Antigua and Barbuda

Separated by a few nautical miles, Antigua and Barbuda are in the middle of the Leeward Islands, part of the Lesser Antilles. There are also a number of smaller islands (including Crump Island, Lobster Island, Wicked Will Island and Prickly Pear Island). Columbus named Antigua after the church of Santa Maria de la Antigua in Seville, Spain. Antigua has a population of 85,632, mostly made up of people of West African, British, and Madeiran descent.

The Bird family has controlled the islands since Vere C. Bird founded the Antigua Labour Party in the mid-1940s. While tourism and financial services have turned the country into one of the more prosperous in the Caribbean, law enforcement officials have charged that Antigua and Barbuda is a major centre of money laundering, drug trafficking, and arms smuggling. Several scandals tainted the Bird family, especially the 1995 conviction of Prime Minister Lester Bird’s brother, Ivor, for cocaine smuggling.

Cricket is the national sport of Antigua and it has produced several famous cricket players including Sir Vivian Richards, Andy Roberts, Richie Richardson and Curtly Ambrose.

Eric Clapton founded The Crossroads Centre, a drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation centre in 1998. For nearly twenty years Antigua served as Eric Clapton’s refuge from his drug-riddled rock stardom. Mr Clapton thought of the island as a safe and serene place where he could begin the process of healing from very devastating life events and situations. He writes in his 2007 autobiography “It really has been one of the only places on earth I’ve found where I can completely discard the pressures of my life and blend into the landscape. Clapton calls the land of Antigua his second home.

Tourism accounts for over half of the country’s GDP, with annual visitors of around 250,000. Some of the key highlights for the visitor are Nelson’s Dockyard (18th century British naval base), the port town of St John, beaches at Hawksbill Bay and Barbuda’s Codrington Lagoon.

Some of the recipes I came across were Pork with bacon & banana, Fungie (cooked cornmeal like polenta), Dukuna (sweet steamed dumpling), Antiguan fish broth and Fruit cake. I opted to cook Antiguan Jerk Chicken, which can be slowly cooked wings or breast on the bone.

Rating: 8/10

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

2 chicken breast quarters (with skin and on the bone)
1 tsp ancho chilli powder
1 tsp ground allspice or 1/2 tbsp allspice berries
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
t tsp freshly grated ginger
1 tsp fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 140c
In a mortar and pestle, grind all the spices together
Add the honey and brown sugar and continue to grind well
Add the chopped parsley and ginger and grind till a paste forms
Massage the paste all over the chicken breasts with your hands – it’s a messy job!
Place the chicken breasts in a lidded casserole pot with 1/4 cup of water and cook in the oven for 4 hours
After 4 hours, shred the chicken using a fork
Serve in pitta bread, sub rolls or wraps with a slice of melted cheese and hot sauce

Haiti

The first time of sharing (inflicting one could say) my cooking challenge with anyone other than my generally thankful husband!! … Mum and Dad joined us this evening.
Haiti makes up one third of the island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean, with the Dominican Republic making up the other two-thirds.
Native Haitians were pre-Columbian Amerindians called Taíno, “the good people.” The Taíno named their land “Ayiti,” meaning “Land of Mountains”—a term that evolved into “Haiti”
In the jungles of Haiti, one can find certain species that do not live naturally on any other part of the globe; some bat species native to Haiti include the Greater Bulldog bat, the Sooty Mustached bat and Waterhouse’s leaf-nosed bat.
There are some quite harsh facts associated with this Caribbean country:
– It has been ranked as one of the five most corrupt countries
– Because of both violence and AIDS, it has the highest percentage of orphans of any country in the Western Hemisphere. Before the 2010 earthquake, the United Nations estimated there were 430,000 orphans
– From 1804-1915, more than 70 dictators ruled Haiti
– It is estimated between 200,000 – 300,000 Haitians died and 1.5 million were left homeless in the devastating earthquake in January 2010.
– c.1% of Haiti’s population owns more than 50% of the nation’s wealth.

These were some of the recipes I found in my research; Diri kole ak pwa (rice and beans), Kribich nan sòs (Haitian Shrimp), Legim (thick vegetable stew), but as I knew I was entertaining, I chose the more popular Griyo or Griot (fried pork).  I found several recipes, all varied quite significantly in both method & ingredients.  This is how I made it:

Rating 7/10

Ingredients for 4 people
6 pork shoulder steaks, cut into 1” square chunks
1 large onion, sliced thinly
4 spring onions, sliced thinly
1 jalapeno chilli pepper, seeds removed and sliced thinly
1.5 tsp of thyme leaves
Juice of 2 limes
Juice of 1 orange
3 garlic cloves
500ml water
2 tbsp olive oil

Put the pork with all of the ingredients except the water and oil in a bowl, mix well, cover and refreigerate overnight
Take the pork out of the fridge an hour before you want to start cooking
Drain any liquid and reserve it.  Place the pork, onions & water in an oven proof covered dish
Preheat the oven to 190
Cook the pork for 1.5 hours.
Using a large colander, drain the liquid into a medium saucepan, reserving the pork & onion in the colander.
Put the oil in the same oven dish and place into the oven for 5 mins
Place the pork into the hot oil and cook for 25 mins
Meanwhile heat the remaining liquid in the saucepan with ½ cup of orange juice and reduce by half to make the sauce
When the pork is cooked, remove from the oven and pour the reduced sauce over the pork and serve with cooked boiled rice.

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Panama

Panama is the only place in the world where you can see the sun rise on the Pacific and set on the Atlantic.  It has 5,637 kilometers of coastline and more than 1,518 islands so it boasts plenty of beaches.
The Panama Canal was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers between 1904 and 1914.  It is 44 miles long and there are 3 sets of locks of 33.5 metres (110 ft) width.  It generates one-third of Panama’s entire economy and serves passage to almost 14,000 ocean-going vessels per year.  The Panama Hat is actually made in Ecuador.
The Panamanian recipes I came across were Sancocho (local stew), Tamales (corn dough rolls) & Corvina (local sea bass).  There were also a fair few different breakfast recipes, namely Arepas (corn flatbread topped with egg), Bistek Picado (chopped beef) & Salchichas (sausages).  As it was the weekend and the kids were with us, I decided to cook these easy Hojaldras (doughnuts).
Rating: 8/10
2 cups of flour
1 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp of white sugar
1 tsp of salt
1 tbsp of oil
½ cup of water
Oil for frying
Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.  Mound the ingredients and make an indentation in the middle.
Add the oil and one tablespoon of the water.
While kneading, add the water a tablespoon at a time, until the dough no longer sticks to your hands.
Form dough into a ball, cover bowl with a cloth, and let it rest for two hours.  (After the two hours, you can cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough until the following day, if desired.)
When ready to fry, heat a few inches of oil in a pot over medium heat.
Form the dough into small balls (a little goes a long way), and use your hands to stretch them thin and flat, like pizza dough.
Carefully add the stretched dough balls, one or two at a time, and fry until golden on one side, then flip and fry the other side.  (It helps to place a screen over the pot to prevent oil spatters.)
Remove dough, and allow to cool slightly.
Enjoy your hojaldras plain, or with powdered sugar, cinnamon, or even bacon
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