Thursday, July 17, 2008

Please Advise

Oh, the things for which we lust.

I’ve had a thing for carrot soup ever since I tried Crescent Dragonwagon’s Carrot-Orange Soup with a Toasted Cashew Garnish in her beautiful cookbook, Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread. My version was a tad lighter than hers—I omitted the heavy cream, the brandy, and the cashews—but oh, how I loved that soup. It was voluptuously thick with the rich, clear flavors of carrot, onion, orange, and butter. I made it over and over again, delighting in the way it brightened every meal with its gorgeous orange color. And then I just stopped making it. Period. I don’t know why. Prior to this past weekend, I cannot remember the last time I had carrot soup. I’ve had soups with carrots in them, but a pureed carrot soup is a different creature altogether.

Every time I thought about carrot soup, I felt a pang of longing—I missed it so much! Finally, while reading Amanda Hesser’s very entertaining courtship memoir Cooking for Mr. Latte, I had had enough. After a chapter about Sunday night dinner with friends and carrot-and-fennel soup, I drew up a grocery list and knew that soon enough, I would be reunited with my long-lost love.

It might be obvious from the recipe index, but I am a devoted soup-maker. For all the reasons that Anne describes and more, I am crazy about soups. I make almost all of my soups in a hand-me-down black pot covered in white speckles. I inherited this piece of cookware from my sister-in-law, who happily passed along to me a giant box of assorted kitchen supplies. The contents of the box were culled from various kitchens as “un-needed” and had been languishing in her garage for some time. My pot, Speckled, came from this box and we’ve been together ever since.

Speckled has one tiny flaw: it is almost impossible to sautee things inside this pot. Speckled is made of a thin metal which, for whatever reason, does not conduct heat to fat very kindly. The fat, be it oil or butter, starts to smoke even at extremely low temperatures, and my vegetables burn. It’s not pretty. Long ago, I had given up on sauteeing things in Speckled. Instead, I would sautee in a skillet and transfer things to Speckled for simmering. This system works, but I miss the pleasure and efficiency of making soup in just one pot.

Back to the carrot soup. Intrigued by a carrot-orange soup that includes fennel, I let Amanda Hesser sweet-talk me into trying her soup. I decided to do something courageous: I sauteed the fennel, garlic, and carrots in Speckled, reasoning that if things looked grim, I could quickly transfer things to a skillet. Not surprisingly, the butter smoked a bit, but I managed to complete the soup, from start to finish, in Speckled and was rewarded with a gorgeous carrot and fennel soup laced with fresh orange juice and a generous dab of sour cream. It was smooth, rich, savory, and just a tiny bit sweet. It was different from my tried-and-true recipe, but a good different. A delicious different.

Despite this happy ending, I now know what I must do. When the United States government announced its Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, I knew for sure that I’d be using that economic stimulus check to stimulate my belly. I just wasn’t sure how. Now I am confident that what is needed here is a high-quality soup pot, one that is sautee-friendly, sturdy, and beautiful. It should be a soup pot in which it is fun and easy to cook. I’m not throwing out Speckled; I’m just buying a companion pot.

Please advise me: which pot should I buy? One brand that swiftly comes to mind is Le Creuset. Heaven knows their goods are gorgeous, and two trusted cooks have sung their praises to my ears. I’m very tempted…but what other brands should I be considering? What pots do you love, dear reader? What pots have served you well over the years? Remember: the health of the economy, and my belly, rests on this very important decision!


boston girlie said...

Well, I can't claim to be a pot expert, nor do I care much about the popular brands. So, take my recommendation with that in mind. We have All Clad pots and pans, and they work very well for us. For soups in particular, we have a standard size pot and a double size, which is excellent for a party. Yay for buying new pots!

JD said...

I cannot give any advice on pot selection, but I can tell you I looooove kitchen stuff. It is like I am a crackhead in a crackhouse at a Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Anonymous said...

No idea on the pot. Most of our pots are hand-me-downs from my grandma. :) I'm just here to say that I like the new kitchen protocols. Very handy.

The Husband is like a POOR crackhead in a crackhouse. We end up buying $5 items!


Rosiecat said...

All-Clad, hmm, Boston Girlie? I take your recommendation highly, as you and your husband are excellent cooks. I'll look into their cookware more...and I don't care about popularity either!

JD, me too, me too! Looking at kitchen and home stuff is a little like looking at art for me--there is much pleasure in looking and touching. But I did not know you had such a passion for these goods! The next time I see you and the Wife, perhaps we should go to a Bed, Bath, and Beyond for fun.

AMPD, grandmas are the best, aren't they? I'm glad you like the new kitchen protocols--I like them too. And you're hilarious! I, like the Husband, am also poor and if you can treat yourself on $5, I say go for it! I have a treasured pancake-flipper that I got for ~$5, and it's one of the best things I've ever bought for my kitchen.

Mmmm, pancakes... ;-)

daphna said...

Hey Rose-Anne,

I'm back after being MIA for a bit. :) I think either an All-Clad stainless steel pot or a Le Creuset one would be great! The downside of a Creuset would be that I've heard they have to be babied because the inside is enamel, and they run around $300 or so. We have the All Clad, but I've always been curious about the Creuset.

One thing you HAVE TO GET is a good cast iron pan or two! I just bought a 10 inch Lodge one on amazon for $10. That's right, $10! You won't even need your stimulus check for that baby. :)

daphna said...

P.S. I am currently eating Lunar Gazpacho. The bestest food for summer!

boston girlie said...

Also, we bought an amazing non-stick paella pan from IKEA of all places for $20. It's great for smaller stews, casseroles, and stir frys. We use it whenever a recipe calls for a "large non-stick skillet." IKEA has a surprising collection of kitchen supplies that are fun and cheap, if you can manage the craziness of the store. Maybe they would have a good pot?

As a note, our All-Clad pots are stainless steel, like Daphna's.

Rosiecat said...

Hey D! I hope the studying has been going well for you. MIA is A-OK when you're busy doing important things like homework :-) I have to look into the All-Clad pots; I know less about them than the Le Creuset. Part of me wants to splurge on the Le Creuset because I've been told it's just wonderful to cook in them. So we'll see.

$10 for cast iron! That's awesome. It's definitely the other essential cooking item on my list for this summer.

I love Lunar Gazpacho too!

Boston Girlie, your mention of a paella pan makes me hungry for paella! I had a fantastic vegetable paella at a tapas restaurant a couple of weeks ago--we scraped the plate CLEAN it was so good. It might be worth a trip out to IKEA to check out their stuff. It's nice to have a larger non-stick skillet for big sautees and stir-fries--you can spread everything out and I think it cooks better. Things get sauteed instead of steamed.

Nick said...

I too am a soup lover, but I hate making it. In addition to thoroughly enjoying a carrot puree soup, I'm obsessed with any soup that is orange in color. Pumpkin soup, sweet potato soup, carrot or butternut squash, it makes no difference to me as long as it has one or more of those ingredients. I suppose something with pureed oranges in it would be good as well to add a touch of sweetness. No idea on the pot though...Good luck on your search!

daphna said...

Well, now I'm thinking that you should get the Le Creuset and then after a few weeks I can temporarily trade you for the All Clad. Then we can try each other's! Or maybe we can use your Le Creuset at a cooking party.

boston girlie said...

Hey look! You have double-digit comments! *wink*

Rosiecat said...

There is something lovely about orange-colored soups, Nick. I always feel like they are bursting with health. That's too bad you don't like making soup! Soup-making is one of my very favorite things to do in the kitchen.

A pot swap, Daphna? I like the idea! We could trade AND try out my new pot at one of our cooking parties. How's that for overachievement?

Double digit comments! I'm blushing with pleasant surprise, Boston Girlie!