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.
Vegetarian shepherd’s pie
Say hello to a new family favorite. This classic dish with a twist is so tasty, you may want a second serving.
Start to finish: 1 hour
• 4 medium-sized sweet potatoes, cut into big chunks
• 1/4 cup milk
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
• 1 carrot, diced
• 1 celery stalk, diced
• 1 cup button mushrooms, sliced
• 1 19-ounce can lentils, drained and rinsed
• 1 teaspoon dried thyme
• Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F.
2. Cook sweet potatoes in boiling water until tender. Drain the water, add the milk and butter and mash until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
3. Heat the oil in a large pan, and sauté the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and mushrooms for about five minutes or until soft. Add the lentils and thyme. Mix well and transfer to an 8 x 11 inch baking dish. Cover with the sweet potato puree.
4. Cook for about 30 minutes and serve.
You can make individual portions by building the shepherd’s pie in several ramekins.
Creamy corn chowder
This hearty corn chowder is the perfect meal for a cold, wintery night. Indeed, it’s a recipe you’re sure to come back to again and again.
Start to finish: 45 minutes
• 6 slices bacon, chopped
• 1 leek (the white part only), finely chopped
• 1 large potato, diced
• 20 ounces corn kernels (fresh, frozen or canned)
• 13.5 ounces creamed corn
• 1-1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
• 1 cup milk
• 1/2 cup (15%) cream
• 1 sprig fresh rosemary
• 1 bay leaf
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 4 chives, chopped
1. In a large pot, cook the bacon. When it’s almost done, add the leek. Continue to cook until the bacon is crispy and the leek is translucent. Drain the bacon grease.
2. Add the potato, corn, broth, milk, cream, rosemary and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes or until the potato is soft.
3. Salt and pepper to taste.
4. Garnish with the chives, then serve and enjoy.
Slow-cooked chili con carne
There’s nothing better than a meal made in the slow cooker, especially when it’s this chili con carne.
Start to finish: 8 hours and 15 minutes (15 minutes active)
• 1 pound ground beef
• 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
• 1 large onion, diced
• 1 celery stalk, diced
• 1 carrot, diced
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 2 tablespoons chili seasoning
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1/4 cup ketchup
• 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
• 1 18-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
• 1 red pepper, diced
• 1/4 cup brown sugar
• 1/4 cup beef broth
• Salt and pepper
• 1 cup sour cream
• 2 green onions, sliced
1. In a large pan over high heat, warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and brown the beef in it. Transfer the meat to the slow cooker.
2. In the same pan, heat the remaining olive oil and cook the onion, celery and carrot. When it’s almost done, add the garlic, chili seasoning, cumin and dried oregano. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes or until fragrant.
3. Add the ketchup, diced tomatoes, beans, red pepper, brown sugar and beef broth and cook until hot. Salt and pepper to taste.
4. Pour over the beef in the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.
5. Taste and adjust the flavor by adding more chili seasoning, salt and pepper, if necessary.
6. Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream and some of the sliced green onion.
Homemade fried chicken
If you want fried chicken that’s crispy on the outside and perfectly cooked on the inside, then try this recipe. You won’t regret it!
Start to finish: 5 hours (1 hour active)
• 1 whole chicken
• 2 quarts 2% milk
• Juice of half a lemon
• 2 teaspoons dried oregano, divided
• 2 teaspoons dried basil, divided
• 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger, divided
• 2 teaspoons paprika, divided
• 2 teaspoons black pepper, divided
• 2 teaspoons white pepper, divided
• 2 teaspoons salt, divided
• 2 teaspoons garlic salt, divided
• 2 teaspoons celery salt, divided
• 2 teaspoons dried thyme, divided
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1-1/2 quarts vegetable oil
1. Cut the chicken into 8 pieces (2 breasts, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks and 2 wings).
2. In a large bowl, combine the milk and lemon juice to make buttermilk. Let sit for about 10 minutes.
3. Add a teaspoon of each herb and spice to the buttermilk mixture and stir to combine. Put the chicken into the milk to marinate and refrigerate overnight or for at least 4 hours.
4. After marinating, put the flour into a bowl and add one teaspoon of each herb and spice. Mix well to combine.
5. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk marinade and coat it completely in the flour mixture. Let rest for a few minutes.
6. Heat the oil in a large, deep pot until it reaches 400 °F.
7. Carefully put 2 pieces of chicken in the oil, and fry until they reach an interior temperature of 165 °F. Repeat until the entire chicken in cooked.
8. Drain on a piece of paper towel and serve with your choice of sauce.
Baked brie with pear jam
This decadent dish is easy to prepare. Serve it as an appetizer or as a crowd-pleasing dessert. Either way, it’s sure to be a winner.
Start to finish: 15 minutes
• 1 10-ounce wheel of brie
• 1/4 cup pear jam
• 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
• 3 tablespoons honey
• 1 sprig rosemary
• 1 baguette, sliced
1. Preheat the oven to 400 °F.
2. Cut the brie in half horizontally, thereby creating 2 round slices.
3. Spread the pear jam on the inside of one section of the wheel and cover with the other half, thereby reassembling the entire wheel of cheese with the pear jam in the middle.
4. Place the wheel on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
5. Using a knife, score the top of the cheese to create a checkered pattern.
6. Top with walnuts, honey and rosemary and bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese is just starting to melt.
7. Serve with slices of baguette.
Spicy chicken and sweet potato stew warms up everyone
Ahhh, stew. It’s a comfort food in the harsh winter, not only in its makeup but in its usefulness: we can stand over a steaming bowl and feel warmth on our face. Plus, it’s a great way to use up that stray potato left over from the holidays.
Stews start with a base of liquid, meat cut into cubes, and typically some type of root vegetables. Categories typically include brown stews, in which the meat is browned in fat before the liquid is added, and white stews, in which it is not.
Although stews are generally considered a pedestrian dish, there are some, like beef burgundy, that are fine dining-approved. And every culture seems to have its twist, according to Encyclopedia.com: from Argentinians who add fruit and bake them in a pumpkin or squash shell, to bigos, also known as hunter’s stew, considered Poland’s national dish.
Here is a recipe for spicy chicken and sweet potato stew from the website Allrecipes. It’s easy, hearty, and, like the appeal of most stews, it’s a one-pot meal.
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound sweet potato,
peeled and cubed
1 orange bell pepper,
seeded and cubed
1 pound cooked chicken
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
11/2 tablespoons all-purpose
2 tablespoons water
1 cup frozen corn
1 (16 ounce) can kidney
beans rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in onion and garlic; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in sweet potato, bell pepper, chicken, tomatoes, and 2 cups of water. Season with salt, chili powder, cumin, oregano, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.
Dissolve flour in 2 tablespoons water, and stir in to boiling stew. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the potatoes are tender but not mushy, 10 to 20 minutes. Stir the stew occasionally to keep it from sticking.
Once the potatoes are done, stir in corn and kidney beans. Cook a few minutes until hot, then stir in cilantro before serving.