Monday, December 30, 2013

The Waiting Stew

The first time I made this stew, I was delirious and still half in panic mode, having spent most of the previous night in the equivalent of the animal e.r. with my cat. But by the time I sat down to eat it with friends, about 20 hours later, the panic had subsided some- the outcome of some much-needed sleep and the realization that at that point there was nothing to do but wait and enjoy the company and comfort of my good friends. The second time I made the stew, I was anxiously waiting on word about my little nephew, born just a few days before, still unnamed, having breathing issues and in the hospital. By the time I sat down to eat it with friends, again, about 20 hours later, the little boy was out of the hospital though the breathing issue was not- and still is not- totally resolved, and there was nothing I could do, being so very far away, but sit and wait. Now, as I  am eating the leftovers of that same stew, I am waiting for the penicillin I have been taking for the last 30 or so hours to finally kick in at full force so that I can get rid of the pesky needle-stuck throat that comes with strep, and get on with my life.

This is the perfect stew for tenter-hooks, warm and comforting, but still bright even after 20 hours of slow cooking. The brightness comes from the copious 20 pods of cardamom that somehow retain their flavor after all that time. As Charlie Trotter points out in his cookbook, cardamom and ginger are related. The stew reflects that. I found the cookbook Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home in used bookstore, being sold for a whopping 10 shekel (about 3-4 dollars). I couldn't pass it up. Despite the fact that I grew up in Chicago, and still consider it my hometown, I have never eaten any of Trotter's food, but I know enough to know that he changed the Chicago culinary scene forever. I wanted to see what he would do with a home kitchen.It turns out that Charlie Trotter at home is well, still Charlie Trotter- by which I mean complicated. All of his recipes are compelling and accessible, no doubt, but they also inevitably involve numerous components and steps. For the sake of time, and due to the fact that I was desecrating the recipe and sticking in a crockpot to begin with, I streamlined this stew a bit. I think it turned out pretty gosh darn good. I hope Chef Trotter is not turning in his grave. I somehow think he is not.

Stew for eating with friends and for waiting.

Cardamom Beef Stew with Potatoes, Celery Root and Parsley Root

Adapted from Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home by Charlie Trotter

1 cup chopped celery
1 cup carrot, cut into chunks
2 cups chopped onion
2 tablespoons canola oil
20 cardamom pods, crushed and bundled together in some cheesecloth
1 pound stew meat, cubed
salt and pepper
1 head of garlic, unpeeled
6 cups stock (Trotter calls for beef, I used turkey stock because that is what I had in the house- you can use whatever you have on, even water would probably be fine)
2 cups potato, also diced large
1 cup celery root, diced large
1 cup parsley root (or even better, parsnip, if you can find it), diced large

1. In a large pan, heat the oil over a medium-high heat. Toss in the beef, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and brown- about 3 minutes per side. Dump the meat into the crock you have set up and turned on high. Toss the vegetables (leaving aside the garlic) into the frying pan (without cleaning it out first), season with some salt and pepper and move them around a bit so they color and take on some of the good, beefy flavor. You may need to do this in batches. Place the vegetables in the crockpot with the meat. Pour in the stock. Add the cheesecloth and the garlic. Cover and let the stew come to a boil. Turn the crockpot down to low and cook for a good 20 hours until the meat is falling apart. Serve over a grain- pearl barley is particularly good here.

***An even more streamlined version- toss all the ingredients (leaving out the oil) into a crockpot. Cook on high until it comes to a boil, then lower the heat to  low. Cook for 20 hours.

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