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Cardamom beef stew with roasted root vegetables

In this recipe from 'Home Cooking with Charlie Trotter,' a braised beef stew flavored with cardamom, garlic, onion, celery, and carrots is topped with roasted potatoes, parsnips, and celery root. 

By Blue Kitchen / December 3, 2013

Unlike other beef stew recipes, which might call for parsnips and other root vegetables to be added to the stock, in this iteration they're roasted, and added as a topping.

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This post is a tribute to Charlie Trotter, the groundbreaking restaurateur and chef – and Chicago hometown hero – who died recently. In the world of food, proclamations that someone “changed the way we eat” or “changed the way we cook” get bandied about a lot. In Trotter’s case, both are true and then some. His eponymous restaurant, opened in 1987 in a Lincoln Park townhouse, was an immediate success. And his innovative approach to cooking created a seismic shift in Chicago’s restaurant scene. As William Grimes put it in The New York Times, “In the blink of an eye, the city’s lagging restaurant culture … took a giant step into the future.”

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Blue Kitchen

Terry Boyd is the author of Blue Kitchen, a Chicago-based food blog for home cooks. His simple, eclectic cooking focuses on fresh ingredients, big flavors and a cheerful willingness to borrow ideas and techniques from all over the world. A frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, his recipes have also appeared on the Bon Appétit and Saveur websites.

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Trotter was a self-taught chef. He became interested in cooking through a college roommate, who was an avid cook. After graduating from college, he traveled around the United States and Europe, dining at the finest restaurants, seeking to figure out how the “best” gained that title. His first cooking job was for another famous Chicago chef, Gordon Sinclair. He opened Charlie Trotter’s when he was 28.

The restaurant is credited with popularizing the tasting menu. Trotter’s cooking was locally and seasonally driven, long before the word locavore existed. He claimed to never repeat a dish, devising the evening’s menu based on what he found at the market in the morning. Along the way, Trotter received many accolades, including 10 James Beard Foundation awards and five stars – the highest ranking – from the Mobil Travel Guide. And Charlie Trotter’s was one of just three restaurants in Chicago to be awarded two stars by the Michelin Guide when it debuted here in 2010.

My own connection to Charlie Trotter was primarily through his cookbooks – and through catching an occasional episode of his PBS show, "The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter," when we stayed in hotels (we have no cable at home). This was the kind of food show that is in short supply in the age of TV cooking as spectator sport, mostly ridiculous competitions and made-for-TV histrionics. Anytime I saw Trotter cook on his show, I learned something valuable about food and technique.

His cookbooks teach something valuable, too. In his introduction to "Home Cooking with Charlie Trotter," the source for this recipe, he says the goal of the book is “elevating everyday cuisine to a higher level of sophistication.” Trotter compared his own cooking style to jazz improvisation, mixing time-honored techniques with unexpected ingredients, layering tastes and textures to create exciting new dishes. In another cookbook, "Workin’ More Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter," there is a recipe for lamb shanks with caramelized fennel and apricots. The shanks are braised and the fennel is roasted. Both dishes use both dried and fresh apricots, creating a harmonious combination with subtle differences.

This Cardamom Beef Stew with Roasted Root Vegetables combines similarly flavored (but not quite the same) celery and celery root. And rather than just adding the potatoes, parsnips, and celery root to the braising liquid – as you would with most stews – he roasts them. They’re served atop the stew, providing another layer of texture, color and flavor, appealing to multiple senses – as food should.

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