A few weeks ago, The New York Times ran a long, curious story about home cooks who sustain injuries while operating their immersion blenders.
"Who are these people?" I wondered of the victims who recounted their visits to the emergency room as well as their ruined batches of Carrie-at-the-prom cookie dough. I have an immersion blender, but I couldn't imagine putting my fingers anywhere near the blades without making sure it was powered off — just as I couldn't imagine changing lanes on the interstate without taking at least a cursory glance in the rearview mirror.
But between the article and the snap of cold weather at the time, I did get a sudden hankering to use the immersion blender to whip up a batch of cream soup. This kind of soup is something that seems so old-fashioned I'm almost embarrassed to make it. But it always gets a thumbs up from the family. Cream of potato, cream of carrot, cream of cabbage: The more lowly and commonplace the vegetable, the warmer the welcome.
Let me lay down my quick rules of homemade soup: If I have a container of good homemade stock in the freezer, I almost always will turn it into a chunky bean, farro or vegetable soup to showcase its flavor and body. If I have a couple of emergency quarts of chicken broth in the pantry left over from Thanksgiving, then I hide it in a cream soup.
Many restaurant kitchens have taken the basic cream soup and elevated it to showcase-appetizer status. They mix the base in a high-performance blender, such as the Vitamix, until it becomes as soft and glossy as liquid silk. The soup may then get a last-minute spin in the blender or a visit from a cappuccino wand until the surface froths. And then the cooks garnish the soup — usually with something salty and crunchy to contrast its velvety texture and add another layer of flavor.
Without any disrespect to restaurant chefs, I think a home cook needs no garnish. If your soup looks like something that was served to 19th century farmhands by dour women in long aprons, all the better. Steaming, thick and army green, it should smell appetizing and have layers of flavor that open up on the spoon without any tricks.
To build these layers takes a little, not a lot, of patience. You need to really cook your base aromatics — onions, leeks, dried herbs — until they're released and concentrated any juices. You need to simmer the starring vegetable with a little potato (for thickening) for a good long spell until it has given up any texture or fight.
Then you add the cream, which works like an Instagram filter — blurring the edges of these ingredients yet amping up their colorful essences. That touch of fat makes the leek and shallot jump from the background.
I do have a little trick here, which is I like to use Mexican or Salvadoran crema — a lightly soured cream that is a bit thicker than heavy cream and contains a natural emulsifier that helps keep the soup's smooth texture after it boils.
There's one more trick: I like to add a judicious pinch of MSG to give that canned broth a boost and keeps me from over-salting the soup.
If the thought of MSG weirds you out, then a shot of fish sauce gives the same flavor boost.
Cream of broccoli soup Hands on: 10 minutes. Total time: 40 minutes. Serves: 8 2 tablespoons butter 1 large leek, white and light green part only, chopped and rinsed 1 large shallot, chopped 1 teaspoon dried thyme 6 cups chicken broth 2 broccoli crowns, chopped 1 large white or russet potato, peeled and chopped 2 bay leaves 1/3 cup cream or sour cream to finish (optional) Salt and freshly ground black pepper 1/4 teaspoon monosodium glutamate (optional) Melt the butter over medium-low heat in the bottom of a 5-quart pot. Add the leek, shallot and thyme and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are wilted, very fragrant and just starting to color — about 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth, broccoli and potato, turn up heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add the bay leaves and cook, covered, for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are mush. Remove the bay leaves and blend in the pot with an immersion blender until smooth. (Alternately, transfer ingredients to standing blender, blend, then return to the pot.) Add the optional cream or sour cream and season to taste with salt, pepper and the optional MSG. Bring just to the boil, check seasoning and serve.
Today is Tuesday, March 11, the 70th day of 2014. There are 295 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Much damage is being done by hogs that are running at large about town. The marshal will take them up and sell them if their owners do not contain them. 1889 -- 125 years ago: George Newberry, Daniel Strecker, Al Webb and James Dixon returned from a voyage down the Mississippi River as far as Memphis, Tenn., on a flat. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Augustana College was put out of the running for the state collegiate basketball title when defeated by Millikin. The Viking lineup included Sten, Samuelson and Swanbeck, forwards, and Holtgren, Johnson and Berg, guards. 1939 -- 75 years ago: The coronation of Pope Pius XII and preliminary ceremonies were broadcast by WHBF on the Mutual Radio Network. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Reactivation of a portion of the J.I. Case Co, plant in Rock Island as a supplier for component parts for the firm's manufacturing centers at Racine, Wis., or Burlington, Iowa, is under consideration. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Downtown Moline business owners will have a chance to help shape the city's future through a survey being done by the Bi-State Metropolitan Planning Commission.