Denmark

Denmark is an archipelago made up of 406 islands and 7,314 miles of coastline, which is longer than the Great Wall of China.  No place in Denmark is more than 30 miles from the sea.

 

The Danish monarchy is the oldest continuing monarchy in the world and has existed for over 1,000 years.  Queen Margarethe II is the current head of state.

 

Denmark has more than twice the amount of bicycles (4.2 million) than cars (1.8 million). Copenhageners pedal more than 1.13 million km on their bicycles each day.

 

Salaries in Copenhagen are the third highest in the world – only surpassed by Zurich and Geneva.  The UN World Happiness Report has rated Danes as the happiest people on earth two years in a row.

 

With its palaces and gardens, Copenhagen hosts more visitors than any other Nordic city.  The name Lego® is an abbreviation of two Danish words leg godt, meaning “play well.” The company was started in 1932 by Ole Kirk Christiansen. Lego began producing its iconic bricks in 1958. For more than 60 years, over 320 billion Lego bricks have been sold worldwide—nearly 60 bricks for every human on the planet.

 

The Danes are certified foodies. They are the fifth largest exporter of food in the world, despite their small population.  Copenhagen has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city in Scandinavia.  Some of their traditional dishes include Æblekage, (apple charlotte) , Hakkebøf (ground beef steak), Stegt flæsk med persillesovs (pork slices with potato and bechamel sauce) and Klipfisk (dried cod).  I decided to cook Frikadeller (pan fried meatballs) with Danish brown gravy.
I was skiing in France when I cooked this dish for 18 people!! (I quadrupled the volume of ingredients).  It was generally well received, although some felt the gravy was a little too vinegary.
Rating overall 7/10

 

Serves 4 hungry people
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 15-25 minutes

 

For the Frikadeller:
275g ground pork
275g ground veal
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 large onion
2 tbsps flour
1 small egg

 

Chop the onion into fine pieces, and mix meat and onions together.
Add egg and mix again.
Add flour and remaining ingredients.
Form mix into 6-8 balls.
Melt butter in frying pan and cook for 10 min on each side over a medium heat.
(If you are doing this for a large volume of people you can brown the meatballs in the frying pan and then transfer to the oven for about 15 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through)

 

For the brown gravy:
4 tbsps Danish butter
4 tbsps flour
3 cups beef stock
3 tbsps white vinegar
Salt and pepper
3 tbsps sherry
Colouring to darken the gravy (optional)

 

Melt butter over low heat in a pot.
Add flour and stir until smooth.
Add half of the meat stock slowly while constantly stirring.
Add the rest of the stock with vinegar and boil slowly, while constantly stirring.
Add salt and pepper.
Add sherry at the very end, just before removing from heat.
Remove from heat, allow gravy to cool for 4-5 minutes while stirring constantly.

 

I served the dish with buttered tagliatelle.

 

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Danish dinner for the skiers!!
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Lesotho

Lesotho (pronounced le-soo-too) is a mountainous country surrounded by South Africa.  Originally called Basutoland, it was renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho upon independence from the UK in 1966.  “Lesotho” roughly translates to “the land of the people who speak Sesotho”.

80% of the country is greater than 1,800 m above sea level.

It’s principal exports are manufactures (clothing, footwear, road vehicles) wool & mohair.  Water is Lesotho’s major natural resource. Completion of a large hydropower plant in 1998 helps the economy expand through the sale of water to South Africa.
Some of the top things to do in Lesotho, according to trip advisor, include the AfriSki Ski and Mountain Resort in Buthe Buthe, Katse Dam in Maseru and the Maletsunyane Falls in Semonkong.
I struggled to find recipes that appealed to me, as I’m not a fan of porridge and ‘mealie pap’, a maize porridge is a very common dish in Lesotho.
They also have stews (oxtail) and curries.  However I came across a bread that they cook in the mountain regions of Lesotho called Borotho.  They cook it over a coal fire in a cast iron pot.  I opted to cook it in a copper pot in the oven.
Rating: 4/10.
The bottom of the buns were a bit too crunchy for our liking and the dough was quite dense.  Perhaps they’d be lighter if I’d used just strong white flour rather than a mix.
Prep time: 30 minutes + 1hr 30 minutes proving time
Cook time: 35 minutes
Makes: 12 buns
Ingredients
15g dried yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/2 pt tepid water
225g strong white flour
225g wholemeal bread flour
1 tsp salt
veg oil

Add the yeast & sugar to the water, stir and leave it to stand for 5 minutes.
Sift the flour & salt on to a clean worksurface or bowl.
Make a well in middle and add most of the liquid.
Gradually stir the flour into the liquid so you start forming a gluey paste and then a dough.
Knead the dough for 10 minutes and then place in a bowl with a tea towel over the top and put it in a warm place for at least 1 hour.
Remove the dough on to a lightly floured work surface and gently knead it for a couple of minutes.
Put it back in the bowl, covered with a tea towel and leave it to prove again for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200 c.
Put a tbsp of veg oil in a lidded oven proof dish (ideally copper or cast iron) and put in the oven to heat for 5 minutes.
Remove the dough from the bowl and make 12 round buns with your hands, placing them in a circle around the edge of the dish with a couple in the middle.  Leave a little bit of space around each one.
Put the lid on the dish and cook for 35 minutes.
Serve for breakfast with butter & jam or your preferred spread.

Côte d’Ivoire

The Ivory Coast or Côte d’Ivoire is considered the cultural hub of West Africa.  It has two official capitals. Yamoussoukro is the political and administrative capital, while Abidjan serves as the economic capital of the country. Abidjan is often called the “Paris of West Africa,” and much of its beauty derives from its setting on the rim of a lagoon at the edge of the ocean.
A few interesting facts …
Ivory Coast is one of the largest producers and exporters of coffee, cocoa beans, and palm oil.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro is the largest church building in the world with an area covering 323,000 sq ft.
The trade in ivory which gave the country its name had almost died out by the 18th century.
The Ivory Coast national football team is nicknamed “Les Eléphants” (the elephants).
Côte d’Ivoire (which is the country’s preferred name for itself) is an anagram of “erotic video”.
According to Lonely Planet some of the highlights include surfing at Assinie beach, the rainforest of Parc National de Taï and hiking to the summit of Mt Tonkoui for a view of 3 countries.
Some recipes I came across for Côte d’Ivoire – Maafe (meat in peanut sauce), Attiéké (grated cassava) and poulet bicyclette (guinea fowl).  I opted to cook Kedjenou (slow cooked chicken) with rice.  It was very simple and pleasantly tasty.
Rating 7/10
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1.5 hours
Serves 2-3
4 chicken drumsticks & 2 chicken breasts
1 medium onion
1 spring onion
1/2 fresh red or green pepper
1 can of tomatoes
1/2 tablespoon bouillon (1 maggi cube)
1/2 tablespoon ginger paste
1/2 tablespoon garlic puree
1 fresh sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 habenero chilli pepper
Salt and pepper

 

Preheat the oven to 170.

Remove the skin from the drumsticks and trim off excess fat, pat the chicken dry with a kitchen towel and sprinkle with salt.
Slice the onion, spring onion and pepper.
Add all the ingredients to an oven proof casserole dish with lid and stir until everything is mixed together.
Seal the dish with aluminum foil and then cover it with the lid.
Place in the oven and shake the pot once or twice during cooking without removing the lid.
Cook for 1 & half hours.
Let it stand for 5 minutes, then remove the chicken from the bones and serve with rice.

Ghana

Situated in West Africa on the Gulf of Guinea, covering an area of 92,100 square miles.  Home to the largest man made lake in the world – Lake Volta. The word Ghana is known to mean Warrior King, Ghana’s former name was “Gold Coast” after the large amount of gold that colonizers found in the country.  It’s biggest exports are cocoa (the world’s second largest producer) and gold.

Top of the things to see and do would include: searching for elephants in Mole National Park, strolling along the beach at Princess town and overlooking the Atlantic from the 18th Century castle of Elmina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The travel operator, Viator, has a plethora of different tours to explore Ghana.  You can take an 3 day private tropical forest hike in Togo & Ghana from £277 or a 12 day wildlife & cultural tour of Northern Ghana from £1,400 (without flights).

Ghanaian cuisine highlights include; Fufu (pounded cassava), Groundnut stew, Omo tuo (rice balls served in fish or meat soup).  I opted to cook a couple of popular dishes – Jollof rice and Kyinkyinga (Pronounced chinchinga), a Ghanaian version of kebab.  Jamie Oliver cooked a Jollof rice recipe in Jun 2014, sparking reactions of outrage on social media from West Africans, who were not happy with his interpretation – #jollofgate!
Rating: 5/10.  Both dishes are quite dry and therefore I shouldn’t have served them together .. you live & learn.  The rice is very spicy!  We thought the kyinkyinga would’ve been better in a pitta bread with salad & mayo .. if we so dare to suggest.
Jollof rice
Serves 2
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 40 mins
3/4 cups basmati rice
2.5 tbsp olive oil
1/2 heaped tbsp tomato puree
1/2 onion chopped
1 medium sized onion
2 medium tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
A small piece of ginger
1 scotch bonnet chilies (reduce if you don’t like it spicy)
1 tsp chicken or vegetable stock powder
Dried mixed herbs
1 small bay leaf
Salt to tasteBlend the ginger, garlic, chilli, tomatoes and two onions and set aside for later.
Heat oil in a non-stick pan and fry the chopped onions till soft and golden brown, about 10 minutes, then add the tomato puree and cook for a further 3 minutes.
Add the blended tomato and onion mixture from earlier and leave to cook through till the tomato mixture has lost its raw taste and the oil is visible at the top.
Add the stock powder, bay leaf and a sprinkle of the mixed herbs. Leave to simmer for about 3 minutes while you rinse the rice to remove excess starch.
When rice is rinsed, add to the sauce stirring it to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom. Now add 1/2 cup of water to the rice and sauce mix and stir, add salt to taste and cook till the water is almost evaporated.
Then cover and simmer on a low heat till rice is fully cooked, stir occasionally to prevent it sticking an add a dash of water if necessary .

Kyinkyinga (chicken kebab)
Prep time: 20 mins + 1 hour marinating time
Cook time: 15-20 mins

250g chicken thigh fillet, cut into cubes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 fat cloves of garlic
2 tbsp grated ginger
1 small onion
1 heaped tsp chicken stock powder
1 red pepper cut in cubes
1 red onion cut in cubes

Suya spice
mix 1/4 cup grounded roasted peanuts (milled into powder with excess oil taken out so that it is very dry)
8g chili powder
8g cup paprika
8g cup of garlic salt
8g cup Onion powder
8g cup dried mixed herbs
1 tsp chicken stock powder
Salt to taste

Blend the ginger, garlic, onion, stock cube seasoning with the oil to form a smooth paste.
Add the paste to the chicken and marinate for about an hour.
Skewer the marinated chicken pieces alternating with the peppers and onions and set aside.
Combine all the ingredients for the suya seasoning and mix together.
Sprinkle some of the suya spice on the skewered chicken and grill till it is cooked and browned both sides.
Remove from the heat and sprinkle a bit more of the suya powder on it, then serve.
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Jollof rice ingredients
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Kyinkyinga ingredients
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Kyinkyinga kebabs
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Cooking the jollof rice
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Kyinkyinga & Jollof rice
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Fishermen in Ghana
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Castle of Elmina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
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Ghanaian children enjoying the beach

Burma / Myanmar

Well is it Burma or is it Myanmar?

That’s a tricky question … so we’ll start with the basics.  It is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, and the 40th-largest in the world.  It has a population of over 55,000 with the majority being Buddhist.  The capital is Yangon.

There has been a hell of a lot going on here so I’ve tried to do my best to summarise (very badly).  There’s a bit more info here than I would usually go into, which is at the request of one of my intellectual readers!

The country has been called “Burma” in English since the 18th century.
General Aung San, who was generally considered the father of independent Burma was assassinated in 1947.
Burma became independent from the UK in 1948.
In 1962, left-wing general Ne Win staged a coup, banned political opposition, suspended the constitution, and introduced the “Burmese way of socialism.”
In 1987, Ne Win suddenly cancelled certain currency notes which caused a great down-turn in the economy as it wiped out the savings of the vast majority of people. The main reason for the cancellation of these notes was superstition on Ne Win’s part, as he considered the number nine his lucky number—he only allowed 45 and 90 kyat notes, because these were divisible by nine.
After 25 years of economic hardship and repression, the Burmese people held massive demonstrations in 1987 and 1988. These were brutally quashed by the State Law and Order Council (SLORC).
In 1989, the military government officially changed the name of the country to Myanmar.  At the same time, they changed the name of Rangoon, the former capital, to Yangon.
Daughter of the assassinated general Aung San and leader of the opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, which focused world attention on SLORC’s repressive policies.
In Nov 2005, the military junta, in a massive and secretive move, relocated the seat of government from the capital Yangon to a mountain compound called Pyinmanaa in Naypyidaw. The move perplexed many, and the junta was vague in its explanation, saying, “Due to changed circumstances, where Myanmar is trying to develop a modern nation, a more centrally located government seat has become a necessity.”
In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis ravaged the Irrawaddy Delta and Yangon, killing 22,500 people and leaving up to a million homeless. Another 41,000 people were reported missing and feared dead. Most of the death and destruction were caused by a 12-foot high tidal wave that formed during the storm.
Days after elections in Oct 2010, the country’s first elections in 20 years, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was freed after nearly 20 years under house arrest, she won a seat in parliament and took office in May.  Thousands of supporters gathered outside her home, where she gave a speech calling for a “peaceful revolution”.
The country’s first Parliament in 20 years convened in Jan. 2011 and elected Prime Minister Thein Sein as president. The military junta officially disbanded in March 2011. However, Parliament is civilian largely in name only. The military won about 60% of the seats in October 2010 elections, and another 25% are reserved for members of the military
In his first year as president, Thein Sein initiated stunning changes in political and economic philosophy that saw a loosening of the tight grip the authoritarian junta held on the country. He initiated talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, allowed her and her party, the NLD, to run in upcoming parliamentary elections, freed more than 800 political prisoners and signed a cease-fire with ethnic Karen rebels.
In Jan. 2012 the U.S. restored full diplomatic relations with Myanmar following a visit from Hilary Clinton, Secretary of State in Dec 2011.
In 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi announced that her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), would take part in the election after boycotting the previous one in 2010, which was condemned for irregularities by international organisations.
In Feb 2016 Aung San Suu Kyi won the election in a landslide victory, but she cannot become president due to the constitution, which among other things:
i) prevents leaders having foreign relatives, her two sons are both British citizens; and
ii) demands the president has military experience, of which she has none.
According to Transparency International, Burma ranked 157 out of 177 countries in terms of perceived corruption. The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries/territories based on how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be. It is a composite index, drawing on corruption-related data from expert and business surveys carried out by a variety of independent and reputable institutions
And on to the cooking.  Through my research I came across Mohinga (rice vermicelli with fish soup), which is the traditional breakfast dish and Burma’s national dish, Sanwinmakin (Semonlina cake) and Laphet Thohk (pickled tea leaf salad).  Also popular are curries of many varieties.  I chose Kyetha hin (chicken curry).
Rating: 9/10
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 40 mins
390g chicken breast cut into bite size
1/2 med onion, chopped roughly
1 large garlic clove, smashed
1 strip of lemon peel, sliced
1/2 tsp ginger, grated
Vegetable oil
3/4 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp chilli powder
2 cups water
1 tbsp tomato puree
1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp tamarind paste or use tbsp lemon juice
Fresh coriander, chopped
Pinch ground cardamom
Blend the onion, garlic, lemon peel and ginger with a little oil to make a smooth paste.
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan and when hot add the paste, salt, turmeric & chilli powder.
Fry over a med heat for a few minutes stirring regularly and add a few drops of water if it starts to stick to the pan.
Reduce to a low heat and simmer for 10 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and its turned deep brown.
Add the chicken pieces, stirring well to coat with the paste.
Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. T
hen add the water, potato, tomato puree, fish sauce, tamarind or lemon juice and stir to mix well.
Cover and continue to simmer for another 20 – 25 minutes, until the potato is soft.
Turn the heat off, sprinkle over the coriander & cardamom.
Serve with boiled rice.

 

Azerbaijan

South of Russia, Azerbaijan is on the west coast of the Caspian Sea with the Caucasus Mountains in the northwestern border of this republic. The oil rich capital is Baku, with a population of c. 2m. Marco Polo visited Baku in 1264 and witnessed the oil being collected, he said “there is a fountain from which oil springs in great abundance”. Azerbaijan gets its name from Atropates, a Persian nobleman. He ruled over the present-day Azerbaijan. His name evolved over a millennia, and in modern Persian translates to “The Treasury” and “The Treasurer” of fire or “The Land of the Fire”.
Azerbaijan is home to the first known fireplace, discovered in Azikh Cave, the largest cave in Azerbaijan, and also one of the ancient proto-human habitations in human history, that dates back to 700,000 – 500,000 years ago.
In 1879, the Nobel brothers, founders of Nobel Prize, set up their oil company in Azerbaijan; The Nobel Brothers Petroleum country. The Nobel brothers from Sweden acquired much of their wealth from Azerbaijan’s oil industry.
The former world chess champion Garry Kasparov hails from Baku.
Tea is the most popular drink in Azerbaijan. Traditionally served in a pear shaped glass, the drink is often consumed through lumps of sugar or jam, held in the mouth.
A few of the popular dishes in Azerbaijan cuisine include Plov (saffron covered rice), Dolma (minced and spiced lamb wrapped in vine leaves), and Dyushbara (meat dumplings). Also very popular are kebabs, which is what I opted to cook – Lyulya (lamb kebab). There is an Azerbaijan restaurant near Ravencourt Park, where they serve ‘Lulle’ kebab for £9.49.
Rating: 8/10

Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Serves 2 as a large starter

220g lamb neck fillet
20g suet
1/2 onion chopped
Salt & pepper

Blend the lamb, suet and onions in food processor. Add salt, pepper and then leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Rinse your hands in salted water, mould into 6 sausages and skewer.
Preheat the grill and cook for 10-15 minutes, turning so they are brown on all sides.
Serve with flatbread and chutneys.

Suriname

Suriname is the smallest country in South America, bordered by Guyana, French Guiana and Brazil.  It has a population of c.542,000, most of whom live on the country’s north coast, in and around the capital and largest city, Paramaribo. In 2002, the historic inner city of Paramaribo was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral in Paramaribo is the biggest wooden structure in the Western Hemisphere and is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paramaribo.  It is 59.1m long, 14.6m high, 16.5m wide and reaches 44m high in the tower up to the bronze cross.

Tropical rainforests make up about 80% of Suriname´s total landscape.  One of the top tourist attractions, from April to August, is watching the giant leatherback turtles lay their eggs on the beach at Galibi Nature Reserve.
Suriname is a member of the Carribbean Community (CARICOM), officially a Dutch speaking country and is the only territory outside Europe where Dutch is spoken by the majority of the population.
Through the services of ‘Cynthia rent a house’, a 4 star, 1 bed apartment within a luxury resort, 20 min drive from Paramaribo, will cost €500 per month for long term rental.

The current president Desi Bouterse is a controversial figure.  In 2007 he was put on trial for allegedly ordering the killing of 15 political opponents as military ruler in 1982.  The case was put on hold when parliament passed a law giving him & his co-defendents blanket immunity for human rights violations committed during military rule.  In 1999, he was convicted in the Netherlands to 11 years imprisonment for cocaine trafficking, but he remains free in Suriname.

The cuisine of Suriname is a combination of many international cuisines including East Indian, African, Indonesian, Chinese, Dutch, Jewish, Portuguese and Amerindian.  I came across Pastei (creole-style chicken pot pie), Bami goreng (fried noodles) & Roti (flat bread).  However, within the Surinamese community, in both Surinam and The Netherlands, Pom is the most popular and best known festive dish.  It was introduced by the Portuguese-Jewish plantation owners as the Portuguese potato (“pomme de terre”) oven dish. Because the potato did not grow in Suriname and had to be imported it was replaced with the root of the tayer plant – pomtajer.  I used potato in my ‘Pom’ as I didn’t fancy my chances of finding pomtayer in the supermarket and because Bern is obsessed with potatoes!  I found many variations of the recipe in my research so this is my take on ‘Pom’.
Rating: 8/10

 

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
For 2 people
3 med sized potatoes, peeled and grated (remove most of the excess water with a tea towel)
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 tbsp brown sugar 1
/2 tsp nutmeg
Pinch turmeric
Salt & ground white pepper
1 tsp chicken stock powder or cube
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp chopped parsley
250g chicken chopped in to bite size pieces
50g butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes

 

Melt 30g of butter in a pan and saute the onion on a med-low heat for 5 minutes, then set aside.
Add a little oil to the pan and add the chicken on a med heat. After a few minutes, add a pinch of salt, white pepper, a pinch of nutmeg, tsp chicken stock powder, half the lime juice and cook for a further few mins.
Add the onion back into the pan and stir.
Add the chopped tomatoes, 1/2 cup water, mix well and let it simmer on a low heat for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the grated potato in a bowl with the rest of the lime juice, orange juice, sugar, parsley, a pinch of nutmeg and turmeric and mix well.
Preheat oven to 180c / 350f.
Butter 2 small oven proof dishes or 1 medium sized dish (enough for 2 large portions).
Spread each dish with a layer of the potato mix, using about half.
Let the chicken & tomato mix cool a little, then put a layer of chicken into each dish on top of the spuds.
Drain any excess liquid from the remaining potatoes and then spread the rest over the chicken.
Dot with the remaining butter and bake for 1 hour, until golden brown.

Sweden

Some interesting stats about Sweden:
86% of Swedes live in cities
There are 95,700 lakes in Sweden, making up approx 9% of its total area
The highest & lowest ever recorded temperatures are 38 degrees celsius (Jun) and -53 celsius (Feb)
Swedes are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave, 90 of those days are reserved for the Dad
Students are paid $187 per month to attend high school
They’ve won 25 Oscars over the years – Ingrid Bergman won 3
Despite being a military power in the 17th century and one of the world’s largest producers of weapons, Sweden has not participated in any war for almost two centuries, including both world wars
With a tax rate of 51.4% of GDP, Swedes are one of the most highly taxed populations in the world. Ironically, they are generally happy to pay a high tax rate, and the Swedish word for tax is skatt, or “treasure.”
Between 300,000 and 400,000 moose (Alces alces) roam the Swedish woods. Over 100,000 are shot during the annual hunt, and about 250,000 people participate in the hunt. The moose is also considered the most dangerous animal in Sweden. Every year, they cause approximately 6,000 road accidents.

ABBA is the fourth-best selling music act in history, after Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Michael Jackson. The group has sold over 375 million records worldwide. At one point, ABBA was second only to Volvo as Sweden’s biggest export earner.

And finally .. 1.8m Ikea meatballs are eaten on average every day worldwide!
When it comes to the food, I really was spoilt for choice.  Some of the mouthwatering temptations include Semlas (cream filled buns), Jansson’s temptation (a creamy potato and anchovy casserole), Västerbotten cheese pie & a huge array of fish & shellfish dishes.  However, I simply couldn’t resist the obvious. I cooked Köttbulla (Swedish meatballs) and they were absolutely delicious!
Rating: 10/10
45g fresh white bread, crusts removed and bread cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup milk
2.5 tbsps unsalted butter
1/2 medium onion, chopped finely
340g minced beef chuck (about 20% fat)
140g minced pork (about 25% fat)
2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
Pinch ground allspice
Vegetable oil, for frying
1.5 tbsp flour
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp apple cider vinegar
Chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
In a medium bowl, combine bread with milk, tossing to coat. Let stand until bread is completely softened and most of the milk absorbed, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat.
Add half of the onion and cook, stirring, until onion is golden and tender, about 5-6 minutes.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a food processor, combine minced beef, minced pork, bread and any remaining milk, cooked onion, remaining raw onion, salt, egg, white pepper, and allspice.
Starting on low speed and increasing to medium-high, beat mixture until ingredients are thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Dipping your hands in water as needed to prevent meatball mixture from sticking, roll roughly 1-tablespoon-sized portions of meatball mixture into balls slightly smaller than golf-ball size.
Transfer to lined baking sheet.
Set a rack over a clean baking sheet and heat oven to 200°F. Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a wide skillet to 350°F.
Working in batches, lower meatballs into oil and fry, turning until well browned all over, about 2 minutes. Transfer browned meatballs to the rack and keep warm in the oven.
In a medium saucepan, melt remaining 1.5 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat until foamy.
Whisk in flour and cook, whisking, until raw flour smell is gone, about 3 minutes.
Whisk in chicken stock, bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 3 minutes.
Whisk in soy sauce and cider vinegar. Season with salt and white pepper.
Add meatballs to gravy and stir to coat. Simmer until meatballs are heated through.
Serve with buttered mashed potatoes.

Tajikistan

Tajikistan, a landlocked former Soviet republic, covers an area of 142,000 sq km (55,000 sq miles). It borders Kyrgyzstan in the north, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south and Uzbekistan in the northwest. The capital is Dushanbe.
The area of Tajikistan has been inhabited since 4000 BC.
The Pamir mountains, topping 7,000 meters (23,000 feet) and known locally as the “Roof of the World”, make up more than 90 percent of its territory There are more than 900 rivers in Tajikistan and about 20 main lakes.
The legendary Silk Road passed through Tajikistan going from China to Europe. The Silk Road (or Silk Route) is an ancient network of trade routes that were central to cultural interaction through regions of the Asian continent connecting the West and East from China to the Med. The Silk Road derives its name from the lucrative trade in Chinese silk carried out along its length.
Tajikistan remains the poorest of the 15 post-Soviet nations.
According to wiki, part of the 1985 American comedy film, Spies Like Us, directed by John Landis starring Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd was set in Tajikstan. Although they didn’t actually do any filming there.
The cuisine of Tajikstan includes Plov (a rice dish fried with vegetables & meat), Qurutob (salted cheese) and Fatir (flaky flatbread). I decided to cook lamb kebabs with mint & star anise.  They were a very unusual (if not an acquired) taste.
Rating: 7/10

Kebabs:
400g ground lamb
1 large red onion
1 medium tomato
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground coriander
4 star anise corms, ground
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp fresh, chopped mint leaves
1 small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped (15-20 sprigs)
3 hot, dried, red chili peppers
1/4 cup flour (optional)
Stew:
2 large yellow onions, peeled, sliced and separated into crescents
3 tbsps unsalted butter
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 generous tbsp of garlic, peeled and chopped
3 hot, dried red chili peppers
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped (15-20 sprigs)
1 cup beef stock
1/2 cup plain yogurt

1. In a food processor combine onion tomato and spices and blend lightly so that the vegetables are chopped but still have their form. Add meat, blend lightly again to mix. Let set in the refrigerator for several hours before rolling into kebabs.
2. Preheat grill on the highest setting. Remove meat mix from refrigerator and roll the kebabs into sausages or loaves about 3 inches long and 1½ inches wide. Flour very lightly, if desired, to help the meat hold together.
3. Place on a baking sheet that has been oiled or sprayed. Cook about 6 inches from the flame for 5 minutes on each side. If meat still feels soft to the touch, cook for another few minutes, but do not let the kebabs burn. When done, remove from heat and set aside as you make the stew.
4. Melt butter in a large saucepan or sauté pan. When hot, add onions and sauté briefly to coat the onions. Cook for a few minutes stirring often and then add the sugar and lower the heat to the lowest setting. Let onions cook and caramelize, stirring them only every 10 minutes or so. When they are light brown and very soft, add the garlic, chili peppers and coriander and stir well. Cook until garlic begins to brown.
5. Add the yogurt and the beef stock to the onions and garlic, stirring well. Add the lamb kebabs and, if necessary, add more beef stock. Cover and continue to cook over a low flame until the kebabs are hot. Serve the kebabs on a bed of rice or bulgur and spoon the onions and sauce over the kebabs for a bit of extra flavor.

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Seychelles

The Seychelles has been on my personal bucket list for quite some time.  Being a fan of relaxing in the sun and watching beautiful sunsets, the islands of the Seychelles look idyllic.  However, it has a lot more to offer visitors, than just beach paradise.  There are 115 islands, most of which are not permanently inhabited.  Almost half of the landmass of the country is made up of national parks and reserves.
Bird Island is home to the heaviest land tortoise living in the wild – Esmerelda, who weighs in at a whopping 670 pounds (47.8 stone).  A few of the more popular islands to visit include Mahe, La Digue, Fregate & Praslin.  One of Mahe’s highlights is Morne Seychellois National Park which contains coastal mangrove forests as well as the country’s highest peak, the Morne Seychellois (905m).
Seychelles is the right place to visit if you want to see unique endemic species. These include the paradise flycatcher, the warbler, the jelly fish tree and the female Coco de Mer, which is the world’s heaviest nut.
Until the opening of the international airport on Mahé in 1971, the Seychelles Islands were entirely dependent on the sea for their links with the rest of the world.  By 2004, there were 15 airports.  In 2013, 230,000 tourists visited the Seychelles, 12,500 came from the UK.
Seychellois cuisine has been influenced by African, British, French, Indian and Chinese cuisines.  Fish & seafood are very popular and spices play an integral part in flavouring dishes.
A big thanks to Rakesh Shah, who shared an authentic recipe from his uncle for Red Snapper.
Rating: 7/10
Red Snapper Seychelles style!

450g red snapper, cut into serving size pieces – 3/4″ thick
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1 clove garlic
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
2 medium tomatoes, sliced

Heat oven to 350ºF. Spray 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick vegetable cooking spray. Arrange snapper skin-down in dish. Set aside.
Combine shallots, garlic and oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet. Cook over medium for 3 to 4 minutes, or until shallots are tender-crisp, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Stir in juice, parsley, paprika, cumin and pepper. Pour shallot mixture over snapper.
Arrange tomato slices evenly over snapper.
Cover dish with foil and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until fish is firm and opaque and just begins to flake.
Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main.

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Indonesia

The fourth most populated country in the world with over 255m people and it has the fourth largest coastline.
It comprises of over 17,000 islands that lie between the Pacific Ocean & the Indian Ocean.  The most known islands are Sumatra, Bali & Java.  Java is the most populated island in the world.
Some of Lonely planet’s highlights include; catching waves at Ulu Watu, Bali’s surfing mecca; Java’s Borobudur temple; trekking to Dani villages in Papua’s Baliem Valley and the enigmatic orangutan in Tanjung Puting National Park.
There are 400 active volcanoes, more than any other country.  Krakatoa is the site of the largest volcanic eruption ever recorded. Occurring on August 27, 1883, it had a force equivalent to 2,000 Hiroshima bombs and resulted in the death of 36,000 people.
It is home to some pretty scary wildlife, namely, the Komodo dragon (the largest lizard on earth), Python Reticulates, (the longest snake in the world) and the largest volume of shark species, approx 150.
As for Indonesia’s cuisine, according to wiki it is one of the most vibrant and colourful in the world, full of intense flavour.  So hopefully we are in for a treat!  I was entertaining friends so I opted for 3 of the most popular dishes; Sate Ayam Madura (chicken satay with peanut sauce); Padang Style Beef Rendang (rich beef curry) and Nasi Goreng (fried rice).

Rating:  10/10 – Sate, 9/10 – Rendang Beef and 8/10 – Nasi Goreng.  Overall 9/10

Sate Ayam Madura
Peanut Sauce:
250g peanut, toasted/roasted
3 candlenuts (kemiri)
6 red chilies
4 tbsp palm sugar
2½ tsp salt
600 ml water
Satay:
600 gram chicken thigh meat, cut into ½ inch cubes
4 tablespoon sweet soy sauce (Kecap manis)
2 tsp oil Bamboo skewers (about 20)
Peanut Sauce: In a food processor, grind together peanut, candlenuts, and chilies. Transfer to a sauce pot along with the rest of the peanut sauce ingredients, and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to a simmer and continue cooking until the sauce thickens. Turn off heat.Satay: Place chicken, sweet soy sauce, oil, and 150 gram of peanut sauce in a mixing bowl. Mix together and marinate for 30 minutes. Skewer the marinated chicken with bamboo skewers. Grill until cooked and slightly charred, baste with marinating sauce as needed. Serve the satay with peanut sauce & lime wedges 

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Padang Style Beef Rendang
600g beef chuck steak, cut into 2 inch by 2 inch cubes
1 litre of water
150 ml thick coconut cream
3 kaffir lime leaves
3 bay leaves
1 lemon grass, gently bruised
1 inch galangal, peeled and gently bruised
1/2 tbsp tamarind pasteGrind the following into spice paste:
15 shallots
5 cloves garlic
50g red chilies
10 candlenuts (I used macadamia as I couldn’t find these)
1 inch fresh ginger
1 inch fresh turmeric
1 /2 tbsp pepper
1 /2 tbsp salt
Put all ingredients in a soup pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat a bit (still above simmering point) and leave the pot uncovered.
Cook until the liquid is reduced and thickened. Once the liquid has thickened, reduce the heat and simmer until all the liquid is almost gone and the beef looks a bit dark – this should take around 2 hours.
Remove from heat and serve hot or at room temperature.
Nasi Goreng
6 shallots
3 garlic cloves
5g shrimp paste
10 g red chilli
3 eggs
150 g chicken breast, deep-fried and shredded
1/4 cup cooking oil
600 g rice, cooked & cold
1 tsp pepper
3 tbsp sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 spring onion, chopped
4 shallots quick fried & left to dryGrind shallots, garlic, shrimp paste and chili to fine paste.
Heat cooking oil in a wok and stir-fry spice paste for 2 minutes on a medium heat, till brownish and fragrant.
Push spices to side of wok and pour egg into the wok. Quickly scramble the egg for a minute. Mix egg with spices, break them into smaller pieces.
Add rice, pepper, kecap manis, soy sauce & chicken.
Stir-fry everything quickly over high heat, for 6-7 minutes.
Sprinkle with the spring onion and fried shallots & serve 

Cameroon

Cameroon has been described as “Africa in miniature” because it exhibits all major climates and vegetation of the continent: coast, desert, mountains, rainforest, and savanna.  Cameroon is one of the wettest lands on the earth with annual rainfall of about 1,028cm.

The people are as diverse as its terrain; including ancient tribal kingdoms, forest-dwelling pygmies and Muslim pastoralists, making it one of the most culturally diverse countries on the African continent. One third of the population lives below the poverty line.

Mount Cameroon, an active volcano that last erupted in 2000,  is the highest mountain in West Africa at 4,085m. Cameroon is the first African country to have reached the quarter-final in the Football world cup.

Cuisine varies by region, but a large, one-course, evening meal is common throughout the country. A typical dish is based on cocoyams, maize, cassava, millet, plantains, potatoes, rice, or yams, often pounded into dough-like fufu (cous-cous).  I did also come across several recipes for Poulet DG (Poulet Directeur Général), which is served in up market Cameroon restaurants.

In honour of Shrove Tuesday coming up, I opted to go for Cameroon pancakes which the kids had for breakfast, and we saved for our dessert.

Pancakes have always been my nemesis, but this recipe seemed to be much easier to cook – Happy Pancake day!

Rating: 7/10

2 cups flour
1½ cup milk
⅔ cup sugar
6 eggs
¼ cup melted butter
¼- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
½ cup oil for frying

Sift together flour, sugar, nutmeg and salt; set aside.
In a large bowl, beat eggs and milk together with a mixer or by hand.
Mix in flour mixture until everything has been incoporated.
Finally stir in melted butter. Let the batter rest for about an hour or more in the refrigerator (overnight is fine)
Heat a skillet or a non stick frying pan then lightly coat the hot pan with vegetable oil, cooking spray, or clarified butter.
Then pour about a ½ cup of batter depending on your fry pan or skillet.
Tilt pan so the batter spreads across the bottom of the pan.
Cook the pancake for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Lift with a spatula, turn and cook the other side.
Serve hot sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, powder sugar or syrup
(You only need to oil the pan for the first pancake)

Botswana

Botswana is located in southern Africa. It is mainly flat and almost 80% is made up of the Kalahari Desert. Botswana is bordered by South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. It also meets Zambia at a single point but there is no border. The official language of Botswana is English although Setswana is the most spoken.

Botswana is the world’s largest producer of diamonds. Most Botswanan diamonds are mined by the Desbwana company – 50% owned by DeBeers and 50% owned by the government of Botswana. Diamond revenues enables every child in Botswana to receive free education up to the age of 13. The Jwaneng Diamond Mine in southern Botswana is the world’s richest diamond mine.

It is home to the Okavango Delta (the largest inland delta in the world), which became the 1000th inscribed site on the World Heritage List of Unesco in 2014. Chobe National Park has one of the most concentrated population of African elephants and was Botswana’s first national park in 1968. Almost 40% of it’s land is under some form of Wildlife protection. Botswana has been chosen by Lonely Planet as the top country to visit in 2016.

Botswana’s national dish is Seswaa, a salted stewed beef which is usually served with Morogo (a leafy green). One of the more unusual dishes is mophane worms. These are worms similar to caterpillars, that are picked off the mophane tree during summer. They are dried and can be eaten as a snack or rehydrated and cooked in a spicy tomato sauce. However, not being partial to eating worms, I decided to cook Phaphatas (flat dumplings). We had them for breakfast with bacon. Rating: 9/10 (Ellis rated them a 10!)

500g bread flour
8g dried yeast
2 tsps sugar
Half a teaspoon salt
About a cup or so of lukewarm water
Extra flour for kneading

Sift the flour and yeast into a bowl. Add the sugar and salt
Gradually add water and combine with your hands to form a dough. Only add enough water to form the dough.
Knead the dough for about 5 minutes till it’s soft and pliable.
Put aside in a bowl covered with a damp cloth and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about half an inch thickness.
Using a round object like a plastic cup or cookie cutter, cut the dough into circles.
Dust the phaphathas liberally on both sides and place in a flat pan on medium heat with enough space between them to allow for rising.
The heat should not be too high or the phaphatha will burn before it fully cooks on the inside.
The phaphatha should rise while cooking. Keep an eye on them and when they’ve turned brown on the bottom, turn over to cook on the other side.  It took about 40 minutes in total.
Remove from heat when cooked through and enjoy while warm.

 

Andorra

Andorra is probably best known for its ski resorts.  Grandvalira is the largest ski area in the Pyrenees, with 210 km of ski slopes.  It was founded in 2003 when two of the oldest ski resorts Pas de la Casa-Grau Roig and Soldeu-El Tarter joined together.  This year it is hosting the Freeride Junior World Championship, the Speed Skiing World Cup trials and the seventh annual Skiers Cup.

Andorra is the only co principality in the world.  A principality is a place ruled by a prince, such as Monaco.  Andorra, however, is a co-principality, having two princes who jointly share the position, neither of whom are actually from Andorra!
Its population is about 84,000 and boasts the third highest life expectancy in the world. 
Tourism is its biggest industry, with 10.2m visitors every year, which is no doubt encouraged by its tax haven status and duty-free shopping.
Andorra la Vella is the highest capital in Europe at 1023 meters above sea level.
Apparently, by law the male head of each family in Andorra is required to own a gun in case of attack or emergency.
Its cuisine includes Escudella, which means ‘bowl’ (a stew containing more cholesterol than most people consume in a year!), Trinxat (cabbage & bacon potato cake), Brac de Gitano (cream roll)  and Cunillo (rabbit & tomato stew).  I decided to cook the simple but tasty Truites de Carreroles (mushroom omelette).
Rating: 7/10
 
Enough for a healthy breakfast for 2:
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
3 tbsps unsalted butter
1⁄2 tsp salt
1⁄4 tsp black pepper
1 1⁄2 cups portabella mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon (or 1 tsp. dried)
5 large eggs
1⁄2 cup coarsely grated gruyere cheese
 
Cook shallot in 2 tbsp butter with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 4 minutes.
Stir in mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in tarragon and transfer to a bowl.
Beat eggs with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper until well combined.
Heat remaining butter in same skillet over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then add eggs and cook until underside is set, about 1 minute.
With a fork, pull set eggs to center, letting uncooked eggs run underneath.
Before eggs are completely set, add mushroom mixture and cheese to one half, on the side away from handle.
Fold other half of eggs over filling with a heatproof rubber spatula.
Tilt the pan as you roll the omelette onto a plate.
 

São Tomé and Príncipe

São Tomé and Príncipe, is Africa’s second smallest country in terms of population c. 194,000, after The Seychelles.  It is formed of 2 islands in the Gulf of Guinea, close to the equator and they are part of an extinct volcanic range featuring striking rock, coral formations, rainforests and beaches.  It is home to much wildlife including five species of turtle.
It is the smallest Portuguese speaking nation in the world, “Leve leve” (Easy, easy) it a mellow ‘hello’ and the motto of Sao Tome.
Cocoa is the main crop and it represents 95% of the country’s export.
It was on the island of Principe where the first experimental verification of Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity happened in an experiment by Arthur Stanley Eddington in 1919.
The cuisine is based on tropical root crops, plantains, and bananas, with fish as the most common source of protein. The vegetables that are eaten consist of gathered indigenous greens that are cooked in red palm oil.  They have a famous TV chef – João Carlos Silva, who presents “Na Roça com os Tachos” – In the Roça with the Pots.
Some recipes I came across include Fish Calulu (stew) , Chicken with coffee sauce and Rancho de terra (beans & rice).  I opted for Sonhos de Bananas (banana doughnuts) served with chocolate sauce.

Rating: 8/10

4 bananas, peeled
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
Sugar & 1/2 tsp cinnamon mix
Oil for frying

Mash the bananas with a fork and mix with the sugar and flour. Whisk together milk and egg then stir in the banana mixture to form a batter. Heat oil in a deep fryer or saucepan to 350 F. Pour batter a tablespoon at a time into hot oil and fry for about 5 minutes, turning halfway through cooking, until the doughnuts are golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve dusted with the cinnamon sugar & chocolate sauce.

Russia

The largest country in the world, at 17,075,200 sq.km,  almost double the 2nd largest country, Canada.  It has 11 time zones, the worlds largest forest (The Taiga) and the deepest lake (Lake Baikal).  The longest train journey on earth is the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok is 9,289k, takes 7 days with 58 stops.  A one way ticket 3rd class costs £202, 2nd class £346 and 1st class £694.  People have been taking this journey since 1916.  One of Russia’s most urgent problems is its grave population decline, in response they have created incentives including cash rewards for families to have more children.  It has the largest McDonalds in the world with 700 seats.  Moscow has more billionaire residents than any other city in the world. There are a total of 74 billionaires living in the popular city.  Moscow’s amazing metro system is the fastest means of transport. During rush hour, trains are scheduled for every 90 seconds. It is estimated that over 9 million passengers ride the Meto every day. The Metro of St. Petersburg is also the deepest subway in the world, clocking in at a whopping 100m deep.  Home to the Bolshoi Ballet, an internationally renowned classical ballet company, based at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Russia. Founded in 1776, it is among the world’s oldest ballet companies.  Vodka is worth over $12 billion in global sales annually and there are hundreds of different Russian brands.  Stolichnaya is the 4th best selling vodka in the world, with the French ‘Grey goose’ being no.1.

As for the food, there’s plenty of choice .. Shchi (cabbage soup), Pirogi (dumplings) , Borscht (beetroot soup), Honey cake, Bliny (thin pancakes), Kasha (porridge).  I opted for the very traditional Beef Stroganoff, served with lovely creamy mash, much to Bern’s delight 🙂 .. and a sneaky shot of Vodka!
Rating: 9/10
½  tbsp oil
½ tbsp butter
½ onion, thinly sliced
120g crimini mushrooms, sliced
300g beef steak, cut in strips
2 tbsps brandy
salt
pepper, freshly ground
¼ cup beef stock
1-bay leaf
½ tsp whole grain mustard
½ cup- full fat creme fraiche
1 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
 

Heat oil and butter in a heavy skillet and cook onions and mushrooms over medium-low heat for 7-10 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Add cut steak to the same skillet and quickly fry over high heat for 3-5 minutes.
Add brandy and continue cooking until alcohol burns off, add stock, mustard, bay leaf, salt and pepper.
Scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula to release all the brown bits, they will add much flavour to the sauce.
Bring mushrooms and onions back to the pan and cook for 3 minutes until everything is heated through and bubbling.
Stir creme fraiche and parsley and take off the heat.

Serve quickly whilst its hot with mounds of mashed potatoes or rice.

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Georgia

T’bilisi, the capital of Georgia, has been home to human territory since 4th millennium BC.  Georgia is one of the most ecologically diverse countries in the world, with climatic zones ranging from subtropical to high alpine to semi-desert.  Georgia has the world’s deepest cave – Voronya Cave and it’s highest mountain is Mount Shkhara with an altitude of 5,201 meters (17,059 feet).

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Georgia is one of the oldest wine producing regions of the world.  The fertile valleys of the South Caucasus are believed by many archaeologists to be the source of the world’s first cultivated grapevines and neolithic wine production, over 8,000 years ago.  Chateau Mukhrani – Goruli Mtsvan 2009 (a white wine from Georgia) costs just under £10 from thedrinkshop.com or treat yourself to a bottle of Orovela Saperavi from Waitrose cellars costing £16.79.
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One can ski or indeed snowboard, in Georgia.  There are several ski resorts of varying sizes, Gudauri seems to be the largest with 57km of pistes & 7 lifts.  From a very rough search, a 7 night ski trip might cost:
Cheapest return flight from London to Tsibili – £216 (via Turkey as there are no direct flights)
Taxis from Tsibili to Gudari – £30 one way
Cheapest hotel (White Shino Hostel) – £204
Most expensive hotel (Hotel Gudauri Marco Polo) – £2,122
A total of £476 for cheap as chips, or £2,398 for top dollar, excluding meals.
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In Greek mythology, the Golden Fleece is the fleece of the gold-hair winged ram, which was held in Colchis, Georgia. The fleece is a symbol of authority and kingship and figures in the tale of the hero Jason and his band of Argonauts, who set out on a quest for the fleece by order of King Pelias, in order to place Jason rightfully on the throne of Iolcus in Thessaly, Greece. Through the help of Medea, they acquire the Golden Fleece.
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I was quite surprised by the variety of the Georgian recipes I came across, to name a few – Lobio (between refried beans and soup), Kharcho (slow cooked meat stew), Lobiani (bean filled dough), Khachapuri (cheese-stuffed bread) and Khinkali (dumplings)
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As it was a Friday night, I thought I’d be adventurous and dare 2 dishes. The links below were the recipes I followed.  I did about a 3rd of the chicken recipe for the 2 of us and there were still leftovers.  I actually used 2 chicken breasts rather than chicken pieces, which I think worked just fine.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find dried marigold (it is available on amazon though!), so I substituted turmeric, mainly for the colour.  I served it with rice.
Rating: 7/10 overall
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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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Iraq

It’s impossible to avoid thoughts of war and destruction when one thinks of Iraq. However it isn’t all doom & gloom …
The region known as Mesopotamia, is most often referred to as humanity’s cradle of civilisation. It was here that mankind first began to read, write, create laws, and live in cities under an organised government.
One of Iraq’s distinctive plants is licorice, which has been used for thousands of years for its health benefits. Warriors in ancient armies found that chewing it kept them from getting thirsty. For 5,000 years Iraqis have been keeping bees. Honey is an important source of food and income for many Iraq families.  The famous children’s story Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves was written in Iraq about 1,000 years ago.
After a fair bit of research I found the following recipes: Kubbat Mousel (layers of burghul with a thin layer of minced meat), Fasangoon (chicken in pomegranate and walnut sauce), Samak Masgouf (seasoned grilled fish) and Kleicha (filled pastry).  From an Iraqi cookbook, I decided to cook Timman Jazar (rice with carrots).  I served it with red wild rice.
My rating: 7/10 – it had a nice flavour and the rice added a good texture to the dish.  Bern wasn’t so keen,  apparently the cinnamon ‘got up his nose’ :-p
For 2 people with a bit leftover
250g minced meat
2 large carrots
1 large onion
1 tbsp garam masala
½ tsp cinnamon
Salt and black pepper
Vegetable oil for cooking
200g red wild rice
Rinse the rice in cold water
Chop the onions and carrots into small cubes
Cook the minced meat with the garam masala, until slightly brown
Add the chopped onion, season with salt and black pepper; continue cooking for 5-10 minutes over a medium heat
Add the chopped carrots and cinnamon and cook for about 15 minutes, adding a little water
Meanwhile, cook the rice (I did this in the microwave for 15 mins and then let stand for 15 mins)
Add the cooked rice to the meat & veg mixture and serve

Kyrgyzstan

My first venture in to the ‘Stans’ and sadly found out that it is the second-poorest country in Asia.  The name Kyrgyz is said to derive from the Kyrgyz word for forty and it is a possibility that the people of Kyrgyzstan came from forty families or clans.  It has one of the world’s largest natural walnut forests.  Alcohol is very cheap, a bottle of vodka is priced at around 180 som (3.5 EUR) and beer costs 60 som (1.2 EUR).  A search in Expedia for a flight from London to Bishkek, the capital city, starts around £370 return if you stop at Istanbul on the way.  There are 36 hotels in Bishkek according to Trip advisor, Futuro Hotel being the highest ranked.  They eat a lot of horse meat and mutton, but not many vegetables.  Recipes include Beshbarmak (Boiled meat mixed with noodles & spicy onion sauce, eaten with the hands), Manty dumplings & Lepyoshka (flatbread).  To accompany our Panamanian breakfast doughnuts, I opted to cook Borsok (fried bread).
Rating: 9/10 – we thought these little breads were awesome and could be enjoyed equally with savoury dips or with honey, jam or chocolate spread.
2 cups of flour
½ tbsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
¼ tsp dried yeast
¼ cup milk
¼ cup warm water
1 egg
1/2 cup olive oil
Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the egg and stir in the milk. Combine the two mixtures, stir them together, and stir in warm water slowly until the mixture holds together but is not sticky.
Cover the mixture and place it in a warm part of the house.
After two hours, roll the dough until it is about ¼ inch thick. Cut the dough into 1 inch by 2 inch rectangles.
Pour ¼ cup oil into a saucepan and heat on medium high. Additional oil may be needed depending on the size of the saucepan. Make sure the oil completely covers the surface of the pan.
Once the oil is heated, fry the borsok in the pan. Depending on the size of the pan, you can fry 4-8 borsok at the same time-but be sure that they do not overlap.
Fry the borsok until it puffs up and is golden brown on the bottom.
Flip the borsok over to fry the other side until it is also golden brown.
Add additional oil as needed to keep a thin coat of oil on the surface of the pan.
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