In my family, there is this thing we do when we find something we want. Some might call it obsess. Some might call it fixate. However you want to name it, both of my brothers and I will, on occasion, seize upon something and not let it go until it is ours. My dad has a touch of this characteristic so it probably came from his gene pool. This thing we want is not necessarily a tangible thing. Maybe it’s an experience we want to try or a place we want to visit. One of the earliest memories I have of this trait is my brother Alex saying over and over again that he wanted to go see the movie Outrageous Fortune. It was 1987 and we were on a ski vacation staying in sleepy town in central Washington. All that stands out from that trip is him saying, “All right, let’s go see Outrageous Fortune” over and over again until we finally went just to shut him up already.
This same brother recently got it in his head that he wanted an almost full sleeve Polynesian tattoo. (For the record, my family is Jewish and hails from Eastern Europe.) He did a lot of research and found that one of the experts in the country lives in Vegas. He booked two trips and sat for almost 24 hours under the needle to get this tattoo. His wife was not excited about it but she has learned that once Alex gets an idea in his head, that idea is happening. My brother Michael’s obsessions have included bikes and biking gear. With my dad, stereo equipment. Me, well, there have been some big things – like the past two houses we have owned – and small-ish. Like a blender.
About a year ago, I got it in my head that I needed a VitaMix blender. I had seen enough bloggers write love letters to their VitaMix and knew enough people who had an adored one that I felt it was the one appliance keeping my kitchen from being perfect. I had a blender, of course, but it was over ten years old and really didn’t work that well.
Now, I am more subtle than Alex. I only worked the VitaMix into conversations a couple of times a week for an entire year – not multiple times daily. But I did it enough that Spencer, who is not quite five, said as I was making him a lumpy smoothie, “Mommy, you need a new blender”. Lo and behold, a few weeks before Christmas, we got a friends and family discount coupon from Williams Sonoma for 20% off. Now, those blenders never go on sale – never. The price at Costco is the same price everywhere – there is no deal to be had. I know this because my husband looked around to, you know, shut me up already, and he kept finding the same price. And that price is expensive. But 20% off is slightly less expensive so Randy passed the coupon on to Santa and the man in red brought me a blender.
My first smoothie test drive came on Christmas morning. And it was good. Smooth. Not earth shattering. And I had to keep using the tamper to move the contents around so the blades would keep moving. Is this what you get for an over $400 blender? I kept making smoothies and kept worrying that I had made a mistake. Wondering if Williams Sonoma might take back a blender without the box because it’s not earth-shattering. So I started asking around. What did people who owned them make in their VitaMix? What made it irresistible? I got several different answers but all the people I asked said soup.
Of course. That dreamy but ever elusive soup with the smooth velvety texture you find in restaurants. The perfect purée. I have tried with my food processor, my blender, and my very competent immersion blender but I could never get a lump free soup. I even tried all three appliances for one soup for a very special dinner and I made an enormous mess and a still somewhat lumpy soup. An intriguing bread recipe came through my inbox recently, which I will write about soon, and there was a link to a celery root soup. I knew this would be my test run for the blender.
Do you use celery root in your cooking? I think it is the loveliest tasting ugly vegetable out there. I love recipes that tell you to “peel” it – I know of no peeler you could use to successfully navigate the thick skin and gnarly roots of this beauty. A sharp knife is the best tool for this job and under that somewhat scary exterior lies a smooth white subtly scented interior. Celery root is wonderful shaved raw, diced and sautéed, simmered, and boiled to oblivion and puréed. Not too many vegetables you can say that about. In this soup, it simmers along with leek, potato, garlic, and a chopped apple. I added some thyme to the recipe – it needed an herb. Your end result is one of those subtly flavored, perfectly textured soups that tastes creamy, feels creamy in the mouth, but contains no cream. In fact, this soup is vegan. I’m keeping that VitaMix.
I topped this soup with a sprinkle of garlicky breadcrumbs that I had leftover from another recipe. I loved the added dimension of texture and the hint of flavor. This soup would also taste great with larger croutons of grilled bread or without any garnish at all.
1 cup thinly sliced leek (about 1 medium), white and light green parts only
Kosher or sea salt
2 ½ pounds celery root, also known as celeriac (about 3 medium), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
12 ounces boiling potatoes (about 2 large), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium tart apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped or 1 tsp. dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cups water
2 cups vegetable broth (I like Rapunzel brand)
Bread crumbs, for garnish (optional)
Garlicky breadcrumbs, optional
Place a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high. Pour in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom, then add the leeks with a large pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add celery root, potatoes, apple, garlic, thyme, another pinch salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Stir to coat vegetables with oil, add water and broth, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until vegetables just give way when pierced with a knife, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Using a blender, purée the soup in batches until smooth, removing the small cap from the blender lid (the pour lid) and covering the space with a kitchen towel (this allows steam from the hot soup to escape and prevents the blender lid from popping off). Once blended, transfer the soup back to the saucepan and keep warm over low heat. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed. To serve, drizzle with olive oil and breadcrumbs if desired.
3 large thick slices stale country bread
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher or sea salt
Tear the slices of bread into small pieces. Put into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process into very fine crumbs. You may need to stop the machine and move the bread around a bit and will have to process for a couple of minutes to get the right consistency. Set aside.
Place a sauté pan over medium heat. Drizzle in the oil, then add the bread crumbs and the garlic along with a large pinch of salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the bread is nice and crunchy, about 10 minutes. Set aside. (Unused breadcrumbs can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days.)