One of my favorite electrical appliances in the kitchen is my immersion blender (sometimes called a stick blender). I was reminded yesterday just how useful mine is when I was making broccoli cheese soup. I know, who'd have thought I'd be making soup in Sacramento in June!
Pureed soups are so great as the vegetables act as a thickener when pureed, so it's easy to make a hearty soup that is still very healthy. Without an immersion blender the mixture needs to be transferred to a food processor or blender which can be a hazard in itself as it is usually piping hot. Although a food processor will do a pretty good job at pureeing the soup, a blender will give the smoothest result, but again care must be taken when operating this with hot liquid.
With an immersion blender the soup can be pureed right in the saucepan, which is safer, faster, and also saves on the dirty dishes. One note of caution: If you are not using a cordless immersion blender, be sure to turn off the burner before starting to blend so that you don't burn through the electrical cord by mistake!
Another advantage of the immersion blender is that you can puree the soup to your desired consistency. You can leave it a little chunky, or puree it until smooth. If you like to have some pieces of vegetable left in your soup, you can also remove some with a slotted spoon before pureeing, then add them back to the soup later.
The blender also works great for getting lumps out of sauces (that's what I remember my mother using hers for the most!), smoothies and milkshakes, and mixing pancake and waffle batters. What do you use yours for?
Cleanup is a breeze too. Just run the blade under hot water or wash with a soapy brush or sponge. In some models, the blades detach from the motor and are dishwasher safe.
Prices vary for immersion blenders. On Amazon.com they start as low as $15 and go all the way up to over $500 for a commercial model. The more expensive models tend to have more powerful motors which result in a smoother soup or batter, and they often have multiple speeds as well as additional attachments such as whisks and choppers.
Mine is a mid- to low-end model by Braun. It has one speed and it came just with a plastic beaker for mixing drinks. I also have a blender, food processor, stand mixer and hand mixer, so I don't really need any other attachments! The blade does not detach from the motor on mine - it's just one piece - nothing to lose! I use mine mostly for pureeing soups, and it suits me just fine.
This one by Cuisinart on Amazon.com is very reasonable at $28 and has excellent customer reviews, but there are many others offering different features and at varying prices.