Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake

June 4, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake

  • Servings: 8 - 10
  • Difficulty: easy
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recipe from: Once Upon a Chef

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Enjoy!

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

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Wilton 9″X 5″ Loaf Pan

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

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

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


Zucchini Boats filled with Spicy Lager Lentils

May 28, 2020

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

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

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

Zucchini Banana Bread

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

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

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

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

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Zucchini Boats filled with Spicy Lager Lentils

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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recipe inspired by: The Mountain Kitchen’s Meatless Mexican Zucchini Boats

Ingredients:

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

For the spice mixture:

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

For the Zucchini Boats:

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

Directions:

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

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

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

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

Place the zucchini on the prepared baking sheet.

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

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

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

Enjoy!

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


Bon Appétit’s Best Buttermilk Biscuits

May 21, 2020

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

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

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The Mile High Buttermilk Biscuits

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The Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bon Appétit's Best Buttermilk Biscuits

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

recipe from: Bon Appétit

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

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

Cuisinart Pro-Classic Food Processor

Oxo Multipurpose Scraper

Dough Rolling Mat


Buttery Potato Burger Buns

May 15, 2020

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

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

Buttery Potato Burger Buns

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

recipe from: King Arthur Flour

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

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

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

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer

Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer by Thermoworks

6 Quart Dough Rising Bucket

SAF Instant Yeast

Hamburger Bun Pan

 


Skillet Cornbread

May 12, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Skillet Cornbread

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

recipe from: Sally’s Baking Addiction

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

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

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Skillet Cornbread:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Le Creuset Cast Iron Skillet

Le Creuset Handle Sleeve

 


Kanilterta (Icelandic Cinnamon Cake)

May 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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View from our room at The Silica Hotel

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

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Strolling through the lava fields

to enjoy a delicious dinner at the Lava Restaurant.

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

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

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

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Drenched at Seljalandfoss.

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Soggy at Skógafoss

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Soaked before the Basalt columns at Reynisfjara Beach

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Drowned at Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We went shopping and wandered about town

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took in the street art

stopped for coffee at Reykjavik Roasters,

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visited our favorite restaurants like Íslenski Barinn and Snaps,

enjoyed a kanilsnúðar or two from Brauð & Co.

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and stopped by our favorite bars

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Kanilterta - (Icelandic Cinnamon Cake)

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

recipe slightly modified from: Þjóðlegt með kaffinu

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy!

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

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Kanilterta:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

8″ Round non-stick cake pan

Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla Bean Paste

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

Links for Planning your vacation in February in Iceland:

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

Accommodation: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Destinations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restaurant/Bars:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misc:

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

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

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

 

 


Spicy Taco Egg Cups

May 5, 2020

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

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

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

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

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And who could forget the Double Decker Taco Cupcakes

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

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Spicy Taco Egg Cups

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

recipe slightly adapted from: Food Faith Fitness

Ingredients:

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

Directions:

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

Beltaine Spiced Honey Cake

May 1, 2020

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Today is May 1st or May Day as it is known. Now when I say “May Day”, I am not referring to the more modern, political International Worker’s Day type thing. Or the distress call – though given the state of the world currently, I can understand why you might have thought I was calling for help. No, I am talking about the ancient festival of Spring that is/was celebrated throughout many countries. For my part, I’m going to celebrate with this Beltaine Spiced Honey Cake.

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You might be familiar with May Day celebrations held in England. There, a May Queen is crowned and you will likely see Morris Dancers and folks dancing around a Maypole. Today I am looking back in time to Irish traditions.

IMG_9947In Ireland the day is known as Lá Beltaine, which roughly means “the day of the fires of Bel” – Bel being a Celtic God. Halfway between the Spring and the Summer solstice, Beltaine celebrates the arrival of summer and the fertility of the coming year. Yellow flowers such as primrose, rowan, hawthorn, gorse , hazel and marsh marigolds were placed at windows and over doorways. A Maybush, often a hawthorn tree, was decorated with flowers, ribbon and bright shells and sacred wells were visited to pray for health.

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Photo from Facebook Page May Day – Bealtaine

This was also the time in Ireland, back in the day, when cattle were driven to their summer pastures. And quite significantly it was believed that the veil between our world and the world unseen was very thin. It was more likely that you might encounter fairies or other supernatural beings out and about at this time. That notion made folks very nervous. So lots of the Beltaine traditions were done to protect oneself, livestock and crops from any mischief or ill will. Bonfires were lit throughout the country. It was believed that flames, smoke and ashes have protective properties. Livestock were driven between the fires and people walked between them as well, Indeed they sometimes even leap over them. All fires in the house were extinguished and then relit from the communal Beltaine bonfire.

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The festival was associated with fertility, not only of the land, but also the people. Just think about that Maypole…yup, symbol of fertility. In order to have a more youthful and beautiful complexion, women would wash their face in dew, preferably gathered from beneath a hawthorn tree at dawn on May 1st. I have been trying to do this for years here in Virginia, but I don’t have a hawthorn tree. I have a crab apple, which is in the hawthorn family, so that is my go to. Unfortunately, I’m not really an early riser, so the dew is almost nearly all burned off by the time I schlep on out of the house. Furthermore, I’m often quite suspicious of any wetness I do find under the tree. Anybody out there have any idea what washing your face in fox or cat urine accomplishes? But I digress…

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Maybe I should make the effort to get out of bed earlier this year…

Interestingly enough, I had originally considered doing a recipe for little fried honey cakes. I found an article online (so you know it had to be true…) that said they were made for Beltaine and left out as a gift for the fairies the night before. I really did not want to fry any dough, since that would not only use up all my oil (pandemic quarantine concerns….) but would also make my house smell like a chipper. So I reached out to some friends in Ireland to ask if they knew of any traditional Beltaine recipes. They did not, but were horrified to hear that anyone would consider leaving treats out for the fairies. As far as they are concerned, doing anything whatsoever to draw any sort of attention from the fairies was to say, at the very least, quite foolish. Having recently read The Call by Peadar O’Guilin (creepy and somewhat terrifying, Hunger Games-esque modern Irish fairy story – have you read it? You should!) I can definitely see the wisdom in that line of thought!

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So I arrived on the idea of baking, not frying, a honey cake. Honey has long been associated with Beltaine. Not surprising since it is considered to have aphrodisiac qualities and is often associated with fertility. So I figured a honey cake would be a great match for the holiday.

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Truth be told, this recipe is from Smitten Kitchen. Deb calls it the Majestic & Moist Honey Cake and she baked it for Rosh Hashannah – Jewish New Year. In Jewish tradition, honey symbolizes excitement for a sweet New Year. Hey given what 2020 has dished out so far, a “Sweet New Year” sounds really good right about now! Can we just hit reset and have a do over sans deadly pandemic?

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This Beltaine Spiced Honey Cake is quite tasty., filled with spices and incredibly moist with crispy chewy delicious caramelized crust. I used Irish Whiskey in the mix for my Beltaine nod to Ireland. This recipe does make quite a lot of cake. Although I baked it in cutesy little beehive pans, you should probably consider doing a big ole bundt! Happy Beltaine ya’ll!

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Beltaine Spiced Honey Cake

recipe very slightly adapted from: Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cups (440 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  •  teaspoons (about 8 grams) ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 cup (235 ml) vegetable oil
  • 1 cup (340 grams) honey
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (95 grams) brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
  • 1 cup warm (235 ml) coffee or strong tea
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) Irish whiskey (I think Jack Daniels would work well too)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously grease pan(s) with non-stick cooking spray. For tube or angel food pans, line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper, cut to fit.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. Make a well in the center, and add oil, honey, white sugar, brown sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee or tea, orange juice and rye or whiskey, if using. (If you measure your oil before the honey, it will be easier to get all of the honey out.)

Mix on slow speed, stir together well to make a thick, well-blended batter, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom.

Spoon batter into prepared pan(s). Place cake pan(s) on two baking sheets, stacked together (this will ensure the cakes bake properly with the bottom baking faster than the cake interior and top).

Bake until cake tests done, that is, it springs back when you gently touch the cake center. For angel and tube cake pans, this will take 60 to 75 minutes, loaf cakes, about 45 to 55 minutes. For sheet style cakes, baking time is 40 to 45 minutes.

Let cake stand fifteen minutes before removing from pan.

Enjoy!

Beltaine Spiced Honey Cake brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Useful links for Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Beltaine Spiced Honey Cake:

Kitchen Aid Artisan Stand Mixer
Nordic Ware Bundt Pan
Nordic Ware Bee Hive Cakelet Pan – This is the pan I used for the cakes in my pictures. However, this pan only makes 6 cakes at a time and they are pretty small. With the amount of batter this recipe makes you will be baking these for hours with just the one pan! You might also want to use a bundt pan or 9″x13″ pan in addition to this pan.
The Call by Peadar O’Guilin – creepy modern day Irish fairy store I mentioned above. Technically you do not need this to make the Beltaine Spiced Honey Cake, but it really is a good read if you like scary fairy stories, Hunger Game, Game of Thrones type things.
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman – This recipe is not actually in the book, but I have never been disappointed in a Smitten Kitchen recipe, so you might want to get a copy!

Cauliflower Fried Rice

April 28, 2020

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So yup…still in lock-down. I don’t know about you, but not only have my workouts suffered over the past two months, but my stress eating and drinking have definitely increased. I hear folks talking about the “Covid 19” just like they do about the “Freshman 15” and considering the state of me, I think a gain of 19 pounds is a serious possibility! Yikes! So I thought maybe today I would offer up a recipe that is a bit kinder on your waistline while still being delicious – Cauliflower Fried Rice!

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That’s right! Carbs be gone!!! This Cauliflower Fried Rice is just bursting with flavor with none of those pesky carbs. Will you be fooled into thinking you’re eating rice? Nope. You won’t. Buuuuut – your pants might fit better. And this dish is actually delicious. The cauliflower does take on all of the flavor from those lovely seasonings. You won’t actually miss the rice, all things being considered.

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This dish comes together quickly. Just have everything all prepped before you begin cooking. Just perfect for a Meatless Monday or a “I better lose some weight before quarantine is lifted and I have to waddle out into the light of day”, moment of reckoning. Just saying…

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Cauliflower Fried Rice

  • Servings: 4 - Two Cup Servings
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

recipe from: Once Upon a Chef

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • Salt (to taste)
  • 64 grams chopped scallions, light and green parts separated (you’ll need 5-6 scallions)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • One 900-g head cauliflower (or 900 grams ready to cook cauliflower)
  • 4-5 Tablespoons soy sauce (use gluten-free if needed)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 130 grams frozen peas and carrots
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
  • 30 grams chopped cashews or peanuts (optional)

Directions:

Given that riced cauliflower is so easy to find in grocery stores, I urge you to save yourself a lot of trouble and just buy it “ready to cook”. However, if you truly love to grate things, see the following instructions. Grate the cauliflower in a food processor fitted with the grating disc. Alternatively, grate on the large holes of box or hand-held grater. Set aside.

Heat 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil in a large (10 or 12-inch) nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the eggs and a pinch of salt and scramble until the eggs are cooked. Transfer to a small plate and set aside. Wipe the pan clean.

Add 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil to the pan and set over medium heat. Add the light green scallions, garlic, and ginger. Cook, stirring often, until softened but not browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the grated cauliflower, 4 tablespoons of the soy sauce, red pepper flakes, sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Continue to cook for about 3 minutes. Add the peas and carrots. Stir to combine and continue cooking until the cauliflower “rice” is tender-crisp and the vegetables are warmed through, a few minutes. Stir in the rice vinegar, sesame oil, dark green scallions, nuts (if using) and eggs. Taste and adjust seasoning (adding the remaining tablespoon of soy sauce if necessary). Serve hot.

Enjoy!

Cauliflower Fried Rice brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Cauliflower Fried Rice:

OXO Good Grips Stainless Steel Food Scale

Cuisinart Pro-Classic Food Processor

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

 


Scottish Oat Cakes

April 24, 2020

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So the Husband and I went on this amazing trip to Scotland back in January of 2018. I told you a bit about the Glasgow portion of our adventures in a post back on January 26th of last year. I meant to fill you in on the rest of the trip…the part that was actually the most exciting. You see, we went up to Lerwick in the Shetland Islands for Up Helly Aa – which is Europe’s largest Viking fire festival! Think of it like Mardi Gras if it took place on the same latitude as Greenland! Alas, you know that thing about the best laid plans of mice and men and all that. Long story short…I just flaked and did not write the post. However, that is a wrong that I can easily right. It only took a little pandemic to get me writing. Anyway, I’m going to tell you all about it today along with travel tips and recommendations! And I will give you a great recipe for Scottish Oat Cakes. These cracker/cookies are great on their own and also lovely with a slice of cheese or some jam.

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So when last I left you, we were hanging out in Glasgow – taking in all the sights, seeing a bunch of live music at the Celtic Connections festival, tasting whisky and chocolate and sipping champagne in a spa. Before we knew it, it was time to get on up to the Shetland Islands to see those Vikings! The Husband doesn’t really get nervous about most things, but he was not looking forward to flying over the North Atlantic in a tiny plane with propellers. But when faced with the alternative of spending 12 hours on a ferry crossing the North Atlantic in January, he was sure he could tolerate an hour or so on a tiny propeller plane. So he took a shot or two of liquid encouragement and on the teeny plane we went!

Up Helly Aa (pronounced Up Hell ee Ah) is held the last Tuesday in January in Lerwick every year. It marks the end of the Yule season with a nod to the Shetlands Viking heritage. (Up is from uppi which means “end” Helly means “holy days” and Aa is “all” – hence “The end of all Holy days.”) The Shetlands were ruled by the Norse for some 500 years until they became part of Scotland in 1468. On this day, once night falls, the town lights are extinguished and a band of over 900 blazing torch bearing guizers (folks in various disguises – think Halloween) led by a modern day Jarl and his Squad who are kitted out as Vikings, go on a procession through the streets with a full size replica Viking longship, that they have lovingly built, in tow. Once they reach a designated spot, they throw their torches into the ship, turning it into the largest bonfire you’ve ever seen! Sounds absolutely amazing right?!! Let me tell you it absolutely was!!!

P1010945But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning. Our arrival in Lerwick after the scary mini propeller plane adventure. Once again on terra firma, we met up with out good friends and fellow Viking enthusiasts, Bill & Virginia and headed off to check into our lovely AirBnB and have a poke about the town. The town of Lerwick is charming.

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OMG! Remember these?!!

IMG_3362Another thing which made me very happy was that there were plenty of Shetland ponies around. I love horses and often carry sugar cubes or apples with me if I think there is a chance I might encounter any.

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We had been dreaming about going to this festival for some time, so we were all very excited! First thing we needed to do was get ahold of the Raven Banner which would fly over the town on Up Helly Aa, signifying the Guizer Jarl was in charge.

Version 2Up Helly Aa starts pretty early with the Jarl Squad marching to Market Cross. So who is the Jarl? Well a different man is chosen to be Jarl each year. This is a huge honor for the chosen one.

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Jarl Stewart Jamieson (portraying Viking Thorvald Thorvaldsson) Lewick 2018 Up Helly Aa

He then selects the men he wishes to be in his Viking squad. These men are the only ones you will see dressed as Vikings (besides the Junior Jarl and his Viking squad). There are no guizers  in the morning march, only Vikings. This is the first time anyone in the town gets to see the Jarls squads outfits as well as their replica longship, which have been designed with the utmost secrecy. So believe me, everyone is super curious. The modern day Vikings draw a big crowd as they march through the streets, the Guizer Jarl and his squad lead the way

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Followed by the Junior Jarl & his squad

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until they reach the Market Cross, where they stop and read The Proclamation (or Bill).

IMG_6947This document, which has also been kept secret until the big day, includes instructions for the day along peppered with a healthy dose of local jokes and satire. The Jarl Squad then departs to go pose for formal pictures with their galley at Alexandra Wharf.

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Post photo op, the Jarl Squads departs to visit various primary schools, hospitals and retirement homes. We took the opportunity to wander about the town and do some shopping. Many of the shop owners participate in a window decorating competition for the festival.

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The Jarl will later chose the winner later, but I had a definite favorite! The Viking in a bubble bath at the Shetland Soap Company was perfect.

Everyone in the town was in great Viking form! Lots of horned helmets (yes, we know the Vikings didn’t actually wear them, but wearing a horned helm is really fun!) Here are some wee Vikings we encountered along the way:

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Wee Vikings in training! Photo Credit for wee red haired Viking to Bill Watson.

The Husband had grown out his beard for months so I could get these braids in it. I think it’s a great look for him, though it took awhile for him to get used to the feeling of them!

After some shopping, we set off to see The Fiery Sessions which showcase some of Shetlands best traditional music. Then we somehow found ourselves in a pub for some more live music and perhaps a drink or two.

And finally it was time for the main event! The big burn! Now this event goes on no matter what the weather may be. “No postponement for the weather” is the boast often heard throughout the town. And you can imagine at that time of year in the North Atlantic – the weather can be remarkable – snow, sleet, rain, hail and gale force winds have been know to make an appearance. On our night, we considered ourselves pretty lucky, as it was only a bit wet and windy. As you can see, there might have been a few sparks flying about, so it’s a good thing that everything in town was thoroughly dampened!

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IMG_7025The procession starts at 7:30. All of the torches are lit and the Jarl, perched in his longship, is pulled through the streets by his Viking squad

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followed by hundreds of those guizers that I mentioned. Those are the other participants in the festival. Traditionally groups of townsmen, though recently that is changing as there are now some female guizers, form dozens of squads. Each squad has it’s own costume theme ranging from hula girls, to belly dancers to StormTroopers, to cats, cows or skeletons. Again the squads have kept their particular costume a secret from everyone until this procession.

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The torchlit procession, 900-ish folks strong, then winds through Lerwick’s streets

P1010819until the longship is pulled into a park where once the Jarl disembarks and gives the signal, all of the torches are pitched into the longship.

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Jarl getting ready to leave the longship before the big burn!

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And if you haven’t had your fill of fire, there was a bit more to be seen overhead.

But the party doesn’t end here. No, no no! It literally goes on all night long! At this point folks all retire to different halls around town for the after -parties. Now these halls are ticketed events and are usually by invitation only, though some tickets are made available to the public. Our AirBnB hosts were kind enough to score some tickets for us.

IMG_6821At the Halls you will find food, drink and dancing. The Guizers squads that I mentioned before then take turns visiting the different halls to perform an act – such as singing, dancing or doing a comedy sketch.

It is a tradition that every Guizer must dance with at least one of the ladies in each hall and take a dram. Considering there are around 11 or 12 halls each year, can you just imagine the state of the poor Guizers in the morning?!! Good thing that the day after Up Helly Aa is a public holiday! What an unforgettable experience!!! Watch the action packed day in the following video.

And I should mention that in addition to all of the excitement of the festival, the Shetland Islands are gorgeous. We visited a place called Jarlshof which is a prehistoric & Norse settlement archaeological site.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1993.JPGLocated in Sumburgh on the tip of the mainland Shetland it contains settlement sites which range over 4000 years of human history – from late Neolithic through Bronze and Iron Ages, the Norse settlement all the way up to a 16th Century Laird’s house.

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We absolutely loved exploring here, despite the fact that the weather was certainly not the best that day. High winds and torrential downpours. We were soaked to the skin, but couldn’t tear ourselves away. Definitely a must see if you are visiting Shetland!

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Now I guess I should get back to those oatcakes I mentioned at the outset. Oatcakes are a staple in most Scottish kitchens. Kind of a cross between a cookie and a cracker they have a lovely texture and a slightly sweet and salty taste.

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They are very easy to make and quite versatile. You can eat them plain, with a bit of butter, jam,

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smoked salmon or with cheese. They are a perfect addition to your cheeseboard!

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So if Up Helly Aa sounds right up your alley – get planning right away! Lots of folks are interested in going and there are only so many places to stay. And while your making your arrangements – you can pour yourself a wee dram and nibble on some of these tasty Scottish Oat Cakes!

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Scottish Oat Cakes

  • Servings: 16 - 25 pieces - depending on how you cut them
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups old fashioned rolled oats (not quick cooking or instant)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cups butter – cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1/4 cup very hot water
  • Maldon flaky Sea Salt for finishing

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Place the oats, flour sugar, salt and baking soda in a food processor. Scatter the butter cubes over the dry ingredients.. Pulse until the mixture looks like coarse grains of sand. Add the hot water slowly, using only as much as you need to get the oat/flour/butter mixture to form into thick dough.

Dust the counter with some extra flour and turn the dough out onto the work surface. Roll the dough out to a 1/4″ thickness. Use a cookie cutter to cut out the oatcakes.

Place the oat cakes on the prepared sheet. Sprinkle a small amount of Maldon sea salt over the cakes. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until lightly browned.

Remove cookies to a rack to cool.

Enjoy!

Scottish Oat Cakes brought to you by: Runcible Eats (www.leaandjay.com)

Links for Planning your vacation in The Shetland Islands, Scotland:

Car RentalWe rented our car from Star Rent a Car and were very pleased with both the car and the agency. I definitely would recommend that you do rent a car. Sumburgh Airport is about 20 -25 minutes away from Lerwick. There are taxis available, but if you would like to explore the island, outside of town, you pretty much need a car to do so. And if you are not used to driving on the left side of the road, you will likely want an automatic car, as to avoid shifting gears with your left hand. The number of automatics available are limited, so please remember to reserve your car well ahead of time!

Accommodation: Lerwick is a pretty small town and most of the accommodation available books well in advance (like a year prior) of the festival. I was ready to give up looking (I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to get accommodation and had waited until May 2017 to try to book for January 2018) and just plan on going the following year when just by chance, someone cancelled an AirBnB reservation while I happened to be on the sight. I grabbed it immediately and it was absolutely perfect. Ramsay & Nikola’s stylish and cozy house is conveniently located, close to a large grocery store, a delicious restaurant Called Fjara, an Iron Age Broch as well as being a short walk into town. It was immaculatly clean, had all the amenities one could want and was well stocked with tea and coffe. Nikola & Ramsay were friendly and warm hosts. They thoughtfully provided us with milk, bread, the local paper as well as a couple bottles of wine and spot on recommendations for local restaurants. All of our communication with them were easy and their responses prompt. We were visiting Shetland for Up Helly Aa and Ramsay was able to get tickets to one of the Halls for us which we would not have likely been able to do on our own. Furthermore he gave us advice concerning where to stand for the best views during the procession. All of his assistance greatly enhanced our overall festival experience. Here is a link to Ramsay’s house – though I’m not sure if he is still offering it for rent: Refurbished & Modern House in Lerwick.

Before finding the Airbnb, I had emailed many other hotels and guesthouses. Most did not even bother to respond, however Anona Michael of Rockvilla Guesthouse did respond promptly. Sadly she was all booked up, but took the time to recommend other accommodations for me to check availability, as well as offer advice on the festival in general. Rockvilla Guesthouse is right on the procession route, so if you could score a room with them it make things much easier for you!

Restaurants:

Fjara Cafe Bar – Loved this restaurant! Friendly and welcoming, with simply amazing views, it is open for breakfast through dinner and even later for cocktails. Seasonal menu features Shetlands finest ingredients, homemade baked goods and local brews.

 

Peerie Shop Cafe – Cozy & bustling cafe located in the heart of Lerwick. Features delicious homemade breakfasts, baked goods, soups, sandwiches and coffee. Don’t miss out on their scones with clotted cream and jam!

 

Sumburgh Hotel Restaurant – This is a strange recommendation for me as our experience here was …. well…quite strange! I will let my trip advisor review entitled “We only met one rude person in the Shetland Islands…” do the talking here:

Let me start this by saying, I usually do not write bad reviews. And I hesitate to do so even now, however we experienced such poor hospitality, I don’t think I can let it go without saying something. At the end of January, friends and I visited Jarlshof which is located right near the Sumburgh Hotel. It was raining, cold and windy. After taking in the sights, we hoped to grab some lunch at the Sumburgh Hotel Lounge. Unfortunately, it was after two and lunch service had finished. This is when we encountered the only rude person we met during our entire visit to the Shetland Islands. The good news for the Shetland Island folks is this person was not a local. She had an accent, maybe Italian. She briskly told us lunch was over at 2 pm. Although it was only five after two, we said we understood this but asked if there wasn’t anything at all, maybe even some crisps or bar snacks we could have. She seemed very annoyed and said, “all we have it soup”. A warm bowl of soup sounded great to us. Then, rather than seating us in the warm lounge, she ushered us out to a sort of sun porch type of area, which was unheated and very drafty and cold. We asked if we could eat in the dining room and she said “no, lunch is over.” But other folks were still seated inside and more came in a took seats while we were shivering on the porch like unwanted step children! The barman, who was very friendly to us, seemed somewhat embarrassed by her behavior. I don’t know what had happened to that woman before we showed up to put her in such a mood, but she definitely took it all out on us. We ate our soup, which was very good by the way, and left. Otherwise the hotel seemed nice. As long as you don’t meet up with the rude woman, I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Shopping:

Mirrie Dancers Chocolates – Mirrie Dancers is the name the locals on Shetland use for the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. These gorgeous, handmade chocolates take inspiration from this natural phenomenon as well as the beauty which abounds in Shetland and Orkney. You will find these little gems both beautiful and incredibly delicious! Lovely treat for yourself and a great souvenir to carry back home.

Ninian Gift Shop – Fantastic gift shop which has everything from lovely unique handmade Shetland knitwear to jewelry to stationary to home goods. Wonderfully curated, you will definitely find the perfect gift here for yourself and others as well!

Things to do:

Up Helly Aa: Um….have you read this blog? Yeah, you want to go to this festival!!!

Shetland Museum & Archives – Absolutely wonderful museum!

Shetland Arts & Craft Trail – If you are visiting during Up Helly Aa, these shops will likely have very limited opening, since it is off season, so call ahead to make sure they are open


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