In the 2016 novel A Gentleman in Moscow, the best seller by Amor Towles, the main character, Count Rostov, watches as a young man puzzles over a menu. The young man does not want his first date to think him cheap; on the other hand he doesn’t want to be seen as pretentious.
In an inspired moment, the young man chooses Latvian Stew.
Count Rostov approves, musing: “The onions thoroughly caramelized, the pork slowly braised, and the apricots briefly stewed, the three ingredients come together in a sweet and smoky medley that simultaneously suggests the comfort of a snowed-in tavern and the jangle of a Gypsy tambourine.”
Towles tells bookclubbook.com that he first read the recipe in a cooking magazine and he was skeptical. This was a stew recipe that uses no spices, stock, or wine. And, in fact, many cooks must have agreed since variations of the recipe that Towles’ book made famous do call for stock, spices or wine.
But, in fact, it is the lack of spices, stock and wine that wins over Towles. He advises cooks to choose a fatty cut of pork to allow a fork tender result. Also, be sure to grill the onions to a deep golden brown, to ensure a smoky flavor.
This is the official Moscow Gentleman recipe. Notice it does not call for potatoes. Towles recommends buttered parsley potatoes on the side. Adding potatoes does not change the essential flavors of the stew so if you want to skip potato peeling, the stew is fine without them.
Although the recipe does not specifically say it, you can use kitchen scissors to quarter the apricots and prunes.
With a prep time of at least 25 minutes and a cook time of 1 hour and 30 minutes, this stew is not for a busy weeknight. But, once prepared, it keeps well and can be happily served as leftovers. This recipe yields about 6 to 8 servings.
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
6 carrots, peeled, trimmed, and sliced crosswise
4 tablespoons tomato paste
5 cups water
1 cup dried apricots
1 pound white boiling onions, peeled, each cut into 6 wedges
1 cup pitted prunes
Season pork with salt and pepper.
Heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until meat releases its juices and is no longer pink all over, about 5 minutes.
Add carrots and cook until slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and water, then add apricots.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and gently simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until deep golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Add onions and prunes to stew and continue to simmer over medium-low heat until pork is tender and sauce has thickened, about 30 minutes more.
Wacky fruits that might tickle your taste buds (or put you in a coma)
Apples. Oranges. Bananas. In any given year, about 65 percent of Americans will eat at least one banana. Sixty-three percent will have had apples and 51 percent will have eaten oranges. Yet how many people do you know who’ve had an ackee fruit or jackfruit? There are tons of wild fruits out there and plenty of strange delights that you can find at the store too.
If you happen to make a lot of smoothies, you might appreciate the jackfruit. The largest fruit in the world, some jackfruits can weigh nearly a hundred pounds. Found in India, the fruit tastes similar to mangoes.
If daring suits your taste, the ackee is a bold choice. Unripened ackee fruits contain high levels of the compounds hypoglycin A and hypoglycin B, which are toxic to humans. In fact, these compounds can put people in a coma or even kill them. As the fruit ripens, toxin levels decline, making it safe to eat. Though the ackee is native to West Africa, it’s now the national fruit of Jamaica, most likely arriving centuries ago on a slave ship.
Pond apples, AKA swamp apples, are also poisonous, or at least their seeds are. The seeds from swamp apples can kill fish. Along with the leaves, the seeds can also be used as a natural insecticide.
If you have the patience to wait for an ackee fruit to ripen, you might also consider the Arkansas black apple. Fresh black apples are extremely hard and all but impossible to eat. If you put them in storage, however, they’ll slowly soften while remaining fresh and crisp. Typically, you need to let them sit for at least 30 days but they can last up to eight months.
Then there’s the durian. You may have passed by some of the fruits already discussed and never realized it. Most encounters with a durian, however, are hard to forget. The fruit has a strong, pungent smell akin to sweaty gym socks and fresh sewage. Popular in Southeast Asia, the durian is considered a delicacy in many areas and is also known as the king of fruit.
Another potentially dangerous fruit may be in your fridge and a regular part of your diet. Grapefruit, known for its strong, bitter taste, contains various compounds, such as furanocoumarins (don’t ask us how to pronounce that), that can alter the body’s biological processes. Grapefruit can have a huge impact on some medications, often making them stronger, which could increase the risk of overdosing.
So should you stick with apples, bananas, and oranges? That’s a safe, but perhaps boring route. You could be missing out on some daring fruits that wow your palate.
5 tips for cooking the perfect steak
If you want to cook a restaurant-worthy steak at home, here are five tips to ensure you get great results every time.
1. Choose the right cut
Different cuts of beef deliver different levels of tenderness and flavor. Therefore, when looking for the perfect steak, skip the supermarket and go to your local butcher shop. The staff will be able to recommend the right cut for your needs.
2. Season it well
Generously season your steak with salt and pepper and let it rest for at least 40 minutes before cooking. The salt will draw out a bit of moisture to create a perfectly crisp crust once the meat hits the heat.
3. Let it get to room temperature
Cold steaks don’t cook evenly. Make sure you let your steak reach room temperature before putting it on a hot pan or grill. In fact, room temperature steaks cook faster and stay juicer than those taken straight out of the fridge.
4. Preheat the pan or grill
Make sure you preheat your pan or barbecue so that it’s searing hot before you begin. This will prevent you from overcooking the steak and help caramelize the meat to lock in the most flavor.
5. Use a thermometer
If you want to cook your steak to perfection every time, a simple meat thermometer probe works wonders. Choose one that can be inserted into the side of the steak until it reaches the center. The ideal temperature depends on the level of doneness you desire.
After cooking, let the steak rest for a few minutes and place a pat of butter on top for a melt-in-your-mouth finish.
Steak doneness temperature
Remove your steak from the pan or grill at the indicated temperature (the final cooked temperature is in brackets).
Rare: 118 F (120 F)
Medium Rare: 125 F (130 F)
Medium: 136 F (140 F)
Medium Well: 143 F (150 F)
Well Done: 154 F (160 F)
Slow cooker taco soup
This nutritious, Mexican-flavored soup smells and tastes great!
Start to finish: 6 hours (20 minutes active)
• 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
• 1 cup salsa
• 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
• 1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
• 1 can corn, drained
• 1 can diced tomatoes
• 2 cups chicken broth
• 2 tablespoons chili powder, divided
• 1/2 tablespoon cumin
• 1/2 tablespoon onion powder
• 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1 cup vegetable oil
• 2 corn tortillas, cut into short, thin strips
• 1 ripe avocado, peeled and thinly sliced
• 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
• Salt and pepper, to taste
1. In a slow cooker, place the chicken breasts, salsa, beans, corn, tomatoes, chicken broth, and spices. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well and cook on low for 6 hours.
2. In a small saucepan, heat the oil. Fry the tortilla strips, a few at a time, until golden brown. Drain and place on a paper towel or clean cloth. While still warm, sprinkle with salt and chili powder. Set aside.
3. After 6 hours, remove the chicken breasts from the slow cooker and place them in a large bowl. Using two forks, shred the chicken and return it to the slow cooker.
4. Pour the soup into 6 serving bowls. Garnish each serving with a few slices of avocado, a handful of tortilla strips, and fresh cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Do you want a dish that will keep you warm this winter? If so, treat yourself to this Polish classic.
Start to finish: 55 minutes
• 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
• 2 onions, chopped and divided
• 1.25 pounds cooked beef
• 2 tablespoons beef broth
• 1 teaspoon paprika
• 1 teaspoon garlic powder
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon dried dill
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 cup hot water
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 3 slices bacon, chopped
• 1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
• Salt and pepper
1. In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and cook one onion until translucent. Set aside.
2. In a blender, place the cooked beef, cooked onion, beef broth, and spices. Season with salt and pepper and blend until smooth. Adjust the seasoning if necessary and set aside.
3. Add the flour to a large bowl and create a well in the middle. Add a few spoonfuls of warm water and mix. Gradually, add the remaining water and knead the dough until it becomes elastic and malleable.
4. Divide the dough into four equal parts. Roll out one part of the dough into a thin layer. Cut out small circles using a glass.
5. Place a spoonful of meat filling in the middle of each circle. Fold the dough over the filling and press the edges together. Continue until all pierogies are assembled.
6. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pierogies one at a time for about 5 minutes or until they float to the top. Drain and set aside.
7. In the same pan used to fry the onions, fry the bacon and remaining onion until crisp. Add the pierogies to the pan and let them brown on each side for added crunch. Place on a serving plate and garnish with fresh chives.
Bread in a bag: An edible at-home science experiment
If you’re looking for a fun, educational, kid-friendly activity to absorb the kids on a dreary winter afternoon, bread might be the answer. With just a few inexpensive ingredients, kids can learn about the science of baking and pick up a little extra confidence with their newfound bread-baking skills.
You will need 3 cups of all-purpose flour, 3 tablespoons of sugar, 1 package of rapid rise yeast, 1 cup of warm water, 3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil, 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, and a gallon-sized zippered food storage bag.
1. Combine one cup flour with the sugar and yeast in the bag, then add the warm water. Squeeze the air out of the bag and seal.
2. Squish the bag with your hands until everything is mixed together.
3. Let it rest for 10 minutes at room temperature. Bubbles will form as the yeast activates.
4. Open the bag and add another cup of flour, oil, and salt.
5. Seal bag again and squish to combine.
6. Add the last cup of flour, seal again and squish some more, until everything is blended.
7. Remove the dough from the bag and place it on a lightly floured surface.
8. Knead for 5-10 minutes, or until smooth. This step develops gluten, the latticework of protein that makes bread chewy and fluffy.
9. Place the dough in a greased loaf pan or divide it in half and use two greased mini loaf pans.
10. Cover with a towel and let rise for about 30 minutes.
11. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.
Do you love Swedish meatballs? If so, consider making this recipe on a chilly day, so you can enjoy them right in the comfort of your own home.
Start to finish: 55 minutes
• 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
• 6 tablespoons butter, divided
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 3/4-pound ground beef
• 3/4-pound ground pork
• 2 tablespoons milk
• 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, divided
• 1 egg yolk
• 2 tablespoons flour
• 1-1/2 cups hot chicken stock
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
• 1/2 cup heavy cream (35%)
• Salt and pepper, to taste
• Fresh parsley
1. In a dry skillet, brown the breadcrumbs, making sure to stir them regularly. Set aside in a large bowl.
2. In the same skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Cook the onion over medium-high heat until translucent. Season with salt and pepper and add to the bowl with the breadcrumbs. Add the ground meat, milk, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, and egg yolk. Season with salt and pepper again. Form the mixture into about 16 balls and set it aside on a plate.
3. In the same skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and brown each meatball on all sides. Set meatballs aside on a clean plate.
4. In the same pan, melt the last 2 tablespoons of butter, add the flour and whisk until a roux is formed. Pour in the chicken broth, whisking constantly until you have a uniformly smooth sauce. Add the remaining Dijon mustard, honey, Worcestershire sauce, and heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Return the meatballs to the skillet, incorporating any cooking juices that drained into the pan. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve with your favorite side dish.