Sunday, March 22, 2015


Spring has finally arrived! No more freezing! You have no idea how happy that makes me. And my kids have one more day until their spring break officially starts (they have to go on Monday of this week as a make up day for a snow day they had in January). I’m sure I’ll try to find something fun for us to do over the next couple of weeks off. Besides working.

But we’re starting off with Icelandic food today.  My kids thought Icelandic food should include ice cream and ice water. And before anyone else asks, no I’m not making fermented shark. If Andrew Zimmern could barely stomach it (I believe “putrid” is how he described it), then I’m pretty sure it’s a horrible idea. I chose items far more palatable. Besides I read that it takes around six months of burying the shark meat in volcanic rock for it to become putrid enough for those fermented shark connoissiors to enjoy it. 

Probably not the most attractive photo (kind of looks like dog food here), but trust me, if you dip this bread in soup, it's amazing.
I’m starting out with Icelandic Thunder Bread, a steamed rye bread. I have certainly made rye breads before but not steamed. I started this by mixing my dry ingredients (rye flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt) in a bowl and then mixed in my brown sugar. After I stirred in the molasses into my scalded and cooled milk, I poured this into my dry ingredients. I had a hard time getting the dough to come together. It was too dry; I had to add little bits of water to it to try to bind it altogether. Once I did get it mixed, I divided it into two sections. I took two clean aluminum cans that once held canned pineapple (about 19-20 oz) and buttered the insides of them (nicking my knuckle on a sharp edge in the process). Then I put my dough in each can (making sure it’s only about 2/3 full). I took some aluminum foil and made a “tent” to go on top of the can, leaving some room for the bread to rise. Now, instead of placing these into geothermal springs like they would in Iceland, I put my cans into my Crock Pot because, well, you know, I’m fresh out of geothermal springs. I placed metal lids into the bottom of the Crock Pot and placed the cans on top of them, adding in enough hot water to cover the bottom half of the cans. Setting my slow cooker on high and leaving it alone for nearly four hours, I let my bread slowly bake. When it was done, I was amazed that it was cooked all the way through.  I had trouble getting it out of the cans, but my husband finally managed to squeeze it out of the cans. We called it Spam Bread or Canned Bread since it was shaped exactly like the can. This is a very hearty bread. By itself, it’s almost dry and slightly gritty, but I found that if you dip it into the broth of the soup, it’s absolutely wonderful and has a very earthy flavor.  

Who can seriously resist this? (Well, ok, vegetarians, vegans, my friend who hates lamb, my brother-in-law who hates soup...)
Today’s main dish is Saltkjöt og baunir, or salted meat and split pea soup. This is a stew where I had to make several substitutions, like I had to go with green split peas instead of yellow split peas. I threw in some diced onions and the peas into boiling water along with the diced lamb. (The meat was supposed to be salted meat, but mine was unsalted. I chose shoulder chops and also threw in the bones as well.) I let this cook for about a half hour before adding in some smoked bacon, diced potatoes, diced turnips (in lieu of rutabagas), and baby carrots, letting it simmer for another 40 minutes.  There was a note in my recipe that some people add in a little milk just before serving, but I decided to add in a little heavy whipping cream instead. It gave it this a nice potato soup consistency and the vegetables were quite tender. I topped mine with some fresh marjoram. It was so awesome. Even my finicky six-year-old son liked it.  

And now, the pièce de résistence.
And finally, I made a dessert for this one. I couldn’t resist Mandarínu-ostakaka, or Mandarin orange cheesecake. I love cheesecake, but I’ve never made one from scratch before.  This recipe starts out by mixing the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter together and pressing it into the bottom and part of the sides of a pie tin, baking this crust for about eight minutes.  Then I mixed together the cream cheese (I actually went with neufchâtel cheese), sugar, and vanilla extract. Separately, I mixed the lemon gelatin (do you know how hard it is to find this, apparently?) into boiling water and let it cool. When this was half set up, I slowly poured it into my cheese mixture. Then I folded in my whipped cream and poured it into my pie shell, letting it cool for about an hour. After this, I drained my mandarin oranges, reserving the juice. I added lemon juice to the orange juice, warmed it up and mixed in the unflavored gelatin. The gelatin immediately solidified, so I had to keep stirring a lot while it was cooling. After placing the mandarin orange segments on top in a pattern, I gently brushed the orange juice-gelatin mixture over the oranges and top of the pie and put it back in the refrigerator to cool. By far this was the best part of the meal, although it was hard to contend with the soup.  My husband said my cheesecake tasted better than store-bought cheesecake.  So, I guess it’s a winner!

The best meal I've eaten all week. (Although the bread looks like a hamburger patty. Haha.)
I didn’t realize how fascinated with Iceland that I was going to become. One night I ended up on some page teaching the basics of the Icelandic language. It’s an interesting language; I think I’d like to learn more. Some lonely NSA operative in a basement office tracking my Internet searches is probably scratching his head over all the crazy things I end up looking at. All in the name of education. But the Internet is a great tool. I’d never have been able to do this blog 20 years ago. I mean, the Internet was certainly around, but it wasn’t at the level it is today.  My library is great, but it doesn’t have nearly the resources for world recipes sans the Internet.  I do occasionally go and look through recipe books at the library, but I can find so much more with a simple Internet search.  For instance, I found the recipes for the soup and the cheesecake from Jo’s Icelandic Recipes blog. Recipe sharing on the Internet is exactly what the Internet was designed to be for: the exchange of information. So, I worried when talks regarding net neutrality were making headlines. Societies where people do not have access to information (or who have to pay for it) never end well for the low guy on the totem pole. But luckily, we still have access to information.  (For now, at least.) So, I’ll just enjoy my cheesecake and my Internet access and not think about anything else.

Up next: India

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