El Salvador

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9/10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serve with rice and tortillas

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Ingredients for Carne guisada (saucy beef with potatoes and carrots)
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Carne guisada (saucy beef with potatoes and carrots)
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Carne guisada (saucy beef with potatoes and carrots)
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Carne guisada (saucy beef with potatoes and carrots)
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Carne guisada (saucy beef with potatoes and carrots)
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La Libertad beach, El Salvador
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Pedro de Alvarado
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Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador
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St Kitts and Nevis

The Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis is a dual island country in the West Indies known for cloud-shrouded mountains and beaches. It is the smallest country in the Caribbean (and indeed in the whole of the Americas), covering just 104 square miles, and is home to around 45,000 people. Both islands were discovered by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in 1493.

Cricket is common in Saint Kitts and Nevis and was the smallest country to host 2007 Cricket World Cup matches at the capital, Basseterre’s stadium. Top players can be selected for the West Indies cricket team.

St. Kitts is dependent upon tourism to drive its economy. Tourism to the island has been expanding since 1978. In 2009 there were 587,479 arrivals to Saint Kitts compared to 379,473 in 2007, representing an increase of just under 40% in a two year period. The two biggest occasions in the social calendar are the St. Kitts Music Festival, held in June and now in its 20th year and the St. Kitts-Nevis National Carnival, also known as Sugar Mas, which takes place around Christmas and New Year.

St Kitts’ historical highlight, Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park, became a Unesco World Heritage site in 1999 for being an exceptionally well-preserved example of 17th and 18th century military architecture. It was designed by British military engineers and built by African slave labour.

Local St Kitts and Nevis cooking is simple, spicy and makes use of the plentiful fresh fish, vegetables and fruit. Some specialities include Droppers (coconut dumplings), Stewed saltfish, Goat waterstew (goat and tomato based stew), Cook up or Pelau (chicken, pigtail, saltfish with rice and vegetables), Rikkita beef (fried beefsteak marinated in Champagne and hot peppers), Conkies (cornmeal savoury snack) and Coconut rum bread pudding. I decided to make Jam Cake, which was full of lovely spice and nuttiness.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: Makes 10 – 12 slices
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes

1-3/4 cups flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup seedless blackberry jam
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs

Caramel Icing (optional)
113g unsalted butter
300g brown sugar
3 fl oz double cream
200g icing sugar

Mix all ingredients (except the jam) together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle (or by hand with a wooden spoon).
Pour into 2 greased and floured 9-inch cake pans
Bake at 175 C for 35 minutes
Leave the cakes to cool then take them out of the pans on to a wire rack

To make the icing
Add the butter, cream and brown sugar to a pan and heat for 2 minutes, stirring to combine
Sift the icing sugar and beat into the mixture

Spread the blackberry jam over the top of one of the cakes and top with the other
Pour the icing over the top of the cake (you may have some left over which you can freeze)
Serve with tea and coffee

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Ingredients for Jam Cake
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Jam Cake
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Jam Cake
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Caramel sauce for Jam Cake
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Caramel sauce for Jam Cake
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Jam Cake
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Jam Cake
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Jam Cake
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Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park
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Basseterre, St Kitts and Nevis

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a Central American country known for its beaches, volcanoes and biodiversity. More than 25% of Costa Rican land is protected national parks and refuges. There are over 130 species of fish, 220 of reptiles, 1,000 butterflies (10% of the world’s butterflies), 9,000 plants, 20,000 species of spiders and 34,000 species of insects. Costa Rica has successfully managed to diminish deforestation from some of the worst rates in the world from 1973 to 1989, to almost zero by 2005. It was identified by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) as the greenest country in the world in 2009.

Costa Rica stands as the most visited nation in the Central American region, with 2.66 million foreign visitors in 2015. Since 1999, tourism earns more foreign exchange than bananas, pineapples and coffee exports combined. Elected in 2007 by Costa Ricans through an open contest in a leading newspaper, the 7 natural wonders of Costa Rica are:
1. Cocos Island
2. Arenal Volcano
3. Chirripo Mountain
4. Celeste River
5. Tortuguero Canals
6. Poás Volcano
7. Monteverde Reserve

Costa Rican fare is nutritionally well rounded, and nearly always cooked from scratch from fresh ingredients. Rice and black beans are a staple of most traditional Costa Rican meals. Recipes I came across included Olla de carne or “pot of beef” (beef stew with potatoes and vegetables), Casado (rice, black beans, plantains, salad served with tortilla and meat), Gallo pinto (spotted chicken with rice and beans), Patacones (fried plantains), Arroz con Pollo (chicken and fried rice), Sodas (savoury pastries), Ceviche (raw seafood salad) and Arepas (crepes). I made Sopa Negra (black bean soup) which was simple to make, healthy and flavoursome.

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2 as a starter or light lunch
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1.5 hours (if cooking the beans)

1 can of cooked black beans drained or 100g dried black beans
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup coriander, finely chopped
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup oil
350 ml water
1 hard boiled egg per portion (optional)

If using dried black beans, cook according to packet instructions
Fry the onion and coriander until onion is softened
Add the beans and the remaining ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth
Put it back in the pan and heat for 5 minutes but don’t boil
It is a hearty soup and can be served with a hard boiled egg in it

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Ingredients for Sopa Negra (black bean soup)
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Sopa Negra (black bean soup)
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Sopa Negra (black bean soup)
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Sopa Negra (black bean soup)
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Tortuguero Canals, Costa Rica
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Costa Rican beach sunset
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Poás Volcano, Costa Rica
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Costa Rican Red-Eye tree frog

United States of America

The United States of America is made up of 50 states, covering 3.8 million square miles with 9 time zones and a population of over 324 million people. It is home to the world’s largest immigration population at 46.6 million. The UK is 5th with 8.5 million.

Some interesting facts about America:
The current 50-star US flag was designed by a 17-year-old as a school project in 1958
The first inhabitants of North America migrated from Siberia by way of the Bering land bridge and arrived at least 15,000 years ago
The US purchased Alaska from Russia for just US$7.2 million in 1867
The average US employee stays at each of their jobs for 4.4 years
Christmas was illegal in the US until 1836 as it was considered an ancient Pagan Holiday
The first Friday of June is National Donut Day in the US
GPS is owned and controlled by the U.S. Government. It can be ‘switched off’ at any time
The US uses less water now than it did in 1970
It takes a single one-page form and about 4 minutes to apply to become an official presidential candidate in the US
By law, only dead people can appear on US currency

Nine of the world’s most visited tourist attractions are in the US. The Las Vegas Strip tops the charts with 40 million visitors each year. It is a 4.2 mile stretch of South Las Vegas Boulevard in Clark County, Nevada known for it’s casinos and hotels. Fourteen of the world’s 25 largest hotels by room count are on the Strip, with a total of over 62,000 rooms. Times Square is the world’s second most visited tourist attraction, drawing an estimated 39 million visitors each year. It was formerly known as Longacre Square, but was renamed in 1904 after The New York Times moved its headquarters to the newly erected Times Building.

One of my favourite films is Julie and Julia which, if you haven’t seen it, is about Julia Child, an American chef, author and tv personality and Julie Powell, who wrote a blog about her challenge to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s cookbook in 365 days. Julia Child is recognised for bringing French cuisine to the American public with her debut cookbook, ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’. In the present day 21st century, the modern cuisine of the United States is very much regional in nature. Some popular dishes include Cobb salad, New England clam chowder, Buffalo wings, Cheeseburger, Gumbo (meat or shellfish stew), Sloppy joe sandwich (ground beef with ketchup in a burger bun), Barbequed ribs, Pecan pie, Mississippi mud pie and Persimmon pudding (steamed pudding with crème anglaise). I decided to cook one of my all time favourites – Southern fried chicken. It was finger licking good!

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 minutes + 8 hours marinating
Cook time: 12 minutes

300ml buttermilk
1 tsp salt
6 pieces of chicken (I used a mixture of breast qtrs and thighs on the bone)
150g plain flour
2 tsps salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
Vegetable oil, for frying

Combine the buttermilk and salt in a sealable bag, add the meat and mix it so the meat is fully coated
Cover and refrigerate for about 8 hours, allowing it to return to room temperature before cooking
Put the flour, salt and spices in a large, flat dish and whisk briefly to combine
Put 1.5cm of vegetable oil into a wide, straight-sided pan with a lid and heat until very hot: a cube of bread should brown almost immediately (about 170C)
Wipe as much buttermilk off the chicken pieces as possible then roll them in the seasoned flour until thoroughly coated
Put the chicken in one layer in the pan (you may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of the pan) and cover
Turn the heat right down and simmer for 6 minutes, then turn the chicken pieces over, cover again and cook for another 6 minutes
Prepare a rack to drain the chicken
Turn the heat up and fry the chicken until it’s a deep golden colour on all sides
Transfer to the rack and blot with kitchen paper
Allow to cool slightly before serving

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Ingredients for Southern Fried Chicken
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Southern Fried Chicken
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Southern Fried Chicken
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Southern Fried Chicken
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Southern Fried Chicken
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US Flag
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Yosemite National Park, California
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Times Square, New York
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Las Vegas Strip

Grenada

Grenada, the ‘Island of Spice’ is an island of volcanic origin in the Lesser Antilles chain, ninety miles north of Venezuela. It is a leading producer of several different spices – cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, allspice, orange/citrus peels, wild coffee and nutmeg, providing 20% of the world supply. It is also known for it’s dense rain forest, jagged coastline, picturesque beaches, and brilliant foliage.

Grand Anse is Grenada’s most famous beach and one of its most beautiful. Cruise ship visitors flock to this 3 km arc of golden sand and gentle surf. Tourism is concentrated in the southwest of the island, around St. George, Grand Anse, Lance Aux Epines, and Point Salines. Other tourists’ favourite points of interest are the waterfalls including the Annandale Waterfalls, Mt. Carmel, Concord, Seven Sisters and Tufton Hall.

Staples such as bread, rice and peas, fruits, and vegetables figure prominently in the diet. Fish is plentiful and affordable, as is chicken. Beef is scarce, pork is reserved for special occasions, while goat and lamb are eaten commonly. Recipes I came across include their national dish ‘Oil-Down’ (a one-pot meal of salted meat, chicken, dumplings, breadfruit, callaloo and vegetables cooked in coconut milk), Dal puri roti (spiced lentils in flatbread), callaloo soup, Grenadian roast pork, goat curry and sweet potato pudding. I decided to make Grenadian Spice cake which, despite it getting a little stuck to the tin, was simple and very tasty.

Rating: 8/10

Makes 8-10 slices
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 75 – 90 minutes

2 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup unsalted butter – chilled, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
1 1/2 tsp grated lime zest
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
3 eggs
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 175 degrees C
Grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan or springform baking tin
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside
In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter
Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the lime zest, nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice
Add the flour alternately with the milk, stirring after each addition
Pour batter into the prepared pan
Bake for 75 to 90 minutes in the preheated oven, until a skewer inserted comes out clean
Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely

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Ingredients for Grenadian Spice cake
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Mixing the Grenadian Spice cake
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Grenadian Spice cake
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Grenadian Spice cake
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Grenadian Spice cake
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Grand Anse beach, Grenada
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Fort George, Grenada
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Grenada sunset

Nicaragua

Officially the Republic of Nicaragua is the largest and most densely populated country in Central American. It is set between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and is bordered by Honduras and Costa Rica. The capital Managua is the country’s largest city and third largest city in Central America. On the Pacific side of Nicaragua are the 2 largest fresh water lakes of Central America – Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua.

The multi-ethnic population of 6 million includes indigenous people, Europeans, Africans and Asians. Spanish is the official language in Nicaragua, 95% of the population are Roman Catholic, and 5% are Protestant.

The Spanish Empire conquered the region in the 16th century. Nicaragua gained independence from Spain in 1821. Since its independence, Nicaragua has undergone periods of political unrest, dictatorship and fiscal crisis and are the most notable causes that led to the Nicaraguan revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

In Nicaragua a mixture of cultural traditions has generated substantial diversity in art and literature, particularly the latter, given the literary contributions of Nicaraguan poets and writers including Ruben Dario, Pablo Antonio Cuadra and Ernesto Cardenal. “El Gueguense” also known as Macho Raton is a satirical drama, and was the first literary work of post-Columbian Nicaragua. It is regarded as one of Latin America’s most distinctive colonial-era expressions and Nicaragua’s signature folklore masterpieces combining music, dance and theatre.

Nicaraguan cuisine includes a mixture of the indigenous Miskito people, Spanish cuisine and Creole cuisine. Typical Nicaraguan dishes include Gallo pinto (rice & beans), Vigoron (snack food of vegetables and pork rind) , Ensalada Repollo (cabbage salad), Sopa de queso (cheese soup), Nacatamales (corn dough filled with pork, rice and tomatoes wrapped in plantain leaves) and Quesillo (cheese filled tortilla with onions & cream). I opted to bake the Tres leches (Three milks cake). It was a confectionery masterpiece!

Rating: 10/10

Makes 24 slices
Prep time: 40 minutes + cooling time and overnight refrigeration
Cook time: 30 minutes

1 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1⁄2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
5 eggs
1 1⁄2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 can evaporated milk
1 1⁄2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 175 degrees C
Grease and flour one 9×13 inch baking pan
Sift flour and baking powder together and set aside
Cream butter and 1 cup sugar together until fluffy
Add eggs and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and beat well
Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture 2 tablespoons at a time and mix until well blended
Pour the batter into prepared pan
Bake for 30 minutes then pierce cake all over with a fork and let it cool
Combine the whole milk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk together
Pour over the top of the cooled cake
Place the cake in the fridge for one hour and let it soak up the milk
Whip the cream with the remaining cup of the sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract together until thick
Spread over the top of cake and refrigerate overnight
Garnish with strawberries and raspberries and enjoy!

Dominica

The volcanic island of Dominica is located in the eastern Caribbean Sea and is a sovereign Island country. Much of the island is blanketed by untamed rainforest. There are very few beaches, no flashy resorts and no direct international flights, which is probably the reason it has been spared mass tourism, with the exception of cruise ships, which dock in the capital, Roseau. This mountainous island has been nicknamed the “Nature Island of the Caribbean” for its unspoiled natural beauty. Dominica is home to many rare plants, animals and bird species. The Sisserou Parrot, the Island’s national bird, is found only in Dominica.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park is home to the world’s second largest hot lake, aptly named ‘Boiling Lake’. On 6 July 2007, adventure-film maker George Kourounis became the first person to ever cross the boiling lake from above, suspended by ropes over the most violently boiling section. One of the most impressive and photogenic waterfalls on the island, the Victoria Waterfall is also in Morne Trois Pitons National Park. It is formed by the White River cascading over a cliff into a warm pool below and minerals give the water a milky white color.

Music and dance are important facets of Dominica’s culture. Since 1997 there have been many Creole Festivals such as “Creole in the Park” and the “World Creole Music Festival” which is held annually over 3 days.

The cuisine is rooted in creole techniques with local produce flavoured by spices found on the island. Dishes include Domplines (Dominican-Style Dumplings), Sancocho (Meat stew), Mangú (Plantain Mash), Moro-Locrio (Rice with Pork and Black Beans), Queso Frito (Fried Cheese) and Suspiritos (Meringue Kisses). I decided to make the very simple, yet soothing Pollo Guisado (Braised chicken).

Rating: 7/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 20 minutes + 30 minutes marinating
Cook time: 45 minutes

2 chicken breasts on the bone, cut in half
1 lime
Pinch of oregano
1/2 small red onion chopped into fine strips or eighths
1/4 cup of chopped celery (optional)
1 tsp salt (more may be necessary)
½ tsp mashed garlic
1 tbsp oil (groundnut)
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
1 cup water
2 tomatoes cut into quarters
1 green pepper, roughly cut
1/2 cup chopped tomatos
Fresh coriander leaves
pinch freshly ground black pepper

Rub the chicken with the lime, getting lime juice into all the crevices
In a bag, add the chicken, oregano, onion, celery, salt and garlic and marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes
In a pot heat the oil over medium heat, add sugar and wait until it browns
Add the chicken (reserve all the other things in the marinade) and fry until the meat is light brown
Add 2 tablespoons of water, then cover and simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring and adding water by the tablespoon every 5 minutes
Add the remaining marinated vegetables along with the tomatoes and green pepper
Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, adding water by the tablespoon and stirring every 5 minutes
Add the chopped tomatos and half a cup of water, simmer over low heat for 15 minutes
Remove from the heat, sprinkle with fresh coriander and season with salt and pepper to taste
Serve with steamed rice or green salad

Belize

Belize, formerly British Honduras, is a country on the eastern coast of Central America. With a population of around 368,000 it has the least population density in Central America. Mayan culture persists despite nearly 500 years of European domination. The area that is now Belize included three distinct Maya territories: Chetumal province, Dzuluinicob province and a southern territory controlled by the Manche Ch’ol Maya. Impressive Mayan archaeological ruins can be found in the forms of “El Castillo” at Xunantunich and “Caana” at Caracol.

Belize has the longest barrier reef system in the Western hemisphere. At 190 miles long it is the second longest in the world and home to 70 hard coral species, 36 soft coral species and 500 species of fish. 60% of Belize’s land surface is covered by forest and 37% of it’s territory falls under some form of official protection. The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is a nature reserve, founded in 1990 as the first wilderness sanctuary for the jaguar.

Popular recipes in Belizean cuisine include Stew chicken, Stewed Rice and Beans, Panades (corn dough stuffed with fish, chicken or beans), Chimole (‘black dinner’ or chicken soup), Sere (fish soup), Shrimp fritters and the rather unpleasantly named Bile up or boil up (boiled eggs, fish and/or pig tail, with cassava, sweet potatoes, plantains and tomato sauce). I opted to make Fry Jacks (deep fried dough) which are a traditional Belize breakfast food. The kids enjoyed them with icing sugar and chocolate spread. I had them with sausages and even though they were sweet, the combination of flavours was really good.

Rating: 8/10

Makes 14 – 16
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 15 – 20 minutes

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ – ¾ tsp salt
2 tbsp shortening/butter
1 tbsp sugar (optional)
¾ cup whole milk
Oil for deep-frying

In a large bowl mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add shortening
Then make a well then add milk, knead dough for about 30 seconds to 1 minute to form soft dough
Divide dough into 7-8 equal pieces and set aside for about 10 mins
Place each one piece on a heavily floured board and roll out dough into a rough circle
Divide the circles in half and then cut a slit through the middle of the rolled out dough
In a large saucepan pour vegetable oil, until it is at least 3 inches or use a deep fat fryer and heat until oil is 350 degrees
Fry until golden brown about 3-5 minutes depending on size
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper napkin. Let them cool
Serve with your choice of spreads. They also go well with sausages and bacon.

Bahamas

The Bahamas is an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean consisting of more than 700 islands, cays, and islets. Its capital is Nassau on the island of New Providence. Grand Bahama and Paradise Island, home to many large scale hotels, are among the best known. Scuba diving and snorkelling sites include the massive Andros Barrier Reef, Thunderball Grotto (used in James Bond films) and the black-coral gardens off Bimini.

The Bahamas became a British Crown colony in 1718, when the British clamped down on piracy. After the American War of Independence, the Crown resettled thousands of American Loyalists in the Bahamas and they in turn brought their slaves with them establishing plantations on land grants. The Bahamas became a haven for freed African slaves. The Royal Navy resettled Africans here liberated from illegal slave ships, American slaves and Seminoles escaped here from Florida and the government freed American slaves from US domestic ships that had reached the Bahamas due to weather. Slavery in the Bahamas was abolished in 1834. Today the descendants of slaves and free Africans make up nearly 90% of the population. Issues related to the slavery years are part of society.

The Bahamas relies on tourism to generate most of its economic activity. It accounts for over 60% of the Bahamian GDP. The Bahamas attracted 5.8 million visitors in 2012, more than 70% of which were cruise visitors. A highlight for any visitor surely would be ‘Pig Beach’ on Big Major Cay where you can swim with approximately 20 pigs and piglets.

Popular ingredients in Bahamian cuisine are fish, seafood, pork, peas, potatoes and rice. Traditional recipes include peas and rice, macaroni cheese, conch chowder and rum cake. I made Bahamian Johnny cake which we had for breakfast with butter and jam. We enjoyed it very much.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 10 slices
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes

3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
½ cup cold butter, cut into small cubes
⅔ cup milk

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl
Cut in butter using a pastry cutter or your hands, working the mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs
Add milk and combine until you have a soft dough consistency
Knead on a floured surface until smooth
Preheat the oven to 176c
Let the dough rest for 10 minutes, then transfer into a greased 9×9-inch tin
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the edges of the cake begin to turn a light golden brown
Let it cool on a wire rack before serving

Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago is a dual island Caribbean nation off the coast of northeastern Venezuela. They lie on the continental shelf of South America, and are thus geologically considered to lie entirely in South America. Until 10,000 years ago, Trinidad and Tobago were both part of the South American mainland. Arawak Indians inhabited what they knew as the “Land of the Hummingbird” before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1498, who called the island La Trinidad, or “The Trinity.” Tobago got its name from its shape resembling a tobacco pipe (tavaco) used by local natives. In 1962, Trinidad and Tobago became independent but retained membership in the British Commonwealth.

Famous for the capital, Port of Spain’s annual carnival which is held on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, the festival is associated with calypso music, however, recently Soca music has replaced calypso as the most celebrated type of music.

Other highlights for the visitor include Fort King George, Pirate’s Bay, Botanical Gardens, Brasso Seco rainforest village and Pigeon Point. Splash out for a week at the Coco Reef Tobago or grab a bargain at The Coral Cove Marina hotel.

Trinidad and Tobago has one of the most diverse cuisines in the Caribbean and is known throughout the world. Popular dishes include Baigan Chokha (spicy baked aubergine), Callalo and curried pumpkin soup, Cassava and saltfish pie, Doubles (curried chickpea sandwich) , Macaroni pie , Curried crab and dumplings , Gyros (spit roasted meat in a wrap) and Pelau (rice with pigeon peas, chicken or beef). I opted to make Pineapple chow (pineapple with lime, garlic, coriander & chilli), which was very unusual. The combination of garlic and pineapple was a little troublesome for my palate, but it had a nice zingy flavour of lime, coriander and chilli with sweet pineapple.

Rating: 6/10

Serves: 4 as a small starter or snack
Prep time: 10 minutes + 20 minutes cooling time

1 ripe or almost ripe pineapple
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped coriander
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 scotch bonnet pepper, finely chopped
Salt and black pepper

Remove the skin from the pineapple, slice the fruit into rings and then cut each ring into chunks (about 1 1/2 inches wide)
In a plastic bag or container combine the pineapple chunks with the garlic, coriander, half the lime juice, half the chopped pepper, and a liberal sprinkling of salt and black pepper then shake well
Taste and add more lime juice, hot pepper and/or salt to suit your taste
The chow should have a nice balance of hot, sweet, salty and sour, with noticeable punch from the garlic and pepper
Set aside for 20 minutes or so to allow the flavors to develop fully

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Ingredients for Pineapple chow
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Pineapple chow
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Pineapple chow
Pirate's Bay, Tobago
Pirate’s Bay, Tobago
Trinidad Carnival, Queens Park Savannah, Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago
Trinidad and Tobago Carnival
Pigeon Point Tobago
Pigeon Point, Tobago

Canada

Canada, the second largest country in the world after Russia is made up of ten provinces. It’s border with the US is the world’s longest land border and it has the longest coastline in the world. There are over 2,000,000 lakes in Canada, which is more than the rest of the world’s lakes combined. Alert, in the Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada, is the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world, which takes its name from HMS Alert, which wintered 10 km east of the present station, off what is now Cape Sheridan, in 1875–1876. The annual mean temperature in Alert is -17.7c.

A few interesting facts
Yonge Street in Canada is the longest street in the world at 1,896 km (1,178 mi)
Police Departments in Canada give out “positive tickets” when they see people doing something positive
Canada has the third largest oil reserves of any country in the world after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela
There are more people living in the Tokyo metropolitan area than in the whole of Canada
Canadian born Sarwan Singh is the proud holder of the world record for the longest beard measuring 2.495 m (8 ft 2.5 in)

According to former Canadian prime minister Joe Clark, ‘Canadian cuisine is a collage of dishes from the cuisines of other cultures’. It varies depending on the region with influences from Britain, Scotland and France.

A few food facts:
Canada produces 1.6% of the world’s food but consumes only 0.6%
77% of the world’s maple syrup is made in Quebec
80% of the alcohol consumed in Canada is beer.

Popular dishes include Poutine (chips with cheese curd and gravy, Butter tart, Montreal-style bagels, Rappie pie (grated potato and meat casserole) and Kraft dinner (macaroni cheese). I made maple beer baked ham which we were a little disappointed with. Despite the name, the recipe called for pork which didn’t really absorb the lovely flavour of maple syrup. I think it would have been far better if I’d used ham.

Rating: 6/10

Serves: 4 – 5
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: Approx 3 hours

600g pork shoulder (bone in)
1 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 onion, chopped finely
1 1/3 cups strong beer
1 cup chicken or beef stock
3/4 cup pure maple syrup from Canada, divided
3 tbsp dijon mustard
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp coriander seeds
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a large stockpot over medium heat, melt butter
Add onions and garlic, fry until soft, about 5 minutes
Add beer, chicken or beef broth, 1/2 cup maple syrup, mustard, cloves, cinnamon, coriander and pepper, whisking until well-combined
Bring to a boil and then add pork to pot and bring back to the boil
Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours
Preheat oven to 400ºF
Carefully remove pork from pot and transfer to a baking dish
Continue cooking liquid until reduced by half
Remove from heat and stir in remaining 1/4 cup maple syrup
Baste meat with maple glaze. Transfer to oven and bake until ham begins to crisp, about 20 minutes, basting with maple glaze every 5 minutes
Carve ham and serve

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Ingredients for Maple beer baked ham
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Maple beer baked ham
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Maple beer baked ham
Yonge Street
Yonge Street, Toronto, Canada
Banff National Park, Canada
Banff, Canada
Grizzly bear
Grizzly bear

Guatemala

Guatemala, meaning ‘place of many trees’, is a heavily forested and mountainous nation in Central America. The Maya civilization flourished in Guatemala and surrounding regions during the first millennium A.D. Today over half of Guatemalans are descendants of the indigenous Maya peoples with the majority living in the western highlands. After almost three centuries as a Spanish colony, Guatemala won its independence in 1821.

Guatemala’s highlands lie along the Motagua Fault, part of the boundary between the Caribbean and North American tectonic plates. This fault has been responsible for several major earthquakes in historic times, including a 7.5 magnitude tremor on February 4, 1976 which killed more than 25,000 people. Guatemala has 37 volcanoes, four of them active: Pacaya, Santiaguito, Fuego and Tacaná. Both Fuego and Pacaya erupted in 2010. In May 2010, an area of 65 ft (20 m) across and 300 ft (90 m) deep, collapsed in Guatemala City, swallowing a three story factory. The sinkhole occurred for a combination of reasons, including Tropical Storm Agatha, the Pacaya Volcano eruption, and leakage from sewer pipes.

Despite it having the largest economy in Central America, it is one of the poorest countries with over half the population living in poverty. Tourism has become one of the main drivers of the economy, worth $1.8 billion in 2008. There are many highlights for the visitor including the Mayan archaeological sites of Tikal, Quiriguá, Iximche and Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan (named by some as the most beautiful lake in the world) and the natural pools of Semuc Champey.

Guatemalan cuisine is based on Spanish and Mayan cuisine. Some popular dishes include Chicken Pepian (chicken in spicy pumpkin and sesame sauce), Chiles rellenos (stuffed chilli peppers), Caldos (stews), Tamales (filled corn dough) and Kaq ik (turkey stew). I decided to make Chicharrones (fried pork rinds), basically pork scratchings as we like to call them! It is a popular snack found across Latin America with different variations. In Guatemala they are usually eaten with tortilla, some salt, and maybe a pickled Jalapeño pepper. Although it was a lengthy process for what is just a snack, it was definitely worth the effort – the best pork scratchings you’ll ever taste!

Rating: 10/10
Serves: 2 as a snack

Prep time: 10 mins + 8 hours cooling
Cook time: 1 hour boiling + overnight drying in the oven

350g pork skin, trimmed of excess fat
Salt
Cayenne pepper
Black pepper
Plenty of cooking oil or lard (for frying)

Put your pork skin in a large pot and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, cover the pot, and allow to cook for 1 hour
Boil until the skin is softened (but not falling apart) and the water is white
(To keep the skins submerged in the water, you may want to weigh them down by placing a heat-resistant plate on top of them as they boil)
Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove your pork skin from the boiling water and lay it on a cooling rack set over a baking tray. Discard the cooking water
After 5 minutes, put the pork skin still on the cooling rack over the baking tray in the fridge for 8 hours
Use a spoon to remove any fat clinging to the bottom of the pork skin. The fat should separate from the skin easily. Be careful not to tear the skin, as it will be still be soft from cooking
Set the oven to its lowest setting. Aim for no higher than 93c. Place the skin on their cooling rack and baking sheet in the oven overnight
Remove from the oven and leave to cool
Cut the dried skin into long strips or small squares and sprinkle with a little black pepper and cayenne pepper (or you can just leave them plain if you prefer)
Heat a deep-sided pan over high heat. When it is hot, add lard or cooking oil. Fry the chicharrónes one or two at a time, prodding them until they puff up and start to float. When done, remove the chicharrónes to a paper-towel lined plate.
Sprinkle with a good amount of salt and serve (with a cold beer!)

Although it is a lengthy process, it’s not difficult so it may be wise to do double or quadruple this recipe as they will keep for a couple of weeks in a sealed container, if they last that long!

Volcan di Agua, Antigua, Guatemala
Volcan di Agua, Antigua, Guatemala
Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Lake Atitlan
Semuc Champey Guatemala
Semuc Champey
Tikal, Guatemala
Tikal, Guatemala

Barbados

Barbados is situated in the Lesser Antilles. The west coast has white sandy beaches and calm waters and the east coast faces the Atlantic. Its location in the south east of the Caribbean region puts the country just outside the principal hurricane strike zone. On average, a major hurricane strikes about once every 26 years. The last significant hurricane to cause severe damage to Barbados was Hurricane Janet in 1955.

The Portuguese visited the island in 1536, but they left it unclaimed, with their only remnants being an introduction of wild hogs for a good supply of meat whenever the island was visited. Barbadians are extremely fond of pork.

Barbados has produced many great cricketers including Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Frank Worrell and Sir Clyde Walcott. Also, Rihanna, the eight time Grammy Award winner was born here and in 2009 she was appointed as an Honorary Ambassador of youth and culture for Barbados by the late Prime Minister, David Thompson.

Barbados welcomes more than a million tourists including land based and cruise ship visitors annually. Highlights include Accra Beach, Barbados Wildlife reserve, Hunte’s Gardens, Harrison’s Cave and Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison, a Unesco world heritage site since 2011.

Popular dishes from Bajan cuisine include Pudding and Souse (pickled pork with spiced sweet potatoes) , the national dish of fried flying fish served with cou-cou (cornmeal and okra), Bajan black cake , Black Eye Peas and Rice and Samosas often made with Conch. I opted to cook a favourite of mine, Macaroni cheese, which they refer to as Macaroni pie. Whilst it had a good flavour, it was a little dry.

Rating: 6/10

Serves: 4 as a starter
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 40 mins

150g macaroni
1 and 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/3 cup water
1 tbsp ketchup
2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 onion, sliced
pinch black pepper
2 tbsp double cream
Grated cheese for top

Bring some salted water to the boil, add macaroni and the onion to the boiling water and cook until the pasta is al dente
Preheat oven to 180c
Drain macaroni and onion quickly and put straight back into the pan, add 1 cup of cheese and put the lid on for 2 mins
Then add the evaporated milk, mustard, ketchup, pepper and cream and stir well to blend everything together
Transfer to 4 buttered ramekins and top each one with grated cheese
Bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown

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Ingredients for Barbados Macaroni pie
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Barbados Macaroni pie
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Barbados Macaroni pie
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Barbados Macaroni pie
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Barbados Macaroni pie
Barbados beach
Barbados beach
Bridgetown, Barbados
Bridgetown, Barbados
Barbados waterfall
Barbados waterfall

Mexico

“Fa-heeeee-taaa”, as I am often known to say when thinking about Mexican food! Mexico is situated between the U.S. and Central America and is widely known for its Pacific and Gulf of Mexico beaches and its diverse landscape of mountains, deserts and jungles. With a population of over 122 million, it is the eleventh most populous country and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world. Mexico is located in the “Ring of Fire”. This area is one of the world’s most violent earthquake and volcano zones. The Ring of Fire, contains more than 450 volcanoes and has approximately 75% of the world’s active volcanoes. Popocatépetl is considered to be the most dangerous volcano in Mexico, located only 70 km southeast of Mexico City.

Mexico was home to several advanced Amerindian civilizations – including the Olmec, Toltec, Teotihuacan, Zapotec, Maya, and Aztec. Their presence is still felt at the famous sites of
Calakmul (possibly the largest city during Mayan times), Tulum ruins, Monte Albán (Ancient Zapotec capital), Teotihuacán archaeological zone and of course, Chichén Itzá.
I think its safe to say that one wouldn’t get bored on a trip to Mexico. When you’re done with the ancient sites, you can take a road trip down Baja’s endless coast, hike to the peak of Pico de Orizaba, party your heart out in Mexico city and enjoy a well earned laze on the beaches of Puerto Escondido. Mexico has the 23rd highest income from tourism in the world.

Mexico has given the world hot chocolate (sacred drink of the Aztecs), the Habanero Chilli Pepper (packing a punch at 350,000 scovilles) and the Chihuahua, the world’s smallest dog breed. Mexico produces the most automobiles of any North American nation with General Motors, Ford and Chrysler having been in operation there since the 1930s.

Mexican food is know the world over with it’s staple ingredients of corn, beans, avocados, tomatoes, chilli peppers and rice. Mexican street food is one of the most varied parts of the cuisine, which includes tacos, quesadillas, pambazos (white bread), tamales (seasoned meat and maize flour steamed or baked in maize husks), huaraches (fried dough base with a variety of toppings) and alambres (grilled beef topped with chopped bacon, bell peppers, onions, cheese, salsa and avocado). I decided to make Chicken enchiladas, which may not sound overly adventurous given the plethora of options available, but sometimes the simplest dishes are the tastiest, which was certainly the case here!

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 2 hungry people
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 40 mins

For the enchiladas:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 onion, peeled and diced
2 skinless chicken breasts, diced into small 1/2-inch pieces
salt and pepper
2 green chillis, diced
1/2 tin black beans (rinsed & drained) or 100g dried black beans, cooked according to the packet
4 large flour tortillas
1 1/2 cups grated cheese (I used a mix of cheddar and red leicester as I couldn’t get hold of monterey jack cheese)
1 batch of homemade red enchilada sauce (see below)

For the homemade red enchilada sauce:
1 tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1 tbsp all-purpose or gluten-free flour
2 tbsp ancho chilli pepper powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
pinch cumin
pinch oregano
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

For the homemade enchilada sauce:
Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.
Add flour and stir together over the heat for one minute.
Stir in all the seasonings.
Then gradually add in the stock, whisking constantly to remove lumps.
Reduce heat and simmer 10-15 minutes until thick.
Use immediately or refrigerate in an air-tight container for up to two weeks.

For the enchiladas:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.
Add onion and fry for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add diced chicken and green chillis, and season with salt and pepper.
Saute for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the chicken is cooked through.
Remove from heat and set aside.

To assemble the enchiladas, set up an assembly line with the tortillas, enchilada sauce, beans, chicken mixture, and cheese.
Lay out a tortilla, and spread 1 tablespoon of sauce over the surface of the tortilla.
Add beans in a line down the middle of the tortilla, then add in a spoonful of the chicken mixture, then sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheese.
Roll up tortilla and place in a greased baking dish.
Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Then spread the remaining enchilada sauce on top of the tortillas, and sprinkle on the remaining shredded cheese.
Bake uncovered for 25 minutes.
Remove from oven and serve immediately

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Ingredients for Chicken enchiladas
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Frying the chicken
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Homemade enchilada sauce
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Making the Chicken enchiladas
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Chicken enchiladas
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Chicken enchiladas
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Chicken enchiladas
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Chicken enchiladas
Popocatépetl volcano, Mexico
Popocatépetl volcano, Mexico
Chihuahua puppy
Chihuahua puppy
Cancun beach, Mexico
Cancun beach, Mexico
large_Bond-Spectre-Gallery-Mexico
Filming the Bond film ‘Spectre’ in Mexico City
Teotihuacan, Mexico
Teotihuacán archaeological zone

St Vincent and The Grenadines

St Vincent and The Grenadines, or SVG, is a country in the Caribbean, not a music band, like I thought when I first pulled it out of the bag! Situated in the Lesser Antilles island arc, it is made up of St Vincent, the main island, along with the Grenadines, 32 smaller islands stretching south. There are 9 inhabited islands, one of which is Mustique, which has been visited by Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Sir Paul McCartney and Amy Winehouse. Pirates of the Caribbean I, II and III were all filmed on the islands. Natasha Mayers, born in St Vincent, won the Women’s 100m gold medal in the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

The highest point is La Soufriere, an active volcano on St Vincent, which last erupted in 1979. Many of St Vincent’s beaches are black volcanic sand, while the Grenadine beaches are fine white sand. Forest covers 69 per cent of the land area. In 2006 it was voted number 4 in the world on The Happy Planet Index (HPI) which is calculated from perceived well-being, life expectancy and ecological footprint. Homosexuality is illegal in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Much of the food eaten in SVG is grown or sourced locally. Popular dishes include bul jol (roasted breadfruit and saltfish), pumpkin soup, arrowroot cakes and curried goat. I made stuffed sweet potatoes, which we found a little bit too sweet with the filling, unfortunately the sweet potato and sweetcorn overpowered the chicken and bacon.

Rating: 5/10

Serves 3 as a main meal or 6 as a starter
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 1 hr 15 mins

5-6 sweet potatoes
Vegetable oil
8 rashers of bacon
1 cup of any cooked diced meat
1 cup sweetcorn
1 large onion
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tbsp margarine
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 200 C.
Scrub potatoes well. Dry and brush them with oil. Place on a baking sheet and cook for 1 hour.
Fry the onion with thyme leaves until it is soft and transparent, remove to a bowl.
Fry the bacon in the same pan until it is crisp and add to the onions.
Remove potatoes from oven, cut each in half and scoop out the flesh to a bowl. Mash the flesh.
Add the corn, chicken and margarine to the onion and bacon, add seasoning and mix well.
Put a spoonful of the filling mix into the potato shells, followed by a spoonful of the mashed potato and finally another spoonful of the filling mixture.
Place in the oven for 15 mins and serve hot.

 

Honduras

The Republic of Honduras, is a mountainous country in Central America discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502. Honduras was home to Maya culture, famed for their hieroglyphic script. 80% of the country’s territory is mountainous and there are 91 protected national areas. It has 2 Unesco world heritage sites; the Maya site of Copan and Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve.

Copán Ruins Archeological Site is the most studied Maya city in the world. Dating back nearly 2,000 years, the society that lived here was highly stratified, deeply symbolic, and focused on tradition. The site is famous for the stelae and altars that are scattered around the immense plaza, most of which were erected during the years 711 and 736. Other highlights include the Hieroglyphic Stairway, a unique temple, which holds the longest known Mayan text and the Acropolis featuring superb carved reliefs of the 16 kings of Copán.

Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve is one of the few remaining tropical rainforests in Central America, a massive swath of jungle along the Mosquito Coast. It boasts an extraordinary diversity of ecosystems and species including the endangered Mexican Spider Monkey, the endangered Central American Tapir, the near-threatened Guiana Crested Eagle, several species of poisonous snakes and 4 species of marine turtles (loggerhead, leatherback, green turtle and hawksbill turtle).

Honduras has struggled with social and political instability and has the world’s highest murder rate (5,936 murders in 2014). Honduras was declared one of the heavily indebted poor countries by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and became eligible for debt relief in 2005. In 2010, 50% of the population were living below the poverty line. About 83% of the population are literate and even though 94% enrol to primary education, only 40% complete.

Other than the Unesco sites, a major highlight is Islas de la Bahía, three Bay Islands – Roatán, Utila and Guanaja. Their reefs are part of the second largest barrier reef in the world, home to fish, coral, sponges, rays, sea turtles and whale sharks.

The cuisine of Honduras is a fusion of Spanish, Caribbean and African. Some of the dishes I found were Baleadas (flour tortillas with beans & cheese) , Sopa de Mondongo (tripe & vegetable soup) , Carneada (barbecued meat) and Tapado de Pescado (Baked fish with coconut milk and vegetables). Coconut and bananas are plentiful in Honduras, so I opted to make Banana and coconut bread.
It was really delicious.

Rating: 10/10

Serves: 8 – 10 slices
Prep time: 25 mins
Cook time: 1 hour

28g unsalted butter at room temperature
28g light cream cheese at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
⅛ tsp salt
2 large bananas, mashed
½ cup skimmed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup coconut, flaked or desiccated

Preheat oven to 175 degrees.
Rub a loaf tin with butter ensuring its covered and set aside.
Beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed in mixer.
While beating add 1 cup sugar and egg.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and stir until well-blended.
Combine banana, milk and vanilla in a separate bowl until well combined.
Add the flour mixture alternately with banana mixture to the butter and cream cheese mixture, mixing after each addition.
Stir in the coconut.
Pour batter into prepared tin and bake for 60 minutes.
Let it cool before enjoying with or without butter.

Saint Lucia

I visited Saint Lucia a few years ago and being entirely honest, I wasn’t as amazed as I’d hoped. The hotel was a little tired and we were there during rainy season. However, after doing research for the blog, I’d definitely like to go back and further explore what it has to offer.

Lying in the eastern Caribbean Sea and part of the Lesser Antilles, Saint Lucia is 27 miles long and 14 miles wide. It is more mountainous than most Caribbean islands. The French gave Saint Lucia it’s name, after Saint Lucy of Syracuse, as they were the first Europeans to colonise the island. Saint Lucia gained independence from Britain in 1979. It is a Commonwealth realm and Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State.

Along with the picturesque beaches, tourists come to Saint Lucia to see The Pitons, majestic twin peaks called Gros Piton (797m) and Petit Piton (750m) soaring from the sea. They are the only two of its kind in the world and have recently attained world heritage site status. Other highlights include the rain forests, Pigeon Island National Park and the world’s only drive-in volcano at Sulphur Springs (Soufriere). Ranking no.1 on Trip Advisor, ‘the’ place to stay is The Inn On The Bay in Marigot Bay.

The cuisine of Saint Lucia is a blend of French, East Indian and British influences. Dishes include Banana fritters, Green figs and Salt fish (the national dish), Accras (fishcake), Souse (pork broth), Breadfruit (like potato but sweet) and Pouille Dudon (chicken stew with treacle and coconut). I made Hot bakes, which are a little like muffins. The recipe I followed didn’t advise how many I should make, so mine were larger than they should have been, however they went down a treat with the kids at breakfast. We had them with jam, treacle and chocolate spread, but I think they would work equally well with a poached egg.

Rating: 9/10

Makes 12 – 20 (depending on how big you make them!)
Prep time: 20 mins + 1 hour resting time
Cook time: 15 mins

3 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp butter
1/4 cup milk
oil for frying
1 cup water

Put the flour into a large bowl add sugar, baking powder, melted butter and salt. Mix thoroughly. Add the milk and just enough water to make a dough sticky to the touch.
Knead the dough for about 5 minutes. If it becomes too sticky, add a little flour to make it easier to handle.
When you are done kneading the dough, cover it and allow it to rise in a warm place for at least half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 160°C
Heat up a frying pan over low – medium heat and then add enough oil to cover the pan.
Divide the dough into small balls (I made 13 but they were probably too big, so I’d aim for 20).
Flatten the dough balls to about ½ inches thick.
When the oil is hot (not smoking), place the flattened balls of dough in your frying pan until one side turns golden brown, about 3-4 minutes and turn over to the other side for same results. Do them in batches if necessary.
Once their all browned, place them in the oven for 10 minutes.
Serve with preserves or poached egg.

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is the second largest republic in the West Indies, after Cuba. It was called Santo Domingo (which is it’s capital) until the early 20th century.
Santo Domingo, founded in 1496, is the oldest European settlement in the Western Hemisphere and is home to the oldest operating Cathedral in the Americas, the Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, was completed in 1540.

A few interesting facts:
The Dominican flag is the only one to have a bible in it.
Francis Ford Coppola filmed scenes of the The Godfather Part II in Santo Domingo.
Dominican Republic is one of the worst 20 countries in the world for murders with a murder rate of 22.1 per 100,000 people, most probably due to drug smuggling.
It is the only place in the world where you can find Larimar, also called “Stefilia’s Stone”, a rare blue variety of the silicate mineral pectolite. It’s healing properties are said to cool and draw out inflammation from the body, reducing fevers and the heat of sunburn.

Dominican Republic is the most visited destination in the Caribbean with 5.1 million visitors in 2014. Highlights include the beautiful beaches at Playa Rincón and Punta Cana, Pico Duarte (the largest peak in the Caribbean), Cascada el Limon (waterfall), whale watching in Samaná and snorkelling the Cayo Paraiso (Paradise Island).

Some popular dishes I came across include Turkey a la Dominicana Stuffed with Rice and Pigeon Peas, Buñuelos de Yuca Recipe (Cassava ‘Beignets’ in Spiced Syrup), Locrio de Pica-Pica (Rice and Spicy Sardines), Dominican sancocho (meat stew) and Locrio de Pollo Dominicano (Dominican style Chicken with Rice). As it was Friday, and therefore we deserved a treat, I decided to cook Pica Pollo (fried chicken). It was crispy and tasty, but we felt it could’ve done with a bit more spice.

Rating: 7/10

Serves 4
Prep time: 20 mins + 12 – 24 hours marinating
Cook time: 30 mins

8 chicken pieces (a mix of thighs, breasts, legs or wings, whatever you prefer)
1/2 cup of vinegar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, peeled and bashed
1 tbsp of oregano
1 tsp ground coriander
1 small red onion, quartered
Juice of 2 limes

Coating:
1 cup white flour
1 cup semolina flour
1/2 cup cornflour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Soak the chicken with the vinegar in a bowl for about 5 minutes, then drain and pat dry.
Place the chicken pieces in a large bag and add salt, pepper, garlic, onion, oregano, coriander and the lime juice.
Marinade in the fridge for 12 – 24 hours.
Remove the chicken from the fridge an hour before cooking.
In another large bag, place the flour, cornflour, semolina flour, salt & pepper. Shake to mix
Heat the oven to 100°C
Heat a deep fat fryer, or deep pan with enough oil to cover the chicken to 180°C.
Place the chicken pieces in the flour bag, draining off the marinade mix beforehand.
Ensure all the chicken pieces are coated in the flour mix.
Place 3 pieces of chicken into the hot oil and fry for 10-12 minutes.
Once done, put the chicken pieces onto a tray lined with kitchen towel and leave in the oven to keep warm, whilst frying the rest of the chicken pieces.
Serve with chips and ketchup.

 

Santo Domingo Cathedral
Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, Santo Domingo
Dominican Republic flag
Dominican Republic flag
Punta cana beach Dominican Republic
Punta Cana beach
larimar
Larimar

Cuba

The largest island in the Caribbean is noted for it’s historic heritage, beautiful beaches, a missile crisis, cigars and rum.  Discovered in 1492 by Christopher Colombus, it became a hub for the slave trade and the export of sugar and coffee. By the mid 1800s sugar plantations were satisfying a third of world demand.

The Republic of Cuba encompasses more than 4,000 islands and cays and is located in the northern Caribbean Sea at the confluence with the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. The average temperature is 21°C (69.8 °F) in January and 27°C (80.6 °F) in July. Protected natural areas make up nearly 22% of Cuban territory, providing habitats for crocodiles, flamingos, orchids among others.

Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba on February 16, 1959 and remained until he announced his resignation, due to bad health, in February 2008. In March 1960, Eisenhower gave his approval to a CIA plan to arm and train a group of Cuban refugees to overthrow the Castro regime. The invasion (known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion) took place on April 14, 1961. About 1,400 Cuban exiles disembarked at the Bay of Pigs, but failed in their attempt to overthrow Castro. Since 1965, the country has been governed by the Communist Party of Cuba and it is one of the world’s last remaining socialist countries following the Marxist-Leninist ideology.

A few interesting facts:
Only 5% of Cubans actually have access to the uncensored, open Internet.
The US pays Cuba $4,085 a month in rent for the controversial Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Cuba has never cashed the checks.
Cuba is one of two countries where the sale of Coca-Cola is prohibited (the other is North Korea).
Cuba possesses one of the best health care systems anywhere in the world with the highest doctor-to-population ratio of any country in the world.
Christmas did not become an official holiday in Cuba until 1997.
Cuba is full of US cars from the 1950s. This is because they’re the only cars Cuban citizens can legally own. Only pre 1959 cards that were seized from their original owners can be privately owned and worked on. All newer cars are owned by the government.

2.7 Million international tourists visited Cuba in 2011, the third highest in the Caribbean. It’s highlights include the UNESCO cities of Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Camagüey, Playa Sirena beach, Havana’s Capitolio Nacional building and Parque Nacional Viñales to name a few.

Some popular Cuban dishes I came across; Boliche (beef roast stuffed with chorizo sausages), Ropa Vieja (braised beef with tomato sauce) , Malanga Fritters, Cuban black bean soup and Mixto (cuban sandwich). As we had company (who had visited Cuba), I opted to cook a feast of Pernil Relleno con Moros y Cristianos (Pork shoulder stuffed with black beans stewed with white rice). It was a bit of an effort but it went down very well with our guests. I served it with a green salad of leaves, avocado, asparagus tips and broad beans.

Rating: 8/10

Serves: 6 – 7

Prep time: 30 mins + overnight marinating
Cook time: 6 hours

For the stuffed pork
whole pork shoulder, boned and opened out
1 cup olive oil
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
10 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 tsp oregano
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the moros y cristianos
1 tin of black beans
2 tbsp vegetable oil
4 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
1/2 small green pepper, minced
1/2 white onion, minced
2 cups white rice, long-grain
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
salt and fresh ground pepper

For the stuffed pork
In small bowl, combine oil, orange juice, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, and salt and pepper. Let stand for 1 hour.
Coat the inside of the pork with marinade and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 220°C.
Spread Moros y Cristianos down the middle of meat and fold to fully cover stuffing. Tie with a string both lengthwise and across.
Place in a roasting tray with 2 cups of water and roast for 6 hours, checking it isn’t getting too black.

For the moros y cristianos
Add the vegetable oil to a saucepan and sauté the garlic, pepper and onion for 5 minutes until they soften.
Stir in the black beans and rice, and add 4 cups of water.
Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the rice is tender, approximately 20 minutes.
Stir frequently and check to see if you need additional water to keep the rice from sticking. Add more if needed but don’t let it get too mushy.
Once the rice is fully cooked, add the lime juice and salt and pepper.

 

Jamaica

Jamaica is a mountainous Caribbean island discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1494. England conquered the island in 1655 and renamed it to Jamaica from Santiago. Under British rule Jamaica became one of the world’s leading sugar-exporting, slave-dependent nations. Although the slave trade was abolished in 1807, the British government formally abolished slavery in Jamaica by an 1833 act, beginning in 1834, with full emancipation from chattel slavery declared in 1838. It has been independent from Britain since 1962. Although independence is widely celebrated, a 2011 survey showed that approximately 60% of Jamaicans would push to once again become a British territory, citing years of social and fiscal mismanagement in the country.

Kingston Harbour is the seventh-largest natural harbour in the world. Although not currently, it previously facilitated cruise ships in the 1950s and 1960s, and a project has been proposed for the development of a cruise ship pier.

Some interesting facts
Jamaica is the birthplace of Rastafarianism – an Afro-Caribbean Religio-political Movement.
Blue moons occur in Jamaica whenever the weather and climate is perfect. Over the past 40 years there have been 12 blue moon sightings.
Jamaica is home to the fastest man on the planet – Usain Bolt, who allegedly ate 1,000 Chicken McNuggets in Beijing in 2008.
Ian Fleming created the character James Bond 007 from his home called ‘Goldeneye’ in St. Mary Jamaica. He also used the island as a setting in his novels Live and Let Die, Doctor No, “For Your Eyes Only”, The Man with the Golden Gun, Octopussy and The Living Daylights. James Bond Beach is in Oracabessa.
Reggae originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s.
After quitting Hollywood, Errol Flynn lived in Port Antonio, Jamaica in the early 1950s and was largely responsible for developing tourism in this area.
An estimated 1.3 million foreign tourists visit Jamaica every year.

There are many highlights for the tourist including Fort Charles (the only one of Kingston’s 20 forts to survive the 1692 earthquake), Doctor’s cave beach (Montego Bay’s most famous beach), Blue Lagoon (the waters that launched Brooke Shields’ movie career), Bob Marley Museum in Kingston and Maima Seville Great House & Heritage Park.

Jamaican cuisine includes various dishes from the different cultures brought to the island, alongside flavours & spices from the indigenous people. Some popular dishes are Jerk chicken, Jamaican Escovitch Fish (marinated fish), Ackee and Saltfish (salt cod and ackee fruit), Curry goat and Callaloo (leaf vegetable stew). Thanks to a recommendation from a friend (cheers Nigel Smith), I decided to cook Oxtail with Broad beans and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It was definitely worth the wait!

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 10 hours

500g beef oxtail, cut into pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp minced fresh ginger root
1 scotch bonnet chilli pepper, chopped
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 sprig fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup canned or frozen broad beans, drained
1 tsp whole allspice berries
1/2 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp water

Preheat oven to 130 degrees
Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the oxtail, onion, spring onion, garlic, ginger, chilli, soy sauce, thyme, salt, and pepper.
Brown the oxtail in the skillet until browned all over, about 10 minutes.
Put the oxtail & onions mix into a lidded heavy casserole dish, and pour in 1 1/2 cup water.
Cover the casserole with foil and the lid.
Cook for 10 hours, checking a couple of times to ensure there is still liquid (add a little more water if dry)
Add the broad beans and allspice berries, and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
Dissolve the cornstarch in 2 tablespoons water, and stir into the simmering oxtail.
Cook for a few minutes until the sauce has thickened, and the beans are tender.
Serve with rice or mash potato