Happy Friday! Today was a really fun day for us. Shane wasn't working so we slept in a bit, then got ready and jumped in the car to head to Ikea! The nearest store is about an hour from our house so we don't go all that often and it's a real treat when we do. Shane was a good sport and let me wander the aisles for hours. In return I showed restraint, picking up just a few things along the way. Of course, we couldn't leave without eating lunch first - Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes and lingonberry preserves - yum! I'm obsessed with the lingonberry preserves, they're slightly sweeter than cranberries but still with just enough tartness. I even bought a jar to bring home so I can enjoy them all winter.
Speaking of winter, I think it's finally arrived, after a relatively warm November, at least by New England standards. The temperatures have started dropping, and while that doesn't thrill me, hopefully it means snow won't be far behind (I love snow!!). I know a lot of people crave soup when the weather gets chilly, but I confess I haven't made it very often in the past, despite the 3-4 months of freezing temps that would warrant tons of it. I'm hoping to change that this year with the help of my favorite new kitchen toy - my immersion blender! I picked it up just as winter ended last year so I've only used it a few times, but it's awesome - SO much easier and less messy than transferring things to a blender.
One soup that I've wanted to make for a while now is baked potato soup, and it was the first recipe I turned to when we had a cold day last month. This version is indulgent - cheese, heavy cream, bacon, fried potato skins, sour cream - but oh so worth it for an occasional splurge! The soup is truly delicious, it really is like eating a loaded baked potato. It makes for a terrific lunch and reheats beautifully so feel free to make it in advance. As I was photographing it, I realized a white bowl wasn't ideal, but can you believe that's all I had? Every single bowl in the house - some variation of white. Not to worry, I remedied that today on our Ikea trip :)
Loaded Baked Potato Soup
from Cook's Illustrated
8 slices bacon, chopped
3 pounds (about 6 medium) russet potatoes, scrubbed
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 sprig fresh thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (plus extra for garnish, if desired)
1 cup sour cream (plus extra for garnish, if desired)
3 scallions, sliced thin (for garnish, if desired)
In a Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. While the bacon is cooking, use a vegetable peeler to remove the potato peels in wide strips. Reserve the peels. Cut the potatoes into 3/4-inch cubes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate once it is crisp. Add the reserved potato skins to the pot and cook in the bacon fat until they are crisp, about 8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the skins to the plate with the bacon.
Add the onion to the fat remaining in the pot and cook until golden, about 6 minutes. Stir in the garlic and flour and cook for about 1 minute, until the garlic is fragrant. Gradually add the chicken stock and cream to the pot, whisking constantly. Once they're in, add the thyme and potatoes. Bring to a boil over high heat then reduce to the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 7 minutes.
Remove the thyme sprig from the pot. If you want a smooth soup, puree everything in the pot - I used my immersion blender, but a regular blender would work well too, just do it in batches. If you want a slightly chunkier soup, transfer about 2 cups of the cooked potatoes to a bowl and puree the remaining soup. Return the soup to the pot, and rewarm briefly if necessary (if you reserved potatoes for a chunkier soup, don't add them back to the pot until after the cheese and sour cream have been added in the next step). Off the heat, stir in the cheese until completely melted, then add the sour cream. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with reserved bacon, potato skins, scallions, cheese and sour cream.