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

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

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

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

Rating: 8/10

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

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

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

Ingredients for Bossche bollen (chocolate puffs)
Bossche bollen (chocolate puffs)
Bossche bollen (chocolate puffs)
Bossche bollen (chocolate puffs)
Traditional windmill, Kinderdijk


The land of Vikings, Skiing and Fjords.  Norway has the greatest length of any European country with almost one third of the country situated north of the Arctic Circle.  It has Europe’s deepest lake (Hornindalsvatnet – 514m), highest waterfall (Vinnufossen – 860m) and longest coastline at over 21,000km.  The Lærdal Tunnel, opened in 2000, is the longest road tunnel in the world (24.5 km).

Some interesting facts about Norway:

– Norway has won more Winter Olympic medals than any other country on Earth, with a grand total of 303 medals (including 107 gold medals) as of 2012, 50 more than the USA.
– The U.S. has more people of Norwegian descent than Norway.
– Norway will be the first country to turn off FM radio in 2017 and switch completely to digital.
– All prisoners in Norway have internet in their cells.
– Norway gets 98-99% of its electricity from hydroelectric power, more than any other country.

– The Vikings of Norway are well known, however they did not have helmets with horns. In fact, it is not clear if Vikings used helmets at all. While tens of thousands of Viking weapons have been uncovered, only one helmet from around the Viking period exists.

Norwegian cuisine is known for fish dishes; Smoked salmon Gravlaks, Rakfisk (fermented trout) and Mølje (poached fish, roe and liver).  Other dishes include Lapskaus (similar to Irish stew), Fårikål (mutton stew) and Smalahove (made from sheep’s head).  I was in the mood for something sweet, so I opted to cook the very simple Vannbakkels (choux buns) filled with vanilla cream.

Rating: 8/10

Makes 15 buns

Prep time: 5 mins
Cook time: 10 + 35 mins baking
250ml water
125 g butter
125 g plain flour
4 eggsCream filling:
200ml double cream
1 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essencePlace the butter and water in a saucepan and bring to boil.
Remove from the heat and sieve in the flour slowly until all the flour is mixed in and it forms a smooth ball.

Preheat oven to 190c.
Let the batter cool slightly then beat in the eggs one at a time until mixed well.
Spoon tablespoons of batter onto a baking sheet lined with baking parchment and bake for 30- 35 minutes or until golden brown and well risen.
Once cooked pierce each bun open, just enough to let some steam out.
Leave to cool on a wire rack.
Whip the cream with the vanilla essence & icing sugar.
Once the vannbakkels are cooled, spoon or pipe in the cream filling.


Vannbakkels (choux buns)
Vannbakkels (cream filled choux buns)
Norwegian fjord village
Norway fjord