This week little furry things came out of hibernation for a test of the weather. What was the verdict? Punxsutawney Phil ‘declared’ six more weeks of winter, however, Jimmy the Groundhog in Wisconsin predicted an early spring after taking a little taste test of the Mayor’s ear.
While I have never made life plans around a marmot’s shadow, there is always a glimmer of hope when the second of February rolls around. It is the same anticipation I feel when our local baseball team starts up their spring training. A smile washes over my face when I walk into stores and suddenly the clothing is bright and fun, and tulips are arriving in the floral shops.
Then I walk to my car and freeze my buns off. It’s still February, after all, and whether it is six weeks away or not, spring can not arrive soon enough. So in the interim I’ll embrace the frigid temperatures, because five months from now we are going to be cursing the heat and there is no way I will be putting soup on the table.
Baked Potato Soup
8 Ounces bacon, chopped
3 Pounds russet potatoes, washed (Idaho works, too. Do not use Yellow or Red)
1 Large Onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cup)
2 Garlic cloves, pressed or grated over a micro plane
4 Cups chicken stock (Or one 32 ounce carton)
1 Cup heavy cream
1 Cup chopped ham
4 Cups, (plus 1 cup for garnish) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1-2 Cups instant mashed potato flakes
1 Cup sour cream (for garnish)
1 bundle green onions (chives) chopped (for garnish)
The faster way…
• Bake the potatoes in the microwave until soft all the way through.
The tastier way…
• Preheat your oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle to low position. Nest a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet and place the potatoes on the rack. Spear each potato with a fork (about 1/8″ deep) once on two sides. Brush olive oil all over each potato and sprinkle salt on all sides. Bake for about one hour, depending on the size of the potatoes, checking them with a fork after 45 minutes. Let cool completely.
• In a large dutch oven or heavy pot over Medium-High heat, cook bacon until crispy.
• Meanwhile, use a vegetable peeler or sharp kitchen knife to remove the skins from the (cooled) baked potatoes, removing wide strips. Reserve the skins. Chop potatoes into bite sized pieces and set aside. (Keep a close eye on the bacon, as to not allow it to burn).
• With a slotted spoon remove bacon to a paper towel lined plate leaving the grease in the pot.
• Add potato skins to hot bacon grease and fry until crispy, about 5-8 minutes.
• With a slotted spoon remove potato skins to the bacon plate to drain. (These will be used for garnish later)
• Add onion to remaining fat and cook until soft and golden brown, stir in Garlic and continue
to cook for 1 minute. If the bottom of the pot begins to brown too much during the potato frying or onion cooking, turn down your burner and add olive oil one tablespoon at a time until it is resolved – no more then four tablespoons)
• After the onions have softened, gradually stir in chicken stock, cream and potatoes and bring to a boil.
• Turn heat down to simmer (very low!) and cook for thirty minutes stirring occasionally.
• Remove two cups of soup and blend in food processor or blender. Return to pot.
• Add 4 cups shredded cheese and melt into soup. Add ham.
• Adjust thickness of soup with desired amount of instant mashed potatoes.
• Adjust seasonings to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with reserved bacon and potato skin garnishes, and any other desired garnish.
Suggested Garnishes: Shredded Cheese, Sour Cream, Chives, Bacon, Potato Skins