesque black sand beach located near the village of Vík. Please be careful at this beach. The waves and rip currents are quite powerful. There are sneaker waves which can seemingly come out of nowhere and travel much further up the beach than expected, knocking you off your feet and potentially pulling you out to the freezing sea. Never turn your back to the waves. Unfortunately there have been several fatalities at this beach.

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon – Stunning canyon located near the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur in South Iceland. In Season 8 of Game of Thrones you can see the Dragons fly through this snow covered canyon. The vegetation in the canyon suffered from the amount of tourists and it was closed until June 2019, to allow it to recover.

Svínafellsjökull– An outlet glacier of Vatnajökull located in Skaftafell Nature Reserve. Game of Thrones filmed many of season 7’s North of the Wall scenes here.

Jökulsárlón – is a large lake which was formed by a glacier (glacial lagoon). It is located in southeast Iceland, on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park. Bits of the Vatnajökull glacier break off (calve) into the lake, forming icebergs. These icebergs float around until they melt enough to fit through the narrow opening of the lake and drift out into the ocean.

Diamond Beach A black sand beach near Jökulsárlón often peppered with icebergs which have calved from the glacier, traveled out to the ocean and then washed back up on the beach.

Restaurant/Bars:

Íslenski Barinn– Love, love, love! Delicious food & local brews in a comfortable, cozy setting.

Kaldi Bar Fun & hip Bar featuring beers from the Kaldi Brewery

Ölstofa Kormáks og Skjaldar (Kormakur’s and Skjöldur’s alehouse) – Or just plain Ölstofan –house brew Brío is not to be missed!

Baejarins Beztu Pylsur – Legendary Icelandic Hot Dog stand in Reykjavik. A one a day must for the Husband while we are visiting the city!

Reykjavik Roasters– Best coffee & vibe. Love the cinnamon scones!

Brauð & Company– Bakes my most favorite in the world kanilsnúðar!

Snaps Bistro– Laid back, French style bistro, serving up delicious cocktails and amazing breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinners. A favorite with locals and tourists a like.

Misc:

Þjóðlegt með kaffinu – Besides being a Facebook page, there is also a cookbook penned by Jón Símonía Bjarnadóttir & Gudfinna Hreidarsdóttir. It is available in English, Danish & German. You can purchase it when you visit Iceland or contact them at icelandiccakes@google.com

The Reykjavik Grapevine: A witty English language Icelandic magazine. Great read whether or not you’re planning a visit! And if you are planning a visit make sure to check out their annual “Best of” edition where they give you a curated list of the best of everything to be found in the country!

Icelandic Meteorologic Office – Great for checking the weather before you go and essential while you are visiting – especially if you are visiting in the Winter! They also have an app you can have on your phone which I definitely recommend. The weather in Iceland can change suddenly. Be prepared!

 

 


Spicy Taco Egg Cups

May 5, 2020

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Woohoo! It’s Cinco de Mayo! And we’re still on lockdown! No drinking margaritas in the cantina for the Husband and I. Nope – looks like it might have to be shots of tequila on the couch. I guess we better get some food on the stomach if that’s the way it’s gonna go today. And I have just the thing: Spicy Taco Egg Cups!

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These little firecrackers pack quite a punch! At least they do when I make ’em, ’cause we do love our spicy food. But don’t despair if you don’t – you can tame them down accordingly. Just don’t use any cayenne and use a very mild salsa. They will still have tons of flavor, just not as much of the “burns so good-ness” that we love.

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While I’ve got you here I’d like to take the opportunity to remind you of some other great recipes that would be perfect for today such as my favorite Guacamole (there is a secret ingredient in it!)

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Or how about this Tres Leches Cake with Dulce de Leche Glaze

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And who could forget the Double Decker Taco Cupcakes

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But let me get back to these little Taco Egg Cups. Here is another fantastic piece of information – they can actually be pretty low in calories if you concerned with the Covid 19 pounds that I’ve mentioned gaining while in quarantine. Just use lean ground beef and reduced fat cheese. There you have it, low calorie (around 100 -ish per cup) and tasty! They come together pretty quickly as well. So while you’re making a batch of these, have your quarantine buddy fire up the blender for some frozen Margaritas. Nine in the a.m. isn’t too early to start with the festivities is it? Cinco de Mayo will turn out just fine at home after all!

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Spicy Taco Egg Cups

  • Servings: 12 Egg Cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe slightly adapted from: Food Faith Fitness

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Taco Seasoning
  • 3/4 Cup Salsa (your choice, but I love Green Mountain Gringo)
  • 6 Eggs
  • 4 Egg whites (or 3/4 cup store bought prepackaged egg whites)
  • Pinch of salt, pepper and cayenne if you like it spicy!
  • 1 Cup Mexican Cheese Blend or Pepper Jack Cheese

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 375°F and GENEROUSLY spray the wells of muffin tin with cooking spray.
In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
Add in the ground beef and cook, breaking up, until no longer pink. Add in the taco seasoning and stir until well mixed.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the salsa. Set aside.
In a large pyrex measuring cup, whisk together the eggs and egg whites with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Pour the egg mixture in the wells of the muffin tin, trying to distribute equally among the wells.
Spoon about 2 Tablespoons of the beef mixture into the muffin wells.
Finally, top each muffin cavity with 1 slightly heaping Tablespoon of the cheese.
Bake until the eggs are set and lightly golden brown, about 20-23 minutes.
Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes and them carefully remove them from the muffin pan to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Enjoy!
Spicy Taco Egg Cups brought to you today by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)
Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Spicy Taco Egg Cups:
OXO Good Grips Medium Cookie Scoop
Pyrex Glass Measuring Cup
Cupcake & Muffin Tin
Green Mountain Gringo Salsa – here is an Amazon link, though you can likely get this at your local grocery store.

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