Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cream of Carrot soup

I'm always horrified when a young man tells me that he can't cook or doesn't know what sort of things to buy in a grocery store. What are the mothers of these fellows thinking, catering to them every day of their lives and keeping them in a state of infantile helplessness? And, more to the point, why weren't they getting the kids to do the shopping and cooking? I was doing the housework at home from age eight.

Over the years, I've taught quite a few young men to cook, usually starting by smacking them upside the head and chastising them for being idiots. Knowing how to buy at least half-way healthy food, and knowing what to do with it when you get it home, is a basic survival skill and it boggles my mind that parents could allow their sons to go out into the world without having taught them how to do it.

Young men, I think you should know that it is not endearing, cute or attractive in any way to be helpless and unable to fend for yourself. The kind of woman you might want to marry will not be interested in taking on such a burden. Be a man; learn to cook.

So, get cracking. The best cookbook you can buy, and probably the only one you will ever need, is the Joy of Cooking, which is more like a cooking and food text book than a cookbook. Get a second-hand one. Older editions (mine are my mother's 1986 edition and a friend's mother's 1942) have line drawings that clearly illustrate the techniques of cooking. The Joy is kind of an institution and although American, has conversion tables for English weights and measures.

Here's a recipe that is simple to shop for, healthy and cheap to get you started.

At the grocery store, buy one block of butter (sold by the pound, but in grams; 454g= 1 pound) a packet of carrots, two onions, a bulb of fresh garlic, a pint of whole milk and 250 mls of cream (often sold as "whipping cream" or "heavy cream"), a box of vegetable or chicken Oxo cubes, a few potatoes.

When choosing vegetables and fruit, always look for and reject any with soft or brown spots, squishy bits or anything slimy. Most groceries will sell fruit and veg out of season but it's a good idea to get to know what kinds of things grow in which seasons. Out-of-season fruit and veg is often much poorer quality, unripe or artificially force-ripened and never as good for you. Carrots, potatoes, onions and garlic, however, are pretty seasonless, can be found everywhere and are at the rock bottom of the price

six medium carrots
two medium potatoes
two small cloves garlic
one onion
one tbsp butter
one chicken or veg Oxo cube
two cups whole milk
one cup heavy cream
one tbsp curry powder (optional)

You will need a large pot or saucepan, a knife sharp enough to cut veg (dull knives are dangerous knives), a cutting board (always buy a wooden one, never plastic), a potato peeler, a wooden spoon and a blender. With these tools, plus a decent frying pan and maybe a steamer, you can keep yourself in decent food all the time. A couple of baking tins, cake tins, are a good idea too. They can be used for single-serving meat and chicken in the oven and are very cheap and multipurpose.

Always read through the whole recipe first before you get started chopping and peeling, to make sure you have everything.

Peel and chop about six carrots, two medium potatoes and an onion. Mince two cloves of garlic very fine. Over a low heat, melt the butter in the saucepan (butter burns at a very low temperature, so don't give in to the temptation to turn the heat way up. This is the most common error made by cooking beginners. It doesn't make anything go faster, but burns the food before it's cooked) then add the veg, except the potatoes, to saute until the onions turn transparent and the whole thing starts smelling nice.

Once the veg starts looking close to being cooked, add the potatoes a single Oxo cube and about a litre of water. Cover and simmer on a low heat for fifteen minutes or so, until the carrots are very soft. Add about two cups of milk and simmer for five more minutes. Keep the heat low and keep an eye on it (don't go into the other room and read or surf the net) because milk will tend to boil over and make a mess.

While it's still hot, ladle a quantity of the soup into the blender, about half way full, and blend on high for a couple of minutes. With the blender running, take the top-knot thingy out, and pour in about half the cream. Blend for another minute.

Repeat until all the soup is blended with the cream.


It should be light and frothy but very filling. It's also very nice with a little grated pecorino on top. (But then, what isn't?)

Blended cream soups, always with a little potato for density, are best served immediately and don't keep very well in the fridge. I've given here a recipe that will make enough for about three small servings. If you are feeling adventuresome, you can add a tablespoon or so of mild curry powder while the veg is sauteing in the butter.


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