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Latvian Stew

  • March 13, 2023

I served this stew to my book club during the monthly dinner we hold in conjunction with our book selection. We try to prepare food that has a connection to the book, and in this case, it was Amor Towles, “A Gentleman In Moscow.” It’s a book that I’ve read twice now, and could read it again and again, for its witty, elegant style and its urbane central character, a Russian count who is confined by the Bolsheviks in Moscow’s famed Metropol Hotel, and is relegated to a tiny garret from his opulent suite. The book is filled with myriad references to food and wine, as well as history, music, politics, friendship, family ties and more. But the overarching theme of the book to me, at least, is one’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances and not only tolerate them, but find the joy in them.

At one point in the book when the count is in the hotel’s main dining room, he sees a young man struggling to order something from among the extensive (and mostly expensive) items on the menu to impress his date, but one that won’t break the bank.

The young man’s gaze drifted back and forth between these opposing hazards. But in a stroke of genius, he ordered the Latvian stew. While this traditional dish of pork, onions, and apricots was reasonably priced, it was also reasonably exotic; and it somehow harkened back to that world of grandmothers and holidays and sentimental melodies that they had been about to discuss when so rudely interrupted.”

Further, when the headwaiter, who is later to become the count’s nemesis and manager of the Metropol Hotel, suggests an expensive Rioja wine, the count overhears this and recoils, knowing that the Spanish wine is not only too  expensive for the young man, but the wrong wine to accompany the stew. Overriding the headwaiter’s suggestion, (and foreshadowing a future perilous confrontration) the count interjects and says “If I may, For a serving of Latvian stew, you will find no better choice than a bottle of Mukuzani.”

While there are food references galore in the book, the Latvian stew scene cinched the deal for me, and I was determined to find the Mukuzani wine to serve along with the stew to my book club compatriots. It was easier to find than I imagined, and was not only delicious, but at $10.00 a bottle, was a real bargain.

There are several recipes for the stew on the internet, but the one I settled on came from the website “A Little And A Lot.” Even so, I changed it somewhat to eliminate the liquid smoke she used, to add more carrots and increase the amount of pork. I also found that after cooking the stew at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, it was bubbling too much and the liquid was reducing and thickening too quickly. The meat was already nearly tender, so rather than cook the meat for another hour at the same temperature as the recipe suggested , I lowered the temperature to 200 degrees, added a little more water, and let it gently simmer for another hour in the oven until my guests arrived.  Make sure to use a boneless pork shoulder because it needs the fat marbling to produce succulent, tender meat. I bought mine at Costco and there was actually too much outer fat on my pork roast, which I trimmed. From a piece of meat that weighed 6 pounds at the start, it was only 4 1/2 pounds after I finished trimming it — more than enough to easily serve 8-10 people.

The other members of the bookgroup contributed other foods either mentioned in the book, or aassociated with Russian or Slavic cuisine, starting with a delicious appetizer of ponzu salmon and avocado toast:

First course of borscht:

Traditional vegetables served in Russia: salad, potatoes and cabbage:

And for dessert: a multi-layered honey cake —

and chocolate “kielbasa”

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

Latvian Stew
  • Inspired by Amor Towles and a Latvian Stew recipe from the website, A Little and A Lot
  • 4 lbs (48oz) boneless pork shoulder
  • salt and ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup (60ml) extra virgin olive oil.
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 6 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 4 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 5 cups (1183ml) water
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 7 oz dried apricots
  • 7 oz prunes (dried plums)
  • ½ cup (about 1oz/ 13g) chopped fresh Italian parsley
  1. Cut pork into 2-3 inch pieces.
  2. Trim any excess fat.
  3. Lay the pork on a plate or baking sheet that has been lined with paper towels. Blot the pieces of pork on all sides with another paper towel to dry.
  4. Sprinkle the pork on all sides with a generous amount of salt and pepper.
  5. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (232 degrees C).
  6. Add oil to a large, heavy bottom, ovenproof saucepan or dutch oven.
  7. Set it over medium high heat until the oil is very hot and shimmering.
  8. Add the pork and cook, turning the pieces in the hot oil every so often, until the pieces are browned on all sides.
  9. Remove the pork from the pan with tongs or a slotted spoon.
  10. Add the chopped onion to the pan and cook over medium heat until soft and translucent.
  11. Add minced garlic, tomato paste, and 1 teaspoon of salt.
  12. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
  13. Add carrots and browned pork to the pan, stirring to combine.
  14. Remove the pan from the heat.
  15. Stir together the paprika and flour, sprinkle it over the meat and vegetables, and toss everything around in the pan to coat.
  16. Put the pan in the preheated oven, uncovered, and let bake for 5 minutes.
  17. Remove the pan from the heat, stir, and then bake uncovered for an additional 5 minutes.
  18. Remove pan from the oven.
  19. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F (176 degrees C).
  20. Add 5 cups of water and worcestershire sauce to pan.
  21. Stir, being sure to scrape up any brown pieces from the bottom of the pan.
  22. Set it over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
  23. Stir in the dried apricots.
  24. Cover the pan and place back in the oven.
  25. Let cook for 1 ½ hours.
  26. Remove pan from the oven and stir in prunes.
  27. Cover, place back in the oven, and cook for 1 hour longer - OR, until the meat is very tender. (NOTE: Although the original recipe says to cook for another hour, it was tender much before the second hour was over, and bubbling a lot, so I lowered the temperature to 200, added a little more water and let it cook for another hour at the lower temperature, waiting for my guests to arrive. It was perfect.)
  28. Remove the pan from the oven and taste; add more salt if needed.
  29. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

Pork Belly Porchetta

  • November 28, 2022

If you’ve ever eaten porchetta in Italy, you know it’s savory, it’s succulent and it’s insanely delicious. It’s usually served on a roll and eaten as a sandwich. Frequently, you’ll see an outdoor vendor selling porchetta sandwiches at street fairs and markets, and they’re hard to resist. There’s also a terrific informal trattoria in Rome and in Milan called “La Prosciutteria” where you can buy fabulous porchetta sandwiches, like these, which I once snuck back into the U.S. (shh!)Now you can make your very own porchetta, with flavors and crackling skin similar to the ones you get in Italy. A lot of recipes will show using a pork loin wrapped in a pork belly, but those roasts become so large and unwieldy and serve enough to feed a small neighborhood. The center of the pork loin also has a tendency to dry out, even when it’s wrapped in a pork belly. I’ve also cooked a pork shoulder in a “porchetta-style,” splayed out and spread with herbs and spices then tied up securely and roasted for hours. While it’s delicious, it doesn’t come close to the results you get cooking a pork belly alone. After all, pork belly is the part of the pig where bacon comes from, and we all know everything tastes better with bacon. When cooked at a low temperature for many hours, a pork belly will result in one of the best things you’ve ever eaten, with a crunchy outer skin and plenty of meat in the interior that just melts in your mouth.

I was able to find this pork belly at Costco, and made it for our Thanksgiving meal instead of turkey, a break with tradition that no one regretted. You should prep it at least a day ahead of time to give the herb and spice rub time to do its magic, but it can prepared up to three days ahead and sit in the refrigerator, making it perfect for holidays when you’ve got lots of other dishes to prepare at the last minute.

Score the pork belly and season with the herb, spice and garlic mixture.

Then roll it up like a jelly roll and using butcher’s twine, secure it tightly all the way around.

Here’s a side view, and you can see it’s got plenty of meat, not just fat (although it’s got plenty of that too.) The recipe also calls for you to rub the exterior of the roast with a mixture of kosher salt and baking powder, which I did.  I then wrapped it tightly in aluminum foil and placed it in the refrigerator for a full day and a half. Place it on a wire rack to roast.

It cooks for a long time, starting at 300 degrees for about two hours or until the temperature reaches 160 degrees. The recipe (from J. Kenji Alt-Lopez) says to roast it another two hours at the same temperature, but after two and a half hours, I lowered the oven temperature to 250 degrees and cooked the roast for nearly four more hours since it suited our time schedule better (We wanted to go to a nearby park with our granddaughter while the roast cooked).  Besides, a long, slow roast results in really tender meat. Once you start to see drippings, you should also baste it every half hour, but I skipped this step while we skipped out to the park and it didn’t have any negative effect. This is how the roast looked after two hours in the oven.

For the final half hour, the recipe says to crank up the heat to 500 degrees, but after ten minutes at that high temperature, I could see that the upper skin was starting to burn. So I removed the roast from the oven, lowered the temperature to 400 degrees and let it continue to brown. Next time, I think I’ll keep it at 400 degrees for the full last half hour, or even stretch it a little longer until it achieves this nice golden outer crust.  In total, I think my roast was in the oven for six and a half hours. Sinking your teeth into that juicy crunchy crust is almost the best part.

But the inside is pretty darn irresistible too, with those fennel, garlic and rosemary flavors. Try it sometime when you’ve got a large family gathering — maybe even this Christmas or New Year’s Day. Since we were only five for Thanksgiving this year, we had lots of leftovers, but enjoyed a slice of porchetta on a crusty roll the next day. Slathered with some red pepper aioli or even some leftover cranberry sauce, it was the perfect day-after-Thanksgiving treat.

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The full recipe is from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt/Serious Eats

5.0 from 1 reviews
Pork Belly Porchetta
  • 1 whole boneless, rind-on pork belly, about 12 to 15 pounds (5.4 to 6.8kg)
  • Recipe adapted from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt/Serious Eats
  • 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
  • 3 tablespoons whole fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
  • 12 cloves garlic, grated on a microplane grate
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  1. Place pork belly skin-side down on a large cutting board.
  2. Using a sharp chef's knife, score flesh at an angle using strokes about 1-inch apart.
  3. Rotate knife 90 degrees and repeat to create a diamond pattern in the flesh.
  4. Toast peppercorns and fennel seeds in a small skillet over medium-high heat until lightly browned and aromatic, about 2 minutes. (I forgot this step and skipped it.)
  5. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and grind until roughly crushed, along with the rosemary, red pepper and lemon peel.
  6. Place the spices, herbs and lemon peel in a small bowl and add the minced garlic.
  7. Season pork liberally with salt then sprinkle with the spice mixtures.
  8. Use your hands to rub the mixture deeply into the cracks and crevices in the meat.
  9. Roll belly into a tight log and push to top of cutting board, seam-side down.
  10. Wrap kitchen twine tightly around the pork.
  11. Combine 2 tablespoons kosher salt with 2 teaspoons baking powder. Rub mixture over entire surface of pork.
  12. If roast is too large and unwieldy, carefully slice in half with a sharp chef's knife. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate at least overnight and up to 3 days. If desired, porchetta can also be frozen at this point for future use
  13. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat oven to 300°F (150°C).
  14. Place pork in a V-rack set in a large roasting pan, or if cooking both halves at the same time, on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet.
  15. Place roasting pan in oven and roast until internal temperature of pork reaches 160°F (71°C), about 2 hours, basting with pan drippings every half hour.
  16. Continue roasting until a knife or skewer inserted into the pork shows very little resistance asides from the outer layer of skin, about 2 hours longer.
  17. (I lowered the temperature to 250 and roasted for 3 hours longer)
  18. Increase oven temperature to 500°F (260°C) and continue roasting until completely crisp and blistered, about 20 to 30 minutes longer.
  19. (After about 10 minutes with the oven at 500 degrees, the skin was starting to burn, so I lowered the temperature to 400 degrees and finished roasting for 20 more minutes.
  20. Alternatively, you can remove the roast from the oven and tent with foil for up to 2 hours before finishing it in a preheated 500°F oven.
  21. Tent with foil and allow to rest for 15 minutes (I rested it for ½ hour, which gave me time to bake popovers and finish the mashed potatoes and other vegetables.)
  22. Slice with a serrated knife into 1-inch thick disks and serve.

Pork Tenderloin with Plums

  • October 4, 2020

Pork tenderloin is such an easy and delicious cut of meat that pairs so well with fruit — especially plums. Even if you can’t find these oval-shaped Italian plums that are in season right now, the round ones are fine. The plums I found were quite large, so I cut them in quarters, but next time I’ll just cut them in half, since they will be likely to retain more of their shape that way.

Season the meat (I used a homemade seasoned salt, and pepper) then sear it on the range to brown the outside a bit. It will finish cooking in the oven.

When I first made this, I roasted everything together right from the start. But when the meat and plums were ready, the onions weren’t cooked enough, so I removed the roast and plums and put the onions back in for another 15 minutes. I don’t recommend doing that, since the juices that had released from the meat and plums dried up and the pan started to smoke. Instead, I would start out by cooking the onions alone in the pan for 15 minutes, then add the meat and plums and cook another 20 minutes.

Let the meat rest for at least five minutes before slicing and serving, Take a bite of the plum and the pork in the same forkful, and see if you don’t agree that they were meant for each other.

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Pork Tenderloin with Plums
  • 1 pork tenderloin
  • homemade seasoned salt (or use a mixture of salt, dried thyme, parsley, rosemary and sage)
  • black pepper
  • olive oil
  • 3 or 4 plums
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Season the pork with the salt/herb mix and pepper.
  3. Sear it in a pan that has been coated with olive oil, turning it on all sides until it's lightly browned.
  4. Remove the pork from the pan and set aside.
  5. Add the onions to the pan, season with salt and pepper (herbed salt if you have it) , drizzle with olive oil, then cook the onions in the oven for 15 minutes.
  6. Remove the pan from the oven, stir the onions a bit and place to one side of the pan, then place the pork in the middle of the pan at a diagonal.
  7. Add the plums on the other side of the pork.
  8. Place the pan back in the oven and roast for 20 minutes.
  9. Remove from the oven and let the pork rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing.