I was recently at a luncheon at my friend’s house. She’s a wonderful cook and served a purée of mushroom soup that had a velvet consistency.

When I asked her how she achieved this wonderful soup, she said it was using her new favorite kitchen appliance, the Vita-Mix. I coveted the Vita-Mix and now have my very own and am puréeing to my heart’s content!

When I got the machine, I watched the accompanying video and followed all the instructions but, I was a little shy about using it. Once I washed it out and began to be creative, it was a cinch to use and there was no stopping me. Since much of my cooking style is healthful eating, this was the perfect machine for me. I can make purées of vegetable soups, I can create low-fat desserts, and I can purée sauces with natural ingredients rather than adding thickeners or starches.

The recipes in the book that accompanies the machine are good, especially the vegetable juices but I wanted to add my own twist. I love the flavor of sautéed onion, rather than raw and I sautéed and roasted many of the vegetables before making my soups. This way I had more flavor plus the amazing velvety texture that the Vita-Mix gives to all purées.

For more information about Vita-Mix, go to www.vitamix.com.

Here are some of my new favorite recipes using the Vitamix:

PORTABELLO MUSHROOM and LEEK SOUP with PANCETTA CROUTONS
Serves: 6-8

8 ounces pancetta, finely diced
3 Tablespoons olive oil
4 leeks, cleaned and chopped
5 large ribs celery, chopped
1 pound portabella mushrooms (or portabellini smaller mushrooms, gills removed, wiped clean, and chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

1/2 Cup dry sherry

1 quart low-sodium chicken broth

salt and freshly ground white pepper

Garnish: freshly grated Parmesan cheese and crisped chopped pancetta

1. In a small nonstick skillet, cook the pancetta until it is golden brown. Drain on paper towels and set aside.

2. In a large saucepan heat the olive oil to medium high and sauté the leeks, celery, and mushrooms, stirring often, until softened, about 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Add the garlic and thyme leaves and stir for 30 seconds. Increase the heat to high, add the sherry and cook until the liquid is almost evaporated.

4. Add the broth and salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.

5. Purée the soup in the Vita-Mix until smooth.

6. Reheat if necessary and serve hot garnished with the Parmesan cheese and reserved pancetta croutons.

NATURALLY CREAMY TOMATO SOUP
Serves: 6

1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 rib celery, roughly chopped
1/4 Cup raw long-grain rice
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 28-ounce can fire-roasted or chopped tomatoes with liquid
1/4 Cup tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 Cups chicken broth
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Garnish: chopped fresh parsley
Accompaniments: toasted crusty bread

1. In a large non-stick saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat.

2. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring often, until just softened but not browned.

3. Add the rice and garlic and stir to combine for 30 seconds. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 to 35 minutes, until the rice and vegetables are softened.

4. Allow the soup to cool slightly and then purée in the Vita-Mix until smooth.

5. Adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper as necessary, and serve hot, garnished with the chopped parsley and accompanied by the crusty bread.

ROASTED CARROT and ORANGE SOUP
Serves: 4

When we first got married, my husband Peter and I used to spend our wedding anniversaries at romantic and special restaurants. Yes, this was before I became a restaurant critic and was still a young Mama which made these occasions truly special. One of our favorite outings was to The Box Tree Hotel and Restaurant in Purdy’s New York where they served the most amazing tomato orange soup upon which I base this recipe.

1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, cut into 8 pieces
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 1/2 Cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 14 1/2-ounce can crushed tomatoes (fire-roasted tomatoes are preferred)
1 Tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons freshly grated orange rind
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme crumbled

Garnish: chopped fresh grated orange rind and parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly coat a large Dutch oven or deep skillet with a cover with olive oil cooking spray.

2. Place the carrots and onions in the pan, season with salt and pepper, coat with additional olive oil cooking spray, and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the carrots and onions are slightly tender and lightly golden, turning occasionally.

3. Add the broth to the pan, scraping all the brown bits into the liquid. Add the tomatoes, orange juice, orange rind, garlic, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender.

4. Allow the soup to cool slightly and then place in the Vita-Mix and purée until smooth. If the soup is too thick, add additional chicken broth until the desired consistency.

5. Serve the soup hot garnished with freshly chopped grated orange rind and parsley.

SWEET CORN SOUP
Serves: 6-8

Serve this soup chilled in the summer or heat it up if it gets cooler at the beach on fall nights.

4 ears fresh corn, husked
1 large sweet onion, roughly chopped
4 Cups low-sodium chicken broth
salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Garnish: light sour cream and snipped chives

1. Break the corn cobs in half crosswise and place them in a large, heavy pot. Add the onion, cover with the broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes or until the onions are very tender.

2. Remove the corn from the liquid and allow to cool. Allow the soup to cool in the pot for at least half an hour.

3. Cut the kernels off the cob making sure to get the full flavor of the cob. Working in batches, purée the corn with the broth in the Vita-Mix until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper and chill in a covered container.

4. When ready to serve, place a dollop of sour cream on each serving, top with snipped chives, and serve chilled.

CUCUMBER YOGURT SOUP with FRESH MINT
Serves: 4

This light soup uses nonfat or low-fat yogurt as the base in place of the more traditional sour cream. Not much salt is needed since the flavor of the soup is enhanced naturally with the fresh herbs.
Cucumbers, a relative of melons, are very high in water, giving them refreshing properties that no doubt prompted the description “cool as a cucumber.”

1 large “European” hothouse cucumber, split and coarsely chopped, or 2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 large scallions, (green and white parts included)
1 1/2 Tablespoons snipped fresh dill
1 clove garlic, crushed and peeled
2 Cups nonfat or low-fat plain yogurt
salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Garnish: sliced cucumbers, sliced radishes, chopped scallions, and grated hard cooked egg (optional)

1. Place the cucumber, mint, scallions, dill, and garlic in the Vita-Mix and purée until just smooth. Add the yogurt and continue to purée until smooth.

2. Chill for 4 6 hours or overnight.

3. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper and serve the soup with the accompanying garnishes of cucumbers, radishes, scallions and egg.

LIGHT WASABI MAYONNAISE
Yield: 1 1/3 cups

Use this eye-opening sauce with cooked seafood or chicken or simply as a delicious dip for fresh vegetables. I usually use about 2 tablespoons of the wasabi paste but if you like it hotter, by all means up the ante on the wasabi!

1 Cup light mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons fresh wasabi paste (or more depending on taste)
1 Tablespoon drained capers
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
salt to taste

1. Combine the ingredients in the Vita-Mix and pulse until smooth.

2. Place in a covered container and refrigerate the sauce until ready to use.

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