30/09/2007

Icelandic cookbooks in English: Delicious Iceland: Tales of unique northern delicacies

If you enjoy gorgeous photography, haute cuisine and chefs on ego trips, this is a book for you. It also happens to be quite informative about Icelandic food and traditional ingredients.

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The book is too big for my scanner,
so I had to borrow an image of the cover from another website.
It is therefore not quite as large as I would have liked.


This prizewinning food book (honorary Gourmand Cookbook Award, 2007) was written by Chef Völundur Snær Völundarson, assisted by Haukur Ágústsson, with photographs by Hreinn Hreinsson, and published by Salka (Iceland), in 2006.

This is a heavy, large format book, more suitable for the coffee table than the kitchen. It combines the subjects of Iceland and cooking, with gorgeous photographs of Icelandic nature, people and food, and text about the same. The recipes are original and were conceived by the author to showcase how Icelandic ingredients can be used in fine cooking.

The author is very central to the book. He writes of his personal experiences and memories connected with food, and he is featured in many of the photographs, doing things like trout fishing, rappelling down a cliff to get seabird eggs, sculpting ice or cooking over hot lava.

There are short chapters on many traditional foods and ingredients, and there is even a chapter (with photos) on the old Þorri food.

While the recipes are all of the kind you could expect to be served in fine restaurants, it doesn’t follow that they are unsuitable for home cooking.

The recipes are heavy on fish and other seafood, but there are also meat recipes, and recipes for desserts.

Examples of recipes:
Creamed sea urchin soup
Fried tern eggs in tempura with aioli, micro basil and garlic roots
Smoked salmon with blini cakes, horseradish cream and trout roes
Cold smoked scallops with vodka jelly, scallion marmalade and Osetra caviar
Sautéed wolf fish in Parma ham and spinach with tomato and scallion risotto
Iceland moss curds
Red wine braised lamb shank with semolina cake
Nut-crusted fillet of reindeer with morel sauce and beet root sauce
Skyr topped with blueberries (one of the handful of traditional recipes in the book)
Brennivín baba


Verdict:
The landscape photography and chapters on traditional food make this a good souvenir of Iceland. There are only a handful of traditional recipes in it, so if you are a foodie looking for traditional or even just typical Icelandic food, this is not the book for you. If, however, you are a food lover and love to cook restaurant-style food and you are not particularly looking for specifically traditional recipes or home cooking, but merely something inspired by Iceland, this book is a good choice, and it would make a gorgeous gift.


Cost:
At the time of writing, Delicious Iceland costs 5620 kr. in the Penninn book store. There is a baby version that I could not review, that costs 2990 kr.

Practical information:
The measurements are given in cups and spoons.

The book has no index.

28/09/2007

Red pudding - Rauðgrautur

This is something that should appeal to kids:

1 litre red or purple fruit or berry juice, for example redcurrant, blackcurrant, raspberry, cranberry or pomegranate juice
60 g cooking starch (e.g. potato flour, cornflour, or sago)
Sugar to taste
Water, if needed

Put the cooking starch in a saucepan and stir in the juice. Heat gently to boiling. Add sugar to taste and thin with water if the flavour is too strong. When the juice boils, it should be thickened. Remove from the heat, pour into a large bowl and sprinkle sugar on top. Cool. Serve as a dessert.

22/09/2007

Icelandic cookbooks in English: Cool Dishes and Cool Cuisine

There are a number of Icelandic cookbooks available in English, most of them published in Iceland and aimed at the tourist market. Most are printed on heavy, glossy paper and some have gorgeous colour photographs in them, both of which makes them expensive. Buying one for the equivalent of 50 US Dollars or more and then discovering it isn't what you were looking for is an expensive mistake. Therefore I decided to review as many of them as I could get my hands on, to make it a little easier to decide which one to invest in.

Not all of the Icelandic cookbooks in the book stores are available from the library. I will stick to the ones I could get from the library, as I have been able to read them all the way through.

First up are Cool Cuisine and Cool Dishes, which is a baby version of the former. They were written by Icelandic food writer Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir, with photographs by Gísli Egill Hrafnsson and published by Vaka-Helgafell in 2004.

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These books combine gorgeous food photography with Icelandic recipes, most of which are traditional, although some are more traditional than others. By that I mean that there are recipes in the books that go back over a century, side by side with recipes that are less than 20 years old. A few are new, inspired by Icelandic raw materials.

You can't go wrong with these books as souvenirs for yourself or as gifts for a true food lover. Unlike some of the other Icelandic cookbooks I looked at, they are purely about the food, and are representative of what Icelanders really eat. You will not find fermented shark in there, nor sheep's heads or pressed sheep's testicles, but some of the old traditional food is in there, like smoked lamb (only how to cook it, not how to smoke it) blood pudding and halibut soup with prunes.

Cool Cuisine is 147 pages long and has some 92 recipes, more if you count separately the dishes that come with recipes for side dishes.

Cool Dishes is 72 pages and the recipes number 42. All the recipes in this book are found in the other, and all of what I would call the 'necessary' recipes are in this one.

Verdict:
Of the Icelandic cookbooks I have been looking at, these two are definitely the best buys if you are looking for nice foodie coffee table books that are still useful as cookbooks.

Cost:
I checked the prices in the Penninn book store, which are representative of the prices you can expect to pay for these books. They may cost more in tourist shops.

As of the time of writing Cool Cuisine costs 2290 kr. and Cool Dishes costs 920 kr.

Practical information:
All the measurements in the books are in metric, including the teaspoons and tablespoons, and the temperatures are given in centigrade (Celcius).

21/09/2007

Spice Cake - Kryddkaka

I got this recipe from my aunt several years ago and make it often. It has a delicious, rich flavour and is great with lots of butter. This is a big recipe, so I usually reduce it by half. I imagine it could be iced with cream cheese icing like a carrot cake, but I like it too much as it is to try that.

850 g (30 oz) flour
850 g (30 oz) dark brown sugar (this can safely be reduced to 700 g (25 oz))
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon, ground
1 tbs ginger, ground
1 tbs cloves, ground
1 tbs nutmeg, ground
660 ml (22 fl.oz) sweet brown ale (Egils Malt if you can get it)

Mix all the dry ingredients well together and then mix in the ale. Pour into an oven pan or loaf pans and bake at 175°C (350°F) for about an hour.
Very good with or without butter.

19/09/2007

Creamy mushroom soup

This is actually a classic recipe that has by now become international, but since it is mushroom season here in Iceland I thought I would show one way of using all those delicious wild mushrooms that are cropping up all over the place.

While I usually use instant packet soup as a base when I make creamy soups for myself (and then work a little kitchen magic so as to make it into something you would never suspect wasn't made from scratch), it is well worth the effort to make soup from scratch. Here's a recipe for mushroom soup:

200 g fresh mushrooms. Wild mushrooms are best, but you can use button mushrooms too and still get a very good soup.
50 g (2 tbs) butter
1 1/2 litre meat stock (you can use vegetable stock as well, but the flavour will be slightly different) – or try mushroom stock if you can get some
1 small onion or leek
100 ml cream
Salt, pepper

Brush the mushrooms gently to remove any dirt. Chop half of them very finely, and do the same with the onion. If the remaining mushrooms are small, use them whole, but otherwise slice or quarter them.

Melt half the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat and gently simmer the whole or sliced mushrooms in the butter for 2-3 minutes without browning. Remove them and put the rest of the butter in the saucepan and add the chopped mushrooms and onion and again simmer gently for 2-3 minutes without browning.

Add the stock and cook for 5 minutes. Add the bigger mushroom pieces and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the cream just before serving and bring to the boil. Add salt if needed. Serve with freshly baked crusty bread.

01/09/2007

Poll

The poll has ended and the results were a tie. Half of the participants preferred to send in requests through commenting and half by e-mailing me. Therefore I decided to make both possible. I will put an e-mail address on the sidebar soon that I can be contacted through privately. It may not be a live link, as I don't like spam, but whatever I do it will be easy to figure out how to use it.