Tag Archives: stew

Tocană or What’s in a Name?

I remember my mom making a lot of stews when I was growing up because she could use ‘filler’ vegetables, especially potatoes, to stretch a small amount of meat to feed a hungry family of four, with lots of leftovers. Tocană was the word she used instead of stew, however, because, like many immigrants, she interspersed her English with a lot of Romanian words. I was never quite sure what they meant, and, sadly, didn’t always ask, but I managed to figure out the meaning of most of the words, in the context in which they were used.

PS: ‘Zamaă (zeamă)‘ was another tricky Romanian word, which meant ‘soup’, but seemed stew-like to me. Amusingly, in later years, the word ‘soupă’ became part of our family lexicon. And then there were ‘ciorbă’ and ‘bors’ which are types of soups. I may go into that in a future post.

When my brother married a Canadian-born Hungarian girl, she brought other food words into our conversations. Some were very familiar. Like ‘tokány’ which was similar enough to the Romanian word for a stew. But ‘porkolt‘ also refers to a stew. As does ‘paprikash’.

Porkolt, paprikash, and tokany … makes your head spin, doesn’t it? And then there’s ‘goulash’ which can be a soup OR a stew. But I won’t get into that in this post.

Romanian cooking terms almost seem easy in comparison. At least to me, they do.

Romanian pork stew with cornmeal mush and a fried egg

In my recent internet searches, I’ve learned that tocană ‘usually’ refers to a mutton/lamb stew. But my mom has never liked mutton so her tocană was usually made with pork, which seems to be the go-to Romanian meat. Beef was very rarely served at our house as it was not something my mom was that comfortable cooking, to be honest. (You do NOT want to know how she cooked a frozen t-bone steak.)

Anyway, getting back to the tocană, I debated on making a chicken (pui/gaina refering to a chicken/hen) or even a mushroom stew, but I settled for what I felt most comfortable cooking … a pork stew or ‘tocană cu carne de porc’.

One final language aside. Tocană is what you get in a restaurant. Tocăniță (the diminutive form, like saying ‘little tocană’)  is what your mom makes at home … with love.

Romanian pork stew with mashed potatoes

Tocăniță cu carne de porc (Romanian Pork Stew) – serves 3-4

600 gm pork, neck preferred but a boneless pork loin* works as well
2 tbsp finely diced pork fat or vegetable oil
1 large onion, small dice
1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 medium carrot, small dice**
1/2 medium sweet pepper (red, yellow or orange), small dice**
1/2 cup chicken stock or water, more water as needed
1 tbsp sweet pepper paste or 1 tbsp sweet paprika
1 teaspoon hot pepper paste or harissa or gochujang
1/2 teaspoon dried summer savoury or thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt, to start
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Optional: 3-4 small potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

Garnish: 1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves

* As my pork loin was pretty lean, I added about 2 tbsp of finely chopped pork fat trimmed from a pork shoulder, after I had seared it for red chile pulled pork

** This dish was often made in the winter when fresh vegetables weren’t available. Frugal housewives would dry and coarsely grind up various vegetables and use them in their soups and stews. If you have access to a dry vegetable soup mix, use 1-2 tsp, I used the carrots and sweet peppers instead.

Cut up the pork meat into 1/2-3/4 inch cubes.

In a dutch oven, over medium-high heat, render the fat and use it to fry the pork, for about 10 minutes or until it starts to brown. Remove the meat to a bowl and reserve.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the onion and cook until it softens, about 10 minutes. Add the carrots and sweet peppers and the garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Add the thyme, sweet pepper paste and the hot pepper paste and stir into the vegetables. Cook for another minute or so to cook the ‘raw’ taste out of the spices and liven up the herbs.

Add the chicken stock and use it to scrape up the fond (browned bits of flavour) on the bottom of the dutch oven. Add the browned pork, salt and pepper and bring the mixture to a boil. Your meat and vegetables should be just barely covered by liquid. If needed add up to a cup of water, cover with the lid and cook for about 30 minutes at medium heat. Check the meat for tenderness. It should fall apart and the mixture should not be dry but there should be a ‘sauce’ surrounding the meat and vegetables. If needed add some more water and continue cooking the pork with the lid on.

If using potatoes, add the cubed potatoes at this point, another cup of water or as needed to cover the potatoes, and about 1/2 tsp more salt, put the lid back on and cook for an additional 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning. If you like a bit more heat, add more hot pepper paste.

When ready, sprinkle fresh chopped parsley over the top of the stew.

Serve with cornmeal mush/polenta or mashed potatoes (mamaligă sau piure de cartofi) if not using potatoes in the stew. Slices of a crusty bread are a tasty accompaniment to sop up any extra juices.

For a one bowl meal, stir diced boiled potatoes into your finished pork stew. This gives you the option of serving the stew itself in various ways and stew without the potatoes freeze better as the thawed potatoes don’t get too mealy.

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Guiness Beef Stew and French Macarons

I’m not much of a drinker but I DO like a cold beer with a bbq or a Tex-Mex meal. I prefer light beers like Tecate or Sapporo/Asahi but I’ve enjoyed a stout or two in the past. (Just half a pint though cause it’s a pretty rich drink.) Over the years, I’ve seen those recipes for beef stews and steak and kidney pies using Guiness and been tempted to give them a try. This past Friday I picked up a can of Guiness draft beer and made a pot of stew with some blade steak.

Guinness Irish Beef Stew – serves 4-6

2-3 tbsp olive oil (or bacon fat**)
1 1/2 lbs beef, trimmed and cubed
1-2 (1/2 tbsp) large garlic cloves, minced
1 large onion, finely diced
4 cups beef stock (or chicken stock and 1 tbsp beef soup mix**)
1 cup Guinness stout
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried parsley
2 lbs potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large (1 1/2 cups) carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
salt and pepper to taste (start with 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper)

Optional flour slurry to thicken stew – 1 tbsp flour and 2 tbsp of cold water mixed until smooth

** What I  used

Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add half the beef and saute until brown on all sides, about 3-5 minutes. Remove to a large bowl and reserve. Add a second tbsp of olive oil to the dutch oven, the rest of the beef, and brown. Remove to the bowl with the rest of the sauteed beef and reserve.

Add the onion and garlic to the oil in the dutch oven and saute for a couple of minutes. If needed, add a bit more of the olive oil. Add the tomato paste and saute for 1 minute.

Add the browned beef, beef stock, Guinness, bay leaves, thyme and parsley. Add salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

Bring the mixture to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 1-1 1/2 hour, stirring occasionally depending on the cut of stew used. (If you wish, you can put the dutch oven in a 350 deg Fahrenheit oven for this time.)

Add the potatoes and carrots and continue simmering until vegetables and beef are very tender, another 30-40 minutes. Check periodically to make sure the meat and veggies are submerged.

Discard bay leaves. Tilt pan and skim off any fat if your meat was very fatty. Salt and pepper to taste. Uncover for the last 10 minutes or so if you want your stew to thicken up.

(NOTE: For an even thicker stew, combine 1 tbsp flour with 2 tbsp of cold water. Transfer the dutch oven to the stove top, bring the stew to a boil and add the flour mixture. Cook for several minutes until thickened.)

Transfer stew to serving bowl.

(Can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and refrigerate. Bring to simmer before serving.).

And, since I had a couple of egg whites left over from making Saturday’s sugar cookies, which I ‘aged’ overnight on the counter, I made a second try at French macarons.

John Santiago’s French Macarons – makes about a dozen macarons (pairs)

1/2 cup powdered/icing sugar
1 egg white, room temperature
1/4 cup almond flour (blanched ground almonds)
2 1/2 tbsp white sugar
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
flavouring (almond, vanilla, or orange extract or 1 tsp or more espresso powder, 1 tsp cocoa powder)
gel food colouring

Combine the icing sugar with the almond flour. Sift twice to remove any big pieces of almond. Grind them in a food processor if necessary.

In a large, clean bowl, add the egg white/s and beat until frothy. Add the cream of tartar. Add, regular white sugar, 1 tbsp at a time, until soft peaks form. If using food colouring and flavour, add with the last of the sugar and continue beating until you get stiff peaks.

Add powdered sugar/almond flour to the egg white mixure. Start with 1/4 of the mixture. Stir in and then fold the rest into the lightened egg white. Stir around the edge of the bowl and fold into the middle. Repeat 20-30 times or until your mixture flows smoothly when dropped from 5-6 inches.

Pipe mixture onto parchment paper through a 1/2 inch round tip. (You may want to trace a pattern on the underside of your parchment paper as a guide to the size of the macarons so they’ll be uniform.) Tap pan a few times to get rid of air bubbles, then LET SIT FOR AT LEAST 30 MINUTES! until the outside of the disc is dry to the touch.

Preheat oven to 300 deg F.

Bake for 17-20 minutes! (Baking times will vary depending on the environment they have rested in. They can bake anywhere between 15 – 25 minutes.)

NOTE: They are ready when they are firm on their ‘feet’ and lift without sticking. You don’t want to rip off the top when you lift them up. 🙂

Remove them from the baking tray immediately when they come out of the oven. You can run a small offset spatula under them to make sure no areas are stuck and then place them on a wire rack to cool. By removing them immediately from the hot baking sheet it stops the cooking process so they don’t over cook and become hard. You want them to be crisp on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.

The stew was an unqualified success. The macarons less so as I still have to work on the timing of the addition and type of food colouring for the macarons. Liquid food colouring, added after you’ve beaten your egg whites to stiff peaks, will result in over beaten and hollow macarons. And overbaking will give you dry, hard centers.

You can see those errors in this macaron.

Next time I’ll invest in gel or paste food colouring and add it with the granulated sugar. Even so, this batch of macarons were much better than my first attempt and I can tentatively check it off my food bucket list.

I filled my macarons with melted chocolate as I hadn’t really PLANNED on success.