Quick Chicken & Dumplings

March 7, 2021

Ha! It turns out that varmint was correct. Punxsutawney Phil for the win! It has been quite chilly around here, though if the weather forecasters are to be believed, we’re going to get a taste of Spring next week. But I’d be willing to bet it will just be a brief little sample and then it will turn cold again. No way winter is done with us yet. So ya’ll will be so happy you have this recipe to warm you up on those cold damp days to come – Quick Chicken & Dumplings. Comfort food at its finest and much easier to make than the traditional dish. What’s the secret? Store bought rotisserie chicken & gnocchi! You’ll have this hearty flavorful creamy dinner on the table in about 30 minutes.

Now I have made the traditional Chicken & Dumplings dish many times. It is kind of an all day affair to make, but it is so tasty with big, fluffy cornmeal dumplings The husband absolutely loves it!

So I wasn’t sure how he was going to feel about this shortcut version. But there was no need to fear. He loved this dish as well.

Those soft pillowy gnocchi do a wonderful job standing in for dumplings. And the good news is, it is not only absolutely delicious, but it is also very quick and easy to make. Meaning there is a good chance it will make it to the table much more frequently. So when the weather turns chilly again, as I know it will, you’ll be ready with a big pot of Chicken & Dumplings to lift folks spirits. You don’t even need to let them in on the secret “quick” bit. Winner, winner! Quick Chicken & Dumplings Dinner!

Quick Chicken & Dumplings

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Alexa Weibel via NYT Cooking

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 medium carrots or 8 ounces butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium leek, trimmed, white and pale green portion halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 2 medium celery stalks, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick (about 2/3 cup)
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning (optional)
  •  Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 (16-ounce) package fresh or shelf-stable store-bought gnocchi
  • ½ small (3-pound) store-bought rotisserie chicken, skin and bones discarded, meat torn into bite-size pieces (about 2 cups shredded meat)
  •  Fresh tarragon, parsley or dill, for garnish

Directions:

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium. Add the carrots, leek, celery, garlic, rosemary, thyme and poultry seasoning, if using. Season generously with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are slightly softened, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle with the flour, then cook, stirring, 2 minutes. (This cooks the flour to soften its raw flavor.) Gradually stir in the stock and cream, and bring to a boil over high heat.

Once the mixture boils, stir in the gnocchi, reduce the heat to medium and cook until gnocchi and vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken in the last couple of minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide among bowls and top with fresh tarragon and more black pepper, if desired.

Enjoy!

Quick Chicken & Dumplings brought to you today by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)


Mimosa Butter Sweetheart Cookies

February 12, 2021

So are ya’ll thinking about Valentine’s Day yet? I was way ahead of the game this year, that is for me anyway! May I present my Valentine’s Day treats – Mimosa Butter Sweetheart Cookies! What we got here is a crisp and light butter cookie which has been jazzed up with the addition of some champagne, orange juice and the perfect dollop of decadent chocolate raspberry jam. These little devils are addictive! And if you make them, it forces you to open a bottle of champagne and once it is open…you absolutely have to finish it. Hurray! Mimosas all around!

The Husband, who conveniently also happens to be my Valentine, generally doesn’t like any chocolatey super sweet sugar bombs that seem to be all the rage for this holiday.  Which is totally unlike me. That is exactly what I would want. Truth be told…in a the shape of a cupcake if all were going my way. Just saying…He, on the other hand, prefers fruit forward desserts such as this lovely Cashew Crusted Blackberry & Lime Tart:

Or these Luscious Lemon Squares,

And then there was that Poached Pear Tart with Lemony Cream.

One year, I was even clever enough to combine what he loves, a good Gin & Tonic, and what I love, cupcakes by making  Pink Grapefruit Gin & Tonic Cupcakes:

This year’s offering, Mimosa Butter Sweetheart Cookies, was pretty sly on my part as well. I really like cookies and was able to not only add some of his favorite jam into the mix with these, but was also able to get some champagne on deck.

The Husband and I do love our champagne! Though truth be told, when we first started dating, he told me he didn’t like champagne. I tell you, it stopped me in my tracks! I was pondering whether or not it was a deal breaker. Turns out, he had only ever had cheap champagne. When he got a taste of the good stuff, he realized his mistake. Whew! What a relief!

So Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! Crack open a bottle of champagne (the good stuff) and whip up a batch of these delightful little Valentine’s Day nibbles. Rich and buttery, crisp and citrus-y with just the right amount of chocolate raspberry zing, they go great with a cup of tea or a glass of the bubbly! You won’t be sorry!

Mimosa Butter Sweetheart Cookies

  • Servings: approximately 3 dozen
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Taste of Home: Mimosa Butter Cookies + inspiration from their Sweetheart Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1-1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup champagne
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 – 4 Tablespoons of Jam ( I used homemade Chocolate Raspberry Jam)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, cream butter, confectioner’s sugar, orange zest and salt until light and fluffy, 5-7 minutes.

Mix juice and champagne together.

Add flour to creamed mixture alternately with juice mixture, beating until just combined after each addition.

Transfer cookie dough to a pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Pipe 2-in. circles, 2 in. apart onto parchment-lined baking sheet.

Using the rounded end of a spoon or spatula, make small indentations in the center of each cookie.

Fill with about 1/8 teaspoon of your favorite jam.

Bake until edges are just starting to brown, 10-12 minutes. Cool on pan 5 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Enjoy!

Links for helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Mimosa Butter Sweetheart Cookies:

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Ateco Disposable Decorating Bags

Prepworks Pocket Zester


Homemade Banana Filled Toaster Tarts with Nutella Frosting

February 5, 2021

Whoa! Homemade Banana Toaster Tarts with Nutella Frosting? Get out! Yet here they are. Fresh from the oven. And although I look back fondly on those legendary store-bought breakfast pastries of my youth – this has got them beaten hands down! The crust is buttery and flaky perfection. Not anything like I remember from childhood. And I stuffed all of that gorgeous crust full of this amazing Banana Jam. That’s right…Banana. Jam. I had no idea Banana Jam even existed! But it does and I am so delighted with it.

And as if that wasn’t enough, these little darlings are heavily drizzled with a luscious Nutella frosting. O.M.G. So I gotta ask….are there any Nutella fans out there? Cause let me tell you I love me some Nutella! I actually didn’t even know it existed until I was living in Ireland and my friend Theresa had a jar. I watched with amazement as she spread it over her toast. I was like “What! You can eat chocolate on toast!” I had no idea it was a thing. Yup, love at first bite. And putting two great tastes like Banana & Nutella together is a no brainer for sure.

It is not by chance that I’m blogging a recipe which features Nutella today. Today February 5th is World Nutella Day. This celebration of all things Nutella was started in 2007 by Sara at Ms. Adventures in Italy and Michelle at Bleeding Espresso as a day to celebrate, get creative with and most importantly, to EAT Nutella.

A couple of years ago, the founders have transferred Nutella Day to Ferrero the companywho owns that most beloved spread. Take a peek at their Facebook page and see how folks are celebrating the day! I love Nutella so I usually try to participate with a Nutella laden recipe every year. One of my favorite Nutella creations was this Nutella, Double Chocolate & Banana Tart which was quite stunning if I do say so myself.

Last year I baked this big ole Malted Nutella & Biscoff Brownie Torte 

Then there was this gorgeous Nutella Star Bread:

And some amazing Nutella Chocolate Chip Babka:

And I don’t want to forget these irresistible Salted Peanut Butter & Nutella Sandwich Cookies – sweet salty bliss I tell you!

But let me get back to my featured recipe today: Banana Filled Toaster Tarts with Nutella Frosting. The Husband and I were pretty much rendered speechless at first bite.OMG! Seriously – you will be in Pop Tart heaven! The pastry is to die for. It just melts in your mouth. The ooey-gooey Banana Jam is completely out of this world and that Nutella Drizzle is just sheer perfection! I especially love that this Nutella frosting is a bit like royal frosting, in that it sets up after a few hours. So you can actually stack these Toaster Tarts for storage – as if you will have any left to store after your first bite!

This recipe is pretty easy to make. It does have a lot of steps, but they are worth it. I have included a link at the end of the recipe for an informative video by King Arthur Flour featuring Chef Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery. I highly recommend that you watch it before making the pastry crust. She demonstrates the frissage technique which will prevent you from overworking the dough and will result in those lovely flaky layers of pastry.

I also love this recipe because it is very customizable. Switch up the filling to cinnamon sugar or use any of your favorite jams if banana isn’t your thing. Let your imagination run wild! Whatever you choose, it will undoubtedly elevate the meager Pop Tart. Now don’t get me wrong, I certainly ate my fair share of Pop Tarts when I was a kid. I loved the cinnamon sugar variety and of course the Chocolate Fudge Frosted ones. The Husband and I even currently have a box of Pop Tarts on the top shelf in one of the kitchen cabinets. Though truth be told, they’ve been there untouched for about 12 years now. We call them the Apocalypse Tarts or Pop Tarts of Doom, because it would take that sort of a situation for us to be at all interested in eating them. I guess it is somewhat comforting to know that they are there. But believe me, I predict my Home-made version will not last through the day!

Come to think about it, those tarts from our childhood were not actually very tasty at all, by our grown self’s standards. The crust was kind of cardboard-y and the frosting a tad on the plastic side. Yet you can’t help but look back on them fondly. So these homemade Toaster Tarts will with their tender buttery crust, decadent banana filling and indulgent Nutella topping will put you completely over the moon. Time to enjoy some absolutely deliciously elevated childhood nostalgia. Happy Nutella Day everyone!

Homemade Banana Toaster Tarts with Nutella Frosting

  • Servings: 9
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe slightly adapted from: King Arthur Flour Nutella Frosting from: Sally’s Baking Addiction

Ingredients:

For the Crust:

  • 2 cups (241 grams) All purpose Flour
  • 1 tablespoon (11 grams) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 16 tablespoons (227 grams) unsalted butter, cold, cut into pats
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons (28 grams) milk

For the Filling:

  • 8 ounces of Banana Jam (info on where to buy it in links below or substitute in the jam of your choosing)
  • 1 Tablespoon Corn Starch
  • 1 Tablespoon Cold Water

Alternative Filling:

  • 1/2 cup (106g) brown sugar, packed
  • 4 teaspoons all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 egg, beaten – to brush over pastry before filling

For the Frosting:

  • 1 cups (120 grams) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons (50 grams) Nutella
  • 2 Tablespoons (30 ml) heavy cream or milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

Directions:

For the dough:

Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Work in the butter until the mixture holds together when you squeeze it, with pecan-sized lumps of butter still visible. Mix the egg and milk, and add it to the dough, mixing just until everything is cohesive.

Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a rough 3″ x 5″ rectangle, smoothing the edges. Wrap in plastic or waxed paper, and refrigerate for 30 minutes; this will relax the gluten and firm up the dough a bit, making it easier to roll. You can also refrigerate the dough for up to 2 days; let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes at room temperature before you roll it out.

For the Filling:

Combine 3/4 cup (8 ounces) Banana jam (or jam of your choice) with 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool. Use to fill the pastry tarts.

For the cinnamon sugar filling:

Whisk together the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon.

Assembling the pastries:

Place one piece of the dough on a generously floured work surface, and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8″ thick, large enough that you can trim it to an even 9″ x 12″. Trim off the edges and set aside to use later. Place the 9″ x 12″ rectangle of dough aside as well on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Press the edge of a ruler into the dough you’ve just rolled, to gently score it in thirds lengthwise and width-wise; you’ll see nine 3″ x 4″ rectangles.

Beat the egg, and brush it over the entire surface of the dough. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into the center of each marked rectangle. I used a cookie scoop to do this.

Roll the second piece of dough and trim, just as you did the first. Score it as yo did the first peice. Place it evenly over the first piece of dough and filling. Then, using your fingertips or a chopstick to press firmly around each pocket of filling, sealing the dough well on all sides.

Cut the dough evenly as you scored it, between the filling mounds to make nine tarts. Press the cut edges with your fingers to seal, then press with a fork or chopstick to seal again.

Gently place the tarts on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Prick the top of each tart multiple times with a fork; you want to make sure steam can escape, or the tarts will become billowy pillows rather than flat toaster pastries. Refrigerate them, uncovered, for 30 minutes. (if you are making the cinnamon sugar tarts you can sprinkle the tops lightly with the cinnamon sugar filling prior to refrigerating).

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Remove the tarts from the fridge. Brush remaining egg wash over the tops of the tarts. Bake them for 30 to 35 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and allow them to cool on the pan.

While the tarts are cooling, make the Nutella Frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat all of the ingredients together on medium speed until creamy and smooth. Place frosting in piping bag.

Once toaster tarts are completely cool, pipe drizzles of frosting over the top. The Nutella frosting will set at room temperature after 3 -4 hours. If you would like it to set sooner, just pop them into the fridge.

Enjoy!

Fun tip: Don’t throw the dough trimmings away! Instead, sprinkle them with cinnamon-sugar. While the tarts are chilling in the fridge, bake these trimmings for 13 -15 minutes, until they are golden brown. They make a delicious snack!

Here is that great video of Chef Joanne Chang making Toaster Tarts.

Links for helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Homemade Banana Filled Toaster Tarts with Nutella Frosting:

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Oxo Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Cuisinart Pro-Classic Food Processor

Oxo Multipurpose Scraper

Dough Rolling Mat

Pastry Wheel

OXO Good Grips Medium Cookie Scoop

Nutella Spread

Eat This Yum – Banana Jam – This jam is so delicious! The family owned & operated company in Pennsylvania makes natural small batch jams and marmalades. Don’t miss out on their Bacon Jam as well. And with each jar sold they contribute 5% to local volunteer fire fighters!


Ground Beef Chili with Chocolate & Peanut Butter

February 1, 2021

So did I get your attention with that recipe title? I mean “Chili” will always make me look. We love chili around here. But when followed by Chocolate…hmmm that struck me as a bit strange. But then the wheels completely fell of my cart when I saw peanut butter. Peanut Butter?!!! Really?!!! Yup. Totally serious. Peanut. Butter. I could not wait to cook up a pot. And I’m very happy to share the recipe with you today. It is absolutely delicious! The mixture of spices and chocolate give it such a depth of flavor, a real richness and umami. And that peanut butter acts not only as a thickener, but also gives the most silky creamy texture. Comfort food perfection on a cold snowy day!

Today is February 1st. This particular day lies half way between Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It is St. Brigid’s Day. Brigid is one of Ireland’s patron saints. According to Irish hagiography, she was an early Christian nun & abbess who preformed many miracles. She also shares the name with an important Celtic goddess which suggests that the early church might have adopted the legends of the goddess and transformed them into the Christian persona. Interesting huh? I don’t know how many of you folks out there remembered to put a scarf out last night. You see on St. Brigid’s Eve you should always place a scarf or other piece of fabric outside.

When Brigid passes over the land that night she will bless it. You then can fetch it back inside the next day and thanks to Brigid, it has the power to protect and heal headaches, sore throats and fevers throughout the coming year! What with all the Covid still rampaging around, I wasn’t going to take any chances. My little scarf was frozen solid this morning, but is happily thawing away now, freshly imbued with healing powers. Today also marks the festivals of Imbolc and Candlemas, both of which are associated with fertility, fire, purification and weather divination. And tomorrow, my favourite varmint, Punxsutawney Phil, will be stepping out of his burrow at Gobbler’s Knob and letting everyone know if there will be 6 more weeks of winter or if instead Spring is on the way.

One extraordinary rodent!

Right up until yesterday, much to my dismay, we really had not had any winter at all. But I woke up to snow yesterday! It snowed all day, all night and it is still snowing as I write this. Hooray! So if good ole Phil sees his shadow and we get more winter I’m fine, but even if he says Spring is coming, I will have at least had a tiny taste of winter. So this is quite an auspicious time of year! I’m very happy to be marking an event today as well. February 1st just happens to be the 10th year anniversary of  the my cooking blog! Yup… Ten years ago today I posted my first recipe. It was for Cream Tea Scones with Currants.

I’ve managed to do an anniversary post nearly every year since. Pretty impressive considering how slack I can be. Last year I posted about these scrumptious Morning Buns!

One of my favorite recipes that I shared with you on an anniversary was: Model Bakery’s English Muffins:

Then there were those decadent  Banana Rum Muffins:

That jaw-dropping, over the top Crack Pie:

And who can forget that magical “caviar of the South” – Pasture’s Pimento Cheese. Keep this one in mind for the Super Bowl!

And speaking of the Big Game, today’s Ground Beef Chili with Chocolate & Peanut Butter would certainly be a most welcome addition to your game day spread. You can even play a fun game with folks where you make them try to guess what the secret ingredients are in the chili. The whole time I was making it, I hid the recipe from The Husband. I just called it the “odd chili” with some mysterious ingredients. He did pretty well with his guesses. He got the chocolate pretty quickly. Not that it tastes like chocolate. It doesn’t. But he got that it was a dark richness to the dish. And although he did not guess peanut butter, he did comment on how creamy it was.

Although you can eat this chili on the day you make it, I usually try to allow it to sit in the fridge for a day or two after I make it. I find that the extra chill time allows the flavors to really blend and meld. I guess I always knew chocolate & peanut butter were two great tastes that taste great together. I mean Reese Cups have been telling us so for years. However, I would never have considered smashing a Reese Cup up and stirring it into my chili. But there you have it! So. Dang. Good.

Ground Beef Chili with Chocolate & Peanut Butter

  • Servings: 4 - 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Aaron Hutcherson via New York Times Cooking

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced (about 8 ounces)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 3 canned chiles in adobo, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ancho chile powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional – we like it hot!)
  • 2 pounds ground beef or ground dark turkey
  • 1 (15-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup stout beer (I suggest Guinness…)
  • 1 cup unsalted or low-sodium beef stock or chicken stock
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans pinto beans, rinsed
  • 4 ounces good dark chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
  • fresh lime juice ( 1 – 2 Tablespoons – optional)
  • Any combination of tortilla chips, shredded cheese, sour cream, fresh cilantro and diced avocado, for garnish (optional)

Directions:

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and salt and sautée until the onion starts to become translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add Chiles, cocoa powder and spices. Stir to mix ingredients together and cook for 1 – 2 minutes, just until the spices become fragrant.

Add ground meat and cook until cooked through, 5 – 7 minutes.

Add tomatoes and their juices, beer and stock to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the temperature to a simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the flavors meld.

Reduce heat to low and stir in the beans, chocolate and peanut butter. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the peanut butter is completely integrated. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you think it is too sweet, you can add a bit of freshly squeezed lime juice.

Serve with tortilla chips, cheese, avocado, sour cream, fresh cilantro or perhaps white onion. Whatever toppings you prefer. I always make up a batch of Skillet Cornbread as well when I serve chili.

Enjoy!

Useful links for Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Ground Beef Chili with Chocolate & Peanut Butter:

Oxo Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Chili in Adobo Sauce

Crafty Celts – Love that spoon in the chili pics above? You can get one for yourself at Crafty Celts where you will find handcrafted historically inspired bronze and silver jewelry, as well as gorgeous silverware. You might recognize some of their jewelry as it was featured in the Vikings television show.


Cock-a-Leekie Pie

January 25, 2021

Oh my gosh! Where has the time gone? I haven’t posted one little morsel since Halloween! How has that happened? It isn’t like I’ve been off traveling or even out of the house really – Thank you Covid! Yet somehow I’ve been busy. And here we are at January 25th, 2021! Well, at least I’m here now – whatever that may count for and I’m back with a delicious recipe! Cock-a-leekie Pie is Scottish comfort food at its finest.

This big hearty pie boasts a creamy chicken and leek filling which is shot through with savory crumbles of bacon all wrapped up in a perfect buttery flaky crust. Be still my heart!

And January 25th is perfect timing for a Scottish recipe. That’s right- today is the birthday of Robert Burns. Robert Burns was born in 1759 and is regarded as the National Poet of Scotland. On January 25th folks throughout the world, though especially in Scotland, will be remembering him with a Burns Night Supper. Indeed, this Cock-a-Leekie Pie would be a very welcome addition to any Burns Night Supper. I’ve actually posted quite a few tasty Burns Night dishes in the past. Like remember my  Steak Auld Reekie served over Crispy Tatties & Neeps:

Or how about these Scottish Pies with Mushy Peas? This post is really fun because it is one of my travel postings telling you all about a fun trip (remember when we used to be able to travel…) we took to Glasgow a few years ago.

And if you are intrigued by Scottish travel – just take a look at these Scottish Oat Cakes which are featured in my post about our journey to Lerwick in the Shetland Islands for their annual Up Helly Aa celebration, which is a Viking Fire Festival. How exciting it that?!! (Sadly, yet understandably, Up Helly Aa 2021 has been cancelled. Yup…thanks once again Covid.)

Back to more Burns Night recipes, how about some infamous Scotch Eggs:

Perhaps you would like your Scotch eggs deviled?

Or maybe nestled within a pie?

If pie is not your thing (and I have no idea what you’re like if it isn’t…), how about this Cock-a-leekie Soup:

which I served with delicious, crusty Struan. Struan, also known as Celtic Harvest Bread, is thought to have taken its name from a town in Western Scotland called Struanmoor, on the Isle of Skye. It was originally enjoyed once a year as a harvest bread, using whatever grains were available from the previous day’s harvest. This is my absolute favourite bread, so it is almost always available in my house. It toasts up particularly brilliantly.

And for dessert, could I possibly tempt you with Chranachan. (My Chranachan recipe has a more Irish bent, but that is easy to change. Just use a good Scottish Malt Whiskey rather than the Jamesons and skip the Bailey’s drizzle. This dessert is typically served in a tall glass, though I served it in little chocolate cordial glasses topped with raspberries once, which was quite fun.)

Or maybe you’d enjoy this Dundee Cake with Hot Whiskey Marmalade

I think you get the picture. My blog is chock full of inspirational tasty Scottish dishes! But let me get back to today’s offering: Cock-a-Leekie Pie.

The husband loves every sort of pie, but prefers the savory ones to the sweet. And he is over the moon for anything with leeks in it (must be his Welsh blood). So this pie is right up his alley. So hearty and filling. So creamy and savory. You might pause when you notice that prunes are in the ingredients, but don’t leave them out whatever you do. Their sweetness is a wonderful compliment to the silky leek chicken mixture and salty bacon.

Now I realize, I didn’t give you much time to get this recipe done for this evening. Sorry about that. I believe it was Robbie Burns who said:

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men

Gang aft agley –

(Translation: The best laid plans of Mice and Men often go awry)

Robert Burns (To a Mouse)

So please do forgive me that once again my best laid plans have gang aft agley! If you can’t whip this up this evening, please do bake it when you can. Believe me, you won’t be sorry. And tonight, no matter what your dinner plans might be, join me in raising a wee dram and toast to Robert Burns, Scotlands favorite son.

Cock-a-Leekie Pie

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

recipe slightly adapted from: Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

  • 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 slices bacon cut into ¼” pieces
  • 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 leeks, white and pale-green parts only, thinly sliced into rounds
  • 2 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped
  • ½ cup quartered pitted prunes
  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour, plus more
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 batch of Perfect Flaky Pie Crust – recipe follows
  • 1 egg – for brushing over top crust

Directions:

Make one batch of Perfect Flaky Pie Crust (recipe noted below). Place dough in refrigerator for at least one hour or up to two days.

Place a rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 375°. Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Cook bacon until crisp, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Season chicken with salt and pepper and cook in same skillet until brown, about 3 minutes per side. Add a splash of water to skillet. Cover, reduce heat, and cook until chicken is cooked through, 10–12 minutes, or internal temperature 165°. Transfer to a plate.

Add leeks to skillet, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add a splash of water, cover, and cook until leeks are very soft, 5–7 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Shred chicken and add to leeks along with thyme leaves, prunes, and reserved bacon.

Melt remaining 4 Tbsp. butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in ⅓ cup flour and cook, whisking constantly, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Whisk in broth, adding a little at a time, until smooth. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 5–7 minutes. Mix sauce into leek mixture; season with salt and pepper. Let cool.

Remove pie dough from refrigerator. Roll out 1 disk of dough on a lightly floured surface to a 14” round. Transfer to a 10” cast-iron skillet or a 9½”-diameter deep pie dish. Lift up edge and let dough slump down into dish. Trim, leaving a 1” overhang. Spoon filling into skillet. Roll out second disk of dough to 11” round. Drape over filling and trim to a 1” overhang. Fold overhang under; crimp with a fork or roll crust as I did. Cut a few vents in top; brush with egg.

Bake until crust is golden brown, 50–60 minutes. Let pie cool slightly.

Enjoy!

Perfect Flaky Pie Crust

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups (360 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup (227 grams) very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (2 sticks)
  • 6 tablespoons vodka (chilled)
  • 2 Tablespoons ice water

Directions:

Mix 6 tablespoons of vodka and 2 tablespoons of water. Put in fridge or freezer (don’t forget it) to chill.

Add 1 1/2 cups of the flour and salt to a food processor. Pulse 2 to 3 times until combined.

Scatter butter cubes over flour and process until a dough or paste begins to form, about 15 seconds. (There should be no uncoated flour).

Scrape bowl, redistribute the flour-butter mixture then add remaining 1 cup of flour. Pulse 4 to 5 times until flour is evenly distributed. (Dough should look broken up and a little crumbly).

Transfer to a medium bowl then sprinkle 6 tablespoons of ice water/vodka over mixture. Using a rubber spatula, press the dough into itself. The crumbs should begin to form larger clusters. If you pinch some of the dough and it holds together, it’s ready. If the dough falls apart, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of extra water/vodka and continue to press until dough comes together.

Remove dough from bowl and place in a mound on a clean surface. Work the dough just enough to form a ball. Cut ball in half then form each half into discs. Wrap each disc with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour, and up to 2 days. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months (just thaw it overnight in the fridge before using).

Cock-a-Leekie Pie brought to you today by Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Cock-a-Leekie Pie:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Cuisinart Pro-Classic Food Processor


Spooky Ghost Cupcakes

October 31, 2020

Yay! It’s Halloween! And to celebrate the day, I have baked up a batch of these delightfully spooky Ghost Cupcakes! What we’ve got here is a dark as your soul chocolate chip filled fudge cupcake frosted with a silky pale as moonlight vanilla buttercream frosting. I adorned half of the cupcakes that I baked with marbled chocolate curls and the other with black sanding sugar (yeah, I know for some reason it looks green – just think of it as graveyard grass). Next, I topped them with an oh so scary, yet very delicious, little meringue spirits. Yeah, I do realize that these little ghouls lean more towards cute than creepy, but considering all that has gone on this year, I’m ready to take a big ole helping of cute.

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. I mean, think about it…You get to dress weird, drink booze and eat candy for dinner. In fact, all of that fun stuff is encouraged. How could you go wrong on such a day! Sadly, this year is definitely going to be a bit different. Don’t get me wrong – there is a whole bunch of downright scary, some would say absolutely terrifying, things lurking about out there. Things you definitely do not want to encounter. Not that we are venturing out. Like everything else so far in 2020, nearly all social Halloween events have been pretty much cancelled. Rightfully so, yet nevertheless disappointing. So, I’ll be staying in with the Husband and we’ll be dressing weird (actually we’ll likely be in our quarantine clothes…i.e. pajamas), boozing it up and binging on candy, all on our lonesomes.

Our modern holiday of Halloween, actually has Irish origins. Today’s celebrations are derived from the Celtic holiday of Samhain. Samhain was Celtic New Year. It was a harvest festival which marked the dying of the sun-god and a turning to the colder, dormant half of the year. On this night, the Celts believed the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its lowest point. The dead could more easily travel back over to our side, and if we weren’t careful, we could accidentally wander over in to their world and be trapped-a good reason to stay close to home and bonfires, no doubt! This belief likely gave rise to our Halloween legends of ghosts, ghouls and witches wandering about on this night in particular. I’ve posted some great Halloween recipes in past years ranging from the historically based traditional recipes such as:

Soul Cakes (Traditional Halloween/ Samhain)

Yeasted Irish Barmbrack Bread (traditional Halloween/Samhain)

Irish Tea Barmbrack with a Whiskey Honey Glaze (traditional Halloween/Samhain)

To the more whimsical offerings such as:

White Chocolate Mummy Pretzels

Halloween Cookies & Cream Owl Cupcakes

Mini Mummy Brownie Bite Cupcakes

As well as some wonderful boozy libations to kick your celebrations into high gear:

Fireball Cider Cocktail

Roasty Toasty Cocktail

A few year’s ago I managed to combined whimsical and boozy altogether in my Halloween treats with these adorable – I mean terribly frightening Itsy-Bitsy Tipsy Spider Cupcakes.

Black Velvet Frankenstein Cupcakes.

And last year a had a howling good time making these little rascals:

Reese Cup Werewolf Cupcakes

Which brings me to this year’s offering: Spooky Ghost Cupcakes!

Just look at these ghastly little ghouls! The cupcakes are rich, fudgy and shot through with chocolate chips. They get their dark sinister shade from the black dutch process cocoa that I used. This cocoa gives baked items a REALLY dark chocolate flavor. To tame it down a bit, mix a little of it in with regular dutch process cocoa. That way you will get a deeper darker shade, but less of the bold, intense flavor.

The frosting is a fluffy vanilla buttercream which I have adorned with some marbled chocolate curls for some of the treats and with black sanding sugar on the rest. And finally, those adorable…ahem…frightful fiends perched on top are made from meringue.

Making meringue is pretty easy if you follow some helpful tips. Firstly the bowl and whisk that you use must be super clean. It can have no oily residue or the egg whites simply will refuse to whip up properly. To ensure it is grease free, you can put a bit of vinegar on a paper towel and wipe the inside of the bowl. The egg whites need to be at room temperature when you start to mix them. Begin at a low speed and slowly increase until you reach medium to medium high. Once the egg whites reach soft peak stage, start to slowly add the superfine sugar to the bowl. Stop mixing when you reach the stiff peak stage. Use a piping bag fitted with a round tip to make your ghosts. Once they are completely cooled you can add the eyes and mouth with a food marker, decorating icing or mini chocolate chips. The mini chocolate chips were pretty easy to use. I just gently pushed the pointy end of the chip into the dry meringue. I must say these meringue cookies are pretty fun as well as tasty. If you are short on time, you could even skip the cupcakes and just make a batch of ghost meringue cookies.

I will warn you that humidity is a terrible thing for meringues! They will absorb any moisture in the air and go from delightfully crisp and airy to sticky and chewy abominations! I had quite an issue with this in steamy old Virginia! The regular day to day weather here is not ideal, but I had the adding difficulty of making these meringues while enduring torrential rains from a hurricane that was passing by! I still managed to make it work, but I would be lying if I said no “colorful” language was heard on the day. So for those of you in cooler and drier climes, this should be easy peasy. But to be safe, once your meringues are cool, put them directly into an airtight container and put that container in a cool place out of any direct sunlight. I would recommend not placing the ghosts atop the cupcakes until right before you are ready to serve.

So what are you waiting for? These spooky specters are just perfect for any Halloween gathering. Ooops! Yeah, that’s not happening. But, I have no doubt that your family or quarantine pod will be delighted to be haunted by these little apparitions. Next year you’ll be ahead of the game and can unleash these unearthly revenants on the rest of society. Happy Halloween ya’ll!

Spooky Ghost Cupcakes

  • Servings: 24 cupcakes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: King Arthur Flour for the Bake Sale Fudge cupcakes and Buttercream frosting. Inspired by Baking Addiction for the Ghost Meringue Cookies.

For the Cupcakes:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (85 grams) Dutch-process Cocoa
  • 2 1/3 cups (283 grams) All-purpose Flour
  • 1 2/3 cups (354 grams) brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder, optional but tasty
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (255 grams) chocolate chips
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups (340 grams) milk, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon (14 grams) vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon vinegar, cider or white
  • 1/2 cup (99 grams) vegetable oil (can substitute 1/2 cup butter if you prefer)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two standard 12-cup muffin pans with paper or silicone muffin cups, and grease the cups.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the cocoa, flour, sugar, baking powder, espresso powder, baking soda, salt, and chocolate chips. Set aside.

In a large measuring cup or medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla, oil, and vinegar. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients, mixing until everything is well combined.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pans, filling the cups about 3/4 full. I always use a 1/4 cup muffin scoop for this.

Bake the cupcakes for 20 to 22 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center of one of the middle cupcakes comes out clean.

Remove the cupcakes from the oven, and as soon as you can handle them, remove them from the pan, and transfer to a rack to cool. Store cooled cupcakes airtight.

For the Fluffy Buttercream frosting:

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup (149 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (if you use unsalted butter)
  • 1/2 cup (113 grams) boiling water
  • 1/4 cup (28 grams) meringue powder
  • 1 tablespoon (14 grams) vanilla extract
  • 4 cups (454 grams) sifted confectioners’ sugar or glazing sugar
  • 32 tablespoons (454 grams) unsalted butter
  • black sanding sugar or marbled chocolate curls for the top of the cupcakes (you could also use chocolate jimmies)

Directions:

Dissolve the sugar (and salt, if you’re using it) in the boiling water, and cool to room temperature.

Use a mixer on low speed to beat in the meringue powder, until the powder is dissolved and the mixture is foamy.

Increase the speed and beat until soft peaks form.

Beat in the vanilla, then the confectioners’ or glazing sugar.

Add the soft butter a few tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. Frost cake immediately; or store buttercream at room temperature, covered, for a few hours before using.

Once the cupcakes are frosted, add the marbled chocolate curls or sanding sugar as you prefer.

For the Ghost Meringue Cookies:

Ingredients:

  • 4 large Egg Whites (room temperature!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cream Of Tartar
  • 3/4 cup Superfine Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Clear Vanilla Extract (can be omitted)
  • mini chocolate chips, melted chocolate or black decorator’s icing for ghost eyes and mouth.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 200°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

In a large spotlessly clean bowl of a stand mixer beat egg whites, cream of tartar and vanilla. Start with lowest speed and slowly increase until you reach medium speed and the whites hold a soft peak.

Gradually add in sugar and increase mixer to medium-high speed. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.

Spoon meringue into a piping bag fitted with a round tip.  Pipe swirls of ghost shaped meringue onto prepared baking sheet.

Bake in preheated oven for about 1.5 hours or until the meringues are dry and crisp to the touch. Turn off the oven and allow the meringue ghosts to continuing drying in the oven for a few hours.

Decorate meringues with ghostly eyes and mouth and then move immediately to an airtight container for storage.

Wait to top the cupcakes with the ghost meringue cookies until you are ready to serve.

Enjoy!

Spooky Ghost Cupcakes brought to you by Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Spooky Ghost Cupcakes:

 
 
 
King Arthur Double Dutch Process Dark Cocoa Powder
 
Meringue Powder or it is a bit cheaper here: King Arthur Flour
 
Wilton Graveyard Bones
 


Brauðterta – Icelandic Party Sandwich Loaf

July 22, 2020

IMG_0332

So here is something a bit different for you – Today’s featured recipe is for Brauðterta. Brauðterta is kind of like a big old multi layered sandwich masquerading as a cake! In English I suppose you can just call it Bread Cake or perhaps Icelandic Party Sandwich Loaf  if you were being less literal. How fun is this!

IMG_0375

And I’m not only going to tell you all about this delicious dish, but I am also going to finish telling you all about that fantastic trip we took with the Parents to Iceland in September 2018. So just to recap, I’ve told you all about the beginning of this trip where we toured the Golden Circle and various other South Coast gems. And then I told you about our big adventure touring Þórsmork in a Super Jeep. Now, I’m going to fill you in on the rest of the trip. On day 5 we set out to visit the Westman Islands (Vestmannaejyar). The Westman Islands are located just off the south coast of Iceland.

IMG_4082

The Husband and I were there in September 2017 and absolutely LOVED it! I am originally from a small island in the Chesapeake Bay myself and my father has made his living as commercial fisherman, so I really wanted him to experience Vestmannaeyjar. Turns out it was the highlight of the trip for him. These islands are often overlooked by tourists in Iceland because you do need to either fly over or take the ferry. But in my opinion, it is so worth the effort! I probably shouldn’t let you in on the secret, but I can’t help myself!

P1030333

The Vestmannaeyjar are absolutely gorgeous!

DCIM100GOPROGOPR3092.JPG

This archipelago consists of about 15 islands, but most folks live on Heimaey, which is the largest island. We booked a day tour with Eyja Tours to make sure the parents were able to see as much of it as possible

IMG_1530

GOPR3096

IMG_6722

IMG_E1540

IMG_4118

House at the not to be missed Eldheimar Museum which documents the story of the surprise 1973 volcanic eruption.

IMG_0524

Since we were there at the end of August/early September, we not only were able to see the adult puffin colonies,

P1030373

but we were also able to experience the pufflings (baby puffins) flying into town.

IMG_4094

You see, puffins nest in clifftop colonies, digging a burrow in which a single egg is laid. The puffin chicks, or pufflings, are then cared for by their parents for about 6 weeks. At this point the fledgling makes its way out of its burrow at night and flies toward the sea.  However, many get confused by the lights of the town and rather than flying out to sea, they end up flying into town. The Vestmannaeyjar children, or Puffin Patrol as they are known, go out at night with flashlights to rescue them. The pufflings are then taken home in cardboard boxes for the night. The next morning their rescuers take them to the Saeheimar Aquarium (*since our visit in 2018, the aquarium has closed and its residents have moved to the Puffin Rescue Center at the Beluga Whale Sanctuary – see note below) to be measured and weighed. The children can have their pictures taken with their little charges as well. Once done, the little birds are taken to the shore and released back into the wild during daylight hours so that they won’t become confused. The Husband and I had seen this in 2017. But this year we unexpectedly got to participate!

Let me explain. After an action packed day exploring, we took the Parents to one of our favorite restaurants in the whole world – Slippurinn,

we headed back to our lovely apartment accommodations for some well deserved sleep.

IMG_9231-EFFECTS

However, I was hoping to get another Northern Lights show. I was on watch. So while everyone else was snoozing – I was setting my alarm every 30 minutes to run outside and see if the Aurora was doing its thing. It was a beautiful, clear night. Not a cloud in the sky. So it should have been perfect conditions. But the elusive lights were not cooperating. I was really getting pretty frustrated around 2am, when I heard this strange slap, slap slap noise. I looked down from the sky to see a tiny puffling running full out at me, with a cat close on his tail. The puffling literally ran right into my ankles. I reached down and scooped him up telling the kitty “No, no, no! Not today!” And voila, I had a puffling! I promptly woke everyone up. Look-y here! Hurray! I have a puffling! But it quickly turned to  – “OMG! I have a puffling!” We had an early ferry to catch back to the mainland. A ferry that left before the aquarium opened. So the Husband and I decided we would get in the car and go find some locals that were rescuing pufflings. We would just hand ours over to them. Sadly, at around 2:30 in the morning, we did not find families out looking for pufflings, but rather groups of folks staggering home from the pub. No way I was going to entrust my puffling to them! And to make matters worse, about 5 minutes into our drive into town, we had to pull over because there was another puffling in the road. Now we had two of them! No box to put them in. And whereas my puffling was somewhat sedate, though a little bite-y (doesn’t really hurt….its a baby…), the Husband’s puffling was a little devil puffling – biting and scratching like a champ! Talk about driving while impaired! Thankfully we did find two non-drunk locals who had just rescued a puffling themselves and were willing to take our two on as well. What a crazy night! So although the Lights were not willing to show, it was still unforgettable!

IMG_4135

The next morning we were up early, caught the ferry back to the mainland and set off for Reykjavík! You can see all of the live action on Vestmannaeyjar in this video:

We arrived in Reykjavík after a short drive. We had booked into The Black Pearl and as a surprise for the Parents, we had reserved the luxurious Penthouse suite for them, which had a great wrap around balcony with lovely views over the city.

IMG_1808

The Black Pearl has been one of our favorite places to stay in Reykjavik. The apartments are fantastic, location perfect and the service is absolutely top-notch every single time. I should mention that they offer an absolutely amazing and plentiful in-suite breakfast service consisting of freshly baked bread, pastries, skyr, various cold cuts, salmon, bacon and eggs.

IMG_E1729

DCIM100GOPROGOPR3108.JPG

Once settled in, we set out to explore. We showed them the old harbor area,

IMG_4137

went up in Hallgrimskirkja for amazing city views,

IMG_4148

IMG_E1747

recharged with a cup of coffee and a visit with the kitties at Kattakaffihúsið

IMG_E9289

went to the famous hot dog stand Baejarins Beztu

and might have ended up going completely Viking at Mink Viking Portrait Studio .

_MG_9685

We were so sad to leave. But there was one more big surprise for everyone. As I have mentioned in a previous post, Icelandair 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. All 5 of us had our bids accepted and were able to fly home first class!

It was truly such a fun, unforgettable trip!

IMG_9357

But don’t leave yet. You have simply got to hear all about this Brauðterta. In Iceland, you will likely find Brauðterta at any celebrations where you would find a gathering of extended family such as a birthday party or graduation. At these events, an elaborate coffee table is often laid out for guests featuring all sorts of sweet desserts. And there you will find the Brauðterta, dressed up to look just like a cake, but filled with all sorts of savory fillings. Certainly a welcome break and somewhat of a palate cleanser against the avalanche of sugary treats.

IMG_0326

So it isn’t really a cake, but a multilayered sandwich. The bread for making Brauðterta are sold in stores in Iceland and can either be a loaf of bread which has been sliced horizontally or a large sheet of bread similar to the cake you would use in a jelly roll. With this type of bread you can either roll it up like a jelly roll or use multiple pieces of it stacked on top of each other to create a really large Brauðterta. I used a loaf of Soft Sandwich Bread which I had baked myself. I have seen folks use regular store bought, sliced sandwich bread with the crusts removed, but I have not tried that and would fear that store bought bread might not hold up as well.

IMG_0366IMG_0331

These layers of bread are interspersed with creamy fillings. Some versions have the same filling repeated with each layer. Others have a different filling on each layer, which is what I have done. The fillings can be anything that you would use in a regular sandwich, though the salad type fillings – i.e. egg salad, shrimp salad – seem to strike the right level of not too dry but not too wet that is required. In Iceland you will often find seafood based fillings, but since the Husband has a seafood allergy and I did not fancy having to go the the ER during a pandemic, I steered clear of that choosing instead to do a layer of egg salad, ham said and a layer of bacon/scallion salad.

IMG_0358

IMG_0364

The sandwich is then “frosted” with cream cheese or mayonnaise and decorated with meats/vegetables that you might find within.

IMG_0303

IMG_0306

Brauðterta is considered very traditional, yet it didn’t really become popular in Iceland until the 1950’s. In the past, a lot of mayonnaise was used for the filling as well as the frosting.  Now a days you will find not as much mayonnaise but perhaps more sour cream or cream cheese mixtures. Brauðterta’s popularity may have waned for a bit, but recently it has started to make a comeback. The Facebook group Brauðtertufélag Erlu Og Erlu has over 11,000 members. It was founded to exchange recipes, tips and pictures of perfect Brauðtertas. Check it out for some inspiration!

IMG_0349

We loved our Brauðterta! I was afraid we would only get one meal out of it and then the bread would go soggy. Not so! We happily snacked on it for the whole week! Surprise folks at your next party or potluck and treat them to this Icelandic Party Sandwich Loaf!

IMG_0315

Brauðterta - Icelandic Party Sandwich Loaf

  • Servings: One - 4 layer loaf
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe adapted from: Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 1/2 cups cream cheese (I used Philadelphia’s Garden Vegetable Cream Cheese), softened
  • freshly ground pepper
  • salt
  • 6 hardboiled eggs
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 6 ounces cooked, finely diced ham
  • 8 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1/2 cup green onion, diced
  • 1 loaf of white or whole wheat sandwich bread, crusts removed, sliced lengthwise into four slices (I used a loaf of Soft Sandwich bread which I had baked the day before)
  • cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, red & yellow peppers, chives, red onion, cilantro or parsley – for decorating

Directions:

Combine the sour cream with the softened cream cheese in a medium sized bowls. Take three additional bowls and divide the mixture equally among the four bowls. Set one bowl aside for the “frosting’.

Slice the hardboiled eggs crosswise. Reserve one center slice from one of the eggs for decoration. Chop the remaining eggs and add to one bowl with the sour cream/cream cheese combo. Set aside. Combine the finely diced ham with the sour cream/cream cheese mixture in another bowl. And finally add the bacon and diced green onion to the third bowl and mix to combine.

Take the loaf of bread and remove the crust. Slice the loaf horizontally into four slices. Spread the bottom slice evenly with one of filling mixtures. Top with another slice of bread and spread that evenly with the second filling combination. Top with the third slice of bread. Spread that evenly with the last filling combination. Place the final slice of bread on top of that. Press down evenly on the top. Wrap the entire “sandwich” in plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight.

Unwrap the loaf and place it on a large tray or cutting board. “Frost” the sandwich with the last bowl of reserved sour cream/cream cheese mixture.

Now for the fun part! Decorate your Bread Cake as you see fit! You can get creative here. I used chopped yellow and red peppers, red onion, cilantro, cucumber and an egg slice for my decoration, but feel free to improvise. Do another garden type scene as I have done or maybe do a geometric pattern. The sky’s the limit!

Enjoy!

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Brauðterta:

Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir

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

Travel Planning Guide:

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.

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!

Westman Island Links

To Buy tickets on the Herjólfur Ferry as well as read about all the things to see and do take a look at: Visit Westman Islands.

Accommodation:

Hotel Vestmannaeyjar – Great accommodation on the Islands.

Restaurants/ Cafés/ Bakeries/ Bars:

Slippurinn – Our favorite restaurant – not only in Iceland. Hands. Down. Favorite! Located in an old machinery shop this family owned eatery features seasonal local sourced dishes often including herbs and seaweed foraged right there on the island. Simply divine food in a friendly and casual environment. Don’t miss it!

Stofan Bakhús – Great bakery! Delicious kanilsnúðars – which are a weakness of mine.  Fantastic sandwiches as well. Everything there looks delicious. Go be tempted!

Brother’s Brewery – Microbrewery with delicious local craft brews.

Tour Companies:

Eyja Tours: Do the Puffin & Volcano Tour! Eyja Tours offers small group (minibus) tours of Heimaey guided by friendly locals who are very knowledgeable about their island home. You’ll  learn all about the history and culture of the island, see the major sights and actually get to visit a puffin sanctuary where you can see a live puffin up close! This experience is exclusive to Eyja Tours – though if you go in late August, perhaps you’ll get your own up close and personal experience with a Puffling like we did!

Attractions:

On puffins: If you travel to the Westman Island at the end of August/beginning of September there is a good chance you will see baby puffins (pufflings) being rescued by the local children. At this time of year, the pufflings leave their nests but get confused by the lights of the town and rather than flying out to sea, they end up flying into town. The children go out at night with flashlights to find them. They take them home in cardboard boxes for the night. The next morning they take them to the Puffin Rescue Centre to be measured and weighed and the children can have their pictures taken with their little charges as well. Once done, the kids take the little birds to the shore and release them back into the wild during daylight hours so that they won’t become confused. We were lucky enough to be there when this was happening and it was unforgettable!

Eldheimar museum – This museum documents the story of the surprise 1973 eruption of the volcano which caused the roughly 5,00 locals to flee on fishing boats in the middle of the night to the safety of the mainland. The eruption, which lasted for 5 months, buried 1/3 of the town in lava and destroyed over 400 houses and businesses. The resilient islanders did return and rebuilt the thriving community you will find today. Fascinating stuff! A must visit!

Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary/Puffin Rescue Centre – Back in 2018, when we visited the Vestmannaeyjar, the kids took their rescued pufflings to the Saeheimar Aquarium. The aquarium closed in 2019 and their residents moved to the new Sea Life Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary. Now when you visit, you will be able to see two rescued beluga whales, Little Grey and Little White, in addition to the rescued and resident puffins at the Puffin Rescue Centre!

Reykjavik Links

Accommodation:

The Black Pearl Reykjavik – Reykjavik’s Finest Apartments – We have stayed in their luxurious apartments twice and love them! The apartments are fantastic, location perfect and the service is absolutely top-notch.

Tour Companies:

I Heart Reykjavik Private Walking Tour – Do this tour when you first arrive in Reykjavík and you will be set! Auður will not only tell you about the history of the city but she will also impart a local’s insight on the best bars, restaurants and shopping that Reykjavik has to offer. She will guide you off the beaten tourist routes and back into the neighborhood streets to get a glimpse of a local’s life and to reveal some of the wonderful hidden street art. Fabulous tours catered just for you!

Attractions:

Mink Viking Portrait Studio: Unleash your inner Viking at Mink! This photo session was an absolute blast and we came away with a fantastic, lasting memento from Iceland!

Hallgrímskirkja – Reykjavík’s main landmark. Go up in the tower for breathtaking views of the city!

The Settlement Exhibition – Museum built around the remains of a home from around 871. Great interactive displays of Viking Age history.

Baktus the Cat – Yes, I’m talking about an actual cat here. But not any old cat – this cat if a Reykjavík celebrity! He has over 7,000 followers on Instagram. You might be able to catch a glimpse of him at his hooman’s store, Gyllti Kötturinn, where he lives. Or perhaps  you can see him at one of his favorite hangouts – the Icewear store, which is located across the street, which is where we found him.

Restaurants/ Cafés/ Bakeries/ Bars:

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

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

Kattakaffihúsið – Iceland’s First Cat Café. Here you can not only enjoy a fantastic cup of coffee, delicious pastries and sandwiches (all vegan), but you can also pet some adorable kitties while you are at it! This cat café usually has three cat residents at all times. And even better, these adorable kitties are all available for adoption. An absolute must for cat lovers!

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

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

Sandholt Bakery – A never ending parade of scrumptious treats and sandwiches!

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!

Shopping:

The Handknitting Association of Iceland – Icelandic Sweaters knitted in Iceland by Icelanders!

Thorvaldsen’s Bazar – Icelandic Sweaters (Lopapeysa) knitted in Iceland by Icelanders. All profits go to charity!

Misc:

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!

If you are planning a trip to Iceland, I have written a bunch of posts about our travels there, which you might find helpful.


Vínarterta – Icelandic Vienna Cake

July 15, 2020

IMG_0613

So wow! Just look at this amazing layered treat! What we’ve got here is Vínarterta, which translates from Icelandic to “Vienna Cake”. This cake boasts multiple thin layers of cardamom flavored shortbread alternating with spiced dried plum jam and is topped with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

IMG_0581

I’m going to not only share this wonderful recipe with you today, but also continue to tell you all about that trip to the South Coast of Iceland that the Husband and I took with our parents back in September 2018. I told you all about visiting the Golden Circle, Seljalandfoss, Skogafoss, Dyrholaey & Vik as well as our stay at the luxurious Hótel Rangá in my previous post. Today I’ll tell you all about the big adventure we had on day four of our holiday. And I’m also delighted to tell you all about one of our absolute favorite places to stay while exploring the South Coast – The Garage Studio Apartments.

IMG_6622

Gorgeous spot huh? But let me tell you about our adventure first. So what was our big adventure? We went on a private Super Jeep day tour of Þórsmörk with Midgard Adventures. Þórsmörk  which translates to Thor’s Valley is a stunning nature reserve located in the Southern Highlands of Iceland between the mountain glaciers of Tindfjallajökull, the world famous Eyjafjallajökull, and Mýrdalsjökull. This lush valley has so much to offer – dramatic volcanic landscapes,

IMG_1325

 

IMG_8997

breathtaking mountain views,

IMG_4047

lush valley scenery

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1542.JPG

and amazing hiking opportunities.

IMG_9030

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1541.JPG

The Husband and I had visited it twice before and knew Þórsmörk is not to be missed. We really wanted the parents to be able to experience it. The thing is though, in order to enter Þórsmörk, you really must have a 4X4 vehicle as you will need to go onto the “F” roads and make several river crossings. And those “F roads” (not sure what the “F” stands for in F roads, but after having been on them, I can think of a possibility…) in the reserve are pretty rough. To be honest, even if you have rented a 4X4 vehicle, you really need to be experienced with this type of driving. And I should also mention that most rental car insurance will not cover you driving through rivers. River crossings can be quite tricky, so if you make a mistake and end up in too deep of a section the river, thus damaging your vehicle in the process, you could potentially be liable to your rental company for thousands of dollars.

IMG_0961

This poor bus required the aid of a tractor once it became stuck trying to cross the river.

Besides the financial burden, folks have actually died trying to cross these potentially dangerous rivers. The solution here is to hire a knowledgeable, experienced local guide. We whole heartedly recommend Midgard Adventures.

IMG_6633

The Husband and I have been out on adventures with Midgard previously. In 2012 we went out with them in December to experience the winter wonderland of Þórsmörk.

P1000308

We were back with them in December 2013 on a private tour of Jökulsárlón.

IMG_1855

IMG_1852

And in September 2017 we were with Midgard Adventures to hike the magnificent Fimmvörðuháls trail .

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1641.JPG

Each time our adventure with them has been one of  the highlights of our trip! And they didn’t let us down this time. The itinerary that they came up with for the Parent’s Day Tour was perfect. Not only did our charming and knowledgeable Midgard guide expertly navigate Þórsmörk, but he also took us to visit a nearby black sand beach

IMG_0895

as well as a couple of stunning, lesser known waterfalls.

IMG_4065-PANO

The parents were thrilled with the experience of crossing rivers, rough volcanic terrain and black sand beaches in the Super Jeep. And our guide knew how much the Husband and I enjoyed hiking, so he had planned ahead and dropped us off for a small hike over a mountain while he drove our parents around for some sightseeing and then met up with us on the other side. A win for everyone!

IMG_4053

What an absolutely superb day. Everyone enjoyed themselves immensely! Take a look at this video for all of the river crossings, gorgeous scenery, hiking, blueberry picking and other live action!

After such an exciting day, we were so happy to come back to one of our absolute favorite places to stay on the South Coast – The Garage Studio Apartments. The Husband and I had stayed there previously in 2017 and we were so glad to be back! These lovely modern rustic apartments have been crafted from a former old garage that is located on a family farm belonging to Anna & Siggi. This picturesque homestead is nestled right up to the foot of the mountain topped by the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, under which the famous air traffic interrupting volcano resides.

IMG_0886

Siggi’s family has been living on this land for over 200 years. Now Anna & Siggi are operating a “gentleman’s farm” on the site as well as managing several apartments. Located exactly between the two famous waterfalls Skógafoss and Seljalandfoss, these exceptional apartments are the perfect central location for taking in all the South Coast of Iceland has to offer. The setting is nothing less than magical.

IMG_9101

You are surrounded by the most idyllic scenery – green hills, a private waterfall, a view overlooking the ocean, fields full of Icelandic horses and sheep,

IMG_9114

IMG_1472

chickens, a dog (Felix) who never tires of playing fetch

IMG_E9087

and a cat, who wouldn’t reveal their name, but was friendly nevertheless,Anna was also such an amazing host, so friendly, warm and welcoming. Her spacious apartments are stylishly decorated, sparklingly clean and filled with thoughtful little touches. And as if all of that was not enough, she served us scrumptious freshly home-baked desserts every day! Hospitality like this is hard to find!

IMG_9097

And the Northern Lights even decided to put on a bit of a show for us to make our stay at the Garage even more delightful.

P1030268

IMG_0521

Want to see more of the Garage as well as those Northern Lights? Take a peek at this video:

But let me get back to telling you about this Vínarterta – today’s featured recipe.

IMG_0587

Although the name translates to Vienna Cake, it likely did not arrive in Iceland straight from Vienna, but rather came by way of Denmark. This grand looking cake was often served on special occasions, such as Christmas. One of the wonderful things about this cake is not only is it delicious, but it also gets better with age. So you can make this up days and days before you actually plan to serve it. You just keep it wrapped in foil stored in a cool place.

IMG_0568

This cake reached the height of its popularity in the late 19th to early 20th century. Back in the day, the thin layers of this cake could be easily baked in the more primitive ovens of the time or even on the stove top. And when some Icelanders emigrated to parts of Canada and the Northern United States, they brought this recipe with them. Though now a days, it is slightly different in some ways from the original, such as in North America you will often find versions with more layers and with a frosting on top. They have for the most part stayed true to the filling, whereas in present day Iceland, you are likely to find other types of filling such as rhubarb or strawberry jams.

IMG_0593

I baked this Vínartera using Hartshorn or Baker’s Ammonia (Ammonium Carbonate) for the leavener. You will encounter this ingredient in many older, traditional Scandinavian cookie recipes. You can substitute baking powder for it, though the cookie will not have the same crispy texture that it will get from using Hartshorn. I gotta tell you though, man is that ammonia smell strong! It is thankfully completely gone once the cookies/cake is baked, but let me just say, you will not be tempted to nibble the batter before it goes in the oven!

IMG_0626

The original recipe did not call for any Vodka whatsoever, but I liked the idea of a celebration cake being just a bit boozy. And I do know that good Vodka doesn’t really have much of a taste. But somehow it just makes me feel better knowing that it is there. I splurged and added a few glugs of Reyka Vodka to thin my jam just a bit as well as soak the prunes. You can virtuously soak the prunes in plain water if you are a teetotaler.

IMG_0570

Oh, and I guess that brings me to the dreaded “P” word. You might have noticed that I don’t call it “spiced prune filling”. No. No prunes are in this treat. Just some dried plums. I don’t know why folks freak out when they hear prune, but they do. So yeah. Spiced dried plums are what is in this scrumptious Vínarterta – and believe me you are going to love it!

IMG_0609

Vínarterta

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

recipe slightly from: Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir

Ingredients:

For the Spiced Dried Plum Filling:

  • 1 1/2 Cups Pitted Prunes
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • vodka (for soaking the prunes as well as thinning the jam – optional)

For the Cake Layers

  • 1 Cup Butter, softened
  • 1 Cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 Cups all-purpose Flour, or as needed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Baker’s Ammonia (you can substitute 1 tsp. baking powder)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground Cardamom
  • 1/2 Cup milk
  • 1 1/2 Cup Spiced Dried Plum Filling
  • confectioner’s sugar (for sprinkling over the top – optional)

Directions:

Prepare the filling:

The night before you plan to make the filling, place the pitted prunes in a bowl and cover with vodka or warm water. Leave them to plump up overnight. (optional)

Place the prunes, sugar and spices in a saucepan and add 1 cup of water. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until it comes to a boil. Continue to cook until the prunes are soft and the syrup has thickened, about 20 minutes. Let the mixture cool slightly. Place it into the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Set aside.

If you would like to thin the jam a bit as well as add a bit of “cheer” to it, add a glug or two of vodka and stir to combine. (optional)

Prepare the shortbread:

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baker’s ammonia and cardamom.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Add the flour mixture and the milk and continue to mix until a smooth dough forms. The dough should be soft and just shy of sticky. Shape the dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Divide the dough into five equal parts. On a floured work surface, roll each part out into a thin disc about 9″ in diameter. Arrange the circles on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 12 minutes, or until they are just beginning to brown at the edges.

Assembly:

While the layers are still warm, sandwich them with the spiced dried plum filling, leaving the top of the top layer of the cake bare.

Allow cake to cool completely and then wrap in foil. The cake will keep for weeks in a cool place and will improve with age.

Sprinkle top of cake with confectioner’s sugar just prior to serving.

Enjoy!

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Vínarterta:

Cuisinart Pro-Classic Food Processor

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Baker’s Ammonia (ammonium carbonate)

Icelandic Food & Cookery by Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir

Travel Planning Guide:

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.

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: The Garage – Studio Apartments – One of our favorite places to stay in Iceland! Located on the South Coast of Iceland, between Seljalandfoss & Skógafoss waterfalls. This picturesque homestead is nestled right up to the foot of the mountain topped by the Eyjafjallajökull glacier, under which the famous air traffic interrupting volcano resides. These lovely modern rustic apartments were originally built from a former old garage that is located on a family farm belonging to Anna & Siggi. Since they built the original apartments, they have expanded and built a few more in a previous cow shed and most recently have remodeled a Haytower. These cozy apartments are studios, some of which are standard and some slightly bigger with a pull out sofa bed to accommodate extra guests. The Haytower is the biggest unit and is a full one bedroom apartment. You can book with The Garage here.(booking.com)

Tour Companies:

Midgard Adventure: I highly recommend you book a tour with Midgard. Midgard is a local family run business located in Hvolsvöllur. They offer single day and multiday tours which can be either private and shared. The shared tours are always with a small group. No massive bus tours here, just thoughtful personal service.They are skilled at helping you plan your whole itinerary as well should you desire and being locals they have first hand knowledge of the area as well as the hidden gems off the beaten path. As I have mentioned we have enjoyed four different tours with them, and on each occasion it has ended up being one of the highlights of our trip. Consistent excellence is hard to find! They are a pleasure to deal with from the first email until your action packed day has come to an end. Everyone I have ever met there is friendly, helpful and professional.  And I should mention that Midgard now has a Basecamp. They can offer both hotel as well as hostel style accommodation in their beautiful facility which also boasts a restaurant, bar, and roof top hot tub and sauna. The Husband and I haven’t had the pleasure of staying with them yet, but we did grab a delicious breakfast in their restaurant before heading out for our adventure. We are planning a Highlands Adventure, which we will of course be booking with Midgard, so we will let you know!

IMG_9003

Restaurants:

Gamla Fjósið (The Old Cow House) – Located just off of Route 1, about 2 km away from the Garage Apartments. Cozy family run restaurant featuring delicious comfort food prepared with locally sourced (often from their own farm) fresh ingredients. Delicious homemade bread, jams and ice cream.

Midgard Basecamp – The Restaurant at Midgard Basecamp has it all! Serving food based on their Icelandic heritage, they offer everything from pasture raised lamb, to fresh caught fish, to juicy burgers. And if you are a vegetarian or vegan there are plenty of delicious offerings to choose from as well.   Check out their wonderful Breakfast Buffet and come back in the evening for a great dinner. They also carry a good selection of the locally crafted brews.

Misc:

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!


Whole Lemon Meringue Pie Bars

July 3, 2020

IMG_0722

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!

IMG_0752

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.

IMG_0772

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.

IMG_0723

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.

IMG_0775

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!

IMG_0753

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

IMG_0418

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.

IMG_0435

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!

IMG_0389

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.

P1010046

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).

IMG_7261

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!

IMG_0928 (1)

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.

Antarctica Suite Hotel Rangá

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.

IMG_8783

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.

IMG_6578

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!

IMG_8860

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

P1030168

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

IMG_0738

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.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR2691.JPG

Magestic Skógafoss was next on the itinerary.

IMG_0946

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.

IMG_1183

Then onto Dyrhólaey

P1030196

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

IMG_1204

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.

GOPR1524-EFFECTS

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.

IMG_0437

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.

IMG_0413

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!

IMG_0450

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.


%d bloggers like this: