This article was originally published on January 30, 2011
“The Dead of Winter”: I spent a good part of yesterday ruminating on this phrase. Is winter really dead? I suppose it might seem that way if you spend all of your time indoors. But if you are curious, and bundle yourself up properly, it’s easy to find signs of life –even in January. A walk along the river yesterday afternoon revealed green-tinted leaf-buds, browsing rabbits and flocks of noisy ducks. Reflective waterways are always gorgeous places to enjoy the beauty of sunset. And even in the chill of winter’s twilight, I choose to linger along the shoreline, basking in the pink-tinted afterglow …
Of course it helps to cozy up beside the wood stove after a romp through the snow, and nothing beats a hearty bowl of potato-cheddar soup for warming the bones and spirits. I love soups and make a big pot at least once a week during the winter months. I think the key to great soups is always in the base stock, and this old family recipe is my hands-down favorite. Use good, flavorful potatoes and the best homemade stock (chicken or long-simmered vegetable). I always add a cup of rich beer (an amber style brew or dark, sweet beer) and fresh herbs to my potato cheddar, and a very fine quality local cheese. With a pot of soup waiting back home on the stove, I never seem to mind the cold weather…
Favorite Potato- Cheddar Soup
Ingredients (makes 6-8 servings):
5 Cups homemade chicken or vegetable broth
1 Cup high-quality amber ale or porter beer
3 Tablespoons butter
1 Cup chopped onion
3 Cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tablespoon freshly chopped sage
1 Tablespoon freshly chopped thyme
2 Bay leaves
3 Lbs potatoes, peeled & diced (I like flavorful golds for this soup)
Kosher salt to taste (about a teaspoon)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste (at least a teaspoon or more)
2 Cups grated, sharp cheddar cheese (I use Grafton VT cheddar)
Sour cream for serving
Freshly chopped chives for garnish (or sub other herb)
Pour homemade broth and beer into a large stock pot and simmer over very low heat. Meanwhile, heat a sauté pan on medium-low and add butter. When melted raise the heat to medium and add the onions and sautee for 10 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic, sage and thyme and reduce the heat. Cook for several minutes to release flavors and then remove from heat. Add the onions and herbs to the stock pot, grind in freshly ground black pepper and add salt to taste, and toss the bay leaves on top. Cover the broth and continue simmering on low heat.
While the broth is simmering, wash, peel and dice the potatoes. Slowly add the potatoes to the broth, raise the heat slightly and cook for 20 minutes or until the potatoes can be pierced with a fork. Do not boil the soup. Remove from the heat. Fit a food processor with the metal blade and process the soup in small batches (or puree in very small batches in a blender). Be very careful when handling hot soup, and never fill the processor or blender beyond the max liquid line or you will be scalded! You can process the entire pot of soup for a very smooth texture, or leave half unprocessed for a chunkier soup.
Add all of the soup back to the pot and simmer. Now is the time to check texture and consistency. If the soup seems to thick, add a bit more broth or beer. When the soup is at the desired thickness, add the cheddar cheese and stir over medium low heat to blend and melt.
Once the cheese is melted, Remove from heat. Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream and a garnish of freshly chopped chives.
Time to Head Home…
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