Friday, January 19, 2018

Latvian Stew

Reading, cooking, friends, tango music, a winter storm…intersections that happen when life is allowed to meander. Things tumble in my mind and I wonder how I get from point A-to-point B, but I do and even though there doesn’t seem to be a purpose there usually is.

In August, a good friend had his 60th birthday, a man blessed with friends and lots of love, because let’s face it he is as genuine and as loyal as they get. I baked him a cake that didn’t turn out so great, thank goodness he had two other people that baked as well. The frosting was incredible, but it couldn’t save the dry, sad cake inside. It was my first time baking this cake and I decided to experiment with different flours, forgetting that some flours require more moisture than others and really, why not stick to the recipe. Well, he was so gracious about the whole thing of course, but the other gift I gave him was a novel by Amor Towles, “The Gentleman from Moscow.” He loved the book. Several people I know recommended it as well, so I put it on hold at the Houston Public Library. It was a long hold, because it was in high demand, but it finally became available at the end of December.

Rosemary with icicles!

Perfect timing, because right after picking up the book at the library, Houston was hit by a blast of cold air that sent chills to my bones. Hot baths were the only cure and I took several, sometimes with a cup of hot tea and sometimes with a glass of red, usually a cabernet.  Then putting on my flannel jams I hopped into bed with "The Gentleman from Moscow." Snuggled under the covers with me were my two heating pads Izzy and Mouse, Italian Greyhounds who tolerant the cold even less than me. I offered them hot baths, but they declined.  

“The Gentleman from Moscow”  - the Count - kept me entertained, regaling me with stories of the Tsar and the Russian revolution. Filling my head with grand balls, snowy carriage rides and even a dual. His curiosity and intelligence enthralled me. I was smitten. But what he also did was hit me in my weak spot. My love of food, wine and the celebration of it. Sitting at the Piazza Café in the grand Metropol Hotel in Moscow he overhears a young couple on what is their first date ordering the Latvian Stew. The waiter, The Bishop who is a bit of thorn in the Count’s side, is flummoxed  about which wine to serve. The Bishop offers a very expensive one that would bankrupt this pour young man’s savings. So, the Count steps in and recommends a lovely Russian wine that pairs well with the stew at a much reduced cost. The Bishop is not pleased and a smirk replaces his “ecclesiastical grin.” (The Count’s description)

Now to the stew. It is a pork stew with apricots, prunes and caramelized onions. A mild sweetness that pulls in the savory, nicely. Delicate in a way, but it really holds its own for heartiness and comfort.

Lord, I was there in the Piazza with spoon in hand, ready to be served. Dark rye bread slathered with butter and of course the Russian wine with a side of boiled potatoes sprinkled with fresh parsley.  What could be more hearty to fortify one on such a cold winter’s day. As I turned the page, I was brought back to my bed and the wind blowing outside and the sound of sleet hitting the windows. Obviously, I needed to bring the stew to a more three-dimensional view. My kitchen, of course.

The plan was hatched. I studied the recipe along with a couple of others. Finally deciding to borrow from one and add my own bits. It was an experiment and like the cake I was taking a risk, but stews I have a better handle on than I do flours, so I risked it. Friends were invited, the table was set and the weather remained chilly. I could feel the Count looking over my shoulder encouraging me. I decided to leave the Bishop out in the cold. My birthday friend Taavi, his partner Stephen and my dear neighbors Bob and Flora were the guests. They all have a tolerant palette and generous spirits and I wanted to share this meal with people I adore. Also, as a thank you for all the meals they shared in their homes while I was working seven days a week, on a contract gig. When cooking was just too exhausting and going out to eat was tedious.

Here is the original recipe for Latvian Stew as taken from (
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Yield: 6-8 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
1.     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.
2.     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.
3.     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. Adjust seasonings.

Modifications included, sautéing the pork and onions with olive oil and butter. I used chicken stock and a white wine reduction to replace the water. Garlic, coriander, red pepper and turmeric were added. I did serve with boiled potatoes, skin on with butter and sour cream. Wines generously provided by guests - a Zinfandel and a Cabernet. A salad to start with greens, roasted beets and carrots topped off with a balsamic tarragon vinaigrette with a pumpernickel bread.

Okay, now for the tango music. Last year, I decided to take tango classes. I loved it, even though, it is not an easy dance to get the hang of, I did keep going. The teacher is a gifted dancer and instructor. Alas, I had to stop taking classes due to my inability to get to dances to practice. My work schedule also made it hard. What has come from that is a true love of the music. I play tango music when I cook. It adds energy to the process. I swear it makes me a better cook. I also manage to get a few steps in now and again while tapping my wooden spoon on the side of the pot. Perhaps one day I will continue my tango classes. I hope so. That is perhaps where the cake went wrong, no tango music.

The dinner was a success. The stew, friends, conversation. It was all so lovely.

Quote of the day: "“if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.” 
― Amor TowlesA Gentleman in Moscow

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Coconut Butter Macaroons will make... swoon from the first bite to the last. They are gluten free, too!!!

I got this recipe off the back of a package of Trader Joe's Coconut Flour. Like a virgin for the very first time using it. (to borrow from Madonna a little). Also, I have modified the recipe slightly. I have to tell you, the first time I made these cookies, they tasted great, but they were a bit flat. I attribute that to not sifting the flour. That is all I can think of that I did differently, because when I did sift the flour the cookies puffed up nicely. Well, I also used bigger globs of dough. Oh gosh, just know that these are some good tasting cookies.

Coconut Butter Macaroons

1/2 cup butter, softened (I used unsalted, the recipe doesn't call for it, but I normally cook/bake with unsalted butter.
1 cup sugar (granulated cane sugar, I wonder what coconut sugar would be like with this recipe)
4 eggs (I bring them a bit toward room temperature.)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sifted Trader Joe's Coconut Flour (plus a few pinches more)
2 cups Trader Joe's Shredded Coconut (the recipe calls for sweetened, but I find the cookies are sweet enough with the sugar)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Mix together butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the coconut flour and coconut; mix well. Drop tablespoon size mounds two inches apart on a greased cookie sheet.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes-until golden. Remove from baking sheet immediately and cool on a wire rack.

Makes about a dozen cookies.
Add just a bit more coconut flour. 

The batter thickens up when the flour is added.

A bit blurry, but you can see the globs and spacing.

Put on cooling rack immediately upon removal from the oven.

Quote of the day:
"I happen to love coconut, particularly for that sweet and crunchy texture it adds to any dish." Marcus Samuelsson 

My friend Taavi loved these cookies. This is what he had to say about them: "Thank you for those DEEEElicious coconut cookies! Stephen is normally not a big fan of coconut and said he'd have just a taste but he ate the whole cookie because it was so good! I accompanied mine with a piece of dark chocolate and had an out of body experience." 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Pumpkin Carrot Spice Muffins are...

...the according to the adorable, food savvy Alaska Jones Girls. They are the daughters of my dear friends Brian and Colleen. The whole family is food savvy with a need for good flavor with a dash of fun. I was glad to get their approval.

The recipe was adopted from The Lovely Little Kitchen by Julie. She in turn got the recipe from Sally's Baking Addiction. Julie modified Sally's recipe and I modified Julie's. The main modification that I made is the adding of shredded carrot. See what you think.
Remove two large tablespoons of pumpkin from the can. It will yield about 1/14 cups. My dogs, Izzy and Mouse, gladly eat the scoops of pumpkin.

One carrot grated.

Spices are nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and ginger.

Please note that this batter is very very thick. My spoon was captured by it.

Pumpkin Carrot Spice Muffins

·      1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1 cup sugar 
·       1/2 cup dark brown sugar (I used 1 1/2 cups loosely packed brown sugar (not the dark). In fact the next time that I make them I think I will reduce the sugar by 1/2 cup)
·       1 teaspoon baking soda
·       1/2 teaspoon salt
·       2 teaspoons cinnamon
·       1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
·       1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
·       ¼ teaspoon ground ginger (added to the recipe)
·       2 eggs
·       1 15 ounce can pure pumpkin puree (Remove 2 heaping tablespoons from the can. This allows for the added carrot. The scooped out pumpkin goes to  my dogs Izzy and Mouse. They love pumpkin and it is so good for them, too.) 
·       1 carrot grated
·       1/2 cup coconut oil (Melting before putting in the mixture is a good idea)
·       1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

1.     Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place 12 paper liners into each well of your standard size muffin baking pan.
2.     Measure out the flour, sugars, baking soda, salt and spices in a medium bowl and whisk together. Set aside.
3.     In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, coconut oil and vanilla extract.
4.     Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir together. Do not over mix, just stir until everything is incorporated into the batter.
5.     It is helpful to use a large scoop (like an ice cream scoop) to evenly distribute the batter into each well. They will be nearly full. This will help give your muffins a nice puffy dome.
6.     Bake your muffins for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
     Quote of the Day: "Have you come to sing pumpkin carols?" Linus 
Fill the cup a little past full.

Beautiful, moist, dense muffins. Also, depending on the weather or the Great Pumpkin these vary in baking time.

    Website for The Lovely Kitchen by Julie:
    and for Sally's Baking Addiction:
    Both of these sites have great recipes. I highly recommend checking them out!!!!

Monday, May 18, 2015

A pork roast and a cast iron dutch oven.....

what a wonderful pairing.  Let me share this extraordinary recipe. It is so easy even a first time pork roast maker, like me can have a stellar meal.  I did some hunting on the internet for the best way to make roast pork.  I ran across this recipe using a cast iron dutch oven (seemed a match made in heaven), because I have one. A big one. I call it the beast, because I have to get my muscles in shape before I use it. It is heavy on its own, but add makings for a meal and wowser, it gets really heavy. I adore it, though.

The Beast. An honored guest!!
This is a 6.23 pound bone-in Boston butt roast.

This recipe was retrieved from Modifications were made and you may want to make your own. I will put the recipe down on this page as I found it with my notes in italics.


Servings 4-5

4-5 lb pork roast (I used a 6.23 lb bone-in Boston butt pork roast)
5 gloves garlic (make it six)
1 small onion thinly sliced (medium onion)
2 cups water
1 tablespoon Kitchen Bouquet (I used 2 cups beef broth instead of the water and Kitchen Bouquet)
2 teaspoons black pepper (just a pinch of black pepper and a pinch of red pepper)
1 teaspoon salt (1/2 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon lard (used the grease from five pieces of bacon)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Serves 4-5 (the bigger roast served more, of course)
(Pat dry your roast with paper towels)
Melt lard (bacon grease)
Salt and pepper all sides of the roast (rub it in)
When lard just begins to give off the smell of being hot, place roast in pot. (when smoke just begins to rise)
Do not move it for a minute or so, then rotate it to brown all sides.
Lay garlic cloves and onion slices around the roast and stir to brown them a bit. (I sopped up some of the bacon grease with paper towels before I did the next step.)
Mix the Kitchen Bouquet into the 2 cups of water. (I used beef broth instead)
Pour the water mixture into the pot.
Bring it to a boil.
Cover tightly and place in lower portion of the oven.
Roast 1 hour for boneless roast; 1-3/4 hours for bone-in roast. (since my roast weighed more, I roasted it for 3 hours total)
Half way through the roasting time turn the roast over.
Finish roasting.
Remove roast from pan and cover it to keep it hot.
Mix 2 tablespoons cornstarch into 1/2 cup water (I used 1 cup of water)
Using a whisk, stir the cornstarch moisture into the pot drippings (there is a goodly amount of drippings) breaking up the garlic cloves as you mix.
Bring to a boil, taste and season as needed with salt and pepper (I didn't use any additional seasoning)

The web site says "pork roast made this way is always tender." And lip smacking good, if I may add.
I served this roast with yukon gold mashed potatoes, bourbon pecan smashed sweet potatoes and fresh asparagus.
I used beef broth instead of the Kitchen Bouquet and 2 cups of water.

Medium onion and six cloves of garlic.

Brown on all sides.

I invited friends to take part in this experiment. I had laid aside extra chips and what nots just in case this meal was a bust. Thankfully, I didn't have to resort to fillers. Stephen Lejeune, one of the willing participants, texted me the next morning "Thank you so much for the incredible dinner last night. It made me feel like I was at home." Another guest asked for the recipe. I must say, for my first time cooking pork roast, I couldn't have been more pleased. It was moist, tender, flavorful. Worthy of seconds by all. The gravy is spectacular. It made me want to pull out a straw and slurp it right up. It makes a lot of gravy, too.

Here is the link to You can see a beautiful picture of a cooked pork roast. You will have to trust me that mine looked equally as sumptuous.

Here is the link to the bourbon pecan smashed sweet potatoes.

Quote of the Day (I couldn't agree more)

"Cooking certain dishes, like roast pork, reminds me of my mother."