A French Feast for Craig’s Birthday (And The Best Soup I’ve Ever Made)

February 10, 2014 | By | COMMENTS

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This year, on Craig’s birthday, I had a revelation. My usual instinct to take him out to a fancy dinner on the big day (a tradition that began with an epic meal at Per Se back in 2008) really has nothing to do with Craig’s interests or wants and everything to do with my own. Who likes fancy dinners? I do, not Craig. So this year I asked him point blank if he wanted to go out for a fancy dinner on the occasion and he said he’d actually like it better if I made the dinner here at home. I have to admit, that was pretty flattering–given the option of Thomas Keller food or Adam Roberts food, Craig picked the latter. I knew I had to make this dinner special.

Funny enough, inspiration struck at the gym. I try to time my gym-going so I can watch The Barefoot Contessa, who comes on at 4 (though most of the time I get there too early and have to watch Giada; I usually give up and switch to Sex and the City or, if I can stomach it, Bravo; though a recent session with the Millionaire Matchmaker, where she made fun of a Pilates instructor for being fat, made me want to hurl). Anyway, Ina was talking about how the French serve a cheese plate after the entree before dessert. That sounded very Craig and so I decided to build a meal around that idea.

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My journey began at The Cheese Store of Silverlake where a nice cheesemonger helped me pick a good selection of cheeses, ranging from the white-chocolatey Midnight Moon Organic Goat, St. Agur from France (a salty blue), and–the stinkiest of them all (the store almost cleared when they opened this one up)–Winnamere Cow from Vermont. I also bought a slate cheese board because I didn’t own a cheese board and I figured the time had come.

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The rest of the menu came from a variety of sources. The first source was a used cookbook that I bought at Counterpoint Records and Books in Franklin Village: Alfred Portale’s Simple Pleasures. Portale is the celebrated chef of New York City’s Gotham restaurant and this book is such a gem, I can’t believe more people don’t talk about it as an essential chef cookbook. The recipe that spoke to me the most for this dinner was his Celery Root and Caramelized Pear Soup.

To use a phrase from Food52, this is totally a genius recipe. The thing that really got me about it was how resourceful it was; you peel the pears and don’t throw those peels away. You cook them along with the chunks of celery root in chicken stock:

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Meanwhile, the pear gets caramelized in honey with rosemary:

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And then deglazed with balsamic vinegar. Then the soup gets pureed:

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The pears get spooned into bowls:

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And the soup gets ladled on top, with some more honey/balsamic drizzled over it.

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Man oh man was this good. Seriously, people at the table were having convulsions they were so happy. It is, without question, the best soup I’ve ever made. In fact, Craig just came in as I was writing this and he asked, “Is there any left?” and seemed very disappointed when I said “no.” What’s so winning about it is you get this deep, earthy flavor from the celery root that’s balanced by the sweet tartness of the pear/honey/vinegar mixture. Try it and you’ll see what I’m talking about (I’ll type out the recipe below).

As for the entree, I chose one I could make earlier in the day and reheat later: Coq au Vin. (Click that link for the recipe.) Served on egg noodles tossed with butter and parsley, it’s hard to deny the majesty of this dish:

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We ate this with a special bottle of wine, given to us by our filmmaker friend Matt Morris. It’s a wine he bottled himself at H Street Cellars in Napa after doing some work there with the winemakers. He calls the wine Albatross (from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner):

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It had that amazing deep flavor you find with really good wine; worthy of its poetic name. Thanks for the gift, Matt!

Here you’ll see our fellow revelers, Mark and Diana, toasting Craig’s old age before digging into their Coq:

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It was after this that I brought out the cheese. You’d think after such a rich soup and such a hearty entree that big wedges of cheese would be unwelcome. You would be wrong.

Here’s the birthday boy with his cheese plate dessert:

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We all dug into this cheese voraciously; turns out the French know what they’re doing when it comes to food. Unlike a buttery, over-sugared dessert, cheese offers a decadent end to the meal without forcing you to leave the world of savory delights. Ok, that last sentence makes it seem like I’d personally choose cheese over cake. I wouldn’t but I’ll put it like this: I had sorbet in the freezer for after the cheese and nobody wanted it.

And thus ended Craig’s birthday feast; a meal built around cheese with a surprising star-turn from a celery root soup. Next year, I have a feeling I’ll be asked to recreate something like this to celebrate the big day. Thomas Keller, eat your heart out.

Recipe: Celery Root and Caramelized Pear Soup

Summary: The best soup I’ve ever made from Alfred Portale’s Simple Pleasures.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sliced onion
  • 1/4 cup sliced celery
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced leek, white part only, green top reserved for bouquet garni (make sure to wash your leek well; they can often be sandy–slice it vertically first and run under the faucet)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped celery root (from 3 small celery roots)
  • 1/2 cup chopped Idaho potato
  • 3 Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and cut into medium dice (about 1 cup diced), scraps reserved
  • 4 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 bouquet garni (2 bay leaves, 5 sprigs parsley, and 2 sprigs thyme, wrapped together with the leek top and tied with kitchen string)
  • Coarse salt
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons honey (I used more here and more vinegar; just eyeballed it)
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Instructions

  1. [Note: the recipe has you do the pear/honey thing at the end, but I recommend doing it at the beginning because once you peel those pears--and you'll be using the peels in the soup--they'll start to brown.]
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot set over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and leeks, and sauté until softened but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the celery root, potatoes, pear scraps, chicken stock, and bouquet garni. Raise the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Season with salt and pepper, stir, reduce the heat, and cover. Cook at a simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. (You should be able to smash a piece of celery root easily against the side of the pot.)
  3. Strain the soup through a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl, reserving the solids and liquid separately. Working in batches if necessary, put the solids in a blender or food processor and puree, adding some of the liquid until the mixture takes on a uniformly thick, smooth consistency. Transfer the puree to a bowl.
  4. Slowly stir in any remaining stock until the soup attain a thick, creamy consistency. Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. You should have about 6 cups of soup. Season it with salt and pepper and set aside, covered, to keep warm.
  5. Pour the honey into a sauté pan and warm it over medium-high heat until it bubbles and turns amber-colored, about 5 minutes. Add the diced pears and the rosemary sprig. Cook, tossing, until the pears are slightly softened and richly glazed. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook, tossing or stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, transfer the pears and sauce to a bowl, and set aside, covered, to keep warm. Discard the rosemary sprig.
  6. To serve, place a spoonful of pear in the center of each of six warmed soup plates. Ladle the soup around the pears, and drizzle the surface of each serving with the balsamic sauce.

Preparation time: 30 minute(s)

Cooking time: 45 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 6

Tags: , , , , , ,

Categories: Recipes, Soups

  • cybercita

    They were having… conclusions? I think spellcheck won that round.

    Great post, and no one could call you an amateur anymore.

  • Laurie

    This meal looks incredible! So is the post! I am definitely going to make the soup and the chicken. For the VERY amateur cook, I have a couple of questions. In the soup you call for Idaho potato. From you photograph it looks like it is peeled? Second question, for your onion in the soup. What kind? Vidalia sweet, yellow, or white? I know that may sound stupid, but I know that onions can vary. Thank you so much and can’t wait for your next post! Laurie

  • Adam Amateur Gourmet

    Hi Laure, no such thing as a dumb question! Yes, an Idaho potato, peeled. And I used a yellow onion, though I bet Vidalia would work fine too. Good luck! Adam

  • Adam Amateur Gourmet

    Hi Laure, no such thing as a dumb question! Yes, an Idaho potato, peeled. And I used a yellow onion, though I bet Vidalia would work fine too. Good luck! Adam

  • Adam Amateur Gourmet

    Hi Laure, no such thing as a dumb question! Yes, an Idaho potato, peeled. And I used a yellow onion, though I bet Vidalia would work fine too. Good luck! Adam

  • Adam Amateur Gourmet

    Hi Laure, no such thing as a dumb question! Yes, an Idaho potato, peeled. And I used a yellow onion, though I bet Vidalia would work fine too. Good luck! Adam

  • Adam Amateur Gourmet

    Hi Laure, no such thing as a dumb question! Yes, an Idaho potato, peeled. And I used a yellow onion, though I bet Vidalia would work fine too. Good luck! Adam

  • Adam Amateur Gourmet

    Oh thanks for pointing that out… fixed!

  • Adam Amateur Gourmet

    Oh thanks for pointing that out… fixed!

  • Matt

    Albatross made the cut for Craig’s French Birthday Dinner? Amazing. Glad you all enjoyed it! I’ve got another wine in the works for next year…

  • Matt

    Albatross made the cut for Craig’s French Birthday Dinner? Amazing. Glad you all enjoyed it! I’ve got another wine in the works for next year…

  • http://www.becauseilikechocolate.com/ Mallory @ Because I Like Choco

    I love the candle in the cheese! Sounds like my kind of birthday celebration!

  • http://www.becauseilikechocolate.com/ Mallory @ Because I Like Choco

    I love the candle in the cheese! Sounds like my kind of birthday celebration!

  • Stephanie

    For the record (expat living in france) the french eat dessert after the cheese, and never instead of!

  • Stephanie Doublait

    How long have you been here?? I am married to a Frenchman 15 years and have been living in France for almost 10 years; in our family and in my experiences around France, cheese is very often served in lieu of dessert. As a matter of fact, this Thursday I am having dinner guests and I plan to serve cheese, and not dessert. Last week in a restaurant, 2 at our table of 6 chose to have a cheese course while the rest of us had an actual dessert.

  • NancyRing

    Happy birthday to Craig! I’d love that cheese plate and slate for my birthday! The entire meal looks heavenly!

  • Dorothee

    Oh, I am so in love with this dinner. And this post. Thank you again for the wonderful inspiration

  • Maley

    This sounds so good, I think I know what I’ll be serving for my husband’s birthday next month. Happy birthday, Craig!

  • Anne

    What a perfect dinner. I love the idea of cheese for dessert and prefer it to sweets. This meal reminds me of something you’d eat at Lucques. Rustic, yet refined, but not stuffy and just plain delicious.

  • Anonymous

    How are you doing?
    hope fine. i am really interested in getting to know you more after reading your profile at FB but unfortunately am not always online here so i will be glad if you write me back through my private email address (loveanita2221@yahoo.com)­ then i can tell you more about my self because i have something VERY IMPORTANT to tell you take care and a lots of love, GOD bless you.
    Yours Miss Anita

  • Anonymous

    How are you doing?
    hope fine. i am really interested in getting to know you more after reading your profile at FB but unfortunately am not always online here so i will be glad if you write me back through my private email address (loveanita2221@yahoo.com)­ then i can tell you more about my self because i have something VERY IMPORTANT to tell you take care and a lots of love, GOD bless you.
    Yours Miss Anita

  • Stephie

    I have a stupid question….. was the soup hot, cold, or luke warm when you ate it?
    It looks delicious in any case, think I’ll be giving this one a try someone soon. Happy birthday to Craig!

  • Arlyn Lichthardt

    I, too, spend most of my time in France. When we are guests or have guests, it’s done as you describe. Many of the restaurants we visit offer the choice of cheese or dessert on their 3 course menus.

  • Gail Calluori

    Adam, you make me laugh out loud! LOVE your comments about Ina (LOVE her); and Giada – well, can’t turn the channel fast enough!! Something about her annoys me…! This soup sounds absolutely luscious – I’ve already pasted the recipe to my collection. If you like amazing soups that stand out at dinner parties, you’ll also enjoy my go-to recipe for Fireworks Rainbow soup from New Basics (Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins/authors of the Silver Palate Cookbooks), a two soup combo that you pour from two ladles simultaneously into your bowl before swirling gently around each other…so pretty!

  • Gail Calluori

    ok, I’m new here, BUT just discovered your new book, Secrets of the Best Chefs – I LOVE the concept! I’m off to buy a copy at Amazon today to add to my cookbook collection – can’t wait to try it. Thanks for your hard work on this Adam! Great idea.

  • Adam Amateur Gourmet

    Warm!

  • Meghanssj

    That looks like a fabulous, absolutely perfect birthday dinner. I want to go copy the whole thing.

  • Maryann

    Oh my does this look good. Yeah, that soup is a keeper! Gotta make it soon. I love cheese after a meal instead of dessert. No, I am not French and I do love my sweets, but the cheese just seems so right.

  • Maryann

    Oh my does this look good. Yeah, that soup is a keeper! Gotta make it soon. I love cheese after a meal instead of dessert. No, I am not French and I do love my sweets, but the cheese just seems so right.

  • Maryann

    Oh my does this look good. Yeah, that soup is a keeper! Gotta make it soon. I love cheese after a meal instead of dessert. No, I am not French and I do love my sweets, but the cheese just seems so right.

  • bonnie

    Is celeriac the same thing as celery root or do you just chop the bottoms of bunches of celery?

  • Adam Amateur Gourmet

    Celeriac and celery root are the same thing.

  • Ttrockwood

    Happy birthday Craig!!! What a gorgeous and wonderful meal you made- that soup will be next on my to do list, i adore celeriac.
    The cheese plate is always a welcome dessert- especially since it goes so well with wine :))

  • http://googlesearchengineland.blogspot.in/ Anshul Saxena

    awesome ……light, candle, dishes and drink ..look like a dream home …fantastic decoration Adam i like it….

  • Meghanssj

    I’ve already found an excuse to make the soup and buy the cheese! Valentines day! Picture someone dressed like the abominable snow woman in sorels and a puffy coat wandering around Whole Foods with the recipe on my phone picking up celery root and stinky cheese. I am making pork medallions instead of coq au vin…. I’ve made a lot of chicken lately. I’m sure my sweetheart will thank you. He has before.

  • Adam Amateur Gourmet

    Good luck!

  • http://dbakeca.com Dbakeca Italia

    delicious

  • Sophie

    looks amazing :) will try it very soon…
    Happy Birthday Craig!

  • Androdian.DATTA

    Looks OHHH so good but unfortunately for me, DATTA is a dairyless personification…..

  • Anonymous

    haha, I never know that you can cook by yourself !

  • Oceane

    I am not married to a french man, i am not an expat… I am a french 24yo student! When we have an ordinary lunch or dinner, we ate cheese before dessert, most of the time with green salad and bread, but some families skip the green (I personally skip the bread and eat it only xwith salad)… If you have any space left in your stomach, you can eat dessert after. But in a traditionnal family dinner, you usually dont eat cheese instead of dessert but cheese AND dessert. And as a cheese + dessert meal is quite hearty, most of the restaurants in the past ten years tend to offer cheese or dessert in their menu. It depends on what is your favorite guilty pleasure : a Saint-Marcellin or a crème brûlée! Anyway, there is always cheese in the fridge or in the kitchen, so anyone can eat what they want!

  • Arlyn Lichthardt

    At a restaurant I usually skip the cheese and order a cafe gourmand. That way I get a little of everything. At home, just to be polite, I might have a tiny slice of tome de savoie, maroille or munster, and a vinegrette-dressed leaf or two of mixed greens — then dessert.

  • paulo

    же от роте веро ще ве лоте

  • Boise Runner

    ooh i have a birthday to prepare for later this month and i think i am going to use this as a guide. we would enjoy cheese waaay more then cake

  • http://www.acnewleaf.de/plauderecke/ Urumi “4U”

    I’ve got a big problem !
    I don’t understand all peopels here!
    I’m german !
    Please help me :O

  • http://www.acnewleaf.de/plauderecke/ Urumi “4U”

    But nice page here ;)

  • jstew52

    Ok Adam, I bow to you. I’ve made several of your recommendations and they all rock. This soup was the star of the show last night! Thanks for everything and I’m loving the book. I have asparagus in the fridge and want to try McGee’s idea for hollandaise soon! Cheers, Judith (p.s. guys, Adam is so great he answered my random question about butternut squash tortellini (which stole the show as well) via email while on vacation in Australia – going above an beyond the call of duty!

  • bc

    I made the soup. A huge success. Thanks so much!

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