Thursday, December 22, 2011

Baked potato soup with bacon & cheese

Fact #1: It is very much winter here in Pittsburgh.  A snowy weekend, brisk windy days and chilly nights, and the malls are packed to the max with eager shoppers.  

Opinion #1: Kind of makes you want to stay inside, curl up on the couch with a holiday movie (ahem Elf), and savor a big bowl of hot soup.  

Fact #2: Tomorrow, Matt and I depart cold, snowy Pittsburgh and head to Florida, where we'll board a cruise ship bound for the Caribbean for our honeymoon!  Over the next seven days, we'll be visiting St. Martin, St. Thomas, and Nassau and Princess Cays in the Bahamas.  I can barely contain my excitement!

Opinion #2: While I'll be basking in the glow of the islands (and hopefully not being abused by the sun's rays), I bet you'll be relaxing inside with your very favorite people, enjoying the break from work and school, and looking for ways to stay warm.  

That's why I've decided to save a few of the most hearty, comforting recipes I know to share with you while I'm away.  If I were home, I'd totally be making these.  But, I'll probably just save them for when we return to catch up on the week of winter that we've missed.

First up is the creamiest, steamiest bowl of potato soup that I've ever tried!  Not just any potato soup, but baked potato soup.  Loaded with all the usual suspects: sour cream, cheddar cheese, and bacon bacon bacon!  

(Doesn't cauliflower totally look like the human brain?  I love lurve it based on that observation alone!)

Anyway, I bet you're wondering what cauliflower is doing in baked potato soup.  So was I until I realized what happens to cauliflower when it's cooked and blended with potatoes.  It becomes smooth and thick, giving great body to soup without making it a heavy calorie-bomb.

I don't know about you and your soup-eating habits, but I like to eat rather large portions of the stuff when I have it.   It goes down so darn easily and instantly makes you feel cozy and satisfied.  Unfortunately, some cream and cheese heavy soups tend to make one's stomach feel like an overfilled water balloon after eating.  I'm so not a fan of that.

I am, however, a big fan of flavor!  And there was no shortage of that in this soup.  Using extra sharp cheddar cheese but less of it was one smart trick.  And there's seriously no need for heavy cream at all when the milk and potato cauliflower blend crate a silky base for the soup.  And, finished with bacon?  Obvs.

Pure comfort food, people.  That's what cooking in the winter is all about.  Satisfied appetites and warm, happy people :)

One year ago: Applesauce cake

Baked Potato Soup
(adapted, with a few changes, from Gina's recipe)
-serves 6

A few notes: While this was originally a skinny recipe, I made a few changes to my version.  I used 1% fat milk, light sour cream, and regular shredded cheese.  That being said, the soup is still unequivocally lighter than any potato soup you've ever had before (I'm sure of it).  If you prefer to lighten things further, go with reduced fat versions of the milk, sour cream, and cheese, and use less cheese.

2 russet potatoes, washed and dried
1 small head of cauliflower, stem removed cut into florets
1 1/2 cups fat free chicken broth
1 1/2 cups milk
salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 cup sour cream
10 tbsp reduced-fat shredded sharp cheddar cheese
6 tbsp chopped chives (optional)
3 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (you can use turkey bacon if you prefer)

Pierce potatoes with a fork; microwave on high for 5 minutes turn over and microwave another 3 to 5 minutes, until tender.  Once cool, peel potatoes.

Meanwhile, steam cauliflower with water in a large covered pot until tender.  Drain and return to pot.  On medium heat, add chicken broth, milk, potatoes and bring to a boil.  Use an immersion blender to puree until smooth.  Or, you can use a regular blender, pureeing the soup in batches.  Be sure to remove the top between blending to let heat escape.

Add sour cream, half the chives, salt and pepper and (if blending, return to pot and) cook on low another 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat.  Ladle 1 cup soup into each bowl. Top each serving with cheese, chives, and bacon.

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