My first soufflé

Having spent 12 months of my life cooking recipes from every country in the world, I am often frustrated by the restrictions I place on my own cooking approach. I hate waste, the thought of spending hours cooking something that doesn’t taste good and my overriding obsession with tidiness hold me back from throwing caution to the wind. So with a determined and unleashed frame of mind, I decided to tackle my first ever soufflé. I’ve watched countless masterchef episodes where they have failed and succeeded in equal measure. As my palate prefers savoury, I opted to try a cheese and herb version adapted from a Nigel Slater recipe. All up it took about 45 minutes to make and was much simpler than I anticipated. I was rewarded with not only a tasty lunch, but a small sense of overcoming some of my self inflicted shackles. I felt I cooked mine a tad too much so I’ve reduced the cooking time – it should still be creamy inside.

Comte and chervil soufflé
Serves 2

Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

a knob of butter
5 – 10g parmesan, grated
150ml milk
1 bay leaf
2 large eggs, separated
30g plain flour
30g butter
50g comte cheese, grated
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp dried chervil
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees (fan)
Butter 2 ramekin dishes and then scatter each with grated parmesan shaking to cover all sides
Bring the milk and bay leaf to boil in a small pan, turn off the heat and set aside
Melt the butter in a pan and then add the flour, stirring continuously for a couple of minutes
Remove the bay leaf from the milk and add to the butter & flour, stirring to blend
Take it off the heat and let it rest for a minute or 2 before adding the egg yolks and stirring to a smooth consistency
Stir in the comte, mustard, chervil and seasoning
Whisk the egg whites until frothy but not stiff and then gently but thoroughly fold into the mixture
Pour into the ramekin dishes and tap to even out the surface
Cook in the preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown on top

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A day in a professional kitchen

As much as I love cooking, I also love eating out and one of our regular haunts is The Beehive pub and restaurant in White Waltham. We’ve visited many times since it was taken over by Dominic Chapman, who we knew previously from The Royal Oak in Paley Street. His food, quite simply is outstanding and never disappoints. Having been an avid Masterchef fan for years, I’ve always wanted to ‘do a service’ in a professional kitchen but it’s not exactly something you can buy on Amazon!! So I penned a message to Dom asking if he’d be kind enough to let me join him for a lunchtime service and lucky for me, he said yes!

So with great excitement, enthusiasm and some comfortable shoes (Dom’s recommendation!) I made my way to The Beehive for 9am on Tuesday morning. The kitchen is quite small but extremely organised. After meeting the team – Katie, Dave and Johnjo, I was given the task of preparing the beautiful fresh wild garlic that had arrived that morning. I then moved on to spelt bread loaves and with Johnjo’s guidance, I rolled and shaped the dough, placed them into their tins and watched them prove. I was delighted with Dom’s later comment ‘Nice bread Nat’! I watched in awe as the well rehearsed teamwork glided through the lunchtime service without a hitch and 30 covers later it was done. My final task of the day was by far my favourite, which perhaps has something to do with the fact that it’s one of the best dishes I’ve ever tasted and is one of Dom’s signature dishes – Rabbit lasagne. In all fairness, the hardwork had already been done so it was simply a case of assembling the lasagnes for dinner service. It was both therapeutic and rewarding bringing together all of the lovingly prepared ingredients into the final dish.

After 6 and a bit hours of being on my feet, I was definitely ready for a glass of wine!! I have the upmost respect for everyone in the restaurant business purely for the hours they put in, the care and love they give to their job and because it is seriously one of my favourite past times. Thank you Dom and team for welcoming me into your kitchen for the day. A very special day that I will remember forever.

In honour of my fabulous day and National Pie week, I cooked Dom’s chicken and mushroom pie … it was yum!

My top 20 recipes

1. Taiwan – Taiwanese minced pork

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2. Chad – Kachumbari (Chadian tomato and onion salad)

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3. Switzerland – Fondue

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4. Mexico – Chicken Enchiladas

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Chicken enchiladas

5. Paraguay – Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)

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Sopa Paraguaya (corn and cheese bread)

6. Italy – Risotto milanese

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Risotto alla Milanese (risotto with saffron)

7. Finland – Kalakeitto (fish stew)

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Kalakeitto (fish stew)

8. Luxembourg – Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon)

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Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon)

9. Spain – Tapas
Champinones al ajillo (garlic mushrooms)
Garbanzos con chorizo (chickpeas with chorizo)
Tortilla (Spanish omelette)
Croquetas de jamon (ham croquettes)
Padron peppers

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10. Sweden – Köttbulla (Swedish meatballs)

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11. South Korea – Bulgogi (grilled marinated beef)

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South Korea – Bulgogi (grilled marinated beef)

12. Honduras – Banana bread

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Honduran banana and coconut bread

13. Nicaragua – Tres leches (Three milks cake)

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14. Guyana – Roti (flatbread)

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Guyana – Rotis (flatbreads)

15. Guatemala – Chicharrónes (crispy pork skin)

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Chicharrones

16. China – Char Sui pork (“Fork roast” – Cantonese barbecued pork)

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Char Sui Pork (Cantonese BBQ pork)

17. Comoros – Poulet au Coco (Comorian coconut chicken)

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Poulet au Coco (Comorian coconut chicken)

18. France – Bœuf bourguignon (beef braised in red wine with onions and mushrooms)

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Bœuf bourguignon (beef braised in red wine with onions and mushrooms)

19. Micronesia – Kelaguen Chicken (Marinated chicken with coconut, spring onion & chilli)

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20. Solomon Islands – Fish curry with tomatoes

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Fish curry with tomatoes

A whole brill

On Friday I was lucky enough to pick up a whole brill half price in my local supermarket. I was quite surprised to see it there in the reduced section and as I like to challenge myself, I quickly grabbed it and put it in my trolley.

Several years ago my sister and I spent a wonderful few days taking a cookery class just outside Toulouse, where we learnt about all things duck, how to fillet flat fish, and what makes the perfect lemon tart. Since then I’ve only attempted to fillet a John Dory once or twice, so a large brill was definitely a step further in testing my knife skills.

When I got home I unpacked the brill and set about filleting it. I certainly wouldn’t win any awards for speed but I was pretty chuffed with my effort. My husband never used to eat fish at all and he is still somewhat nervous when he has to ‘face’ a fish head! Fortunately for him, all of the filleting was done by the time he got home.

I made fish stock from the bones and head, froze 2 large fillets and kept the 2 remaining fillets for our dinner – Brill with butter and tarragon. It’s such a simple recipe and I wonder why I don’t cook it more often. I felt ‘proper cheffy’ as I deftly spooned the frothy butter over the fish in the pan. It was a decadent delicious triumph, even if I say so myself.

Serves: 2

Prep time: 20 minutes (if you are filleting the fish yourself, otherwise 5 minutes)
Cook time: 6 – 8 minutes

2 brill fillets
plain flour
50g butter
2 tbsp veg oil
freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon
handful of chopped fresh tarragon

Put some flour on a large place, add the fish, cover with flour on both sides and shake off the excess.

Reserve 20g of the butter. Heat the oil and remaining butter over a medium high heat in a non stick frying pan large enough to hold both fish side by side. When it sizzles, add the fish skin side down and cook for 3 minutes. Turn them over and cook them on the other side for 3 minutes. Sprinkle the first side with salt while the second side is cooking.

Transfer the fish to a warmed plate. Return the frying pan to the heat, add the remaining butter and when its melted and starts to sizzle, lower the heat and add the lemon juice. Place the fish back into the pan skin side up, sprinkle with the tarragon and rapidly spoon over the melted butter for about 30 seconds (smile while you do this!). Serve immediately, pouring the sauce equally over each fish.

France

And so to the final country of my year cooking the world challenge…

France is my favourite country in the world, although the Maldives comes a very close second. A trip to France, for however long, never disappoints me. A few of my ultimate picks include Samoens Alpine ski resort, Biarritz beaches, Toulouse food, picture postcard Annecy, Provence’s lavender fields and the stunning architecture of Paris. It’s no surprise that it is the world’s most visited country with 83.7 million visitors in 2014. The Louvre is the most visited museum in the world with 9.3 million visitors annually.

France has the world’s sixth-largest economy by nominal figures. It is one of the largest exporters of luxury goods in the world, with the top four companies Cartier, Chanel, Hermes and Louis Vuitton alone worth billions. The French perfume industry is world leader in its sector and the town of Grasse is considered the world capital of perfume.

France has produced some of the world’s most influential writers and thinkers. They have won more Nobel Prizes for Literature (15) than any other country. It is also the birthplace of cinema, thanks to the Lumière brothers who held their first private screening of projected motion pictures in 1895. The Cannes film festival was founded in 1946 and is an invitation-only festival, set up to preview new films of all genres, from all around the world. The Palme d’Or is the highest prize awarded and was won by Ken Loach in 2016 for the drama file I, Daniel Blake.

In January 2010, International Living magazine annual Quality of Life survey ranked France as “best country to live in” for the fifth year running, crediting it to an unsurpassable quality of life and what is described as ‘the best health service in the world’.

French gastronomy was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status in 2010, when it was added to the list of ‘intangible cultural heritage of humanity’. They produce nearly a billion tons of cheese a year in around 1,200 different varieties. French cuisine is regarded as a key element of the quality of life and the attractiveness of France. Traditionally, each region of France has its own distinctive cuisine. Some of my favourite French dishes would be Escargots à la Bourguignonne (snails with garlic butter), Moules marinière (mussels in wine and cream sauce), Cassoulet (slow cooked casserole with pork sausages, goose, duck, pork skin and white beans), Bouillabaisse (fish and seafood stew), Soupe à l’oignon (French onion soup), Coq au vin (chicken braised in red wine, lardons and mushrooms), Croque monsieur (ham and cheese toasted sandwich), Duck a l’orange, Îles flottantes (meringue ‘islands’ floating in custard), Tarte Tatin (upside-down pastry tart) and Crêpes suzette (pancakes with orange caramel sauce and Grand Marnier). I opted to make my husband’s favourite dish, Bœuf bourguignon (beef braised in red wine with onions and mushrooms). As I mentioned before, one of my favourite films is Julie and Julia, so I used Julia Child’s recipe.

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 6
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 4 hours

For the Stew
6 ounces smoked bacon with rind
1 tbsp olive oil
3 lbs lean stewing beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 tsp salt
1⁄4 tsp pepper, freshly ground
2 tbsp flour
3 cups red wine (a full bodied wine like Bordeaux or Burgundy)
2 -3 cups beef stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, mashed (you may choose to add more)
1 sprig thyme (or 1/2 tsp dred thyme)
1 fresh bay leaf

For the braised onions
18 -24 white pearl onions, peeled
1 1⁄2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1⁄2 tbsp olive oil
1⁄2 cup beef stock
salt & fresh ground pepper
1 fresh bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh parsley

For the Sauteed Mushrooms
1 lb mushroom, quartered
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil

First prepare the bacon: cut off the rind and reserve.
Cut the bacon into lardons about 1/4″ thick and 1 1/2″ long.
Simmer the rind and the lardons for ten minutes in 2 1/2 pints of water.
Drain and dry the lardons and rind and reserve.
Pre-heat the oven to 450°F.
Put the tablespoon of olive oil in a large (9″ – 10″ wide, 3” deep) fireproof casserole and warm over moderate heat.
Saute the lardons for 2 to 3 minutes to brown lightly.
Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon.
Dry off the pieces of beef and saute them, a few at a time in the hot oil/bacon fat until nicely browned on all sides.
Once browned, remove to the side plate with the bacon.
In the same oil/fat, saute the onion and the carrot until softened.
Pour off the fat and return the lardons and the beef to the casserole with the carrots and onion.
Toss the contents of the casserole with the salt and pepper and sprinkle with the flour.
Set the uncovered casserole in the oven for four minutes.
Toss the contents of the casserole again and return to the hot oven for 4 more minutes.
Now, lower the heat to 325°F and remove the casserole from the oven.
Add the wine and enough stock so that the meat is barely covered.
Add the tomato paste, garlic and herbs and the bacon rind.
Bring to a simmer on the top of the stove.
Cover and place in the oven, adjusting the heat so that the liquid simmers very slowly for three to four hours.
The meat is done when a fork pierces it easily.
While the meat is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms and set them aside till needed.
For the onion, if using frozen, make sure they are defrosted and drained.
Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet and add the onions to the skillet.
Saute over medium heat for about ten minutes, rolling the onions about so they brown as evenly as possible, without breaking apart.
Pour in the stock, season to taste, add the herbs, and cover.
Simmer over low heat for about 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape and the liquid has mostly evaporated.
Remove the herbs and set the onions aside.
For the mushrooms, heat the butter and oil over high heat in a large skillet.
As soon as the foam begins to subside add the mushrooms and toss and shake the pan for about five minutes.
As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.
To Finish the Stew:.
When the meat is tender, remover the casserole from the oven and empty its contents into a sieve set over a saucepan.
Wash out the casserole and return the beef and bacon to it (discarding the bits of carrot and onion and herbs which remain in the sieve).
Distribute the mushrooms and onions over the meat.
Skim the fat off the sauce and simmer it for a minute or two, skimming off any additional fat which rises to the surface.
You should be left with about 2 1/2 cups of sauce thick enough to coat a spoon lightly.
If the sauce is too thick, add a few tablespoons of stock.
If the sauce is too thin, boil it down to reduce to the right consistency.
Taste for seasoning.
Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables.
If you are serving immediately, place the covered casserole over medium low heat and simmer 2 to 3 minutes.
Serve in the casserole or on a warm platter surrounded by noodles, potatoes or rice and garnished with fresh parsley.
If serving later or the next day, allow the casserole to cool and place cold, covered casserole in the refrigerator.
20 minutes prior to serving, place over medium low heat and simmer very slowly for ten minutes, occasionally basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce.

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Louvre, Paris
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On our trip to Paris in Feb 2016
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Samoëns ski resort, France
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The chalet we stay at in Samoëns
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Annecy
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Lavender field in Provence
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Biarritz beach

Spain

The Kingdom of Spain was the leading world power throughout the 16th and most of the 17th century, however continued wars and other problems eventually led to a diminished status. It maintained and enlarged its vast overseas empire, which remained intact until the beginning of the 19th century. When the Carthaginians arrived in Spain in 300 BCE they called it Ispania, which meant “land of the rabbits” which over time has changed to España.
I’ve visited Spain many many times and it is a truly wonderful place. My highlights include exploring the stunning Alhambra Palace in Granada, lazing on sun drenched beaches in the Balearics, sampling exquisite pintxos in San Sebastián, shopping in my favourite store – Massimo Dutti in Madrid, and dancing the night away in Barcelona’s W Hotel rooftop bar.
A few interesting facts:
Spain was the third most visited country in the world in 2015 with 68.1 million visitors
The Sagrada Familia church in Spain, has been under construction for over 130 years and it’s only expected to be complete by 2026
There are no laws against public nudity in Spain
The world’s oldest existing lighthouse is the Tower of Hercules, in Spain, erected in the first century and still operational
Spain produces 45% of all olive oil in the world and it accounts for 20% of the world’s olive oil consumption
Britain accidentally invaded Spain in 2002. About 20 Royal Marines disembarked in Spain instead of Gibraltar for 5 minutes until the error was recognised and they all withdrew
There’s a zipline connecting Spain and Portugal. It’s 2,365 ft (720 m) and 60 seconds long
The youngest king ever was Alfonso XIII of Spain, who became king the day he was born
There’s a direct descendant of Christopher Columbus alive today. His name is Cristóbal Colón de Carvajal y Gorosábel and he’s the 18th Duke of Veragua
The Eiffel Tower was originally intended for Barcelona, Spain, but the project was rejected as it was “too expensive and strange”
Real Madrid is the most valuable sports team in the world with annual revenues of $650m and a brand value of $3.3 billion

Spanish cuisine has humble origins and is the result of ingredients put together by poor peasants or farmers often using leftovers. Geography and climate, had great influence on cooking methods and available ingredients. One of the things that makes Spanish food so popular is the quality and variety of the ingredients. Jamon Iberico is considered the best and most expensive ham in the world. Some favourite Spanish dishes include Paella (Valencian rice dish), Esqueixada (salted cod salad with tomato and onion), Ajo blanco (almond soup), Gazpacho (cold soup made from raw vegetables), Polbo á feira (Galician octopus), Conejo en salmorejo (braised rabbit in paprika sauce), Cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig) and Crema catalana (burnt cream). I decided to make a selection of Tapas – Champinones al ajillo (garlic mushrooms), Garbanzos con chorizo (chickpeas with chorizo), Tortilla (Spanish omelette), Croquetas de jamon (ham croquettes) and Padron peppers. Although it was quite a lot of effort, it was absolutely worth it. They were all delicious, but the chickpeas were super scrumptious!

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 2-3 hours
Cook time: 2 hours

Champinones al ajillo (garlic mushrooms)

500 grams mushrooms
5 or 6 cloves of garlic cut in slices
1/3 cup (100 ml) olive oil
½ or more cup white wine
½ cup of pieces of jamon Serrano or cubes of deli ham (optional)
a generous pinch of salt
pepper to taste
1 tbsp. chopped parsley

First clean and slice your mushrooms and peel and slice the garlic
For cooking this dish you can use a clay casserole dish or a regular frying pan
Heat a generous amount of olive oil, just enough so that the garlic doesn’t burn but not so much that its completely swimming
After a couple minutes add the mushrooms and the white wine
Feel free to also add a bit more oil if you need to
The mushrooms will take about 10 minutes to cook and you can add the ham bits at any time
When they are cooked, and most of the juice has been cooked off, add salt, pepper and the chopped parsley

Garbanzos con chorizo (chickpeas with chorizo)

1 tin chickpeas
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 onion, chopped
1 carrots, chopped
200g spicy chorizo, sliced
150g dry-cured bacon, cubed
700ml chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 pinch sea salt
1 pinch fresh ground black pepper
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, freshly chopped

Heat the oil in a saucepan and lightly fry the chopped garlic, onions and carrots
When the vegetables are nicely golden, add the chorizo and bacon and fry until the bits are brown all over
Add the stock and the bay leaf and bring to the boil
Add the chickpeas and cook for about 1 hour (taste to check they’re cooked)
While they are cooking, skim off any foam or chorizo fat that comes to the surface
Once the chickpeas are soft but not mushy, season to taste
Add a little boiling water if you like a more soupy consistency
Drizzle a little olive oil over the top and scatter over the chopped parsley

Tortilla (Spanish omelette)

100ml olive oil for the potato
2 medium potatoes, finely sliced
1/2 onion, finely sliced
2 large free-range eggs
2 tbsp olive oil for the tortilla
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

In a saucepan, heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the potatoes and the onion and cook for around 10 minutes or until they are soft. Drain the oil.
In a bowl, beat the eggs and add the potato and onion mixture, combining well.
Heat the oil in a non-stick 15 cm frying pan. When the oil is hot, add the mixture. Swirl the pan over a high heat until the mixture starts to set around the edges, then reduce the heat and cook for 4–5 minutes until it just starts to set and the bottom and sides are golden, but it is still quite loose in the middle.
Cover the pan with a flat lid or board and turn the tortilla carefully onto it. Don’t worry that it is still quite runny – it will all come back together when you continue to cook it. Slide the tortilla back into the pan, then put the pan back on a low heat. Use a spatula to tuck the edges of the tortilla under to give it its characteristic curved look. Cook for a couple of minutes, then turn onto a board and keep warm.
The tortilla should still be lovely and juicy in the middle when you cut into them

Croquetas de jamon (ham croquettes)

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ small leek, diced as small as possible – 3mm pieces
70g Ibérico or other air-dried ham, diced very small
60g plain flour
75ml ham or vegetable stock
325ml whole milk
freshly grated nutmeg
sea salt and freshly ground
black pepper
75g plain flour
2 large eggs, beaten
25g manchego cheese, finely grated
75g breadcrumbs
oil, for frying

Heat the olive oil in a pan until it starts to shimmer, then add the leek and sauté until soft but not coloured
Stir in the ham, fry for another minute, then stir in the flour and fry over a medium heat until the mixture is golden but not burnt, this will take about 5 minutes. It is important that the flour is cooked properly otherwise the croquetas will taste of flour.
Combine the stock and milk in a small pan and heat until hot but not boiling. Season the liquid with a few scrapes of nutmeg. Gradually add the liquid to the roux, a few tablespoons at a time, stirring the mixture all the time. Once you have incorporated all the milk, continue to cook the sauce for about 5 minutes until it thickens and leaves the sides of the pan when you stir it. At this stage, add a couple of turns of the pepper mill, taste the roux and adjust the salt if necessary – the ham can be very salty to start with. The sauce is now done: it’s got to be really thick because you don’t want the croquetas to turn into pancakes! Smooth the sauce on to a baking tray (30cm x 20cm is fine) then cover with clingfilm to stop the mixture drying out. Leave it to cool before putting it in the fridge for an hour.
When you are ready for the next stage, line up three bowls: one with flour, the other with beaten egg, and the third with the breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Dust your hands with flour, take a ball and roll it between your palms. The size of the croquettes is up to you, but the easiest is a walnut-sized ball. Next, dunk the croqueta into the flour – you want more of dusting than a coat – followed by the egg and then the breadcrumbs. Put the croquetas on a tray and when you’ve used up all the mixture, put them all back in the fridge for 30 minutes.
If you have a deep fat fryer, heat the oil to 175°C/325°F and fry the croquetas for a couple of minutes. If not, heat the oil in a frying pan until it starts to shimmer, then add 3 or 4 croquetas at a time and fry until they are golden all over. You don’t want them to cook too quickly otherwise the centre won’t be hot enough.

Padron peppers

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces whole Padrón peppers
Sea salt flakes

Heat olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat
Add the peppers to the pan in a single layer
Fry the peppers, moving constantly until the peppers begin to brown and blister, do not overcook
Remove from the oil and drain on a rack lined with paper towels
Sprinkle with sea salt and serve immediately

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Indulging in Spanish Tapas!
Parte Vieja. Old town. Donostia. San Sebastian. Basque Country. Spain.
Pintxos bars in San Sebastián
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Aguas Blancas beach, Ibiza
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Alhambra Palace, Granada
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Barcelona’s W Hotel rooftop bar
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Enjoying the Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid, Spain

United Kingdom

The UK consists of four countries — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are also 14 British Overseas Territories including Bermuda, Cayman Island and Montserrat. These are the remnants of the British Empire which, at its height in the 1920s, encompassed almost a quarter of the world’s land mass and was the largest empire in history.

Some interesting facts
The Queen is the legal owner of one-sixth of the Earth’s land surface
In 2015, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest-reigning UK monarch ever (64 years), surpassing Queen Victoria’s 63
The word “Britain” is derived from “Pretain” meaning “painted”, originally because the Britons had tattoos
In the UK, accents change noticeably about every 25 miles
There is a law that states it is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament
The world’s shortest scheduled airline flight lasts 2 minutes and connects Westray and Papa Westray in Orkney
Life expectancy in the UK was around 47 in 1900, it is now 80
London has more Indian restaurants than Mumbai or Delhi
The UK is ranked as the sixth major tourist destination in the world and London has the most international visitors of any city in the world
The UK has an external debt of $9.6 trillion dollars, second only in the world to the US’$18.5 trillion dollar debt

It is said that food rationing imposed during British wartime was the reason for the food’s international poor reputation. Modern British cuisine has been influenced by many TV chefs including Delia Smith, Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and my personal favourite, Nigel Slater Some British cuisine classics include the full breakfast, fish and chips, roast beef and yorkshire pudding, steak and kidney pie, sandwiches and Cornish pasty. However, British cuisine has taken on the cultural influence of those who have settled in Britain, producing hybrid dishes, such as chicken tikka masala. I opted to cook the traditional Christmas dinner which has been served at tables in England since the late 16th century. Roast Turkey with the all the trimmings. For many years we have followed the same recipe for the Roast Turkey which involves removing and boning the legs then stuffing them with sausagemeat. It means the turkey doesn’t need as much cooking and the legs are easily carved and shared around. It was thoroughly enjoyed by the whole family.

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 8 – 10 (with some leftovers)
Prep time: 3 hours
Cook time: 3 & 1/2 hours

6kg free range turkey
450g sausages, skins removed
350g sausagemeat
6 slices parma ham
1 lemon, halved
1 onion, halved
3 carrots, roughly chopped
3 sticks celery, roughly chopped
2 onions, roughly chopped
250g butter
Salt and pepper

To make the turkey stock
Turkey giblets
Turkey leg bones
10 peppercorns
1 tsp salt
2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tsp mixed herbs

To make the gravy
50g plain flour
500ml turkey stock
150ml red wine
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp marmite
1 beef oxo cube
Salt & pepper

To prepare the turkey (which can be done a day in advance):
Start by removing the legs from the turkey with a sharp knife (the wings should remain on the turkey)
Then remove the main bone from the turkey leg and then remove the smaller bones from the flesh
Flatten out the leg, cover with clingfilm and then bash it down with a rolling pin
Dot the leg with 50g of slice butter and season well with salt & pepper
Place half of the sausages (removed from the skins) on to the middle of the leg meat lengthways
Roll the leg lengthways into a sausage shape and tie up securely with string at both ends and in the middle
Repeat this for the other leg
Wrap each leg in tin foil.
Just one of the stuffed legs is sufficient to go with the turkey, so you can freeze the other leg

To make the stock (this can also be done a day in advance):
Put the giblets and leg bones into a large stockpot with the vegetables, peppecorns, salt and herbs
Cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 90 minutes, remove the scum as necessary
Remove from the heat and strain the liquid then flake some giblet meat into the liquid
Reserve until ready to make gravy

To cook the turkey:
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
Place the celery, carrots and onion in a baking dish big enough for the turkey
Stuff the sausagemeat into the neck end of the turkey and tuck the skin in securely
Place the onions and lemons inside the cavity
Place 150g of sliced butter over the top of the turkey breasts and season liberally with salt & pepper
Layer the slices of parma ham over the butter
Cover the turkey loosely with foil
Cook the turkey for 3 hours then remove the foil and cook for a further 30 minutes
Remove from the oven, transfer to a carving board and let it rest for 1 hour before carving
Take the sausagemeat out of the turkey neck and slice
Serve with the gravy and your favourite Christmas vegetables

To cook the turkey leg:
Place on a baking tray and cook for 1 hour in a preheated oven to 190 degrees
Open the foil and place back in the oven for 15 minutes
Remove from the oven and let it rest for 20 minutes before slicing

To make the gravy:
Using the dish the turkey was cooked in, sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and place over a medium heat stirring continuously
Cook the flour for a few minutes before stirring in the red wine and stock
Bring to a rolling simmer and cook for 30 minutes
Add the worcestershire sauce, marmite, oxo cube and season well
Continue to cook for 10 minutes, checking the seasoning
Place into a warmed gravy jug

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Roast Turkey
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Roast Turkey
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Roast Turkey
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Roast Turkey
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Celebrating Christmas Day 2016
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Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
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Isle of Skye, Scotland
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Gower Peninsula, Wales
giants-causeway-northern-ireland
Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland

El Salvador

El Salvador, literally “The Savior” was named by Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado, who was the first governor until his death in 1541. The history of El Salvador has been a struggle against many conquistadors, empires, dictatorships and world powers. As the smallest country in continental America, El Salvador is affectionately called Pulgarcito de America (the “Tom Thumb of the Americas”). There have been many destructive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The capital San Salvador was destroyed in 1756 and 1854, and it suffered heavy damage in the 1919, 1982, and 1986 tremors. Santa Ana Volcano is the highest volcano in El Salvador at 7,760 feet above sea level.

There are eight species of sea turtles in the world, four of which make their home on the Salvadoran coast: the Leatherback turtle, the Hawksbill, the Green Sea turtle and the Olive Ridley. Since 2008, FUNZEL (the Zoological Foundation of El Salvador) has established more than 15 incubation hatcheries that receive eggs from more than 44 beaches in El Salvador. They have released more than 3 million sea turtle hatchlings from all four species.

El Salvador is a popular destination for surfing. There is surf all along the coast but a good place to start is La Libertad with waves like The Pier, La Paz and Playa Conchalio that are great for beginners. The ultimate waves are Punta Roca in the west, and Las Flores and Punta Mango in the east.

Traditional Salvadoran cuisine consists of food from Native American cuisine, indigenous Lenca, Maya, Pipil and European Spanish peoples. Popular dishes include Pupusa (stuffed corn tortilla), Salvadoran enchiladas, Yuca frita (deep fried cassava), Pan con pollo/pavo (turkey or chicken-filled submarine sandwiches), Lomo entomatado (beef with tomatoes), Ceviche de camarones (lime-cooked shrimp), Salvadoran Albóndigas (meatballs), Pescado empanizado (breaded, fried fish fillets) and Maria Luisa (layered cake soaked in marmalade). I opted to cook Carne guisada (saucy beef with potatoes and carrots) which was unctuously delicious.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 3 hours

Achiote paste:
1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon white vinegar
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

600g beef (chuck steak)
salt
pepper
2 tbsp vegetable oil
¼ cup red cooking wine
¾ cup water, plus water to cover
2 bay leaves
1 tsp achiote
1 cup chopped tomatoes or passata
1 tsp minced garlic
¼ cup diced onion
1 tsp basil
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
6 large carrots, cut in large chunks
1 to 1.5 lbs. potatoes (or yucca), cut in large chunks

Make the Achiote paste by blending all the ingredients together in a pestle and mortar

1. Pat the chuck roast with a clean, dry paper towel to remove any excess moisture. In a stainless steel pan, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over high heat. Season the chuck roast with salt and pepper. When the oil is very hot and begins to smoke a little, carefully place the chuck roast in the pot. Do not move or attempt to lift the chuck roast while it’s searing. Shake the pan a little once in awhile to see if it’ll come loose on its own. When it easily comes loose on its own, that means it’s finished searing, (about 1 to 2 minutes.) There should be a nice crust on the meat. Carefully flip it over and sear the other side.

2. Remove the chuck roast to a plate while you deglaze the pan. How to deglaze the pan: Add ¾ cup water and ¼ cup red cooking wine to the pan immediately after you remove the meat. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to remove any bits that are stuck to it. Stir boiling 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat. This “base” liquid will add a lot of flavor and we’re going to add it to the pot where we cook the meat the rest of the way.

3. Cut the meat into large chunks and put into a large pot with the “base” liquid. Add enough water to cover (for me it was 4 cups.) Add the bay leaves and achiote. Bring to a slow simmer and cover. Cook slowly on low heat for tender meat. If you cook it faster on higher heat the dish won’t be completely ruined or anything, but the meat will be much less tender, so avoid boiling. If the liquid comes to a boil, lower the heat. I cooked mine for about 2 hours and the burner was around the “2” setting on my stove. After 30 minutes to an hour, you may see that the meat is already cooked through but if you try to pull it apart with a fork, you won’t be able to – This means the meat has not cooked long enough. Trust me, cook it to around 2 hours and you will see how tender it becomes.

4. In a blender, combine tomato sauce, garlic, onion, basil, and Worcestershire sauce. Blend until combined. Add to the pot. (Don’t do this until the meat is done cooking or nearly done cooking.) Also add the carrots and potatoes to the pot. Simmer covered until vegetables are fork tender. Remove from heat. Do not cook too long after adding the vegetables as you don’t want them to get mushy. Add salt to taste.

Optional: If you prefer to thicken the sauce (I do), you can remove one cup of the liquid and whisk in a few tablespoons of flour, then add the thickened liquid back to the pot. Tip: Do not add flour directly to the pot. It must be whisked to combine properly and you can’t do that with the meat and vegetables in the way.

Serve with rice and tortillas

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Ingredients for Carne guisada (saucy beef with potatoes and carrots)
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Carne guisada (saucy beef with potatoes and carrots)
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Carne guisada (saucy beef with potatoes and carrots)
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Carne guisada (saucy beef with potatoes and carrots)
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Carne guisada (saucy beef with potatoes and carrots)
la-libertad-el-salvador
La Libertad beach, El Salvador
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Pedro de Alvarado
santa-ana-volcano-el-salvador
Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador

Kosovo

The Republic of Kosovo is a partially recognised state in Southeast Europe, that declared independence from Serbia in February 2008. The capital and largest city is Pristina, which has been inhabited for nearly 10,000 years. The Pristina region is home to Gračanica monastery, a Unesco world heritage site since 2006, which was rebuilt by the Serbian king Stefan Milutin in 1321 on the ruins of a 6th-century early Christian three-naved basilica. Pristina also features the Great Hammam, a 15th century Turkish bath and one of the first buildings built under Ottoman rule. Kosovo was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1455 to 1912.

Kosovo is surrounded by mountains including the Sharr and Kopaonik mountain ranges. It also has a large number of karst springs, thermal and mineral water springs. One of Kosovo’s most prominent geological features is the Rugova Canyon of the Accursed Mountains, which is a 25 km long canyon. It was declared a protected monument of natural heritage due to its geological, hydrological, speleological and botanic values and its spectacular landscape.

Kosovo has large reserves of lead, zinc, silver, nickel, cobalt, copper, iron and bauxite. According to a joint survey conducted in 2005 by the Directorate for Mines and Minerals and the World Bank, it is estimated that Kosovo had €13.5 billion worth of minerals. Since the declaration of independence in 2008 Kosovo’s economy has grown each year. The assets of the banking system have increased from 5% of GDP in 2000 to 60% of GDP as of January 2012.

Kosovo became a full member of the International Olympic Committee on 9 December 2014 and they participated in the 2015 European Games in Baku and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Majlinda Kelmendi, a judoka, was the first Kosovan Olympic athlete to win a gold medal at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

Cuisine in Kosovo has been significantly influenced by Turkish cuisine and Albanian cuisine. Popular recipes include Burek (baked filled pastries), flija (crepe layers brushed with cream and served with kaymak), kebab, suxhuk (spicy sausage) stuffed peppers and sarma (meat wrapped with cabbage or vine leaves). I decided to make Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole), thanks to Mimoze, one of my blog followers for the recipe. It was really delicious and warming on a cold winter’s day.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 3
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour

2 400g tins cannellini beans
200g rump steak, chopped into small chunks
50g smoked beef or pork, sliced into small pieces (optional)
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
1/2 tbsp pimenton
2 tbsp vegetable oil
500ml beef stock
1 tsp flour mixed with 2 tbsp water
1/2 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper

Drain the beans and rinse thoroughly
Heat the oil in a casserole dish
Fry the onion and garlic over a low – medium heat for 5 – 7 minutes until soft
Add the pimenton, salt & pepper
Turn the heat up to medium, add the steak and smoked beef or pork (if using), stirring well to coat
Pour in the beef stock followed by the beans and bring to a boil then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 30 minutes, stirring ocassionally
Preheat the oven to 180
Carefully stir in the flour mix and then put the casserole dish in the oven and cook for 20 minutes (you can put them in individual pots if you have them)
Serve immediately with some fresh bread

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Ingredients for Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole)
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Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole)
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Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole)
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Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole)
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Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole)
rugova-canyon-kosovo
Rugova Canyon, Kosovo
gracanica-monastery-kosovo
Gračanica monastery, Kosovo
kopaonik-mountains
Kopaonik mountain range

Philippines

The Republic of the Philippines is a Southeast Asian country in the Western Pacific, comprising more than 7,000 islands and named after King Phillip II of Spain.

A few interesting facts:
The world’s largest pearl was discovered by a Filipino diver in the Palawan Sea in 1934. The gem weighs 14 pounds, is valued at US$40 million and is believed to be 600 years old.
The Philippines is the world’s largest producer of coconuts producing 19,500,000 tons in 2009
The Philippines is one of only 3 countries where skunks are found (Indonesia & US are the other two), they are known as skunk badgers
The city of Manilla is the world’s most densely populated city with 41,515 people per square kilometer
The Philippines is home to the world’s longest snake, the Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus), which also happens to be the world’s longest reptile. It can grow to 28.5 feet (8.7 m) in length
The Mindanao Trench or Philippine Trench, to the east of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean, is the third deepest spot under the world’s oceans at a depth of 10,540 metres
The Battle of Leyte Gulf is generally considered to be the largest naval battle of World War II and, by some criteria, possibly the largest naval battle in history. It was fought in waters near the Philippine islands of Leyte, Samar and Luzon, from 23–26 October 1944

There is no shortage of beautiful beaches in the Philippines, to name a few – the White Beach on Borocay Island (named “Best Island in the World” by travel magazine Travel + Leisure in 2012), El Nido in Palawan (Best Island in 2016), Puerto Galera, Samal Island, Davao City and Panglao Island, Bohol.

Philippine cuisine adopted the preferred Austronesian methods for food preparation; boiling, steaming and roasting and takes influence from by the cuisines of Malay-Indonesia, India, Japan, China, Spain and America. Dishes centre around the combination of sweet (tamis), sour (asim), and salty (alat). Filipino recipes I came across include Afritada (chicken and/or pork and potatoes cooked in tomato sauce), Tinolang Manok (chicken soup), Lechon (roasted whole pig), Torta (omelette), Kaldereta (goat meat stew), Mechado (braised larded beef), Kare-kare (oxtail stew), Sinigang (sour soup) and Bibingka (rice cake). I made Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, bay leaves and soy sauce), which is one of the most popular Filipino dishes and can also be made with chicken. It was simple to make and full of flavour.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 10 minutes + 2 hours marinating
Cook time: 1 hr 10 minutes

450g pork belly
2 cloves of garlic pounded
3 bay leaves
1/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cups water
1/8 cup malt vinegar
1 tbsp cooking oil

Marinate pork belly, soy sauce, bay leaves & garlic for at least 1 hour in a pan or wok.
Turn the heat on the pan to medium and stir well
Add water and simmer for 30-45 minutes
Add vinegar and simmer for 10-15 minutes
Turn off the heat and separate the meat from the marinade
Add the oil to the pan over a medium – high heat
Fry the meat for 5 – 10 minutes
Add the sauce, stir and serve with hot rice

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Ingredients for Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, bay leaves and soy sauce)
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Pork belly pieces
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Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, bay leaves and soy sauce)
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Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, bay leaves and soy sauce)
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Adobo (pork braised in garlic, vinegar, oil, peppercorns, bay leaves and soy sauce) with rice
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Borocay Island
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Manila, Philippines
Aerial of Beach Along St. John Island
Philippines