Curried Lentil Soup

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I’m not a religious person except when it comes to the healing power of chicken soup. At the first sniffle of a new cold, I’m usually plopping a raw chicken into a pot with root vegetables and parsley and dill; or, more recently, doctoring homemade chicken broth with ginger, soy sauce, and chile paste. Last Thursday, though, I felt a cold coming on and instead of turning to the feathered gods wearing yarmulkes in a jacuzzi, I turned to a new god, one whose soup mastery revealed itself on Craig’s birthday with celery root and pears. That god is Alfred Portale and I’m now an official acolyte, studying his under-appreciated cookbook, Simple Pleasures, the way Madonna studies Kabbalah. It’s powerful stuff.

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

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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.

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Cold-Killing Chicken Soup with Ginger, Chili Paste and Soy Sauce

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The first time that I made a really good chicken soup (documented here), it felt like I’d translated an ancient Jewish text–the Dead Soup Scrolls–and that the resulting soup was irrefutable, everlasting, not-to-be-tampered with. Then, over time, I began to realize that the recipe, which is really just a formula for a very concentrated chicken stock, flavored with root vegetables, and freshened up with more vegetables and dill at the end, was really just that: a formula. A guideline. You could play around and the Jewish police wouldn’t arrest you. So, a few weeks ago, when I had the start of a pretty nasty cold, I decided to integrate some of the flavors that make ramen so curative when colds start to hit hard. And the results were tremendous indeed.

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Scallop Chowder

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When Rebecca Charles of New York’s celebrated Pearl Oyster Bar first taught me the recipe for her scallop chowder, I asked if it was possible to substitute milk for the cream. She looked at me like I was crazy. “Why would you want to do that?” she asked. Good question.

This recipe (featured in SECRETS OF THE BEST CHEFS, a great holiday gift!) is one of the simplest, most comforting winter foods you can possibly make. Turns out, it’s all about the cream which has the remarkable ability to take on whatever flavors you heat it up with. In dessert, that flavored mixture becomes ice cream; here it becomes chowder.

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Soup of Cannellini Beans with Pasta and Rosemary

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Well if the banner says it’s autumn, it’s autumn. So let’s make soup.

Soup really tests your cooking prowess because there’s always a way to make it taste better. Even if you’re not crazy about the results, you can fix them. For example: when Gina DePalma taught me how to make her lentil soup (which Smitten Kitchen featured on her blog) the key step was sizzling garlic in olive oil and stirring it in at the end. That’s the ultimate soup fixer-upper. Today’s soup comes to us from Chez Panisse Cooking and there’s a lot of flavor introduced up front so it doesn’t need much fixing at the end.

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Avocado Soup

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A confession: If I do a dinner recipe on the blog on a Friday? It’s usually my worst one. Not necessarily because it doesn’t taste good, usually it’s because the picture isn’t good. It’s the post I didn’t want to blog on Monday or Tuesday and then Wednesday came around and by Thursday I was like, “Do I even bother?” But this morning I thought about it and decided to post this avocado soup because it really is a good one. It’s just an ugly picture (especially since I mutchkered with it—“mutchker” is a Yiddish verb my mom uses to mean “mess with”–and over-saturated it). Ignore its green slime quality and let me tell you how to make it.

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Creamy Creamless Cauliflower Soup

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Sometimes it takes a person’s wild enthusiasm to get you to try a recipe that doesn’t immediately jump off the page. Take, for example, Paul Bertolli’s cauliflower soup. After I declared my love for cauliflower in this Cauliflower Casserole post, a commenter named Eliza said, “If you love cauliflower, you should try Paul Bertolli’s Cauliflower Soup, especially with the spring crop of cauliflower beginning to show up in the farmers markets. This soup is rich, creamy (without any cream) yet fresh tasting. Only 4 ingredients – olive oil, onion, cauliflower and water – make magic.” The recipe didn’t sell me, but Eliza did. So I tried it.

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Easy Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

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Sometimes I write recipe posts where I share a recipe at the end and other times I write recipe posts where the recipe is embedded in the post itself. There’s a reason for that!

Recipe posts where the recipe’s at the end are the kinds of recipes where specific amounts matter; recipe posts where I just write a recipe as part of a larger narrative are recipes where you can just wing it. So, Sam Sifton’s Pear Cobbler? You need to follow those instructions. But my Butternut Squash Soup with Whiskey Ginger Cream? That’s a totally improvised recipe and I wanted to give you the power to improvise your own version. If I’d written that with specific amounts, chances are you would’ve just replicated what I did instead of doing it your own way. The soup will taste better if you do it your way.

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