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

Advertisements

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!

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.

louvre-paris
Louvre, Paris
img_7378
On our trip to Paris in Feb 2016
img_0405
Samoëns ski resort, France
img_2895
The chalet we stay at in Samoëns
annecy-france
Annecy
lavender-field-provence
Lavender field in Provence
p1010210
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

fullsizeoutput_1377
Indulging in Spanish Tapas!
Parte Vieja. Old town. Donostia. San Sebastian. Basque Country. Spain.
Pintxos bars in San Sebastián
aguas-blancas-beach-ibiza
Aguas Blancas beach, Ibiza
alhambra-palace-granada
Alhambra Palace, Granada
img_3658
Barcelona’s W Hotel rooftop bar
img_9095
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

img_3673
Roast Turkey
img_3675
Roast Turkey
img_3677
Roast Turkey
img_3696
Roast Turkey
img_3705
Celebrating Christmas Day 2016
big-ben-and-the-houses-of-parliament-london
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
isle-of-skye-scotland
Isle of Skye, Scotland
gower-peninsula-wales
Gower Peninsula, Wales
giants-causeway-northern-ireland
Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland

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

img_3760
Ingredients for Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole)
img_3764
Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole)
img_3767
Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole)
img_3772
Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole)
img_3775
Pasul në tavë (bean and beef casserole)
rugova-canyon-kosovo
Rugova Canyon, Kosovo
gracanica-monastery-kosovo
Gračanica monastery, Kosovo
kopaonik-mountains
Kopaonik mountain range

Luxembourg

Luxembourg is a parliamentary representative democracy with a constitutional monarch, ruled by a Grand Duke. It is the world’s only remaining sovereign Grand Duchy. The country has a highly developed economy, with the second highest GDP per capita in the world, after Qatar. Luxembourg is a founding member of the EU, NATO, United Nations, Benelux and the Western European Union, reflecting the political consensus in favour of economic, political and military integration.

Consistently ranked among the world’s top three nations in both wealth and wine consumption. Luxembourg’s prosperity was formerly based on steel manufacturing, however with the decline of that industry, Luxembourg diversified and is now best known for its status as Europe’s most powerful investment management centre.

The country is mostly rural, featuring dense Ardennes forest, nature parks in the north rocky gorges in the east and the Moselle river valley in the southeast. Its capital, Luxembourg city, is famed for its medieval old town perched on sheer cliffs. A popular tourist attraction is the vast Bock Casemates tunnel encompassing a dungeon, prison and the Archaeological Crypt. These subterranean tunnels and passageways were first built in 1644, in the era of the Spanish domination, and in 1933 they were opened to the public. Luxembourg is also home to “Europes most beautiful balcony” – Le Chemin de la Corniche, a cobbled promenade along the side of a cliff, with views across the river canyon, the Alzette valley and the viaduct.

Luxembourgish cuisine is influenced by the cuisines of neighbouring France, Belgium and Germany. It’s certainly not a cuisine for those on a diet, but it’s definitely tasty with lots of meat, fish, potatoes, beans, and dashes of cream and wine. Some of the tasty recipes I considered were Judd mat Gaardebounen (smoked neck of pork with broad beans), F’rell Am Rèisleck (fried trout in a rich Riesling wine and cream sauce) Stäerzelen (a dish made of buckwheat flour with smoked bacon and cream), Friture (fried fish from Luxembourg’s part of the Moselle river), Gromperekichelcher (crispy fried potato cakes or fritters), Huesenziwwi (hare stew) and Paschtéit or bouchée à la reine (like vol aux vents). I opted for Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon) which was exceptional.

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time 1 hr 15 minutes

400g green beans, sliced in 1 cm pieces
100g onions, chopped
150g potatoes, cubed
100g smoked bacon
25g butter
1500ml chicken or vegetable stock
75ml double cream or crème fraiche
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
Salt
Freshly ground pepper

Heat the butter in a large saucepan and fry the bacon for 5 minutes
Add the chopped onions and fry for 5 minutes
Add salt, pepper and mint, beans and stock
Cook for 45 minutes
Add diced potatoes and cook for 20 minutes until they are just soft
Add cream
Check seasoning and serve

img_3472
Ingredients for Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon)
img_3474
Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon)
img_3475
Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon)
img_3481
Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon)
img_3483
Bouneschlupp (green bean soup with smoked bacon)
vianden-castle
Vianden Castle
le-chemin-de-la-corniche
Le Chemin de la Corniche
luxembourg-city
Luxembourg City

Belgium

The Kingdom of Belgium is located in Western Europe and the capital, Brussels, is home to the headquarters of the European Union and NATO.

The Belgian coastal tram Kusttram is the longest tram line in the world at 68km long. It opened in 1885 and operates between De Panne and Knokke-Heist, from the French border to the Dutch border.

The Law Courts of Brussels is the largest court of justice in the world. It has a built land area of 26,000 m² at ground level, which makes it bigger than the Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome (21,000 m²).

Belgium has been producing chocolate for almost 400 years, with the first evidence of chocolate production dating back to 1635. Today Belgium produces over 220,000 tons of chocolate per year, and there are an estimated 2,000 chocolate shops.

Belgium holds the world record for the most lights lit simultaneously on a Christmas tree at 194,672 and was achieved by Kiwanis Malmedy / Haute Fagnes Belgium in Malmedy, Belgium, on 10 December 2010.

For the small country that Belgium is, there’s a surprising amount of regional diversity when it comes to the cuisine. Pork, beef, game, fish and seafood are staple items, often cooked with butter, cream and herbs, or sometimes beer which is Belgium’s national drink. Popular recipes include Carbonade flamande (steak and ale stew), Boulets à la liégeoise (rabbit meatballs in sweet sauce), Waterzooi (creamy fish or chicken stew with vegetables), Lapin à la gueuze (rabbit & beer stew), Chicon au gratin (ham and endive gratin), Flamiche (savoury tart), Waffles, Couque de Dinant (hard sweet biscuit) and Tarte au riz (rice pudding pie). I decided to make the Belgian classic dish – Moules frites (steamed mussels and chips) and it didn’t disappoint.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 egg yolk
1 cup canola oil, plus more for frying
2 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 lb old potatoes, peeled and cut into 1⁄4″thick sticks (use a mandolin if you have one)
2 1⁄2 lb mussels, debearded and scrubbed
2⁄3 cup dry white wine
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
3 sticks celery, finely chopped
1 1⁄2 leeks, light green and white parts, cut into 1⁄4″thick slices
1⁄2 large yellow onion, finely chopped

To make the mayonnaise:
In a large bowl, whisk mustard and egg yolk
Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in oil in a thin stream until it begins to emulsify
Whisk in the vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper
Set aside

To make the fries
Pour oil into a deep pan to a depth of 2″, and heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 375°
Add potatoes and cook until tender, about 8 minutes
Using a slotted spoon, transfer fries to a rack set over a rimmed baking sheet; chill
Increase oil temperature to 385°.
Working in batches, add chilled potatoes and cook until golden brown and crisp, about 4 minutes
Using a slotted spoon, return fries to rack and season with salt

To make the mussels:
Heat a 12″ high-sided skillet over high heat
Add mussels, wine, butter, celery, leeks, and onions
Season with salt and pepper, and cover skillet
Cook, shaking occasionally, until all mussels are opened, about 5 minutes
Divide mussels between 2 large bowls
Serve with fries and mayonnaise

Netherlands

The Kingdom of the Netherlands is a small densely populated country in Western Europe with three Island territories in the Caribbean – Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba. The Netherlands consists of twelve provinces including North Holland and South Holland. In 2013, the United Nations World Happiness Report ranked the Netherlands as the fourth happiest country in the world, reflecting its high quality of life.

A few interesting facts:
More than a quarter of the Netherlands is below sea level, 50% of its land lies less than one metre above sea level
The Dutch are the biggest licorice eaters in the world consuming 32 million kilos every year
The Netherlands is the second largest beer exporter in the world, after Mexico, with an export value of $2.1 billion
Dutch men are the tallest in the world, with an average height of 184cm. Researchers say it’s down to their DNA, nutrition and welfare
KLM (Koninklijke Luchtvaartmaatschappij or “Royal Airline Company”), the Dutch national airline, is the oldest national airline in the world, founded in 1919
The Netherlands produces around 60% of the world’s supply of flower bulbs, and its trading companies account for 85% of the international trade

The Netherlands is known for a flat landscape of canals, tulip fields, windmills and cycling routes. The Vaalserberg is the highest point in the European part of the Netherlands, it’s only 322.7 meters high and is located in the province of Limburg. Amsterdam, the capital, is home to the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and the house where Jewish diarist Anne Frank hid during WWII. Canal side mansions and a trove of works from artists including Rembrandt and Vermeer remain from the city’s 17th-century “Golden Age”.

Popular Dutch recipes include Gehaktballen (meatballs), Draadjesvlees (slow braised beef), Hollandse Nieuwe (Dutch new herring served raw with onion & gherkins), Jachtschotel (“hunters dish” similar to shepherds pie), Bitterballen (breaded fried croquettes), Stroopwafels (syrup waffles), Duivekater (sweet festive bread) and Pruimenvlaai (plum tart). I opted to make Bossche bollen (chocolate puffs) which went down a treat!

Rating: 8/10

Makes 4 medium size (you can double or triple the quantity to make more) Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes

1/3 cup plain flour
1/3 cup water
2 tbsp butter
1 egg, beaten
pinch of salt
1/3 cup chocolate chips (dark or milk)
1 tbsp water
1/2 cup whipped cream
2 tbsp caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 190c
Heat the water and the butter in a saucepan over medium heat
Bring to a boil, then take off the heat and add the flour stirting until it all comes together in a ball
Add a pinch of salt, stir in the egg and continue to stir until the dough has absorbed all the egg and is fully blended together
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, divide the dough intp four balls and place it on top of the parchment
Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes or until puffy and golden
Remove and cool on a rack
In the meantime, beat the whipping cream and the sugar until stiff
Fill a pastry bag with small tip, cut a small hole through the bottom of the cooled balls and fill with whipped cream
Heat the chocolate chips and a tablespoon of water in the microwave (30 seconds on medium), stir until the chocolate has melted and the sauce has come together
Then carefully take the cream-filled Bossche bollen and dip, head first, into the chocolate
Or leave them on a rack and slowly pour the chocolate over the top, one spoonful at a time
Cool in the fridge for about 20 minutes or until the chocolate is solid and everything has had a chance to firm up

img_3287
Ingredients for Bossche bollen (chocolate puffs)
img_3297
Bossche bollen (chocolate puffs)
img_3300
Bossche bollen (chocolate puffs)
img_3303
Bossche bollen (chocolate puffs)
tulips
Tulips
amsterdam
Amsterdam
windmill-kinderdijk
Traditional windmill, Kinderdijk

Austria

The Republic of Austria is a highly mountainous country in Central Europe. Only 32% of the country is below 500 metres. The Eastern Alps constitute 62% of the total area. At 3,797 m, Großglockner is the highest mountain in Austria. The majority of the population speak local Bavarian dialects of German as their native language.

We visited the beautiful capital city of Vienna a few years ago to visit my friend Julia. It is a stunning place that has so much to offer the visitor. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. Our highlights include the impressive Schönbrunn Palace, Stephansplatz square, Hofburg Palace, Ringstraße, coffee shops and the Vienna food festival. The UN-Habitat classified Vienna as being the most prosperous city in the world in 2012/2013. It attracts over 3.7 million tourists a year.

Famous Austrians include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Adolf Hitler and Sigmund Freud. Viennese psychiatrist Sigmund Freud is best known as the founding father of psychoanalysis, which has heavily influenced modern psychology as well as other domains of science and culture. Salzburg born Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart started composing at the age of five and performed before European royalty. He composed more than 600 works.

Austrian cuisine is most often associated with Viennese cuisine, but there are significant regional variations. Popular dishes include Schweinsbraten (roast pork), Tafelspitz (boiled veal stew), Käsespätzle (Austrian macaroni cheese), Rindsuppe (beef soup), Marillenknödel (apricot filled dumplings), Linzer Torte (Austrian lattice cake) and Apfelstrudel (apple strudel). I opted to make probably the most famous Austrian dish – Wiener Schnitzel (pan fried breaded veal cutlet) which I served with roasted rosemary potatoes and spinach. It was thoroughly delicious.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 6 – 8 minutes

2 veal sirloin steaks
1 egg
50g plain flour
50g panko breadcrumbs
Salt & pepper
20g butter
2 tbsp vegetable oil

Lay out the sirloin remove any skin and beat until thin. Season on both sides with salt and pepper
Place flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs on separate flat plates
Coat each schnitzel firstly on both sides in flour, then draw through the beaten eggs, ensuring they are fully covered
Lastly, coat in the breadcrumbs and carefully press down the crumbs using the reverse side of the fork (this causes the crumb coating to “fluff up” better during cooking)
In a large pan, heat the butter and oil
When the pan is hot place the schnitzel in the pan
Depending on the thickness of the meat, fry for between 2 – 4 minutes until golden brown
Carefully flip over using a spatula (do not pierce the coating) and fry on the other side until similarly golden brown
Remove the crispy schnitzel and place on kitchen paper to dry off
Serve with your choice of potatoes and vegetables or salad

img_3229
Ingredients for Wiener Schnitzel (pan fried breaded veal cutlet)
img_3234
Wiener Schnitzel (pan fried breaded veal cutlet)
img_3239
Wiener Schnitzel (pan fried breaded veal cutlet)
img_3243
Wiener Schnitzel (pan fried breaded veal cutlet)
schonbrunn-palace-vienna
Schönbrunn Palace
salzburg-austria
Salzburg, Austria
hofburg-palace-vienna
Hofburg Palace, Vienna
austria-alps
Austria Alps

Italy

Italy is one of my favourite places in the world! I’ve been lucky enough to visit many stunning places in Italy – Tuscany, Florence, Venice, Milan, Sardinia and of course, Rome. All distinctly different with their own style and features. My highlights would include driving the mountainous coast road in Sardinia, the amazing fresh produce in a local Tuscan village market, feasting on Risotto Milanese in the beautiful Locanda Del Gatto Rosso restaurant, Milan and lazing by the pool, basking in the Italian sunshine at the wonderful Aldrovandi Villa Borghese hotel, Rome.  Still on my bucket list are Sorrento, Verona, Palermo and Puglia.

Famed for pizza, pasta, ice cream, espresso, mad drivers, Renaissance art and ancient architecture. It definitely has something to offer everyone. It has the most Unesco World Heritage sites in the world with 51 sites and it has another 41 on the tentative list.

Some facts you may not know about Italy:
It has the eighth largest economy in the world
The Italian mafia accounts for 7% of Italy’s GDP
One third of Italians have never used the Internet
The average employee in Italy works just 20 hours per week, one of the lowest amount in Europe
The name Italy comes from the word italia, meaning “calf land,” perhaps because the bull was a symbol of the Southern Italian tribes
From 1861 to 1985, more than 26 million people left Italy (mostly from the overcrowded south) to seek a better life. Only one in four came home again

Italian cuisine is noted for its regional diversity, abundance of difference in taste, and is one of the most popular in the world. Italian cuisine is characterised by its simplicity, with many dishes having only four to eight ingredients. Italian cooks rely chiefly on the quality of the ingredients rather than on elaborate preparation. As you can imagine I was spoilt for choice in terms of recipes, making it extremely difficult to decide what to cook for this challenge. I considered Gnocchi, Pasta e fagioli (beans and pasta), Tortellini (filled pasta), Spaghetti Carbonara Ribollita (Tuscan soup with bread, beans and vegetables), Pizza alla napoletana (tomato, mozzarella & anchovy), Ossobucco (veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and broth), Arancini (deep-fried rice croquettes). However after our first visit to Milan in February this year and experiencing Risotto alla Milanese (risotto with saffron) – it had to be that! I also made my first ever Tiramisu, which even though I’m not known for my desserts, it was yum. We shared the evening with my sister and brother-in-law and we all loved the Risotto alla Milanese served in Parmesan baskets.

Rating: 10/10 for the Risotto & 9/10 for the Tiramisu

Risotto alla Milanese (served in Parmesan baskets)
Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
1 litre chicken stock
sea salt & ground black pepper
150g butter at room temperature
40g beef bone marrow or 2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, very finely chopped
300g risotto rice
1 tsp saffron threads soaked in a little stock
75ml extra dry white vermouth
175 Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Parmesan baskets
4 cups of grated parmesan cheese

Heat a non stick frying pan over a medium – high heat
When it’s hot, sprinkle 1 cup of parmesan evenly over the pan
After 3 minutes, check the sides to ensure it’s melted
Using a slice, very carefully flip the cheese over and cook for a further minutes
Then place a small bowl in the centre of the cheese and turn it out upside down
Leave it on top of the bowl for 10- 20 seconds, using a kitchen towel to shape it, then turn it out on to a kitchen towel
Continue making the remaining 3 in the same way

To make the risotto
Heat the stock in a saucepan gently and check for seasoning, don’t let it boil
Melt 75g of butter and the beef bone marrow in a large heavy bottomed pan
Gently fry the onion until soft, 15 – 20 minutes
Add the rice and remove it from the heat, stirring so the rice is fully coated, it only takes a minute
Return to the heat, add 2 ladlefuls of hot stock and simmer, stirring until all the liquid has been absorbed
Add the saffron
Continue to add the stock, a couple of ladlefuls at a time, until it is aborbed
Each grain should have a creamy coating and be just al dente
Add the remaining butter in small pieces, the vermouth and parmesan
Stir very gently and serve immediately in the parmesan baskets

Tiramisu
Serves: 6-8
Prep time: 30 minutes + at least 4 hours chilling

568ml pot double cream
250g tub mascarpone
75ml marsala
5 tbsp golden caster sugar
300ml strong coffee, made with 2 tbsp coffee granules and 300ml boiling water
175g pack sponge fingers
25g good quality dark chocolate, chopped quite roughly
2 tsp cocoa powder

Put the cream, mascarpone, Marsala and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until the cream and mascarpone have completely combined and have the consistency of thickly whipped cream
Get your serving dish ready
Put the coffee into a shallow dish and dip in a few sponge fingers at a time, turning for a few secs until they are nicely soaked, but not soggy
Layer these into your dish until you have used half the biscuits, then spread over half of the creamy mixture
Sprinkle over half of the chocolate
Repeat the layers (you should use up all the coffee), finishing with the creamy layer
Cover and chill for a few hrs or overnight
To serve, dust with cocoa powder and sprinkle over the remainder of the chocolate

 

Armenia

Armenia is a sovereign state in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia in Western Asia. It has a population of approximately 3.2m, but there are more Armenians living abroad than in Armenia, estimated at around 5.6m.

A few interesting facts
Armenians have their own distinctive alphabet and language. The alphabet was invented in AD 405 by Mesrop Mashtots and consists of thirty nine letters
The Armenian capital, Yerevan, is one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities, constructed 29 years before Rome
It is home to the world’s longest non-stop double track cable car, the Tatev Aerial Tramway, which is 5,752 m (18,871ft) long
Chess is a compulsory subject in schools
It was the first nation to accept Christianity as a state religion, converting en masse in AD 301

Armenian cuisine belongs to the family of Caucasian cuisines, and has strong ties with Turkish cuisine, Georgian cuisine, Persian cuisine, and Levantine cuisine. The flavour of the food relies on the quality and freshness of the ingredients rather than on excessive use of spices. Typical dishes of Armenian cuisine include Khash (slow cooked beef or lamb feet), Harissa (porridge made with wheat and meat), Bozbash (mutton or lamb soup), Khorovats (grilled meat), Dzhash (meat and vegetable stew), Eetch (cracked wheat salad) and Yospov Apur (Lentil soup).
Soups are very popular so I decided to make Snkapur (mushroom soup), which was simple and had a good mushroomy taste!

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 4 as a starter
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes

100g dried mushrooms (porcini, ceps etc)
200g fresh mushrooms, chopped finely
2 small onion, quartered
3 potatoes, peeled & chopped into cubes
2 tbsp oil
800ml water
1 vegetable or chicken knorr stock pot
50g butter, cut into small pieces
Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 190c
Roast the onion for 15 – 20 minutes
Soak the dried mushrooms in a little warm water for 10 minutes
Meanwhile heat the oil in a pan and fry the potatoes over a low heat for 15 minutes
Put the soaked mushrooms in a saucepan with the soaking liquid, remaining water, stock pot and bring to the boil then simmer for 10 minutes
Using a slotted spoon lift the out dried mushrooms and finely chop them
Add them back in the saucepan with the fresh mushrooms and season to taste
Chop the roasted onion and add to the pan with the potatoes and cook for 10 minutes
Add the butter, stir in and season again to taste
Remove from the heat and serve in hot bowls

fullsizeoutput_11f7
Ingredients for Snkapur (mushroom soup)
fullsizeoutput_11e2
Snkapur (mushroom soup)
img_3032
Snkapur (mushroom soup)
fullsizeoutput_1222
Snkapur (mushroom soup)
fullsizeoutput_1220
Family enjoying Snkapur (mushroom soup)
ruins-of-zvartnots-temple-armenia
Ruins of Zvartnots Temple, Armenia
mount-ararat-armenia
Khor Virap monastery, Ararat, Armenia
yerevan-armenia
Yerevan, Armenia

Turkey

The Republic of Turkey is a transcontinental nation, straddling eastern Europe and western Asia. It is a country with a long and very diverse cultural heritage. For more than 2000 years Istanbul was capital of three empires: Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman.

Some interesting facts:
Turkey has 13 sites on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites including the Rock Sites of Cappadocia, a Mesolithic temple (Göbekli Tepe), a Biblical city (Ephesus) and a WWI battlefield (Gallipoli)
Turkey hosts two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the Mausoleum in Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus
Turkey is the sixth most visited tourist destination in the world with 37.8 million foreign visitors in 2013
97% of Turkey is in Asia
The Marmaray metro line, under the Bosphorus strait, opened in 2013 and enables you to travel between Europe and Asia underground
The tongue-twisting, 70-letter Muvaffakiyetsizleştiricileştiriveremeyebileceklerimizdenmişsinizcesine, or “as if you are from those we may not be able to easily make a maker of unsuccessful ones,” is thought to be the longest word in Turkish
Homer, Aesop and St. Paul the Apostle were all born in Turkey
The earliest coins recorded were made during the reign of King Gyges of Lydia, Turkey, c. 630 BC and consisted of electrum, a naturally occurring amalgam of gold and silver

Turkish cuisine is regarded as one of the most prominent in the world and the cuisine varies widely across the country. Although meat based foods such as kebabs are the mainstay in Turkish cuisine as presented in foreign countries, native Turkish meals largely center around rice, vegetables, and bread. Popular dishes include Lahmacun (Turkish pizza), Adana kebabi (Spiced lamb kebab), Simit (circular bread with sesame seeds), Akçaabat meatballs, Analı kızlı soup (meatball soup with bulgar & chickpeas), Toyga (yoghurt soup with herbs), Hünkar Beğendi (‘Sultan’s Delight’ – lamb with mashed aubergine), Kuzu kapama (spring lamb stewed) and Baklava (filo pastry filled with honey & nuts). I decided to make a type of Turkish kebab – Tavuk Sis Kebap (Chicken Shish Kebab), which were delicious with a lovely spicy tang.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 25 minutes + marinating time 2 – 24 hours
Cook time: 8 minutes

2 chicken breasts
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp red pepper, powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 garlic clove, smashed with salt
1 tsp pomegranate paste
2 tbsp olive oil

Mix the yoghurt with the spices, salt, pepper and olive oil in a bag
Cut the chicken into small cubes and add to the bag
Mix your chicken thoroughly making sure it is well covered
Marinade in the fridge over night or for at least 2 hours
Put your chicken cubes on to skewers
Preheat the barbecue or grill
Grill the chicken for about 7-8 minutes, making sure to turn the skewers so that all sides are cooked equally
Every time you turn the chicken, brush with marinade
Serve with pitta bread, tomato, red onion and lettuce

Slovenia

Slovenia is a mountainous nation state in Central Europe. It is marked with significant biological diversity and is one of the most water-rich countries in Europe. Over half of the territory is covered by forest. Slovenia’s Karst Plateau is a limestone region of underground rivers, gorges, and caves, between Ljubljana and the Mediterranean. The best known caves are Postojna Cave and the UNESCO listed Škocjan Caves.

There are 24,000 animal species, among them marmots, Alpine ibex, chamois, deer, roe deer, boar, and hares. It is believed that Slovenia has one of the largest brown bear populations in Europe with around 400 bears. Among the 13 domestic animals native to Slovenia are the Karst Shepherd mountain dog, the Carniolan honeybee, and the Lipizzan horse, which is associated with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria.

Maribor, Slovenia’s second-largest city, is home to the oldest vine in the world. The grapevine of Žametovka is about 440 years old and still produce 25 litres of wine every year, however the wine is not available for public sale and has been described by the The Daily Telegraph as “virtually undrinkable”.

Ljubljana City Museum is home to the oldest wheel in the world. The Ljubljana Marshes Wheel is approximately 5,150 years old, has a radius of 70cm and is made of ash and oak.

Slovenian cuisine is a mixture of the Central European cuisine (especially Austrian and Hungarian), Mediterranean cuisine and Balkan cuisine. Recipes I came across include Jota (meat and vegetable hot pot), Ričet (Slovenian Barley soup), Idrija Žlikrofi (dumplings), Čompe s skuto (potatoes with cottage cheese), Prekmurska gibanica (layered cake), Potica (nut bread), baked mushroom with cheese and Kranjske Klobasa (sausages). I opted to make Belokranjska pogača (salted cake), which although quite doughy it was really tasty.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: Makes 28 small squares
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes

500g flour
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp oil
7g (1 pack) of dried yeast
Approx 300ml warm water
1 egg

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C
Mix all the ingredients and form a dough
Leave to rise for 30 minutes
Spread the dough evenly onto a baking tray, slice it into squares and glaze it with the beaten egg
Sprinkled with sea salt and bake for approximately 40 minutes
Let it cool on a rack before cutting

img_2586
Ingredients for Belokranjska pogača (salted cake)
img_2587
Belokranjska pogača (salted cake)
img_2590
Belokranjska pogača (salted cake)
img_2592
Belokranjska pogača (salted cake)
lake-bled-slovenia
Lake Bled, Slovenia
slovenian-mountains
Slovenian mountains
ljubljana-city-slovenia
Ljubljana City, Slovenia
img_2595
Belokranjska pogača (salted cake)

Finland

Finland, the most sparsely populated country in the European Union, is situated on a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. It is one of the world’s northernmost countries. Of world capitals, only Reykjavík lies more to the north than Helsinki. Known as ‘a country of thousand lakes’, it has the most of any country in the world, with around 188,000. A quarter of Finland’s territory lies within the Arctic Circle and the midnight sun can be experienced for more days the farther north one travels. At Finland’s northernmost point, the sun does not set for 73 consecutive days during summer, and does not rise at all for 51 days during winter.

A few interesting facts:
Finland’s press has been rated the freest in the world

In Finland, 9 out of 10 plastic bottles are returned for recycling and almost 100% of glass bottles are also recycled
In Finland traffic fines are calculated by the severity of the offence and the offending driver’s annual income
There are around 2.2 million saunas in Finland, 1 for every 2.5 people
At the ‘Wife Carrying World Championships’ in Finland, first prize is the wife’s weight in beer

If you’re planning a visit, Lonely Planet’s highlights include learning about the indigenous Sami people and their environment at the Siida museum, relaxing in the giant smoke sauna at Jätkänkämppä, cruising through the canals of Helsinki and trekking the Karhunkierros Trail in Oulanka National Park.

The Finns are passionate about their food and are fiercely loyal to their culinary roots. In 2000, when Helsinki celebrated its 450th anniversary as the European Capital of Culture the city initiated a project called the HelsinkiMenu. The aim of the project was to bring global awareness to Finnish cuisine. The HelsinkiMenu featured fish from the thousand lakes, berries, mushrooms and game from the forests as well as special produce from small farms. A few traditional Finnish recipes I came across; Lohikeitto (salmon soup) , Kalakukko (fish pie) , Perunarieska (potato flatbread) , Silakat (pickled fried herring), Korvapuusti (cinnamon and cardamon buns) , Ruisleipä (rye bread), Laskiaispulla (sweet buns filled with jam and cream) and Vispipuuro (whipped lingonberry porridge). I made Kalakeitto (fish stew) which was velvety smooth and had a beautiful flavour. Finishing it off with fresh dill is key, so a big thanks to my local The Rose and Crown for coming to the rescue.

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

2 good quality salmon fillets
1 tsp salt
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 tsp dried dill
2 cups water
1 fish stock pot/cube
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
3/4 cup whole milk or cream (I used cream which gave it an unctuous finish)
1 tbsp butter
Fresh dill for garnish

Cut the fish into 2 inch pieces and set aside
In a saucepan add salt, onion, dried dill, water, stock pot and potatoes
Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are just tender
Add the fish and cook until the fish just starts to flake, about 5 minutes, depending on the size of your fish chunks
Pour in the milk or cream and heat gently for 5 minutes
Add the butter and sprinkle with fresh dill
Enjoy!

img_2413
Ingredients for Kalakeitto (fish stew)
img_2415
Kalakeitto (fish stew)
img_2417
Kalakeitto (fish stew)
img_2418
Kalakeitto (fish stew)
img_2422
Kalakeitto (fish stew)
wood-houses-in-the-city-of-porvoo-finland
Wood houses in the city of Porvoo, Finland
oulanka-national-park
Oulanka National Park
helsinki
Helsinki

Hungary

Hungary is a landlocked central European country founded in 897, making it one of the oldest countries in Europe. Hungary is home to the largest thermal water cave system, the second largest thermal lake in the world (Lake Hévíz), the largest lake in Central Europe (Lake Balaton), and the largest natural grasslands in Europe (the Hortobágy National Park). In 2014, 13.2 million tourists visited Hungary with the majority going to Budapest, Central Danube, Lake Balaton and the Western Transdanubia tourist regions.

A few facts
Budapest’s metro line is the second oldest in the world after London’s Tube, its Line 1 dates from 1896 and is a World Heritage Site
Hungarians are the most heavily taxed people in the world at an average 38.3% of their annual income
13 Hungarian scientists have received the Nobel Prize
Hungary has the third highest number of Olympic medals per capita and second highest number of gold medals per capita in the world
The Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest is the second largest in the world (after one in New York City) and it seats up to 3,000 people
Hungary is the world’s second leading producer of foie gras (goose liver), after France

Traditional Hungarian dishes are primarily based on meats, seasonal vegetables, fruits, fresh bread, dairy products and cheese. Popular dishes include Paprikás (paprika stew with meat), Palacsinta (filled crepe), Húsleves (clear chicken soup), Rántott sajt (deep fried cheese croquette), Paprikás krumpli (paprika potato sausage stew) and Töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage). There was only really one option for me to cook and that was Gulyás (Hungarian Goulash). It was everything we hoped for – comforting, fulfilling and incredibly tasty.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 2 hours

450g rump steak, cubed
60g seasoned flour
3 tbsp veg oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 tsp paprika
3 tbsp tomato puree
pinch grated nutmeg
3 tsp mixed herbs
salt and pepper
300ml good quality beef stock (I used a tin of beef consommé)
200g tin of chopped tomatoes
200ml red wine
3 tbsp worcestershire sauce

Coat the meat in the seasoned flour
Heat the oil over a medium heat in a frying pan and add the meat in batches frying until browned, remove to a plate
Add a little more oil and fry the onion, garlic, carrot and celery for 5 minutes
Add the paprika, tomato puree, nutmeg, mixed herbs, salt and pepper and cook for a further 2 mins
Add the stock, chopped tomatoes, red wine and worcestershire sauce
Reduce to a low simmer, cover and cook for 2 hours, stirring every so often
Serve with crusty bread

img_2199
Ingredients for Gulyás (Hungarian Goulash)
img_2202
Gulyás (Hungarian Goulash)
img_2204
Gulyás (Hungarian Goulash)
img_2206
Gulyás (Hungarian Goulash)
img_2211
Gulyás (Hungarian Goulash)
budapest-parliament-building
Budapest Parliamentary building
lake-heviz-thermal-spa
Lake Hévíz thermal spa
lake-balaton
Lake Balaton
budapest-architecture
Budapest architecture

Vatican State City

The Vatican State City is a walled enclave of approximately 110 acres, within the city of Rome and is the smallest sovereign state in the world, by both area and population. It is ruled by the Bishop of Rome – The Pope. Since the return of the Popes from Avignon in 1377, they have generally resided at the Apostolic Palace within what is now the Vatican City. Almost all of the Vatican City’s 839 (as at 2013) citizens either live inside the Vatican’s walls or serve in the Holy See’s diplomatic service in embassies. “Vatican” is derived from the name of an Etruscan settlement, Vatica or Vaticum meaning garden. The Vatican Gardens account for more than half of it’s territory. They were established during the Renaissance and Baroque era and are decorated with fountains and sculptures.

A few interesting facts
Italians are allowed to donate 8% of their yearly taxes to the Vatican (instead of paying it to the Italian Government).
John Anglicus, born in Mainz, was recorded as being pope for two years, seven months and four days. It is is claimed that John was in fact female.
The Vatican’s postal service has been operating since 1929, with it’s own postage stamps and is described as one of the world’s best.
Italy has more UNESCO listings than any other country in the world (51 as at 2014). The Vatican City is the only entire country designated as a UNESCO site.
5 million people visit the Sistine chapel each year. With an entry fee of €16, the Vatican earns an annual revenue of around €80 million a year.

There is no specific cuisine for The Vatican City that I could find, the main food style is that of Rome. In 2014 a cookbook was published featuring the favourite dishes of the last few Popes with some delights from Argentina, Poland and of course Italy. I opted to make the simple but delicious Fettuccine alla Papalina (literally translated ‘Fettuccine to skullcap’). It was created specially for Pope Pius XII, who wore a skullcap.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes

250g fettuccine (ideally fresh) or tagliatelle
110g unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 slices prosciutto, cut in thin strips
4 eggs
3/4 cup cream
1/2 cup pecorrino
salt
black pepper

In a large pan boil some salted water and cook the fettuccine according to the instructions
Meanwhile melt the butter on a low hear in a deep sided frying pan
Add onion and cook until soft, but not brown
Add prosciutto, stir and cook for a minute or two without browning
In the meantime, in a bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the cream and pecorrino
Toss the drained fettuccine in the pan with onion and prosciutto and mix well for a minute or two
Then turn heat off and pour the eggs, cream and pecorrino mixture into the pan and mix rapidly
Add some black pepper and a little salt
Mix again and serve immediately

view-of-st-peters-square-from-the-top-of-michelangelos-dome
View of St. Peter’s Square from the top of Michelangelo’s dome
the-creation-of-adam-by-michelangelo
In the Sistine Chapel – Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam

Germany

Germany is in Western and Central Europe and is the most populous European Union state, with about 82 million inhabitants. Its capital and largest city is Berlin, which incidentally has more bridges than Venice and is home to Europe’s largest inland water network. It also boasts Zoologischer Garten, the largest zoo in the world. Most of Germany has a temperate seasonal climate dominated by humid westerly winds. Winters are cool and summers tend to be warm.

Germany has the world’s fourth largest economy by GDP and so has a very high standard of living.  As a global leader in several industrial and technological sectors, it is both the world’s third largest exporter and importer of goods.

Germany is the seventh most visited country in the world, with over 30 million international tourists annually. More than 30% of Germans spend their holiday in their own country, with the biggest share going to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in the north, where you will find a unique mixture of nature, culture and urban flair in towns varying from centuries-old tradition to innovative modernity.

German restaurants have become the world’s second most decorated after France. The Michelin Guide of 2015 awarded eleven restaurants in Germany three stars. German cuisine has evolved as a national cuisine through centuries of social and political change with variations from region to region. There are more than 1,500 different types of sausage. Popular dishes include Sauerkraut (fermented shredded cabbage), Sauerbraten (beef pot roast usually served with dumplings), Wurst (white sausage), Spätzle (German noodles), Kartoffelsalat (potato salad), Königsberger Klopse (meatballs in white sauce) and Semmelknödel (dumplings made with breadcrumbs). I opted to make Rhabarberkuchen (German rhubarb cake) which was delicious with a little drizzle of double cream!

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 10 slices
Prep time: 30 minutes + 2 hours chilling time
Cook time: 40 minutes

For the pastry
200g flour
100g unsalted butter
5 tbsp sugar
1 egg

For the filling
6-7 stalks rhubarb (500g)
3 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
125g ground almonds
3 egg whites
Icing sugar for dusting

Crumble the butter into the flour and sugar with your fingers until they have breadcrumb consistency
Add egg and work into a ball and knead on a lightly floured surface for a couple minutes until smooth
Wrap in foil or clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 2 hours
Preheat the oven to 190°C
Wash rhubarb, and cut into 1/2 in (1-2 cm) pieces
Grease a 9″” springform baking tin with butter
Roll out the dough into a large circle and line the pan with it, pressing the dough up the sides. If it falls apart in some parts, just press it in. Prick the pastry with a fork
Separate the egg yolks and egg whites into separate bowls. Beat the egg yolks with half of the sugar (50g or about 1/4 cup) until creamy. Gently mix in the ground almonds.
In a the other bowl, beat the egg whites until it forms stiff peaks like a meringue and then quickly beat in the rest of the sugar
Gently fold in the egg yolk and almond mixture
Put the rhubarb into the springform pan evenly accross the pastry
Pour over the egg mixture and even off the surface. Push down the sides of the dough if it’s too high up the pan.
Bake for 40 minutes. Remove, and let cool for 10 minutes in the pan before removing from the cake tin
Once completely cooled, sprinkle with icing sugar and enjoy with cream

img_1857
Ingredients for Rhabarberkuchen (German rhubarb cake)
img_1885
Pastry for Rhabarberkuchen (German rhubarb cake)
img_1886
Rhabarberkuchen (German rhubarb cake)
img_1890
Rhabarberkuchen (German rhubarb cake)
img_1896
Rhabarberkuchen (German rhubarb cake)
img_1915
Rhabarberkuchen (German rhubarb cake)
schwerin-castle-mecklenburg-vorpommer
Schwerin Castle, Mecklenburg-Vorpommer
berlin-waterway
Berlin waterway
brandenburg-gate-berlin
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein is a 25km long doubly landlocked principality situated between Austria and Switzerland. It is the smallest German-speaking country and the only German-speaking nation that doesn’t share a border with Germany. Liechtenstein is located in the Upper Rhine valley of the European Alps and the mountain slopes are well suited to winter sports. They have won a total of nine medals at the Winter Olympics, all for alpine skiing, but have never won a medal at the Summer Olympics and is the only country to have won Winter Olympic medals but not Summer Olympics. Liechtenstein has the world’s third highest per capita income behind Qatar and Luxembourg and has one of the world’s lowest unemployment rates at 1.5%. Liechtenstein is the largest producer of false teeth in the world.

Liechtensteiner cuisine has been influenced by the cuisine of nearby countries, particularly Switzerland and Austria. Their diet consists of dairy, potatoes, green vegetables, beef, chicken and pork. Traditional dishes include Käsknöpfle (pasta covered with cheese), Hafaläb (corn bread loaf), Ribel (cornmeal based dish) and Geschnetzelte Schweinsleber (sliced pork liver with green pepper). I decided to make Alperrosti (potato and bacon rosti with fried egg), which we had for breakfast. It was a flavoursome and fulfilling start to the day!

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 25 – 30 minutes

300g potato
4 rashers streaky bacon
3 eggs
50g butter
50g gruyere
salt & pepper

Peel and grate the potatoes. Put them in a tea towel and squeeze all of the moisture out
Fry the bacon until crispy, pour the oil into a cup and reserve
Chop up the bacon into small peices
Mix the potato and bacon together, add salt and pepper and a whisked egg
Add half the butter and some of the bacon frying oil to the frying pan used for the bacon
Add half the potato mixture and flatten into a disk. Fry on a medium heat for about 5 minutes
Flip the rosti and cook for 12-15 mins on a lower heat
Remove the cooked rosti to a warmed plate and repeat with the remaining potato mix
Add grated gruyere to the top of each rosti and slide it onto a tray which can go under the grill
Whilst grilling the rosti, fry 2 eggs and place one on top of each of the rostis

IMG_1783
Ingredients for Alperrosti (potato and bacon rosti with fried egg)
IMG_1785
Cooking Alperrosti (potato and bacon rosti with fried egg)
IMG_1787
Alperrosti (potato and bacon rosti with fried egg)
IMG_1792
Alperrosti (potato and bacon rosti with fried egg)
IMG_1797
Alperrosti (potato and bacon rosti with fried egg)
Liechtenstein castle
Liechtenstein castle
SONY DSC
Liechtenstein

Iceland

Iceland, a land of beautiful landscapes and friendly charm. It is a Nordic Island nation with a population of just over 330,000. It is the second largest island in Europe after Great Britain.

When the Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant started operating, Iceland became the world’s largest electricity producer per capita and they expect to be energy-independent by 2050. The fishing industry is a major part of Iceland’s economy, accounting for 40% of the country’s export earnings with Cod being the most important species harvested. Whale watching has also become an important part of the economy since 1997. Iceland receives around 1.1 million visitors annually. Other than whale watching, visitors to Iceland can enjoy relaxing in Geysir and Strokkur hot springs, taking in the Jökulsárlón glaciar lagoon, the Laugavegurinn hike and of course witnessing the Northern Lights.

Staple foods of Icelandic cuisine include lamb, dairy and fish. Some dishes I came across were Lambakjot meth Graenmeti (Lamb Fricassee with Vegetables), Saltkjöt og baunir (split pea soup with salt lamb), Kartofluflatbrauth (Potato Flatbread), Steiktar Heilagfiski (Baked Halibut)  Sild meth Surum Rjoma og Graslauk (Herring in sour cream) and Sveskuterta (Prune Torte). I opted to make Plokkfiskur (fish stew) which was simple and very tasty.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes

1 tbsp butter
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalks, finely sliced
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1/2 cup white wine
250g small, waxy potatoes, cut into quarters
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
350g haddock, cod or other white fish, cube into 1 inch cubes
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 cup single cream
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp chives, finely chopped

In a heavy-bottomed pot, heavy butter over medium heat
Add onions, celery and carrots and sweat until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes
Add white wine, bring to a simmer and reduce by half, about 5 minutes
Add stock and potatoes, bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft
Add cubed fish and chopped tomatoes; softly simmer for another 5 minutes
Turn heat down to low, add cream and salt and pepper to taste and heat until soup is piping hot but not boiling (otherwise the cream with curdle), about 7-8 minutes
Turn off heat, add chives and serve immediately