Saturday, March 19, 2016

Kjötsúpa (Icelandic Meat Soup)


Homemade Icelandic Lamb Soup
Homemade Kjötsúpa
My Icelandic food saga would not be complete without a post on Kjötsúpa or Icelandic Lamb soup. In our 10 days in Iceland, we probably had soup almost every day, and in almost half of those days, we enjoyed a bowl of lamb soup. My hubby and I could not get enough of Icelandic lamb. It has a very mild flavor and very tender. During the fall in Iceland, this warm meaty broth was the perfect lunch after a morning of activities.

I wanted to get an Icelandic cookbook while I was there, but things were rather pricey. It’s quite understandable: they had to ship everything in. Fortunately, I found a lamb soup recipe in, of all things, the free Visitor’s guide. Score! This will allow me to get more souvenirs.

Icelandic Lamb Soup from Old Iceland Restaurant
Kjötsúpa from Old Iceland, Reykjavík
The recipe also calls for a tablespoon of herbs - but it was not very specific. I am guessing that this refers to Arctic herbs. I looked around and the price point was a bit too steep for me and it had added salt (which was probably key). I decided not to get it. However, one of the chefs shared with us that he used a combination of oregano and parsley. I also read that arctic thyme is part of the blend, so I added a teaspoon of that. In place of the added salt, I used a combination of salt and celery seeds to reduce the sodium impact.

Since I’ve been learning a lot of technique from watching Food Network (Chopped or Beat Bobby Flay, nowadays), I decided to add some twists to the original recipe: browning the lamb, pan roasting the veggies to bring out the natural sweetness, and adding the dried herbs at the beginning to bring out the flavors. I can use any extra flavor that I can get since I do not have Icelandic ingredients which benefit from the clean environment (no GMO’s) and glacier clear water.

Here’s what I have so far. Try it and let me know what you think.

Kjötsúpa (Traditional Icelandic Lamb Soup)
Based on a recipe from the Iceland/Reykjavík Visitor’s Guide

Ingredients
  • 2 Tbsp of olive oil
  • 14 oz of lamb (best to get the end of the neck, I was lucky enough to get some)
  • 3 1/4 cups of water
  • 1 medium sized onion (about a cup)
  • 1 cup of sliced rutabaga
  • 1 cup of sliced carrots
  • 1 potato (about a cup)
  • 1-2 Tbsp of rice
  • 1 tsp of dried oregano
  • 1 tsp of dried thyme
  • 2 tsp of dried parsley
  • 1/4 tsp of celery seeds
  • 1/8 tsp of salt (use up to a 1/4 tsp, if you prefer)

Directions
  1. In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat.
  2. Brown lamb on both sides for about 5 minutes.
  3. Transfer lamb to a plate and set aside.
  4. Add onions and cook until onions begin to soften.
  5. Add rutabagas, carrots, potatoes, salt, and herbs. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  6. Return lamb to the pot and add water. Cook at low heat for about 45 minutes.
  7. Add rice (At this point, you can shred the meat too and add it back in).
  8. Cover. Simmer until rice is cooked and vegetables are tender.

Lamb soup simmering
Simmer, simmer, simmer



Verdict

Traditional Icelandic Lamb Soup
Kjötsúpa from Fjallakaffi, Modrudalur
I love this recipe. It did bring me back to our first evening in Reykjavík or that rainy day, in the middle of nowhere, where we saw an Arctic fox outside of the cafe or that other rainy day right after seeing the grandeur of Strokkur. This is a good local substitute without the airfare to Reykjavík.

Of course, this soup is not the same without the same quality ingredients as what you get in Iceland. Icelandic lamb is very good quality meat since the sheep in Iceland roam free in the hillsides and feast on grass all year. The water used in the broth is probably the best in the world. This is glacier pure water, so it is drinkable from the tap. This same water irrigates the herbs and vegetables in the soup and grass that the lamb munch on. This is what makes the soup so delicious.

In retrospect, I should have bought herbs from the local grocery store (which I love to visit) and could have purchased them at a more reasonable price than in the tourist shops. Of course, I am not sure how the TSA would react to bringing in herbs into the country. 
Lamb soup with lots of lamb
Kjötsúpa from Geysir Cafe - humble plating, but meaty!

Also, I did learn that each family had their own unique recipe. Some may not have any grains, while others may prefer oatmeal or barley. The vegetables may vary too depending on what is available in the market.

I am thinking this recipe will evolve with our family: most likely starting with the use of quinoa for grains and oh, do I dare say, adding kale! I think its a State law now in California that you must add kale to anything when you're cooking (joke).

Hope you enjoy!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Hafraklattar (Icelandic-style Granola "Bars")


I am a grazer. Although I do not skip meals, I usually have smaller meals and have snacks through the day. When we visited Iceland over the fall, I was no different. Whenever I have a chance, I would stock up on nuts, fruit like apples or bananas (lemons too), dark chocolate or breakfast items. Also since I really cannot enjoy buffets anymore (doctor’s orders), I usually have something handy in the event that I cannot find an appropriate breakfast… or lunch. Plus, I love trying out the local treats.

Hafraklattar with coffee
Yum! Morgunverður með kaffi - Breakfast with coffee.
I believe I bought my first hafraklattar in my first day in Reykjavik.  This hafraklattar from Matarkistan seems to meet all the criteria of a light breakfast or a big snack: portable and quick. Most importantly, it looks somewhat healthy although I do not know what the ingredients are… yet. It took me a couple of days for the jet lag to pass and consult Google Translate - on my phone - to figure out what is in it. Thank goodness WiFi was everywhere (even on the buses).  I did find out later that hafraklattar was relatively healthy: made with oats, pumpkin seeds, cranberries, apple sauce, butter and sugar. All were organic too.

Now that I am back at home but mentally still in Iceland…my mission is to replicate what I enjoyed in Iceland. Obviously, the bars in Reykjavik became my reference of what hafraklattar should look like: square and bar-like, much like a brownie. However, in my research, I found that these are actually normally round like a cookie. 

Hafraklattar Ingredients
Ingredients: Relatively Healthy!
Also, I had to interpret the recipes that I did find because Google cannot translate everything perfectly. As an example, one of the instructions in the recipe translated to “Butter and sugar mix well”. Since I remember that the hafraklattar in Reykjavik was soft, I decided that it would be better to cream the butter and sugar mixture.

Also, since I am trying to have more gluten-free food – I used GF flour for this recipe. I really was not too sure about spelt flour, which is what most of the recipes called for. So, I just used a combination of oat flour and rice flour. I also tried to cut down on the butter and substituted half (about 1/4 cup) with unsweetened applesauce. The ingredient list in Matarkistan used applesauce, so I was encouraged. However, I was not sure what the proportions were. My test ratio, surprisingly, worked out very well. 

Here’s what I have so far. Why don't you give it a try and let me know how you like it!

Hafraklattar (Icelandic-style Granola Bar)
Based on a recipe from Tastebook.com by Auður Karitas Þórhallsdóttir
Makes about 9 cookies


Ingredients
  • 3/4 cup gluten-free flour (I used 2/4 cup of oat flour and 1/4 cup of rice flour)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

  • 1/4 cup soft butter, room temparature
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1/4 cup sugar 
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar 
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 egg

  • 1 1/2 cups oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chocolate (optional)


Directions
  1. Preheat oven at 375 degrees F.
  2. Mix flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a bowl. Set aside.
  3. Cream butter, sugar, brown sugar, vanilla and eggs in a bowl.
  4. Fold in applesauce.
  5. Fold in dry ingredients to wet.
  6. Mix oatmeal and if using, the chocolate and raisins.
  7. Created balls the size of tomatoes and slightly flat out (I used an ice cream scoop).
  8. Bake at 375 F for about 13-15 mins.
  9. They should be a little soft when they are taken out, but harden as they cool.


Verdict:

I really like this "bar". It actually has a consistency of a cookie – so I feel like I am having cookies for breakfast. Unlike a cookie, this is also quite filling. I am finding that a cookie and a half is more than enough. I may make smaller ones next time.


Hafraklattar - Homemade


I may try to change the add-ins next time, maybe use dried blueberries, cherries, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, or nuts… definitely add nuts... I am nutty that way. Also, I may make a crunchier version. No butter creaming, just melt it – or use coconut oil. But that may not be considered hafraklattar anymore.

Hafraklattar Breakfast

Also, I am not sure what Hafraklattar translates to. All I know is it is an Icelandic-style granola bar/cookie. I hope some of you can shed some light to it.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Eplakaka (Icelandic-style Apple Pie)


Icelandic-style Apple Cake or Apple Pie
This was my first attempt. The flavors brought me back to Reykjavik.


My first encounter with Eplakaka was quite accidental. It was a rainy day in Reykjavik, much like today, and we decided to spend the day visiting museums. We wanted to get an early start so we skipped breakfast. However, halfway through our walk, we needed to dry up and took shelter at the Maritime museum. We took that opportunity to have breakfast.

My husband had his usual ham and cheese sandwich. He has been having a ham and cheese sandwich almost every day while we were in Iceland, and he wanted to be consistent. For me, I had my eye on a yummy looking cake. Since I typically have something sweet for breakfast, I knew that was the one I wanted to try. I am always up for a food adventure -- as long as it's in my doctor-approved list (health first, you know). When I asked the server what it was, she said was apple pie.


Original Apple Cake
Original Eplakaka from the Maritime Museum
Sure enough, it was delicious: apples baked in the dough, lightly topped with confectionaire's sugar and served with fluffy light whipped cream and a hint of chocolate sauce. I knew I had to recreate it when I get back home. What timing! Since I made a peach galette during the summer, I have been meaning to make an apple galette for the fall. I figured why not make an Icelandic-style apple pie, instead. I may still have apples that I froze before the trip at home.

I researched the recipe, but all I found were recipes in Icelandic. Thank goodness Google Translate made it easier. However, there were some items where the translation was a bit questionable, so I had to guess based on other recipes. One of the changes that I made was also use recipes for apple cake. Reason is that although the lady said this was an apple pie, the consistency of the crust was more like an apple cake, so I used other apple cakes for reference (mostly non-Icelandic).

Given my current preference for gluten-free treats nowadays, I used a combination of oat flour and rice flour.  I only made half of the recipe since we were watching our sugar intake, but you can easily double it. I found that this is size is perfect for me and my husband and the cat. 

Here's what I have so far... let me know what you think.


Gluten-Free Eplakaka (Icelandic-style Apple Pie)
Serves 4

Ingredients
  • 1 cup of gluten-free flour (I used 1/2 cup of rice flour and 1/2 cup of oat flour)
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp of baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp of nutmeg
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 apples (medium size), sliced (about a cup and a half)
  • 1/4 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts or pecans (optional)
  • Yogurt (Greek or Icelandic) (optional for serving)


Directions
  1. Butter or grease a loaf pan.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg, salt
  4. Cream butter and sugar.
  5. Add eggs and vanilla to the butter mixture. Continue mixing until combined.
  6. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture.
  7. Scrape the mix in to the pan.
  8. Add apples and raisins on top of the batter
  9. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  10. Let cool and serve with whipped cream or Greek (or better yet, Icelandic) yogurt


Verdict

This recipe came very close to what I had in Reykjavik. The first time I made this, I used apples that I froze before the trip. I thought it was fortunate and quite appropriate to use those the frozen apples since they also survived the trip to Iceland (It was also one of my first freezing tests, and it was successful).

The first time I made this I put the apples on top instead of mixing it in the batter. I think I found a recipe that said the apples would sink in the batter in the baking process, so I thought I would use that technique. Unfortunately (or fortunately), only some of them sunk and the others baked on top. As a result, it actually gave it the apples that galette/tart consistency. I like it.

Icelandic style apple pie
Added some dough on top of the crust: pie like?
I've also experimented in presentation and used some of the dough and putting it on top (much like a pie crust or coffee cake). This ended up with the same look as the cake I had in Reykjavik. I like this method too... it just depends on my mood.

In doing my research, I was also surprised that Icelanders use a lower temperature to bake. Not sure why, but I find that increasing the temp here in California a bit makes it cook better. Any ideas why?

Lastly, I did not make the vanilla sauce since the cake that I had in Reykjavik came with whipped cream (and I was and still am watching my sugar and fat intake as it is). However, if you want to make it, the recipe is below. The full recipe is below, so you can put as much vanilla sauce as you want.



Hot Vanilla Sauce (full recipe)
Serves 8


Ingredients
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup of cream (125 ml)
  • 1/2 cup sugar (100 g)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla


Directions

  1. Make vanilla sauce by putting the butter, cream and sugar together in a saucepan and stir constantly until the sugar has melted. 
  2. Let them simmer gently for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. 
  3. Remove from heat and add vanilla. 



Friday, January 1, 2016

Our Icelandic Holiday Celebration... in California


I have been in an Iceland Mode lately (with some minor breaks).  I was very inspired in our trip that I wanted to explore Icelandic food and cooking more. In fact, Iron Chef Michael Symon echoed how I felt in one of his shows (although he did not refer to Iceland). He said “Remember when I came back from Germany, I wanted to put dumplings in everything.” That is exactly how I feel... but not about the dumplings (this time).

Thanksgiving table with Vegetable Soup and CodFor me, I was inspired with new food, flavors, and most of all, the fresh ingredients. I’ve been researching recipes, sometimes even translating Icelandic recipes (Takk fyrir, Google Translate), and of course, trying to experiment and recreating soups, dishes, and especially pastries that we’ve enjoyed.

Since it is the holidays, I thought it would be the best of both worlds if I write about how we adapted Icelandic Holidays and Feasts (and having a feast for only two people). 

Just a disclaimer, this post reflects what we had for Thanksgiving since we did go all out at that time (We knew Christmas would be hectic). We did design the menu so it would be more like an Icelandic Christmas. We went as far as we could, given our limited knowledge and ingredients.


Planning. Like all our meals in Iceland, we started with soup and for our entrees, had fish and lamb (not smoked though, since I can’t have it). Since we are having lamb, I opted to make vegetable soup. To make it more Icelandic Holiday style, we finished it off with Rice Pudding instead of all the cakes we (more I) enjoyed for dessert. We did have oatmeal cookies (more shortbread) handy though, just in case.

I also played with the idea of making bread for the first time, but I decided to defer it to a different time. Luckily and just in time, I found German-style rye bread at Whole Foods – Score! Not exactly Icelandic, but would do just fine! 

I also thought about trying out the caramelized potatoes but opted for a simple roast (with the lamb of course). The traditional sweet regular potatoes may be too much for my husband.

Here were the highlights of the evening:

Lamb Steak with Potatoes and OnionsGrænmetissúpa Með Höfrum
Vegetable soup with oats 
This recipe is from the Salt and Wind website by Blogger Ashlae Warner, who spent weeks in Iceland “uncovering that beautiful country.” I believe this recipe originated in the West Fjords, which we missed on our last trip.

Steikt þorski
Pan-fried Breaded Cod with cheese and yogurt-mustard sauce
This recipe is based on Baked cod, but I wanted to make it simpler. I deconstructed the recipe, used a panko-parmesian breading and made a yogurt sauce instead of baking with cream. Unfortunately, I could not find the source recipe at this time, but I will post an update when I find it.

Lambasteik
Roasted Lamb steak with onions and potatoes.
This is a traditional Sunday dinner in Iceland, and we decided to use for this special occasion. Lamb unfortunately is from New Zealand (Just missed the season).

Apple Salad with Dill and Pomegranate

Eplasalat
Apple Salad with dill and pomegranate seeds
This salad was inspired by a dish we had at the Apotek Restaurant in Reykjavík. We had scallops with apples and dill oil. I thought about this while I was cooking since I figured all this rich food needed a fresh component. As a result, I did not plan ahead and have dill oil prepared, but this is a good alternative. This recipe is loosely based on a apple and dill salad recipe from Cookbooks365.com.

Hrísgrjónagrautur
Rice Pudding with Bananas, Berry sauce and Skyr
Translates to Rice Grain Porridge. This is a traditional Icelandic dessert, especially for special occasions. This is based on Jamie Oliver’s recipe and a vegan recipe from Eating Well.



Rice pudding with Berry Sauce and Yogurt
Overall, it was a simple but very hearty meal. Even though we were pretty conservative in our portions, we had leftovers for the next two days – which was the point of feasts anyway, right? We had soup for days, lamb sandwiches (instead of turkey), and my favorite way for leftover fish – fish cakes.  The rye bread became the vehicle for other sandwiches too: I could not resist having egg salad sandwiches on dark rye. I have not had those for a while.

Also, the leftover pudding – I made rice pudding pancakes for breakfast! They are another traditional Icelandic treat. Loved it!

Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to new adventures and abundance in the coming year. I hope this post inspires you to explore new food adventures.

To inspire your new adventures, here’s my Maddified recipe for rice pudding. Yummy and so easy, I may make a batch this weekend.

Gleðilegt nýtt ár.


Mad Gourmet’s Healtified Icelandic Style Rice Pudding
Serves 4 (1/2 cup servings)

Ingredients

Pudding:
  • 1/2 cup brown basmati rice      
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 1 Tbsp gluten‐free vanilla almond milk, divided
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 2 Tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1/2 stick cinnamon or 1⁄4 tsp ground cinnamon (I used a full stick because I could not figure out how to do a clean break and I love cinnamon)
  • 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract       
  • Pinch or two of salt


Berry Topping:
  • 1/4 cup of mixed berries
  • 1 1/2 tsp of sugar
  • water, to cover and smooth (about 1/2 cup)


Optional Garnishes:
  • Raisins or currants, red currants if available
  • Ground cinnamon
  • (for non-vegans) Icelandic or Icelandic-style yogurt, vanilla


Directions
  1. Put the berries in a stainless steel pan with 1/2 tablespoon of the sugar and enough water cover. Heat gently for 10 minutes, then add 5 tablespoons of cold water. Set aside. (If you prefer a smoother mixture, add 4-5 Tbsp of water and smooth in a blender.)
  2. Combine rice, milk, brown sugar, cinnamon stick, and salt in a medium saucepan. Cook stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes and bring to a boil.
  3. Stir cornstarch and the remaining 1 Tbsp almond milk in a small bowl until smooth; add to the pudding.
  4. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until the mixture has the consistency of porridge, stirring occasionally, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  5. Mash 2 bananas in a small bowl. Stir the mashed bananas and vanilla into the pudding.
  6. Spoon the cooked rice pudding into a serving dish, swirl the fruit sauce into it.
  7. If desired, top with a dollop of Icelandic vanilla yogurt or scatter with raisins or fresh red currants before serving.