I’ve made a gazillion soups over the years with tomatoes in them. I have a delicious recipe for roasted red pepper and tomato soup. But somehow, I never made tomato soup until this past weekend. I’m not sure why I didn’t get to it sooner (it’s not like I had a self-imposed moratorium on tomato soup making), but I had some new Nordic Ware Pro Cast Traditions cookware to try out and was motivated to make a new recipe. I’m glad I did!
Because I have two kinds of tomatoes in my freezer – Roma and beefsteak – I decided to make a small batch of each for comparison purposes. I seasoned the Roma tomato soup with dried basil and the beefsteak with dried tarragon. To up the nutritional value of the soup, I used lentil stock and red lentils contributed extra body. The final results? Both soups delivered tangy tomato flavour that benefitted from some mellowing through the addition of a small amount of milk, and both had a Goldilocks-approved consistency (not too thin, not too thick). The Roma was slightly thicker, redder, and richer in flavour, but honestly, both were good. After eating them separately, in the end I combined what was left of both batches, straining it through a medium sieve for added refinement, and tossed in a bit more of the basil.
I have a lot of tomatoes left, so I see some big batches of this soup in our future. Considering that the Culinary Enthusiast just had three helpings of it, I don’t think he’ll mind.
Tomato soup isn’t the only thing around here that’s new. I’m a proud member of Food Bloggers of Canada and am very excited about attending the first ever Canadian food bloggers conference this weekend. Now, all conferences have a certain degree of swag but I’m really bowled over by what’s been happening for this one. The giveaways have already started — a few weeks ago I received a package at home from Nordic Ware, a Gold Sponsor of the conference. And look what it contained!
- Nordic Ware Pro Cast Traditions Aluminum 3 Quart Dutch Oven
- Nordic Ware Pro Cast Traditions Aluminum 12-Inch Braiser Pan
- Nordic Ware 365 Chicken Leg and Jalapeno Griller
We assess things with our eyes first and I was so impressed with the look of this cookware – nothing plodding or pedestrian about it. Its styling is pleasing to the eye and the deep cranberry red colour of the enamel exterior is striking. I have to say, these pots and pans look pretty sexy against my white stovetop with its black grills.
Moving beyond the important (yet admittedly superficial) considerations of appearance, I was impressed by the quality of the cookware. I’ve been thinking about investing in a showcase piece of cast iron cookware, but have been concerned about the weight. As you may be aware, I have issues with both of my wrists and need to think about such things. The Pro Cast Traditions line is cast aluminum. It still has a pleasing heft to it but without the “can I lift it” worry associated with cast iron. The Culinary Enthusiast, who is professionally knowledgeable about such things, says the quality of the workmanship, machining and finishing is beautiful.
My only misgiving upon first seeing the cookware was the nonstick finish. I tend to avoid nonstick out of health concerns under certain conditions or should it become scratched. It’s not that I’m a careless cook, but things do happen, such as accidentally using a metal spatula or someone stacking pots together for storage. While I have a small non-stick skillet for cooking eggs, Ive always been leery of investing in a whole set. I also wondered about chipping the enamel finish. The brochure says it will not chip or crack, however yesterday I was dismayed to notice some very small chips on the handles of the Dutch oven. I will follow up with Nordic Ware about these to see how they respond and provide an update here.
I wanted to test this cookware in a couple of different ways. One method was to make the same dish (the tomato soup in this post) using both the Nordic Ware Dutch oven and my own professional quality stainless steel pot of a similar size. The first step in making the soup was to sweat the onions and celery. They weren’t supposed to take on any colour, but I turned away from the stove a little too long and in both pots the vegetables were starting to brown. Not only that, but they were also sticking to my stainless steel pot; I was happy to see that was not the case at all in the Nordic Ware.
I also appreciated the well-fitting lids of the Nordic Ware. There was no clattering, splattering, sputtering or spitting, and that was the case not only with this soup but also with a pot of lentils and another of tomato sauce that I also cooked in the Dutch oven. In contrast, my stainless steel pot did some major soup splattering on my stovetop that led to extensive cleanup.
I also tested the cookware was by using it to make a dish that I’ve made many times before, in this case chicken thighs simmered in hearty tomato sauce (a variation on my recent spaghetti squash and meatballs recipe).
Misgivings about non-stick finishes aside, I found that the pan worked beautifully for browning meats (much quicker than in my stainless steel deep skillet) and without sticking, although I did miss the bits that stick to the pan and add extra flavour to the sauce through the deglazing step. Then again, all that flavour stayed on the chicken thighs and also helped season the sauce. So perhaps it’s six of one and a half dozen of the other.
The 12-inch braiser pan is a great size for working with meat dishes. It easily accommodated eight chicken thighs and I used it again yesterday to braise a pound of beef along with vegetables. I could easily have put even three times as much meat into the pan if I browned it in batches. It’s oven-proof up to 425º, but I’ve only used it on the stove top so far (I’m recovering from a broken wrist and would need help getting the pan in and out of the oven). The Nordic Ware lids are self-basting, designed to keep the moisture in your dish. This is a great feature for certain types of cooking, such as making soups or braising. Also, the braiser pan is attractive enough to put on the table as a serving dish — can’t say that about the stainless steel pan that I usually use for dishes like this.
Like all quality cookware, the Nordic Ware benefits from some care and attention for cleaning and storage, such as washing by hand and not stacking pots together unless separated by a soft cloth. It’s worth it to protect your investment.
All in all, I’m very pleased to have these two pieces of cookware added to my collection. I haven’t tried the 365 Chicken Leg and Jalapeno Griller yet; I’m saving that for barbecue season. Based on my experience, I would recommend Nordic Ware’s Pro Cast Traditions line to anyone who is looking for nonstick cookware.
DISCLAIMER: I received this Nordic Ware cookware as a gift for registering for the 2013 Food Bloggers of Canada Conference. I was not required to write a review, but have done so to be eligible for a Grand Prize drawing for a larger set of Nordic Ware products (should I win, I will provide an itemized list). In writing this review, I have expressed my own opinions based on my experience with these products.
UPDATE: Imagine this scene — the Nordic Ware representatives took to the stage at the Food Bloggers of Canada conference to wish attendees well and thank those who wrote reviews of the cookware provided prior to the event. Then it was time for the draw –a hand reached into the box and pulled out a folded strip of paper. Another slip of paper clinging to it fell back into the box. The representative unfolded the paper and read into the microphone: Marlene Cornelis, Life Through the Kitchen Window and I realized that was me. Yes, I was the winner of the Grand Prize! I stood and waved to the room and felt such a flush of good fortune. It was a lovely moment, made all the better by the congratulations of my fellow Canadian bloggers throughout the rest of the conference.
I would like to thank Nordic Ware not only for their support of the conference but for their generosity in providing this prize. So, are you curious? Here is what they will ship to me, along with the retail value as provided by Nordic Ware:
- Set of 2 Mini Cocotte Bakers ($58.00)
- Square Baker ($58.00)
- Rectangular Baker ($74.00)
- 3 Quart Dutch Oven ($95.00)
- 12″ Braiser Pan ($132.00)
- 6.5 Quart Dutch Oven ($132.00)
- 5.5 Quart Oval Roaster ($132.00)
- 2 pc Set of Cast Skillets 8″ and 10″ ($116.50)
- Grand Griddle ($76.50)
- Anniversary Bundt in Cast Aluminum ($45.00)
Tomato Soup with Red Lentils
This is the full-batch recipe, and it makes approximately 12 cups (3 quarts) of soup. It’s a great use for frozen tomatoes, whether Romas, beefsteak or anything else you have on hand. The addition of lentil stock and red lentils ups the nutrition level, and the red lentils break down and thicken the soup.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 medium cooking onions, chopped
- 2 or 3 large stalks celery, thinly sliced
- about 4 pounds frozen tomatoes, roughly chopped
- bay leaf
- 6 c lentil stock
- 1-1/2 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried tarragon
- freshly ground pepper
- 2/3 cups red lentils
- up to 1 tsp salt if desired for taste
- 1 cup low-fat milk
Sweat the onions and celery in the oil over low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes, lentil stock, bay leaf, herbs and pepper; cover and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have broken down. Stir in the red lentils. Bring to a boil, then cook for about 15 minutes or until the lentils are soft. Remove the bay leaf and puree with an immersion blender until smooth.
Strain the mixture through a sieve with a medium mesh to capture and discard the tomato seeds and skins. Return the strained soup to the pot and adjust the pepper to taste, adding salt if desired. Stir in the milk and simmer gently until returned to serving temperature. A garnish of fresh basil chiffonade would be lovely if you have it on hand.