Monday, October 5, 2009

The 10 pound bag was cheaper than the 5 pound!

On our last trip to the grocery store I decided to buy potatoes, as I sometimes do when I'm feeling domestic and want to mash some up from scratch. Maybe it's because I tend to crave my favorite ever mashed potatoes on a regular basis, but this time it was mostly because the big huge 10 pound bag was under $2 and I decided that was the perfect excuse to finally try my hand at homemade baked potato soup.

While I spent quite a bit of time searching through my favorite foodie sites looking for recipes, I quickly noticed that every single one varied and the finished product was really going to come down to personal taste. So, armed with a couple of recipes for reference, I sort of... just started throwing things in a pot and crossing my fingers. Seeing as I made this while chatting with Mr. Lawler, Ryan and Dan hanging out in the kitchen, I realized how natural I'm beginning to feel in the kitchen... chopping and stirring while trying to stay out of the way of Dan's lunch making, having a conversation and filling drinks. Those little "I'm an adult and I own a house" moments hit me once in awhile... and I love them.

So, an upfront apology to Aunt Claire for the lack of exact measurements here... but I am confident that if I can throw all of this stuff into a pot and come out with a hit then anyone can! :) Lots of notes added to my ingredient list below to explain a bit about what I did...

Baked Potato Soup
(This makes a BIG pot... I brought tupperwares full to my parents and Mr. Lawler and still had 4-5 servings left at home for myself and Dan.)

8-10 small potatoes (my potatoes were probably equal to maybe 4 large baking potatoes)
1/2 stick of butter
1/3 cup flour
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped (I used about half this much as we are not huge fans of onion)
4 cups milk (I use 2%)
1 cup heavy cream
1 can chicken broth (I'm sure you're supposed to use the low sodium kind, but I sure do not)
6 pieces of bacon, cooked til crispy and crumbled, drippings reserved (I would have preferred more like 10 slices but the rest was used with lunch)
1 bag shredded cheddar cheese (most of the recipes I saw called for 1 cup... I used the entire bag. Hey, I never said this was a healthy soup)
1 small container sour cream (I think the container I buy is about 1 cup)
Generous handful of instant mashed potato potato flakes (this "secret" ingredient was swiped from a copycat of the Houlihan's recipe. I think this helped thicken the soup up a bit, but not sure it was at all necessary.)
1 cup or so of chopped green onions
extra cheese and bacon crumbles for topping, if desired
coarse salt & pepper to taste

1. Bake potatoes in a 350 oven until easily poked with a fork. Or, prick them a bunch of times with a fork and put them in the microwave for 10 minutes if you're impatient and don't WANT your soup to take hours, like me. Allow potatoes to cool, then slice in half and scoop out the insides into a bowl. Mash up a little bit with a fork, but leave some chunks! Discard skins.
2. Melt butter in a large pot over low heat. Add chopped white or yellow onion and saute until soft - about 5-7 minutes.
3. While onions saute, cook the bacon in a separate pan until crispy. Drain on a paper towel lined plate and crumble when cooled. Discard grease and scrape the little cooked bits into the soup pot with the onion and butter.
3. Add flour to onion and butter, stir and cook until combined.
4. Add milk, 2 cups at a time. Increase heat to a low-medium and simmer.
5. Add chicken broth and heavy cream.
6. Mix in potatoes. Simmer and stir occasionally about 15 minutes while soup thickens and warms.
7. At this point, the rest of the cooking is left up to taste and personal preference on thickness. I mixed in a couple dashes of the instant potato flakes to thicken it up. Added a cup of cheese, then decided to add the rest of the bag. Tossed in the container of sour cream and started adding salt & pepper pinches at a time and tasting for flavor.
8. Mix in bacon crumbles and green onion. Continue to simmer until soup is at desired thickness, adding more milk if needed.

A few things I learned while making this recipe:
1. Flavor takes TIME. I'm (clearly) a pretty impatient person, so this is difficult for me, but I definitely learned with this that if you just let stuff sit and simmer for awhile the flavors will meld together and strengthen as they sit.
2. It's interesting relying on actual solid ingredients and not seasonings like garlic or oregano to complete the taste of something. But, the end result of something "from scratch" is so much more satisfying than something thrown together with a bunch of spices.
3. Mild cheddar is just that - mild. Next time, I'll try sharp.
4. I'm sure this soup is horribly unhealthy... but could easily be tweaked to be a little bit better. The heavy cream could probably be eliminated all together if wanted, obviously there is no real need for an entire bag of cheese, and low-sodium chicken broth and low-fat sour cream are simple substitutions. I will also probably knock down the amount of flour used if I make this again as I think the 1/3 cup is assuming you use an entire large onion.

Perfect fall recipe, and a perfect way for me to gain some cooking confidence! I'd love to try chicken with wild rice soup next...

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