(I spelled out hate - in caps - with periods after each letter - and used a bold font. Understand the loathing?)
One good thing about winter is the soul warming meals that just don't appeal any other time of the year. We have a lot of meat and potato dinners, often with baked potatoes. I guess you could say I'm a baked potato purist, I'll just take butter, maybe sour cream if I'm at a restaurant (I rarely have it at home), some salt, and lots of pepper. But one of my favorite winter dishes is loaded baked potato soup.
We often cross over the "mountains" to another city here in PA just for Cheddar's version. But, because the sociopath that is Mother Nature recently dropped well over a foot of snow on us and there was more falling yesterday, I made it at home. And I'll just pat myself on the back and say it - Cheddar's has got nothin' on me!
I must let you all know that this post is brought to you 100% from cell phone pictures because it's just a lot easier to handle when taking them yourself while cooking!
As the name suggests, I started by baking the potatoes. I just turned the oven to 425°, scrubbed 5 potatoes, poked them a couple of times with a fork, and threw them in the oven for about an hour. I always pick the largest 5 from the bag and use them, and for the soup, you really only need 4 but I always cook an extra because I just know that I'll cut into at least one with some gnarly spots inside, which you never know until you get to that part!
They don't have to be completely cooked like a potato you'd eat as a simple baked potato because they'll cook a little more in the soup. As a matter of fact, leaving them just a little firm makes the whole peeling and cubing part easier. You can also do this ahead of time, so if you're making baked potatoes for dinner one night, throw in a few extra and you could make this the next day.
Once the potatoes are cool, the fun begins and their friends join the party!
You'll need bacon, milk, chicken broth, sour cream, carrot, celery, onion, garlic, and cheese. The heavy cream is really an individual choice, a little thickened milk would work just as well if you want to make it a tad healthier. Me, if I'm loading up with bacon and cheese, I might as well go with heavy cream! Plus, I had it in the fridge from making Alfredo sauce a couple of days ago, so it's getting used up - that stuff's not cheap! The garlic also isn't necessary, but I believe that just about everything is better with a little garlic.
First step is to chop and cook the bacon. I cut the full package worth in half and then chop it up to fry it. Much easier than crumbling after the fact if you ask me!
While that's cooking, I chopped up the veggies. I sliced up the carrot and celery into sticks and then chop them to pretty much uniform size. I only used 1/4 of a large onion this time, but a full small onion would work. That leftover celery stick will come into play later.
We always keep a jar of chopped garlic in the fridge, but there's something about freshly chopped garlic for a recipe like this. I don't have great knife skills, so I have this awesome little slicer that I use for the garlic that makes it much easier to chop. Just put the garlic on the blades and squeeze and these perfectly matched slices come out and I just chop away!
When the bacon is done, I move it to a paper plate lined with a couple paper towels to drain with a slotted spoon and pour out most of the remainder of the grease. Then I dump the carrot, celery, and onion into that pan and add a little salt and a good bit of pepper to cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes or so, to about al dente, then add the garlic so that it doesn't burn.
While that's all cooking up, I peel and cube the potatoes. It's a sticky, messy job, but again, very easy to do if they aren't quite baked all the way through. Plus, it's the perfect opportunity to use up one of those plastic grocery bags we all have stashed somewhere in the kitchen! If you compost, this would be even better for that.
By the time the potatoes are peeled, the veggies are in pretty good shape, so I dump everything into a bigger soup pot and set the bacon frying pan aside. Adding the potatoes to the veggies that have cooked down in the bacon grease lets them all soak up some flavor from each other. I stir it all up pretty often, which also breaks the potatoes down, which is really good for the soup.
After about 5 minutes of that, I add a carton of chicken broth. You could use homemade or even the low sodium store bought kind, but like I said at the beginning, this soup is not meant to be healthy in my house.
I put about half of the cooked bacon in and let this cook till boiling, and that takes a bit, so this is where that leftover celery stick comes into play. Any time I'm cutting celery, this happens. Takes me back to my childhood!
I smear that celery stick with some peanut butter and I eat it. While my dog looks on, drooling. For Mati, it's more about the celery than the peanut butter. That dog loves some veggies.
So at this point, I'm in my celery with PB bliss and it's time to get back to work. I get some roux started in the bacon pan that I had set aside by melting 2 tablespoons of butter down. Once it's nice and hot, I add two slightly heaping TBSP of flour and whisk, whisk, whisk to make up some roux. I overflow the flour just a touch to compensate for the bacon grease and allow me to keep a thinner roux.
I also take a tablespoon of flour and about 1/4 cup of milk and shake it together in something with a lid. This happens over the sink because unless you're Tupperware from the 80's, I don't care how good you think you are, you leak. I've learned this lesson the hard way, many times.
By the way, is that not the cutest little potato scrubber you've ever seen? I love that the nearby outlet mall has a great kitchen gadget store!
After the soup has started boiling, I add that milk/flour mixture and the roux to thicken it up. This is where it really starts looking like it's turning into something. After putting them both in, I whisk pretty constantly until it's up to boiling again and then just stir for about 5 minutes after boiling with my trusty wooden spoon. The whisking and stirring helps thicken it up and it also breaks the potatoes down a little more, making an even thicker soup.
How about that action shot, huh?
Once I've been stirring for those 5 minutes, the burner gets turned down (or the flame, for those of you lucky enough to cook with gas) and all of the unhealthiness comes into play. I add the heavy cream first, about 1/4 - 1/2 cup, just enough to turn the soup white, about half a bag of shredded mild cheddar, then about 4 tablespoons of sour cream. You can really use whatever kind of cheese you want, and freshly shred it, but I'm all about easy and cheddar.
Give that all a good stir until the cheese is nice and melty and you're ready to eat! I use some of the leftover bacon and cheese and some very thinly sliced scallions to top it off and serve it with biscuits.
Now tell me that doesn't sound good for a cold, snowy day?!? Download the printable recipe below in either size and let me know if you try it out!