Bulgaria

Bulgaria, the country, not Great Uncle, is in southeastern Europe and is one of the oldest European countries, the only one that hasn’t changed its namе since it was founded in 681 AD. Great Uncle Bulgaria is named after the country and is the leader of the Wombles of Wimbledon.

Bulgaria is home to the Varna Necropolis treasure, the oldest gold treasure in the world with an approximate age of over 6,000 years. The site was accidentally discovered in October 1972 by excavator operator Raycho Marinov. The artifacts can be seen at the Varna Archaeological Museum and at the National Historical Museum in Sofia.

Bulgaria was the world’s second largest wine producer in 1980s, but the industry declined after the collapse of communism. However production is up and is now ranked 21st in the world with over 130,000 tonnes produced in 2013.

Bulgarian born Stefka Kostadinova has held the world record for the female high jump at 2.09m since the 1987 World Athletics Championships in Rome.

Bulgarian cuisine shares characteristics with other Balkans cuisines. Popular traditional dishes include Tarator (cold soup of cucumbers, garlic, yogurt and dill), Bob chorba (hot bean soup), Banitsa (breakfast filo pie), Kavarma (beef or pork stew), Pechen svinski but (roast leg of pork) and Lukanka (Bulgarian cold cuts). I made Shopska salad (tomato, onion, cucumber and cheese salad), which was simple, fresh and flavoursome.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes

4 tomatoes
1/2 cucumber
2 red peppers, roasted and skin removed
1 small red onion, sliced thinly
250g feta cheese
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil

Char the red peppers on a BBQ or gas hob until black all over
Leave to cool for 5 minutes, then remove the skin by gently washing under the tap, remove the seeds
Cut the tomatoes, cucumber, peppers into cubes and place in a salad bowl
Add the onions, parsley, oil and seasoning
Crumble over the feta cheese and serve

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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina, BiH for short, is located in Southeastern Europe on the Balkan Peninsula. It declared sovereignty in October 1991 and independence from the former Yugoslavia on 3 March 1992. The country’s name comes from the two regions Bosnia and Herzegovina, which have a very vaguely defined border between them. Bosnia occupies the northern areas which are roughly four-fifths of the entire country, while Herzegovina occupies the rest in the southern part of the country. The name “Bosnia” comes from an Indo-European word Bosana, which means water. (There are 7 major rivers and over 100 lakes).

The town of Međugorje located in the mountains near Mostar has been popular with Catholic pilgrims since 1981, when six local children claimed they had seen visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Over 1 million people make the pilgrimage each year. The name Međugorje literally means “between mountains”.

Perućica is one of the last remaining primeval forests in Europe, located near the border with Montenegro and part of the Sutjeska National Park. The tallest measured Norway Spruce (63 m) is located here.

According to the Guinness book of records the largest fish stew ever made, weighed 3,804 kg was by the Tourist Organisation of the Municipality of Prnjavor in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 19 August 2014. However in April 2015, a dozen Bosnian chefs from Sarajevo outperformed the record by making a traditional stew weighing 4,124 kg. It took 8 hours and served 15,000 portions. The record has not yet been verified by a Guinness World Records committee.

Some of the traditional Bosnian dishes I came across, other than enormous stews, included Zeljanica (spinach and feta pie), Begova Čorba (Bosnian soup), Grašak (pea stew), Sarma (meat and rice rolled in pickled cabbage leaves) and Krofna (filled doughnuts). I decided to make Ćevapi (meat kebabs) which were fairly simple but needed a good amount of seasoning which the recipe I followed had omitted to include, so ours were rather bland. I’ve adjusted the recipe below to include more seasoning.

Rating: 6/10

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

1 tbsp butter
1⁄2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
250g lean lamb mince
250g lean beef mince
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp salt
fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp onions, finely chopped
4-6 pitta breads

Melt the butter over medium heat, add the onions and fry until translucent
Add the garlic for a few minutes whilst stirring to prevent burning. Remove from the heat and let cool for 10 minutes
Mix the ground lamb, ground beef., the cooled onion/garlic mixture, egg white, paprika, salt and pepper and mix well.
Shape the meat into unappetizing looking little cylinders, which are the traditional shape
Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least one hour
Pan fry the cevapi in a little olive oil until nicely browned, about 8 – 10 minutes
To serve, toast the pitta, then cut in half and make a pocket in each one
Stuff a few finely chopped onions inside the pita, then add the cevapi and top with a few more of the onions

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Making the world’s largest stew in Sarajevo!
Međugorje_St.James_Church
St James Church, Međugorje
Stari Most bridge, Mostar
Stari Most Bridge, Mostar
Perucica, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Perućica, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Una River, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Ana River, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Croatia

I have been to Croatia a number of times, most recently to Pula in the north and prior to that Dubrovnik on three occasions. It is a beautiful country with stunning coastlines, crystal blue water and impressive architecture. The walled city of Dubrovnik really is a sight to behold with windy narrow steps, Stradun (it’s limestone-paved main thoroughfare) and glimpses of brilliant blue through the gaps in the city walls. It became a Unesco world heritage site in 1979. Pula’s amphitheatre is the 6th largest amphitheatre in the world and the only one that has all three rows completely preserved.

The Republic of Croatia covers 21,851 sq miles, consisting of 21,782 sq miles of land and 49 sq miles of water. There are over a thousand islands and islets varying in size, 48 of which are permanently inhabited. The largest islands are Cres and Krk. According to Lonely Planet, the top things to see in Croatia are Plitvice Lakes National Park, Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Dubrovnik’s city walls and Cres Island. Alfred Hitchcock once said “Zadar has the most beautiful sunset in the world, more beautiful than the one in Key West, Florida”. Croatia is ranked as the 18th most popular tourist destination in the world.

Croatian cuisine can be divided into regional cuisines (Istria, Dalmatia, Dubrovnik, Lika, Gorski Kotar, Zagorje, Međimurje, Podravina, Slavonija) which all have their specific cooking traditions. Popular recipes I came across were Pasticada (slow cooked beef stew), Krpice Sa Sunkom (Ham and pasta casserole), Cevapcici (meat kebabs), Punjene Paprika (stuffed peppers), Govedina s lukom (beef in onion sauce) and Fuzi (Istrian pasta commonly served with truffles). I opted to make Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew) which, for what is essentially a simple store cupboard meal, was really tasty.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 5
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

3 tins beans (cannellini, kidney or borlotti)
500g tinned hot dog sausages
5 bay leaves
50g flour
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsps tomato puree
1 knorr chicken stock pot/cube
3 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt
Pepper
fresh parsley, chopped

Chop the sausages into small bite-size pieces and place in boiling water – turn temperature down and cook in water on a low heat.
Put the oil into a pan over a medium heat, add the flour and stir to create a roux
Add the crushed garlic cloves, tomato puree and stock pot or cube and mix well
Keep adding a ladleful of water one at a time from the sausage cooking liquid and keep stirring to remove lumps until you have a nice unctuous consistency
Add the sausages and bay leaves to the sauce and let cook for 20 minutes on medium heat, add more water if it is too thick
Add the beans and cook for a further 2 – 3 minutes, again add more water if necessary
Add salt and pepper to taste and cook for another minute
Sprinkle over the parsley and serve with warm french bread

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Ingredients for Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew)
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Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew)
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Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew)
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Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew)
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Empty plate says it all!
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Family and friends enjoying Grah s kobasicama (Bean and sausage stew)
Dubrovnik walled city, Croatia
Dubrovnik
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Cres Island, Croatia
Cres Island, Croatia
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Pula Amphitheatre, Croatia

Montenegro

Montenegro – Crna Gora or Black Mountain, allegedly named by the Venetians when they saw the pine forests on Mount Lovćen which were apparently so dense that from far away the mountain looked black. 60 percent of the country is more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) high, with the tallest peak, Zla Kolata, reaching to 2,534 metres (8,314 ft) which is located on the border of Montenegro and Albania. It became an independent nation in 2006, after 55% voted for independence in a referendum.

In Montenegro, ‘Krvna Osveta’ (blood feud) is a law of vendetta which has been practised since medieval times and still occurs today. It is an oath of revenge for vendetta, meaning that a person must take revenge on whoever killed his relative by killing the murderer or one of the murderer’s close relatives.

Montenegro is considered one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations with 1.7 million visitors in 2015. National Geographic Traveler features Montenegro among the “50 Places of a Lifetime”. It has a coastline of 293 km with over 120 beaches and 3 Unesco world heritage sites; the Historical Region of Kotor, Stećci Medieval Tombstones Graveyards and Durmitor National Park.

Traditional Montenegrin cuisine has influences from Italian, Turkey, Serbia and Croatia. Popular dishes include Jagnjeća Supa (Lamb broth), Brav u miljeku (lamb cooked in milk), Čorbast Pasulj (bean stew with smoked ribs), Priganice (fritters or flat doughnuts) and Sac (meat slow roasted in ashes under an iron dome). I opted to cook Balšica tava (Veal in Royal Sauce). Randomly, we had this for breakfast, I’m not entirely sure why we thought it would be a good idea, perhaps because it has eggs in it and some recipes suggested it was like an omelette! Had we walked some of the Montenegrin mountains and worked up an appetite, I think this dish would be a pleasant reward, however the watery texture wasn’t really our cup of tea.

Rating: 6/10

Serves: 1 as a main, 2 as a light snack
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

50g carrot, chopped
50g onion, chopped
160g veal fillet
30g. butter, melted
1 bayleaf
salt, to taste
2 eggs
100ml sour cream
100ml whole milk
fresh parsley, chopped finely

Pre heat the oven to 200°C
Cut the veal into approximately 50g chunks, add to a saucepan along with the vegetables and bayleaf
Cover the contents of the pan with water and add 1/2 tsp salt
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, then cook for about 15 minutes
Drain through a sieve, then place in a small oven proof pan and drizzle the melted butter over the top
Place in the oven and roast for about 8 minutes
Meanwhile, make the “royal sauce” by whisking together the eggs, milk and cream
Pour over the meat, until completely covered then return to the oven and cook for 7 minutes
Finish it under the grill for a few minutes to give it colour
Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve

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Ingredients for Balšica tava (Veal in Royal Sauce)
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Balšica tava (Veal in Royal Sauce)
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Balšica tava (Veal in Royal Sauce)
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Balšica tava (Veal in Royal Sauce)
Kotor Montenegro
Kotor Montenegro
Durmitor National Park Montenegro
Durmitor National Park Montenegro
Budva Montenegro
Budva Montenegro

Macedonia

The Republic of Macedonia or the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as it is classified by the UN, is a landlocked country in the Balkan peninsula. There is an ongoing dispute with Greece about it’s name due to the northern part of Greece being called by the same name.

Archaeological evidence shows that old European civilization flourished in Macedonia between 7000 and 3500 BC. Alexander the Great, who was king of the former Kingdom of Macedonia, extended his empire across Greece and Persia to India and Egypt. During his time, the Kingdom of Macedonia was the most powerful state in the world; but after his death, the empire fell apart and it became the first Roman province in 146 BC.

Macedonia has three large lakes – Lake Ohrid, Lake Prespa and Dojran Lake. Lake Ohrid is considered to be one of the oldest lakes in the world, estimated at 4 million years old. It is a mountainous country with two different ranges – the younger and higher Šar Mountains and the older mountain chain of Osogovo–Belasica. Other tourist highlights include exploring the capital Skopje’s bazaar, the Roman remains at Treskavec Monastery, the 13th century Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo and wine tasting in Tikveš Wine Region.

Notable Macedonian dishes include Tavče Gravče (Bean Stew), Šopska salad, Pastrmajlija (Macedonian Pizza), Burek (savoury filled pastry), Sarma (cabbage rolls), Selsko Meso (roast meat with mushrooms, wine and cheese) and Kifli (bread rolls). I opted to make Kjoftinja (meatballs) with aioli dip which I served as a snack to accompany drinks to celebrate my birthday! My family all really enjoyed them and the only criticism (from my nephew) was that they weren’t uniformly round!

Rating: 9/10

Makes 44
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

500g ground beef
300g ground pork
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
2 slices white bread
1/2 cup white wine
1 egg
flour for rolling
vegetable oil for frying
chopped parsley

Quick aioli dip
4 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Pepper

Remove crusts from bread slices and soak them in a bowl with the wine
Mix together the beef and pork mince, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, and mint
Add the bread and egg and knead the mixture to blend well together (you can put the mix in the fridge if you’re not ready to cook them yet)
Preheat the oven to 160
Shape into 1-inch balls, dust with flour, and fry in hot vegetable oil for at least 10 minutes, taking care not to burn them
When meatballs are browned on all sides, place in them in the oven on a covered tray for 10 minutes
Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with aioli dip

Aioli dip
Mash garlic with 1/4 teaspoon salt in small bowl until paste forms
Whisk in mayonnaise, olive oil, and lemon juice
Season to taste with coarse salt and pepper

Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo, Macedonia
Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo overlooking Lake Ohrid
Skopje square
Skopje square

San Marino

San Marino is an enclaved microstate surrounded by Italy between the regions of Emilia Romagna and Marche and is the fifth smallest country in the world. It claims to be the world’s oldest republic, where it is said that Saint Marinus, a Christian stonemason from Croatia, built a church perched on top of a mountain and founded the republic in 301 AD. Their constitution, a series of six books written in Latin in the late 16th century is the oldest still in effect. It has a population of 33,000 and a land area of just 61 sq km. It is the only country in the world with more vehicles than people.

San Marino’s Historic Centre and Mount Titano became part of the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008 and it is host to 2 million tourists each year. According to Lonely Planet the top things to see include the Palazzo Public (the town hall and official government building), the coastal panorama atop Castello della Cesta (the highest of San Marino’s three fortresses), horrific torture devices at the Museo della Tortura and the relics of Saint Marinus inside the Basilica del Santo.

Sammarinese cuisine is very similar to Italian. Some of the recipes I came across were Piadina (savoury filled pitta), Nidi di Rondine “Swallow’s Nests” (baked pasta with cheese & ham), Roast rabbit with fennel and Fagioli con le cotiche (bean and bacon soup). Sweet dishes include Torta Tre Monti (“Cake of the Three Towers”), a wafer layered cake covered in chocolate depicting the Three Towers of San Marino, Bustrengo (cake made with raisins) and Cacciatello (a dessert similar to crème caramel). I decided to make Steak San Marino which was slow cooked with vegetables and red wine. It was quite spicy and I would be tempted to add some bacon to give it a touch of sweetness. I served it with some Thyme roasted potatoes.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 5 hours

2 rump beef steaks
Plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tin chopped tomatoes
100ml red wine
1/2 medium onion
1 large carrot
1 stick celery
2 tsp dried mixed herbs
1 bay leaf
1/2 tbsp hot sauce

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees c
Peel and chop the onion and carrots into small chunks
Combine the flour and salt and pepper and coat the steaks with the flour mix
Coat the bottom of an oven proof pan with a little oil and place the steaks in the bottom
Mix the tomatoes, wine, carrots, onion, celery, mixed herbs, bay leaf and hot sauce in a mixing bowl and pour over the steaks
Cook in the oven for 5 hours
Once cooked, discard the bay leaf and remove the steaks to serving plates

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Ingredients for Steak San Marino
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Steak San Marino
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Steak San Marino
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Steak San Marino
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Steak San Marino
Mount Titano San Marino
Mount Titano, San Marino
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Palazzo Pubblico, San Marino

Romania

Romania is most famous for Transylvania and Count Dracula but has many other interesting features. It is situated in South Eastern Europe, bordering the Black Sea, between Bulgaria and Ukraine. It’s terrain is distributed roughly equally between mountains, hills and plains and has one of the largest areas of undisturbed forest in Europe, covering almost 27% of the territory.

Some interesting facts you may not know about Romania
The meaning of the word “Transylvania” is the land beyond the forest
The world’s largest salt mine museum can be found inside the old Turda Salt Mines (Salina Turda) located in Transylvania
The 3500-year old Scarisoara glacier, located in the Bihor Mountains is the second largest underground glaciar in the world
The jet engine used by modern airplanes was invented by Bucharest born inventor Henri Coanda
Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci was the first to achieve a perfect routine and get the first score of 10.00 in the history of gymnastics
Top Gear shot one of its episodes on Transfagarasan in 2009, naming it “the best road in the world”

The food of Romania has been greatly influenced by Ottoman cuisine from imperial Istanbul. Some of the recipes I came across were Sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls), Ciorba de perisoare (soup with meatballs), Mucenici (cake) Prajitură cu afine (blueberry cheesecake), mămăligă (polenta) and Tochitură (pork stew). I decided to make Crema de zahăr ars (caramelized vanilla pudding). In the words of my mum, desserts are not my strong point and unfortunately, she is absolutely correct. It was a disaster as the puddings didn’t set at all, despite following the recipe to the letter. On reflection though, my mistake was to use skimmed milk and medium sized eggs so I have adapted the recipe below to rectify where I went wrong. I will try to make this again in the coming months as I was looking forward to tasting it.

Rating 0/10 (as it wasn’t edible)

Serves: 4
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 1 1/2 hours

3 large eggs
150g sugar
500ml whole milk
dash of vanilla essence

Preheat the oven to 120 ℃
Put the milk in a pan and bring it to a simmer on very low heat
In the mean time, beat the eggs together with the vanilla essence.
Add the eggs to the milk and let it simmer for about 5 minutes while stirring.
In a pan, melt the sugar over a low to medium heat.
Pour the melted sugar into 4 ramekins, swirling it around so it covers the sides. Do this quickly or the sugar will harden. Pour the milk and egg mix on top of the sugar
Place the ramekins in a large metal baking dish filled with water (bain marie) and bake for about 1 ½ hours until the surface is golden brown.
Check with a toothpick to see if the cream is cooked all the way through.
Let it cool and then refrigerate for a few hours as this is to be served cool.
Place a small plate on top of the ramekin and turn out making sure that the plate is big enough for the caramelised liquid.

Lithuania

I read an article about Lithuania a few years ago, about a small town on the coast called Palanga, which has an 18km long sandy beach. According to legend there is a pagan shrine in Palanga where a beautiful priestess named Birute used to tend. Hearing of her beauty, Kestutis, the Grand Duke of Lithuania wanted her to become his wife but she did not consent as she had promised the gods to remain a virgin. He forced her to marry him in a lavish wedding in his home town of Trakai. Kestutis was later murdered and Birute returned to Palanga serving the shrine until she died. Legend claims that she was buried in the hill which is now named after her. I’ve not managed to visit Palanga as yet but it’s still on my bucket list.

Lithuania or Lietuva to the locals is one of the three Baltic states. In the 14th century the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest state in Europe, including most of present day Belarus and Ukraine along with parts of Poland and Russia. On 1 January 2015, Lithuania adopted the euro as the official currency and became the 19th member of the Eurozone.

Vilnius is the capital with a population of 543,000 is well known for it’s Unesco inscribed medieval old town, the largest in Eastern Europe. Other highlights include Vilnius Cathedral, Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and the Museum of Genocide victims (dedicated to thousands of Lithuanians who were murdered, imprisoned or deported by the Soviet Union from WWII until the 1960s). Another highlight is The Curonian spit, a 98km curved sand dune spit separating the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea which was formed about 3rd millennium BC.

Lithuanian dishes feature pork, potato, berries, mushrooms and dairy products among other ingredients. The cuisine takes influence from its Baltic neighbours as well as Polish and Ukrainian food. I came across recipes for Kugelis (potato pudding), Cepelinai (potato-based dumplings), Blynai (crepes), Pyragas (Lithuanian style cakes) and Šaltibarščiai (cold borscht soup). I decided to make Suktiniai or Zrazai (stuffed beef rolls) which we had with mash potato. It took a little bit of effort bashing out and rolling up the beef, but the result was really tasty, especially the sauce that accompanies it.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 40 mins
Cook time: 50 mins

1⁄2 cup dried mushroom, porcini preferred
1 tbsp butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 oz button mushrooms, chopped
1⁄4 cup fresh rye breadcrumbs
1⁄4 tsp salt
1⁄4 tsp freshly ground pepper
350 – 400g steak (I used 2 bavette steaks)
freshly ground pepper
salt
4 tbsp flour
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp sour cream

Rinse the dry mushrooms and place in a small bowl. Cover with boiling water and let stand for a few hours
Preheat oven to 175 c
Remove the dried mushrooms with a slotted spoon. Chop the mushrooms. Strain and reserve the soaking liquid
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the onions and both types of mushrooms and fry over medium high heat, until the liquid released by the mushrooms start to evaporate, about 10 minutes.
Remove to a bowl, add the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper, and mix well. Set aside. (You can prepare to this point, and refrigerate until you are ready to complete the dish).
Cut the steaks into 6 pieces and place them individually in between clingfilm and bash to 1cm thick. Salt and pepper both sides.
Place a spoonful of the filling at one end, and roll it up, tucking in the sides. Use toothpicks to secure the rolls
Heat the remaining butter and oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Dredge the rolls in flour, tapping off the excess, and brown on all sides in the skillet for 5 mins
As the rolls finish browning, remove them to a Dutch oven or similar covered casserole dish, keeping them in a single layer.
Reduce the heat to medium, add 1/2 cup chicken stock to the skillet and heat, scraping and mixing in with the pan juices. Add the mushroom soaking liquid and cook for 5 mins
Pour the juices over the rolls, add the bay leaf, cover tightly and place in oven, for about 45 minutes. Test with a knife – the roll should pierce with no resistance.
Remove the rolls to a serving dish, removing the toothpicks and place in the oven to keep warm
Put the juices into a saucepan and heat for a few mins, then take off the heat and add the sour cream, mixing well
Serve with mash

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Ingredients for Zrazai (Beef rolls)
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Bashing out the Zrazai (Beef rolls)
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Making the filling for Zrazai (Beef rolls)
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Zrazai (Beef rolls)
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Zrazai (Beef rolls)
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Zrazai (Beef rolls) with mash
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Curonian Spit Lithuania
Vilnius Cathedral
Vilnius Cathedral
Baltic Sea Lithuania
Baltic Sea, Lithuania

Malta

Malta is an archipelago in the central Mediterranean between Sicily and the North African coast and only the three largest islands – Malta (Malta), Gozo (Għawdex) and Comino (Kemmuna) are inhabited. Malta has a very long history dating back to 60 A.D. when St Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on the island while on his way to Rome.

Until 1800 Malta depended on cotton, tobacco and its shipyards for exports. It is now classified as an advanced economy by the IMF. Film production is a growing contributor to the Maltese economy as the Maltese government introduced financial incentives for filmmakers in 2005.
It is also a popular tourist destination with 1.6 million tourists each year. There are three Unesco world heritage sites – Valetta, Hal Saflieni Hypogeum (underground temple) and Megalithic Temples. I visited Malta with my mum 8 years ago and my highlights would be the Mdina (the walled city in Valetta), St Julian’s Bay and the view from the Valetta waterfront. Having now read more about Malta I would love to go back to visit the historical sites, the Blue Lagoon at Comino, San Blas Bay and the harbour of Wied iż-Żurrieq. Valetta has been named as the Capital of Culture 2018 so maybe a trip is in order.

The cuisine of Malta takes influence from nearby Sicily as well as England, France and Spain. Traditional dishes include Fenkata (stewed or fried rabbit), Laħam fuq il-fwar (steamed slices of beef), Lampuka (fish) and Pastizz (savoury pastry). I made Maltese Ravjul (ravioli), which I filled with ricotta, as I couldn’t get hold of Gozitan cheeselets. It is quite time consuming making and filling fresh pasta, but I enjoyed it so it was worth the effort.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 2 as a main course or 4 as a starter
Prep time: 1 – 1 ½ hours
Cook time: 20 mins

Dough:
200 g semolina
200 g flour
1 egg
100 – 120ml water
Salt

Filling:
25 g ricotta cheese
75g grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

Tomato sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, bashed unpeeled
200ml passata
Chicken (or vegetable) stock powder or cube
Black pepper

Sieve the flour, semolina and salt into a bowl, add the egg and stir with a knife. Gradually adding enough water to make a dough
Knead the dough for about 5 mins and then wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge for a couple of hours
To make the sauce, put the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat, add the bashed garlic and cook for a few minutes, taking care not to let it burn. Remove the garlic and add the passata, stock and pepper. Simmer for 15 mins

Place greaseproof paper on 2 baking sheets and sprinkle with flour
When ready to make the ravioli, mix the filling ingredients together
Cut the dough into 4 and using a pasta machine (if you don’t have one use a rolling pin), roll out the dough into long thin strips (up to setting 6 on the pasta machine).
Place the rolled out dough strips on to a floured surface whilst you continue to roll out the rest
Place a tsp of filling on the pastry strip with intervals of about 4 cm/1 ½ inch
Brush the edges of the strip with water and then place a rolled out dough strip on top, pressng down gently to seal and remove any air
Use a round pastry cutter to make round raviolis or a knife to cut into squares
Put the raviolis on to the baking sheet, whilst you make the rest (approx 24 raviolis)
Put a large pan of salted water on to boil and cook the raviolis in 2 separate batches for 6 minutes each, drain and drizzle a little oil over the first batch so they don’t stick to each other
Serve with a few spoonfuls of sauce over the top, chopped parsley and parmesan

Slovakia

Slovakia, a landlocked country in Central Europe, noted for the Carpathian mountains which cover most of the northern half of the country. Under the mountains are hundreds of caves, five of which are Unesco world heritage sites. There are around 31,000 miles of rivers in the Slovak territory.

Following WWI the Slovaks joined the Czechs to form Czechoslovakia and became an independent state allied with Nazi Germany in 1939. After WWII, it came under communist rule, until the ‘Velvet Revolution’ ended communist party rule in 1989. Slovakia became independent on 1 January 1993 after Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It has been a NATO and EU member since 2004.

Slovakia has some interesting guinness world records including; the highest score in an ice hockey match (they beat Bulgaria 82-0 in 2008), the most socks put on one foot in one minute (Pavol Durdik achieved 48 in 2015) and the longest career as a conductor is held by Slovakian Viliam Karmazin at 76 years.

Slovakian cuisine has influences from it’s bordering countries Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria, Ukraine and Poland with meat featuring highly. Some traditional dishes include bryndzové halušky (cheese and potato dumplings), Lokše (pancakes), Kapustnica (soup made from sauerkraut and sausage). I opted to cook Slovak Morcacie Plnene Prsia (stuffed turkey breast) which was relatively easy to make and we really enjoyed it.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 30 mins + 2 hours chill time
Cook time: 1 hour

1 large turkey breast (approx 450g is plenty enough for 2)
3 slices cheese
3 slices cooked ham (not too thick)
8 asparagus stalks
Salt & white pepper
1 apple
Butter for frying

Tenderise the Turkey breast by putting it in between clingfilm and bashing lightly with a rolling pin to flatten out.
Sprinkle with salt and white pepper.
Place a slice of ham, cheese, and several asparagus stalks across the top of the turkey.
Roll up the turkey, using the cling film to keep it tightly secured, twist the ends to seal. Place in the fridge for a couple of hours.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 175 degrees.
Use string to tie up the turkey breast to keep the stuffing in (you can use tooth picks if you find this easier)
Heat a knob of butter in an oven proof pan over a medium heat and place the turkey roll in the pan, browning it on each side (takes about 5 mins)
Place the pan in the oven for 30 minutes.
While this is cooking, peel an apple and grate it.
After 30 minutes cooking, sprinkle the shredded apple on top and put the turkey back in the oven for a further 30 minutes.
Once cooked remove it from the pan and let it rest for a minute or two before slicing it into four.
Serve with mash and green beans.

Switzerland

Switzerland or officially the Swiss Confederation, is the best place to be born in the world, ranking number 1 in the EIU ‘where to be born’ index (previously known as quality of life index).
The Swiss Confederation was established on 1 August 1291, which is celebrated annually as the Swiss National Day. It has not been in a state of war internationally since 1815 and ranks number 5 in the Global Peace index.

Some random interesting facts
The Swiss eat more chocolate than any other nation in the world, 11.3 kg per year.
One is never more than 10 miles from a lake in Switzerland.
In Switzerland, it is illegal to keep just one guinea pig. They must be kept in pairs.
Albert Einstein came up with his theory of relativity and the formula E=MC2 in Bern, Switzerland.
The Sonnenberg tunnel in Lucerne is able to house up to 20,000 people for an extended period of time as a fallout shelter. It serves as the world’s largest nuclear bomb shelter.
The Dalai Lama owns the smallest vineyard in the world, which is located in Switzerland.
The most expensive hotel room in the world is The Royal Penthouse suite at Hotel President Wilson in Geneva. Bill Gates and Michael Douglas have both been residents. At $83,000 per night you can enjoy your own private elevator, gym, 12 bedrooms and 12 marble bathrooms, a Steinway Grand Piano, and a panoramic view of Lake Geneva.

Swiss cuisine shows many regional influences as well as French, German and Italian. Traditional dishes include Rosti (fried grated potato), Papet Vaudois (potatoes, leek with sausage) , Zürcher Geschnetzeltes (veal and mushroom in a cream sauce), Bűndnernusstorte (caramelised nut filled pastry) and Zopf (plaited loaf). Although I had a recommendation from Valerie who I had met on holiday, my friends and family well know that I am addicted to cheese, so there really was only one recipe for me to cook; it had to be Fondue! My sister and brother in law joined us for the evening and suffice to say, it was truly scrumptious.

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 15-20 mins

2 French sticks (a day old), cut into cubes
1 clove of garlic
350ml dry white
2tsp cornstarch
400g Vacherin Fribourgeois, grated
400g Gruyere, grated
2 tsp of kirsch
pepper

Half the garlic and rub it around the fondue pot
Dissolve the cornstarch in the kirsch
Place the fondue pot on the stove over a low heat
Pour the wine into the fondue pot and bring it to a simmer
Gradually add the grated cheese, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until it melts together.
Add the kirsch and the pepper.
Transfer to the serving stand, with the burner on a steady temperature.
Serve with the cubed bread.

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Ingredients for Swiss fondue
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Swiss fondue
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Family enjoying Swiss fondue
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Swiss fondue

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Monaco

The Principality of Monaco is the second smallest country in the world with Prince Albert II as the head of state. The House of Grimaldi have ruled Monaco, with brief interruptions, since 1297. A treaty was agreed in 2002 that if the reigning Prince failed to leave dynastic offspring, then sovereignty over the Grimaldi realm would revert to France (no pressure there then Princes of Monaco!)

In 2014 it was noted about 30% of Monaco’s population was made up of millionaires and it is the third most expensive country in the world. From a brief internet search I managed to find a 4 bedroom villa for sale, overlooking the harbour for a nice sum of 45 million pounds. Well, we can all dream!!

Tourism and gambling drive the economy with millions flocking to Monaco each year for the luxurious beachfront hotels, the extensive yacht harbour and the famous Monte Carlo Casino. If money was no object, you could lunch at Louis XV, Monaco’s most prestigious dining address, spoil yourself with a gold dust bath at the Thermes Marin de Monte Carlo, take in a performance by the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra or shop till you drop at the famous 5 Pavillions shopping area.

When it comes to the food, there are 237 restaurants in Monaco serving any and every type of cuisine you could wish for. Traditional Monegasque dishes include Brandamincium (salt cod pounded with garlic, oil & cream), Pan Bagnats (Monegasque sandwiches) and Socca (chickpea crepes). I opted to make Barbajuans (pastries filled with cheese and chard) and they were very tasty, a little fiddly to make, but worth the effort.

Rating: 8/10

Makes 12 – 14
Prep time: 25 mins + 1 hour chill time
Cook time: 20 mins

For the pastry
125g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
50g water

For the filling
1 tbsp onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp leek, finely chopped
3 stems swiss chard leaves, stems removed, chopped
1 tbsp parmesan, freshly grated
1/3 tsp dried oregano
1 egg beaten
1 1/2 tbsp ricotta
1/2 tbsp olive oil

Mix the flour with water (at room temperature) salt and extra virgin olive oil. Start mixing with a fork first, then with your hands until ingredients are perfectly blended.
Knead vigorously on a floured surface until smooth, around 8 – 10 minutes.
Form the dough into a ball and wrap it in cling film. Place in the fridge for 1 hour.

Heat olive oil in heavy medium skillet over medium heat.
Fry the onion and leek about 4 mins.
Add chard, oregano and fry for about 8 mins until tender.
Transfer to a small bowl and mix in cheeses.
Season with salt and pepper, mix in 1 tbsp egg.
Set aside to cool.

Roll out dough on floured surface to 1mm thickness and cut out 12 – 14 rounds using 2-2 ½”” cutter.
Place 1/2 tsp. of filling in center of each round.
Brush edges of rounds with egg.
Stretch the dough out and fold it over, forming half-circle, pressing the edges with a fork to seal.
Place pastries on baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper.

Pour vegetable oil into large skillet to depth of 1 ½”” and heat to 375°F.
Working in batches, fry pastries until brown and crisp, about 5 min.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer pastries to paper towel and drain. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Ingredients for Barbajuans
IMG_9539
Dough for Barbajuans
Filling for Barbagiuans (savoury pastries)
Filling for Barbajuans
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Making the Barbajuans
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Making the Barbajuans
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Frying the Barbajuans
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Frying the Barbajuans
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Barbadians (savoury filled pastries)
Port of Monaco
Port of Monaco
Monte Carlo Casino
Monte Carlo Casino

Portugal

I’ve visited Portugal a few times and was looking forward to what the cuisine had in store for me. Piri Piri chicken is one of my favourites, so I was optimistic and fortunately not disappointed!
Portugal is situated on the Iberian Peninsula and was founded in 1139, making it one of the oldest nations in Europe. It is also the most westerly and it’s 754 mile long border with Spain is the longest in the EU.

Here are a few interesting facts I came across:
Portugal was the first county in the world to decriminalize the usage of all common drugs.
The biggest wave ever surfed, at 90ft (27.5m) was at Praia de Norte in Portugal by Hawaiian Garret McNamara.
The longest bridge in Europe, measuring 10.5 miles (17 kilometers) in length, is the Vasco da Gama bridge in Lisbon, completed in 1998 to celebrate the 500th year anniversary of the discovery of the sea route between Europe and India.
The largest community of Portuguese outside Portugal is in Paris.
There are 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Portugal and more than 13 million tourists visit the country each year.
The largest artificial underwater park in the world – The Ocean Revival Underwater Park is in Portugal.
The oldest director in the world, Manoel de Oliveira lived until he was 106 and continued to make films until his death on 2 April 2015.
Portugal is the largest producer of cork in the world, around 70% of total production.

Besides the obvious Piri Piri, there were plenty of tasty recipe options I found including Cataplana stew with Sausage and Clams , Cabidela (rice with chicken or rabbit), Caldeirada (fish stew) , Canja de galinha (chicken soup) , Espetada (chunks of beef rubbed in garlic and salt, skewered and barbequed), Queijada (a sweet made with cheese, milk, sugar & eggs) , Peixinhos da horta (deep fried green beans) and Camel’s drool (a portuguese sweet that recently featured on Master Chef, UK). I opted for Carne de Porco à Alentejana (pork and clams). It was relatively simple and tasted really good. I served it with Portuguese style fried potatoes, which were equally delicious.

Rating: A high 9/10!

Serves 2
Prep time: 30 mins + 10 – 24 hours marinating time
Cook time: 45 mins

450g pork fillet cut into 2″ thick slices
50 ml dry white wine
250 ml milk
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
100 ml vermouth
500g clams (fresh or frozen)
175 ml (3/4 cup) chicken stock
1 bunch thyme, tied with kitchen string
1 tbsp parsley, chopped

For the roast pepper paste
2 long red peppers
6 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper

To make roast pepper paste
Preheat oven to 200°C. Place peppers and garlic cloves in an oven tray with olive oil. Season well and roast for 35 – 40 minutes or until softened and slightly blackened. Transfer to a bowl, cool slightly, then remove the skins and seeds from the peppers and the garlic skins.
Blend the peppers and garlic in a food processor until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and cover with oil.

To make the Porco à Alentejana
Place pork in a bowl with white wine, milk, bay leaves, ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp white pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 10 – 24 hours.
Drain, discard liquid and pat dry with paper towel.
Preheat oven to 180°C.
Heat oil in a large ovenproof and lidded casserole dish over high heat and brown the pork for 3 minutes.
Remove the pork using a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl.
Add garlic and onions to the same pan and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or until softened.
Stir in ¼ cup roast pepper paste, vermouth and pork.
Place the dish in the oven and bake, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until pork is tender.
Add clams, stock and thyme, cover the pan and bake for a further 10 minutes or until the clams have opened.
Remove the thyme sprig.
Season and sprinkle with parsley.
Serve with Portuguese style fried potatoes.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic is an independent country in Central Europe consisting of the regions of Bohemia and Moravia. It was once part of the Great Moravian Empire formed by Slav tribes in the early ninth century. At the close of WW I, the Czechs and Slovaks of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire merged to form Czechoslovakia. On 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved, with its constituent states becoming the independent states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Some interesting facts:
The Czech Republic possesses a developed high-income economy with a per capita GDP rate that is 87% of the European Union average.
Škoda Auto is one of the largest car manufacturers in Central Europe. In 2014, it sold a record number of 1,037,000 cars.
The Czech Republic has the most Wi-Fi subscribers in the European Union.
Czech people are the world’s heaviest consumers of beer.
The Charles University in Prague, founded in 1348, is the oldest university in Eastern Europe, and one of the oldest in the world in continuous operation.
The Czech chemists Otto Wichterle and Drahoslav Lím invented the soft contact lenses in 1959.

The Czech economy gets a substantial income from tourism. Prague is the fifth most visited city in Europe after London, Paris, Istanbul and Rome. The spa towns of Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázně, Františkovy Lázně and Jáchymov, are also popular relaxing holiday destinations. There are many castles and palaces that appeal to visitors namely Prague Castle, the castle and chateau in Český Krumlov and Karlštejn Castle.

Czech cuisine is marked by a strong emphasis on meat dishes. Pork is quite common, beef and chicken are also popular. Dishes I came across during my research include Houbova Polevka Myslivecka (Hunter’s mushroom soup), Pečené kuře s brambory (Roasted chicken with potatoes), Koleno (Roast pork knuckle), Knedlíky (dumplings) and Schnitzel (fried breaded meat). I opted to cook Hovězí Guláš (Czech Beef Goulash) which I served with rice and thick slices of bread. Along with our guests, we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rating: 9/10

Serves 4 hungry people
Prep time: 25 mins
Cook time: 2 hours

500g sirloin steak, cut into cubes
2 medium size onions, chopped
1/4 cup of oil
2 tsp caraway seeds
3 tsp sugar
3 tsp paprika
4 garlic cloves
4 tbsp tomato paste
1 1/2 tbsp salt
pepper
5 cups water
1 beef oxo cube
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 tsp marjoram

Fry the onions in the oil over a medium heat for 5 – 10 minutes, so they are soft but not browned
Add the caraway seeds, sugar, paprika, garlic and mix well to coat, cook for 2 minutes
Add the tomato paste and mix well
Add the beef and mix well to coat
Add the salt, pepper, oxo cube and water
Bring to just before boiling point, reduce the heat and simmer for 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally
Add the breadcrumbs and stir
Simmer for a further 30 minutes
Turn off the heat, add the marjoram and stir
Serve with rice or thick slices of bread (or both)

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Ingredients for Hovězí Guláš (beef goulash)
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Making Hovězí Guláš (beef goulash)
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Hovězí Guláš (beef goulash)
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Hovězí Guláš (beef goulash)

 

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Our guests enjoying Hovězí Guláš (beef goulash) … cheers!

 

Latvia

The Republic of Latvia was founded on 18 November 1918 but it was annexed by the USSR in 1940 – an action never recognized by the US and many other countries. Latvia reestablished its independence in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union. It is situated in the Baltic region of Northern Europe and is one of the three Baltic states along with Estonia and Lithuania. Latvia became a member of the European Union in 2004. Most of Latvia’s territory is less than 100 metres above sea level and it has the 5th highest proportion of land covered by forests in the European Union. Latvia has a long tradition of conservation. Nationally protected areas account for around 20% of Latvia’s total land area. The 2012 Environmental Performance Index ranks Latvia second, after Switzerland, based on the environmental performance of the country’s policies.

Arvids Blumentāls aka the original Crocodile Dundee (he was the inspiration behind the Crocodile Dundee character played by Paul Hogan) was born in Latvia.

Riga, Latvia’s capital, was the European Capital of Culture 2014 and it’s historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is famous for notable wooden and art nouveau architecture, a vast Central Market and a medieval Old Town. Riga Cathedral was founded in 1211 and is the largest medieval church in the Baltic. Other Latvia highlights are emerald lakes and blueberry fields in Latgale Lakelands, Cape Kolka (desolate coastal villages) and Gauja National Park. The Venta Rapid, a waterfall on the Venta River in Kuldīga, is the widest waterfall in Europe at 249 metres and up to 270 metres during spring floods. Its height is 1.80–2.20 metres.

Latvian cuisine features meat in most main dishes. Pork and potatoes are common ingredients, along with cabbage, onions and eggs. It also offers plenty of varieties of bread and milk products, which are an important part of the Latvian cuisine. Some recipes I found include Rupjmaize (dark rye bread), Kāpostu tīteņi (cabbage rolls), Biezpiena sieriņš (pressed cottage cheese) and Skābeņu zupa (sorrel soup). I decided to make Pīrāgi (bacon pies), which I served as a snack to guests and they went down very well indeed.

Rating: 9/10

Makes 75
Prep time: 1.5 hour + 1.5 hours proving time
Cook time: 45 mins

For the dough
500ml milk
125ml cream
125g sugar
4 tsps dry yeast
125g butter, cubed
125g sour cream
1kg plain flour
1 egg, lightly whisked
1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp salt

For the filling
500g streaky bacon
1 small onion
salt and pepper
Extra flour for rolling
1 egg for egg wash

Put 385ml of milk and cream in a saucepan and add the sugar. Heat the mixture until it becomes blood warm. (Test by placing couple drops on your wrist, if the milk feels very hot, let it cool down a bit. Do not get the milk to the boiling point as it will kill the yeast.)
Place the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl and add 115ml of milk. Combine well and set aside for 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, pour the heated milk mixture and add cubed butter, sour cream and the whisked egg, combine well.
Add the yeast, sifted flour and salt and mix until all is combined well to create the dough. Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and does not stick to the hands or the bowl (add a bit more flour if necessary).
Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and place in a warm spot for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size (about 1 to 1 1/2 hours).
Meanwhile, make the filling: finely cut the bacon and the onion, add a teaspoon of finely ground pepper and combine well.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Whisk the egg in a small bowl, add 1/4 cup of milk and set aside.
Sprinkle some flour on the rolling surface and place the dough on it. Cut it in quarters and work on each quarter at a time by rolling it until the dough is 5 mm thick.
Cut out circles about 6 cm in diameter. Place one teaspoon of filling on one side of the circle and fold over. Tightly press the dough together using your fingers, place pīrāgis seam side down and bend in a shape of a half moon.
Transfer pies on to the baking tray, spaced about 2 cm apart. Using a pastry brush, brush each pie with the egg wash.
Place the tray in the oven and bake for 15-17 minutes until golden brown.

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Ingredients for Pīrāgi
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Pīrāgi dough
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Pīrāgi (space them further apart than shown in this picture)
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Pīrāgi
Latvia old town
Riga old town
Riga art nouveau
Art nouveau, Riga

Estonia

The territory of Estonia consists of a mainland and 2,222 islands and islets in the Baltic Sea. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia, and to the east by Lake Peipus and Russia.

Invaded by both the USSR and Germany during WW2 and after, Estonia became independent (for the second time) in September 1991. The Singing Revolution is the term used for the events between 1987 and 1991 that led to the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The term was coined by an Estonian activist and artist, Heinz Valk, in an article published a week after spontaneous mass night-singing demonstrations at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. In 1989 in a landmark demonstration for independence, more than two million people formed a human chain stretching through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, called the Baltic Way. Despite not being directly involved in the WW2 (only fighting against the occupation of its land), Estonia lost around 20-25% of its population during the war; some left the country and some died as a result of the war.

The first version of the Skype software was created by three Estonians (Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu, and Jaan Tallinn) in 2003, in cooperation with Janus Friis from Denmark and Niklas Zennström from Sweden. Today it has nearly 700 million users worldwide, of which over 100 million use it each month. Most of the development team and nearly half of all employees of Skype are still situated in Estonia. It is often described as one of the most internet-focused countries in Europe with Tallinn being listed among the top 10 digital cities in the world.

Tallinn’s Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s highlights include the award winning KUMU art museum, the Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral and Kadriorg Park. The residents of Tallinn receive completely free public transport, which has helped to reduce cars in the city and decrease pollution.

Traditional Estonian cuisine has substantially been based on meat and potatoes, and fish in coastal and lakeside areas. Today it is influenced by many countries. Recipes I came across include Taidetud vasikarind (Roast stuffed shoulder of veal) , Kringel (cinnamon buns), Karask (Barley bread) and Rosolje (sausages served with potatoes). I decided to cook Hakklihakotlet (ground meat patties) and I served them in burger buns with melted cheese. They were simple to make and pretty tasty.

Rating: 8/10

Makes 8 patties

Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 20 mins

220g lean ground beef
220g lean ground veal
220g ground lean pork
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 tsp salt
1⁄4 tsp ground black pepper
1⁄2 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup cold water
4 tablespoons vegetable oil

In a large mixing bowl, combine everything except for 1 cup bread crumbs and the oil, and knead with your hands for 5-10 minutes or until mixture is smooth, light and fluffy.
Moisten your hands with cold water and shape the mixture into 8 thick, round patties, then dip each in the remaining bread crumbs, coating all sides.
Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan over a medium to high heat.
Fry the patties 4 at a time for about 5-10 minutes on each side, keeping an eye on the heat so that they brown but don’t burn.
To make sure that they are fully cooked insert the tip of a knife into one of the patties and look to see that there is no pink. If it is still pink in the middle, lower the heat and cook for a few minutes longer.
Serve in burger buns with your choice of melted cheese.

 

Greece

Greece is on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe. It is mostly dry and mountainous with a large mainland and more than 1,400 islands, of which 227 are inhabited.  Greece has 9000 miles of coastline, making it the 10th longest coastline in the world.

Greece has one of the longest histories of any country, and is considered the cradle of Western civilization.  It is the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy and the Olympic games.  Athens is one of the world’s oldest cities with the first inhabitants present around the 11th-7th millennium BC.

Some interesting stats – it has by far the lowest number of fatal transport accidents per capita in the EU, one of the lowest death rates for cancer and one of the lowest divorce rates in the EU.

Three of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient world were in Greece – the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and Colossus of Rhodes, none of which exist today.  The amazing sights of the Parthenon, the Acropolis and Ancient Olympia are some of Greece’s ancient treasures, which along with it’s striking landscapes, and pleasing climate entices 16.5 million visitors a year.

Greece is the third largest producer of olives in the entire world.  There are estimated to be around 120,000,000 olive trees in Greece, and some of the olive trees from the 13th century are still producing olives today.

The cuisine of Greece dates back several millennia, is hugely varied and includes a wide array of ingredients.  Greek cuisine has evolved and absorbed numerous influences and influenced many cuisines itself.   Some of their typical dishes are Fasolada (bean and vegetable soup), Souvlaki (skewered meat or fish), Moussaka (casserole of aubergine, minced meat and potato), Saganaki (fried cheese), Keftedes Arni (lamb meatballs), Sofrito (veal escalopes from Corfu).  From the many recipes I came across, eventually I decided to cook Rabbit Stifado (slow cooked stew) which originates from Corfu.

Rating: 8/10

Serves 4 (alongside potatoes & veg)
Prep time: 10 mins + 2 hours marinating
Cook time: 1hr 15 mins

1 rabbit, jointed
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 bay leaves
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
150ml olive oil
1/4 tsp sugar
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 small cinnamon stick
Salt and black pepper
1/2 tsp allspice
1 sprig rosemary
150ml red wine
300ml hot water
675g button onions, whole

Rinse the rabbit pieces and place them in a mixing bowl together with the bay leaves and vinegar.
Mix well and leave to marinate for at least 2 hours.
Remove the rabbit from the marinade and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Heat half of the olive oil in a large saucepan until hot, add the rabbit and fry them in until quite brown on all sides.
Add the garlic, bay leaves, spices, rosemary, wine, tomato puree and sugar and the hot water.
Season with salt and pepper, bring to the boil mixing well then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan, add the onions and saute gently for 15 minutes stirring occasionally, until golden all over.
After the rabbit has been cooking for 1 hour, add the onions and oil from the frying pan to the saucepan.
Mix, then re-cover and simmer for a further 15 minutes.

Ukraine

Ukraine, the largest country in Europe (excluding Russia) is 603,628 square kilometres with a coastline of 2,782 kms.  It borders the Black Sea, Poland, Romania, and Moldova in the west and Russia in the east.  The geographic center of Europe is considered to be in a small Western Ukrainian town called Rahiv.  Ukraine’s population has been declining since the 1990s because of its high death rate and a low birth rate. The population is shrinking by over 150,000 annually since 1993.  Ukrainians are of Slavic origin. About 75% of the population is ethnic Ukrainian. The largest minority group is the Russians at about 20%.

The territory of modern Ukraine has been inhabited since 32,000 BC. During the Middle Ages, the area was a key centre of East Slavic culture, with the powerful state of Kievan Rus’ forming the basis of Ukrainian identity.  It has been ruled and divided by a variety of powers, including Lithuania, Poland, the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary, and Russia.  It is currently in territorial dispute with Russia over the Crimean peninsula which Russia annexed in 2014 but which Ukraine and most of the international community recognise as Ukrainian.

Ukraine suffered the world’s worst recorded nuclear accident. On the morning of April 26, 1986, reactor No. 4 at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant, 80 miles north of Kiev, exploded, sending radioactive contaminants three miles up into the atmosphere and out over parts of Europe, Asia, and North America.

For the visitor it offers a diverse range of sights and activities namely; the Carpathian mountains and National Park, the 16th century Khan’s Palace, Yalta, the laid back beach resort, the quaint town of Lviv, a Unesco World heritage site and Kyiv, the capital with plenty of cultural points of interest.

The diet of Ukraine features chicken, pork, beef, fish and mushrooms.  Popular traditional dishes include varenyky (dumplings), nalysnyky (filled pancakes) and of course chicken kiev.  Some other recipes I came across were Kruchenyky (meat rolls), Pyrizhky (stuffed pastry buns) and Shynka (baked ham).  I opted to cook Mazuricks (turkey cutlets with cheese), which I served to a number of guests as a bit of a snack along with drinks and they went down extremely well!

Rating: 9/10

Serves: makes 34 bite size mazuricks
Prep time: 20 mins + 40 mins cooling

Cook time: 15 mins

750g turkey mince
112g finely grated cheddar cheese
75g butter
2 eggs
37ml milk
150g plain flour
75g breadcrumbs
2 tbsp vegetable oil
A few sprigs of thyme
2 garlic cloves bashed
Salt & pepper

Put the turkey mince into a mixing bowl. Melt the butter and add to the meat, stir well.
Add the eggs, milk, salt, pepper, flour and cheese to the meat. Stir well until fully combined.
Shape into balls, sausages or patties and roll in breadcrumbs.
Put them into bowl with a tightly fitted lid and store into fridge for 40 mins.
Heat the vegetable oil in frying pan, add thyme twigs and garlic.
Once garlic is browned, remove it from the oil along with thyme.
Fry the mazuricks on both sides in the flavoured oil, approximately 10 – 15 minutes (depending on the size).
I wasn’t serving them straight away, so I heated them up in the oven on 170c for 10 minutes before serving.

Belarus

Belarus (meaning “White Russia”) is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Alexander Lukashenko has been the country’s president since 1994. Belarus has been labeled “”Europe’s last dictatorship”” by some Western journalists on account of Lukashenko’s self-described authoritarian style of government. Belarus is the only country in Europe which retains capital punishment in law and in practice.

About 40% of Belarus is covered by forests and it also has 11,000 lakes. About 70% of the radiation from neighboring Ukraine’s 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster entered Belarusian territory, and about a fifth of Belarusian land (principally farmland and forests in the southeastern regions) was affected by radiation fallout. Belarusians continue to suffer from high incidences of cancer and birth defects, and about 25 percent of the land is considered uninhabitable. The United Nations and other agencies have aimed to reduce the level of radiation in affected areas.

Most of the monuments in Belarus dedicated to Lenin. In every city there is a Lenin Street. Highlights for visitors to Belarus include Radziwill Palace Fortress, the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, the 16th century Mir Castle and the Chagall Museum (which houses some of Marc Chagall’s designs and lithographs but sadly there aren’t more Chagall paintings in Belarus because his work was banned by the Soviet government).
Belarus has four UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites: the Mir Castle Complex, the Nesvizh Castle, the Belovezhskaya Pushcha (shared with Poland), and the Struve Geodetic Arc (shared with nine other countries).

Some of the recipes I came across for Belarus were Zrazy (stuffed meat rolls) , Mazurka (almond cake) , Machanka (pork stew) and Draniki (potato pancakes). I opted to cook Lazanki (Belarusian pasta). I served it with a mushroom, ham and cheese sauce. It was pretty simple and easy to make and tasted good. I would cook the pasta a bit less and make the sauce a bit looser next time! You could also add some saffron to the water before making the pasta in order to give it more of a pleasant colour, as it was a bit anaemic.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 4
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 7 mins

For the lazanki
1 egg
350g plain flour
5g salt

For the sauce
50g plain flour
70g butter
150ml milk
100g bacon or lardons
75g sliced mushrooms
50g grated cheddar

For the lazanki
Beat the egg.
Add 1/2 cup of water to the egg, add salt and flour (250 g) and then carry on adding flour in small quantities until the dough comes together.
Mix the dough with your hands and divide it into 3 equal parts.
Roll out all of the dough (use a pasta machine if you have one – keep flouring the dough as you put it through)
Cut the dough into small squares with a sharp knife.
Boil salted water, add the lazankis and cook for approximately 7 minutes (or 5 minutes if you like it a bit al dente).
Put lazankis onto the plates and pour over the sauce.

For the sauce
Put the flour & 50g of the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat and stir to a paste.
Add the milk slowly to form a sauce and keep stirring for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Meanwhile heat a small frying pan and fry the bacon until browned, about 5 minutes. Remove to a plate.
Add remaining butter to the pan and fry the sliced mushrooms for 5 minutes.
Heat the sauce on a low heat and add the cheese to the sauce, mix it in, then add the bacon and mushrooms and stir through.

 

Moldova

Moldova is a landlocked nation located in eastern Europe, between Ukraine and Romania, although it is only a stone’s throw from the Black Sea. Most of Moldova was part of Romania before World War II, and two-thirds of Moldovans speak Romanian. It gained independence in 1991.

Moldova has a very vibrant wine industry dating back many many years. 67 Million bottles are exported every year. Vineyards planted in villages around the houses used to make home-made wine, or “vin de casa”. Many families have their own recipes and strands of grapes that have been passed down through the generations. Since 2013 Russia has imposed a ban on Moldovan wine being sold in the country, ever since Moldova signed a draft treaty with the European Union. This has damaged the wine industry of Moldova significantly.

According to Trip Advisor the top 3 things to do in Moldova are: 1. Stefan cel Mare Park in Central Chişinău (the capital). Formerly known as Pushkin Park, it is the oldest park in Moldova and spans about 7 hectares. – Victory Memorial and Eternal Flame is the national memorial commemorating the nameless Moldovan soldiers who fell during WWII. – Milestii Mici winery. Its underground wine city in limestone stretches for 250 km of which 120 km are currently in use. Milestii Mici cellar complex is recognized to be the largest in the world.

Recipes that I came across during my research include; Ciorba (sour soup) , Mititei (minced meat), Mamaliga (cornmeal mash) , Sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls), Colțunași (dumplings). I opted to cook the popular dish Zeama (chicken noodle soup). It had a subtle flavour and felt like a healthy bowl of goodness! According to my husband a bit of chilli would’ve given it a nice zing!

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2 hungry people
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1.5 hours + 30 mins standing time

4 chicken thighs on the bone
800ml water
salt & black pepper
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 medium carrot, chopped
1/2 big fresh tomato, chopped
100g egg noodles (I used medium but fine would be better)
2 tbsps lemon juice
1 tbsp finely chopped medium celery stalk (reserve celery leaves, if any)
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill weed
3 fresh thyme sprigs

Saute the onion and carrots until soft in a deep stock pot. Add the chicken and water then bring to a boil.
Turn heat down to medium-low heat and simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour. Skim any froth.
Add a teaspoon of salt, black pepper, tomato and celery and cook for 5 minutes.
(The recipe didn’t say to do this, but I’m not a fan of chicken on the bone in a bowl of noodle soup so at this point I removed the chicken to a plate, removed the skin & bones, cut it up and then placed it back into the pot)
Add the egg noodles and lemon juice.
Continue cooking on medium-low for about 5 more minutes.
Add the fresh herbs (including celery leaves, if any).
Cover, remove from heat. Let stand for at least 30 minutes to let flavors blend.