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.

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

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

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)


  • 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

  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.

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