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~ Baked Potato, Roasted Garlic & Cheddar Soup ~

PICT0094About 15 years ago, this soup was "all the rage", meaning:  very trendy.  Almost every eatery in our small "Happy Valley" community served up their own version of it and I admit to trying almost every one of them.  One version in particular was exceptional and it was made in The American Ale House & Grill's kitchen.  For several years it always appeared as one of their signature dishes on their fall/winter menu, and, was featured by them on St. Patrick's Day. Anyone who ate it would still tell you today it was exceptional... baked and smashed russet potatoes in a creamy broth made with roasted garlic, cheddar cheese, chicken stock and of course, cream!

PICT0085One such person was John McPherson.  John was Irish, a State College native and a retired Vice-President of Central Counties Bank. Thirty years ago I worked as a secretary at CCB's executive offices on South Atherton Street, which is where I struck up a friendship with John.  John and my boss, Leo Doriguzzi (also a Vice-President) were best friends, so, in a professional capacity, we three spent a lot of time together, often traveling to branch offices and eating lunches at small diners and local eateries along the way.

It came as no surprise to me when both John and Leo retired, that they spent summers together in State College playing golf at the Centre Hills Country Club and winters together boating and golfing in Florida.  It also also didn't surprise me that even after 30 years, whenever they returned to State College for the summer, they would invite me each year to at least one 3-hour, 3-martini lunch where we would reminisce about the good old days and catch up on family happenings and current events.  At one of those lunches, John found out that I was friends with both the owner and the chef of The Ale House.  John begged me to ask for their potato soup recipe, or come up with a version of the recipe for him to serve at his Yacht Club friends back in Florida.  Here is my version of that yummy soup:

6  pounds large-sized russet potatoes, as even in size as possible, about 7 potatoes

2-3  large heads garlic

1  pound grated white sharp cheddar cheese

8  ounces bacon, diced, preferably thick-sliced, as lean as possible (total throughout recipe)

1  pound yellow or sweet onion, cut into chunks

1/2  pound celery, cut into 2" lengths

1/2  pound carrots, peeled and cut into 2" lengths

2  ounces butter (1/2 stick)

4  packets instant chicken bouillon granules, about 4 teaspoons*

1  teaspoon nutmeg

2  teaspoons white pepper

sea salt, to taste

4  cups chicken stock, preferably homemade or canned broth

3  cups heavy or whipping cream

4  ounces grated sharp yellow cheddar cheese, for garnishing soup

1/2  cup fresh chives, for garnishing soup

*Note:  I use Herb-Ox, Chicken-Flavored, Instant Broth & Seasoning Bouillon.  Eight packets come in a 1.13 ounce green box.  I like this brand because it is gluten-free and contains no MSG.

PICT0004 ~ Step 1.  Using  a vegetable brush, scrub the potatoes to remove all dirt.  Using a fork, prick the skins in 4-5 spots.  Do not dry the potatoes.

Individually wrap and seal each potato in  piece of aluminum foil. Set aside.





~ Step 2.  Using a sharp knife, cut the top off (about 1/4) of each garlic head and remove a few layers, but not all, of the loose papery skin.

Wrap and seal all of the heads together in a piece of aluminum foil.





~ Step 3.  Arrange the potatoes and packet of garlic on a large baking pan.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, until the potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork or a knife, about 1 1/2 hours.  Remove from oven and allow to cool, about 1 hour.

PICT0017 ~ Step 4.  Dice the bacon as directed and set aside.











~ Step 5.  Prep the onion, celery and carrot as directed.







~ Step 6.  Place the bacon in an 8-quart stockpot over medium-high heat.  Fry the bacon until very crisp.

Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a paper towel lined plate to drain and cool.

Turn the heat down to low.



~ Step 7.  Add the butter, bouillon granules, nutmeg and white pepper to the stockpot.  Stir until the butter is melted and the bouillon and spices are thoroughly combined.

Turn the heat off.






~ Step 8.  In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, mince the onion, then the celery, then the carrots, about 15-20 pulses each.

Transfer the vegetables to the stockpot as you work.




~ Step 9.  Adjust the heat to a steady simmer. Cook the vegetables, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and translucent, about 12-15 minutes.

Add the chicken stock and continue to simmer for 12-15 additional minutes.

Turn the heat off.



~ Step 10.  Remove the potatoes from the aluminum foil.  Slice them in half lengthwise, and, using a large spoon, scoop out their soft centers, placing the scoops in a large bowl as you work.

Unwrap the garlic.  One at a time, holding each head at its base, squeeze as you would a tube of toothpaste, to press and add all of the roasted garlic to the bowl of potatoes.

PICT0063 ~ Step 11.  Add the grated white cheddar cheese to the bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, combine all of the ingredients together.  Using a pastry blender, smash and chop the potatoes into large bite-sized chunks and pieces.

Note:  The chunks and pieces will get smaller when stirred into and heated in the soup, so error on the side of too big rather than too small.

PICT0076~ Step 11.  Add the potato/cheese mixture to the stockpot.  Gently stir in the cream, along with 1/2 of the fried bacon, reserving the second half of the bacon for garnishing each bowl of soup.  Over low heat, stirring frequently and gently, heat the soup until the cheese has melted and soup is steaming.  Do not allow soup to simmer or boil!

Technically, the soup is ready to serve, however, I like to cover the pot and let it rest for 1-2 hours prior to serving.  That being said, the soup is even better if refrigerated overnight and reheated the next day.  In either case, prior to serving, reheat the soup over low heat, stirring frequently, until the soup is steaming.  Do not allow soup to simmer or boil!  Taste and adjust seasoning with sea salt, only if necessary.  Ladle hot soup into warmed bowls and garnish each bowl with a sprinkling of grated yellow cheddar cheese, chives and the reserved bacon bits.

PICT0081Baked Potato, Roasted Garlic & Cheddar Soup:  Recipe yields 5-6 quarts of soup.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable brush; fork; aluminum foil; cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 8-quart stockpot, preferably wide-bottomed, w/lid; slotted spoon; paper towels; food processor; large rubber spatula; pastry blender; soup ladle

Cook's Note:  This soup freezes quite nicely.  Thaw frozen soup to room temperature.  Reheat gently, on the stovetop or in the microwave, until steaming, and remember:  do not allow soup to simmer or boil!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011) 


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