Turkey

The Republic of Turkey is a transcontinental nation, straddling eastern Europe and western Asia. It is a country with a long and very diverse cultural heritage. For more than 2000 years Istanbul was capital of three empires: Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman.

Some interesting facts:
Turkey has 13 sites on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites including the Rock Sites of Cappadocia, a Mesolithic temple (Göbekli Tepe), a Biblical city (Ephesus) and a WWI battlefield (Gallipoli)
Turkey hosts two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the Mausoleum in Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus
Turkey is the sixth most visited tourist destination in the world with 37.8 million foreign visitors in 2013
97% of Turkey is in Asia
The Marmaray metro line, under the Bosphorus strait, opened in 2013 and enables you to travel between Europe and Asia underground
The tongue-twisting, 70-letter Muvaffakiyetsizleştiricileştiriveremeyebileceklerimizdenmişsinizcesine, or “as if you are from those we may not be able to easily make a maker of unsuccessful ones,” is thought to be the longest word in Turkish
Homer, Aesop and St. Paul the Apostle were all born in Turkey
The earliest coins recorded were made during the reign of King Gyges of Lydia, Turkey, c. 630 BC and consisted of electrum, a naturally occurring amalgam of gold and silver

Turkish cuisine is regarded as one of the most prominent in the world and the cuisine varies widely across the country. Although meat based foods such as kebabs are the mainstay in Turkish cuisine as presented in foreign countries, native Turkish meals largely center around rice, vegetables, and bread. Popular dishes include Lahmacun (Turkish pizza), Adana kebabi (Spiced lamb kebab), Simit (circular bread with sesame seeds), Akçaabat meatballs, Analı kızlı soup (meatball soup with bulgar & chickpeas), Toyga (yoghurt soup with herbs), Hünkar Beğendi (‘Sultan’s Delight’ – lamb with mashed aubergine), Kuzu kapama (spring lamb stewed) and Baklava (filo pastry filled with honey & nuts). I decided to make a type of Turkish kebab – Tavuk Sis Kebap (Chicken Shish Kebab), which were delicious with a lovely spicy tang.

Rating: 9/10

Serves: 2
Prep time: 25 minutes + marinating time 2 – 24 hours
Cook time: 8 minutes

2 chicken breasts
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp red pepper, powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 garlic clove, smashed with salt
1 tsp pomegranate paste
2 tbsp olive oil

Mix the yoghurt with the spices, salt, pepper and olive oil in a bag
Cut the chicken into small cubes and add to the bag
Mix your chicken thoroughly making sure it is well covered
Marinade in the fridge over night or for at least 2 hours
Put your chicken cubes on to skewers
Preheat the barbecue or grill
Grill the chicken for about 7-8 minutes, making sure to turn the skewers so that all sides are cooked equally
Every time you turn the chicken, brush with marinade
Serve with pitta bread, tomato, red onion and lettuce

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Slovakia

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9/10

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

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

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

Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 9/10

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

Cook time: 15 mins

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

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