A Pre Christmas Dinner.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a Pre Christmas Dinner chez Nous. Amazingly all were available and so to plan our meal. We decided to visit Smithfield, the London Meat market. but one has to go early, so off we trotted and were there at about 5.30 in the morning, but even so some of the traders had already left for the day. But what fun, oodles to choose from and the traders that were still there, all to a man ( and woman) were jolly.

A couple of these photos were taken in Mexico City, but meat markets seem to be the same world wide.

We thought that we would have a fillet of beef, something of a luxury, not usually cooked just for 2, and maybe not something that the kids could afford to serve. We also bought a 6 Kilo boned Turkey crown, for son who was doing his wonderful Turkey breast for Christmas day. A 6 Kilo Turkey breast is a tad on the large side, and so it was cut into 2 and frozen.

What else to have ? Well, I love Scallops and know that some of the others do as well. Right that takes care of starters, sautéed scallops with crisp pancetta and some Panko covered shrimp on a bed of leaves! Ah stop! Son in Law, allergic to shell fish, right, plan b) for him it is baked goats cheese on sourdough toast with the yummy deep pink ice cream that is Beetroot ice cream.
Onto the main event. Well roast beef, with a rich sauce, made with onions, port, dijon mustard, worcestershire sauce and blackcurrant jelly, UMM! along with baked potato skins filled with cheese mash, braised red cabbage, French beans. Ah Ah, maybe not every wants beef, so another plan b came into force, a Salmon Coulibiac ( a kind of Salmon Wellington) was also made, along with a beurre blanc sauce, and maybe something else should be an alternative, YES! Biriyani Rice, chop an assortment of vegetables, cook the rice, sauté it in wok along along with curry spices, add the vegetables, umm umm the smell is Devine.

Right, so now we can move onto dessert.
What to make? Well, Miss Tess, her dad and himself all love crumble, actually Miss Tess makes a pretty mean crumble herself ( she is 8) . So crumble it is, apple and raspberry in individual ramekins. Next Master Alfie Just loves Meringues, and so it is going to be a raspberry Pavlova with him in mind. And the rest, well Molton Chocolate Pots with stem ginger ice cream. And that should do it!

Whilst I busied myself in the kitchen, himself set the table ( it is his job and knows exactly what to do and how to do it, it might seem pretty easy but I can be kind of OCD when it comes to table settings) and after that being at a loose end he wrapped the presents. We were being conservative this year and a mere 7 hours later he had finished. We always put cryptic clues on our gifts and this was exacerbated by himself deciding to  to write them languages other than English, so constant trips to computer and bablefish !
All duly arrived, dinner was served. I am pretty sure everyone knows how to make a crumble mix, BUT although I am not a crumble eater, I choose to make my crumble topping separately from the actual filling and put the filling on wen itself is ready. This way I can make multiples of the mix as it freezes well, and is ready for future use.
My Crumble Mix
12 oz ( 340 grams) plain flour
4oz (113 grams) brown sugar you can use more if you have a sweet tooth
8oz ( 225 grams)unsalted butter
very simply if you have a food processor, put the flour and sugar into the processor and then add the COLD butter which has been cut into chunks. Switch on the machine and when the clonking stops ( in just a few seconds) it is ready!! How easy is that. You can add then if you like some ground almonds or chopped nuts to the mix.
Spread out onto a baking tray and bake 180C/350F/Gas 4.for about 20 mins or so, occasionally giving it a stir so that it all cooks evenly. Leave to cool and then can be used straight away or frozen. To assemble the crumble, either use fresh or frozen fruit, cook the fruit first and then top with the crumble mix and bake until hot. Can be made for a more formal occasion in ramekins rather than one big crumble. When I make it for himself, I usually make one large one and then when cold cut it into portions, and freeze, so that it is there ready for his late night snack !!

Still in Iceland

The Blue Lagoon

It seems that Iceland is the ” Must Go To” place this year, has always been on my list but we somehow never got there, until now. Recently himself declared” I know what our Christmas present will be, a trip to Iceland,” and so we went.

On our second night there we wandered over the frozen lake ( not actually on the lake, but on the road which crossed it) to DILL. On Trip Advisor, it is rated as the best restaurant in Iceland and is the only one with a Michelin star.( Did the inspectors really go all that way to review just one restaurant?) Again on Trip Advisor, it is rated as being expensive, of course this is very subjective, but a 7 course tasting menu, came at a cost of £92, which at Londons prices, is fairly reasonable. The cost of the wine pairings however cost another £79, which obviously pushes up the price of a night out. Then again, it is not obligatory to take the wine pairings and also one has to remember that in Iceland alcohol is very heavily taxed. With a population of only 330,00, money for social services, education etc, has to come from somewhere.

Dill is a small restaurant, with maybe sixteen or eighteen covers. reservations are for either 6.30, or 9.30. For us 6.30 is a tad too early, whereas 9.30 too late, but we took the 9.30 and then were able to push it forward a little.

It is housed in an old Barn and is connected to a bar and a Pizza restaurant as well. Apparently it is possible to order some of the dishes that are served in Dill, in the Pizza restaurant. (# 1 Daughter, the willowy Blond, was there recently with her three little ones and this is what they did)

Dill prides itself on fresh local ingredients, simplicity and taste. But I have to say we were a bit underwhelmed. Simplicity, it was not and taste was on the bland side. Simplicity? when we were told that the rhubarb, on one of the dishes, had ben cooked for 45 days, not 44 and not 46, BUT 45 ! I would surmise that, it is not simplicity.

These were the various Amuse Bouche, all of which are very attractive, set upon leaves they found and pine needles and crispy chicken skin. The most disappointing was the local bread, which was actually hanging from the rafters and the SKYR butter.

Skyr is Icelands answer to Yoghurt, and is very similar to the German Quark a cross between yoghurt and sour cream is the closest I can think of.

The second picture is Turnips, which have been dried, whilst the third is Reindeer, which had been shot by the chef. The fifth is Artic Char on Cabbage, the char having been dried was in fact quite salty ( and I am someone who like salt!) The lamb dish was very nice and it came with heart and liver ( which I passed along to himself). The best part of the meal however was the bottom right, it says, brown butter, celeriac and pine oil. The crumb, which I assume was the browned butter, reminded me very much of Speculoos, a Belgian biscuit. The other dessert, the purple one above was made with dill oil, blueberries and whey that had been marinated for 5 months.

The next night I insisted that we try one of the many Fish and Chip shops that abound in Reykjavik, and went to the Icelandic Fish and Chip shop. Unfortunately, again I would not recommend it. I am a self confessed connoisseur of Fish and Chips, an absolute fan and if this were to be my last meal request, then it would have to be Fish and Chips. The fish has to be in Batter, crisp and dry and the chips have to be also CRSIP, not a soggy mess. The RAC club on Pall Mall do a very good rendition of Fish and Chips. Himself is not so keen, but there has to be alternatives but sadly it was also not great.

So, obviously I had fish and chips, the choice of fish was Cod, Tusk ( is cod like and of the Ling family) or Ling ( Ling is a deep water fish a cross between Cod and Conger Eel) I chose the Cod.Himself chose the mussels, we are big fans of mussels, having lived in Belgium for 13 years where they are almost the national dish.

The mussels were small both in size and quantity ( a kilo per person is the norm) and they were small. This time of year they should be of a reasonable size. My fish, the batter and fish were fine, but chips??? where were the chips? Only sautéed potatoes and not chips.

We only saw such a tiny part of the Island, just around Reykjavik the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon we saw several very interesting museums but we would like to go back to see the Fjords and the Glaciers and try some more of their interesting and definitely different foods.

We are in Iceland ( the country and not the store)

We are in Iceland ( the country and not the store)

This week saw us visiting Iceland. The scenery alone is worth the visit, think Game of Thrones, the Wall in Winter and you have it right there.

We arrived to be met by the first snowfall of winter, but were also told that we were lucky that it was not windy. However the wind decided to greet us the next morning, just as we were heading out to “DO” the Golden circle. Fortunately , we had a car, so we were not restrained by tours and Tour busses. We set out at about 9 am and it was still pitch dark and remained so until almost 11am ! But by then we had reached out first port of call Pingvellir National Park. I really liked the look of the little church, but could get not closer than a quick look. I was amused by a sign that was by a stream, but even more amused by seeing the Scuba divers getting ready to dive! However, the church is Alþing (Althing), the site of Iceland’s parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries. And as for the scuba divers, this area is one of the best spots for diving in Iceland and as Iceland sits on the Atlantic ridge ( it is actually splitting in two by an inch a year) it is internationally famous. Apparently the water is very clear ( and cold). The rift is in the lake itself and becomes deep.

The park sits in a rift valley caused by the separation of 2 tectonic plates, with rocky cliffs and fissures like the huge Almannagjá fault.



We continued on to the Geysir area, where there is a very obliging Geysir,  (Strokkur) which blows every couple of minutes. We retired to the Cafe/tourist shop for a coffee and a pit stop, where I saw another sign which amused me.

11.16 in the morning !

Moving on, quickly as it not only gets light very late, it gets dark very early, so daylight time is very precious. We went to the waterfalls on the Golden Circle, which at this time were only partially frozen but no doubt they would be completely frozen in a few days time.

So onto Food. We ate in three very different restaurants. One with a Michelin star, ( the only one in Iceland I am led to believe ), one more Home Style and reputedly A.A.Gills favourite restaurant, and finally an Icelandic Fish and Chip shop.

But, I am getting ahead of myself. Bacon, I am sure we all know what bacon is and in some countries there is an alternative, which is Turkey bacon. It is a bit of a contradiction as Bacon comes from pigs and has a certain amount of fat, which adds to the flavour, which of course is missing with Turkey. However, and this was a first for me, Lamb Bacon, breast of lamb makes excellent bacon, the rashers are a bit on the skinny side but delicious. I have just googled this and it is available in the UK, if you are looking for something different, for your Full English !

Our first restaurant was called 3 Frakkar, ( the three overcoats) where we ate good food, albeit not terribly exciting. I had no idea what to expect from Icelandic cuisine. Fish, Fish and more Fish, is what sprang to mind. I was therefore really surprised to find that the Icelanders have over the centuries been really creative with their food. Needs must I suppose. When you consider that Iceland, which is part of Europe is 1,368 miles away, and from Canada it is 2,800 miles, so certainly during the winter months in years gone by, Iceland probably didn’t get much in the way of imported goods !

Our waitress Kristin from France was delightful, spoke excellent English( as did all of the Icelandic people we met) and she talked us through the menu. They certainly had  several options of local fare, including Whale, Puffin, Guillemot, Horse, Lamb, Cod, Halibut, Shark, Herrings and Artic Char. Himself chose the  Roast Whale,  which came with apples and Balsamic, he could also have chosen the Raw Whale which came as Sashimi. I had the plate of herrings , three ways, and the version I preferred was the one in a mustard sauce. 

For our mains, he chose the Halibut, which was good but we both felt that it would have been better without the sauce , and I had the Lamb which was delicious.

I had not thought that there would be a good source of Lamb in Iceland, but given that Lamb from Lundy ( an Island in the Bristol Channel) is good, the sheep just graze on grass and herbs, and I assume likewise in Iceland.

The roast Whale looked and tasted like roast beef, but apparently the raw Whale dish is a bit more fishy. For centuries Whales have played an important part in Icelandic life, and eaten Fresh, Salted or Smoked. The whale Fat or Blubber was an important source for lights. They no longer export Whale products and it is only for domestic use. They also eat Seals and Seal fat can be used as a substitute for butter. One could be excused for thinking “oh, they don’t eat Puffins /Guillemots do they? But why not? Here we eat all sorts of birds, Pheasants, grouse, Ducks of various shapes and sizes, so why not!

As I said previously, Icelanders were and still are very creative with what is available to them naturally. I am sure that every bit of a Lamb, a Cow, a Whale is used. None would have been wasted. Lamb Liver sausage was considered an Aphrodisiac, whilst Dung smoked Lamb is a National dish. Fermented Skate, or often called Smelly Skate is a traditional Christmas dish, as is roasted Lambs Head. I often buy a cookery book when I am in a land that is new to me, but I declined this one on the grounds of” Where on earth would I be able to get a Lambs Head?” Well the answer is SmithfieldMeat Market in the City of London! Who would have believed it?

To be continued, there is plenty more to say about Iceland, and I cant wait to go back, but maybe next time in the summer.