Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons

There will come a time, approximately 72 hours from now, that the thought of another piece of turkey will make you want to cry. The idea of one more bite of stuffing, or another mountain of mashed potatoes smothered in gravy, will make you groan in discomfort. I CAN’T TAKE ANY MORE GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE, you’ll think. And at that point, you’ll be thankful for this recipe – for something warm, comforting, and cheesy, that has NOTHING to do with a Thanksgiving table. It’ll be perfect to make on Saturday morning, and keep warm on the stove while you decorate the Christmas tree… and then to heat up the leftovers on Sunday afternoon, when you’re so burned out on cooking that you can barely even LOOK at food. Pick up the ingredients when you make that last run to the grocery store on Thursday morning, because you forgot chicken stock… you’ll be glad you did.

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons
serves 4-6

4 T butter
2 medium leeks
2 medium carrots, diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups whole milk
12oz bottle of ale
1 T worcestershire
1.5 t ground mustard
8oz sharp white cheddar, grated
8oz monterey jack, grated*
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
6oz bread, cubed
olive oil
garlic powder
kosher salt
black pepper

*Two notes about the cheese. First: DO NOT use pre-grated cheese. You definitely want to grate your own cheese for this soup, so you get a nice, smooth texture. Second: if you LOVE sharp cheddar cheese, you can certainly use all cheddar cheese in the soup. I found it to be a bit too sharp for my taste that way, so next time I’ll make it with half sharp cheddar and half monterey jack, as indicated in this recipe.

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons

1.) First, you need to clean your leeks. Grab a large bowl, and fill it 3/4 of the way with cold water. Cut the roots and dark green parts off the leeks, then cut them in half lengthwise. Cut those halves into 1/4″ thick half moon slices, and toss them into the bowl of water. Use your hands to break up the leaves and swish them around. Allow the leeks to sit in the water for about 5 minutes longer, without disturbing them.

2.) Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add the butter; once it has melted and browned just slightly, add the carrots, and stir to coat with the butter. Gently grab handfuls of the leeks from the water (being careful not to disturb the water too much), squeeze as much excess water out as you can, and add them to the pot. Discard the dirty water left behind by the leeks.

3.) While the vegetables cook, prep your croutons. Preheat your oven to 375°; line a baking sheet with foil, and add the cubed bread to it. Toss the bread with a couple teaspoons of olive oil, a couple good shakes of garlic powder, and a good pinch of kosher salt. Spread the bread into a single layer on the baking sheet, and bake for about 10 minutes, until golden brown.

4.) Allow the vegetables to sweat and cook down for about 5 minutes, seasoning with a pinch each of salt and pepper. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute.

5.) Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables, and stir to coat. Let the vegetable and flour mixture cook for about 2 minutes, so the raw flour taste can cook out. Pour in the beer, and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon, to lift any browned bits.

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons

6.) Slowly pour in the milk and stock, whisking as you do. Once all the liquids have been added, add the worcestershire and ground mustard, and another pinch each of salt and pepper. Allow the soup to come to a simmer, and let it simmer til it thickens slightly, about 5-10 minutes.

7.) Turn the heat to low, and add the cheese to the soup in 4 or 5 batches, whisking each addition into the soup completely before adding the next. When all the cheese had been added, allow the soup to heat back through over low heat (about 5 minutes), and then serve topped with bacon and croutons.

Cheddar Ale Soup with Bacon and Garlic Croutons

Not much better in life than a soup with an entire pound of cheese in it, am I right?? This soup is velvety and rich and cheesy, but somehow it manages not to be super heavy. The croutons add a nice crunch, and the bacon lends some smoke… and the cheese makes it cheesy, because cheese was sent to us directly from heaven, to make us happy, and so we should use it at every available opportunity. Or something like that. Either way, this soup is fantastic and super tasty, and it contains no trace of turkey or stuffing or cranberry sauce, so it’s the perfect way to reintroduce yourself to the world of non-Thanksgiving food. You’re welcome.

Cheese is my copilot,
Tina

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Pimento Cheese and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers

If you like jalapeno poppers, you are going to pass out when you see this recipe.

Pimento Cheese and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers

They came to be a few weekends back, when I was in South Carolina visiting Crist. We were spending the weekend at the beach, and the weather was predicted to be bringing some nasty storms – so we limited our plans to hitting the grocery store early, and then staying in and drinking and eating and watching crappy TV and movies all day (Mystic Pizza, anyone?). The rain never did come, but our plan to eat, drink, and be merry held fast, and we spent some time brainstorming deliciously unhealthy things to cook… and this is the result.

Pimento Cheese and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers

Pimento Cheese and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers
makes 16

8 large, fresh jalapeños
6 slices of bacon
about 3/4 cup pimento cheese*
1/2 cup all purpose flour
salt and pepper
2 eggs
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
olive oil

*If you do not live in an area where pimento cheese is readily available at the grocery store (ahem, MICHIGAN), you can use Crist’s recipe here.

1.) Start by cooking your bacon until crisp, in whatever fashion you prefer (microwave, stovetop, oven, etc). Allow the bacon to drain any excess fat on some paper towels, and preheat your oven to 375°.

Pimento Cheese and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers

2.) Cut the stems from the jalapeños, and then slice them in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out the ribs and seeds, and be sure to wash your hands very well when you’re done (and dear god, do not touch your eyes or your face or anything else before your hands are thoroughly washed).

3.) Chop your crispy bacon into small pieces. Add the pimento cheese and bacon to a small bowl, and combine well. Spread the cheese and bacon mixture into the jalapeños halves, and then pop them into the freezer for about 15 minutes so they harden up a bit.

Pimento Cheese and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers

4.) While the poppers chill, set up a breading station: flour (whisked together with a pinch each of salt and pepper) in one wide, shallow bowl, eggs (well beaten) in a second, and panko in a third. Coat the poppers in the flour, then egg, then panko – being sure to tap off any excess flour and egg, and pressing the panko into the poppers so that it sticks well.

5.) Arrange the jalapeños on a foil-lined baking sheet, and lightly mist or drizzle them with the olive oil. Bake for about 20 minutes, until they’re nice and brown and crispy. Serve warm.

Pimento Cheese and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers

I mean… there is not much that can be said about these jalapeño poppers, really. Spicy, crunchy jalapeños stuffed with gooey pimento cheese and salty, smoky bacon, and coated in golden brown panko? SIGN ME UP. Damn, they were tasty. I would like one (or a half dozen) right now, as a matter of fact.

This recipe will definitely be added to my “go to appetizers” list. I love that they could be largely prepped ahead of time (seed and stuff the peppers with the cheese and bacon, then refrigerate, covered, for as long as 24 hours; bread them and bake them when you need them). And who doesn’t love a cheesy, crunchy jalapeño popper?? They’re sure to be a hit with everyone you know.

Pimento Cheese and Bacon Jalapeño Poppers

They’re healthy because they’re basically just stuffed vegetables,
Tina

Baked Potato Soup

Well, friends… 2014 is upon us. Crazy that yet another year has passed, isn’t it?! Regardless of your plans for this evening – whether you’re going to dance and drink the night away, or order some pizzas and watch a few movies, or crawl into bed at 9:30, waving goodbye to 2013 as you do – I feel like New Year’s Day is a day designed for laying around the house, being lazy, and relaxing. And what goes better with a day spent on the couch, than comfort food?? This baked potato soup is warm, and rich, and filling – and not terribly labor intensive, either. So, whip up a batch of this soup this evening, put it in the fridge – and then, when you roll out of bed around 11am tomorrow (or 6am, for those of you with kids – ouch), pop it back on to the stove to warm up while you dress yourself in your finest sweatpants and thickest, warmest socks. Relax, and enjoy!

Baked Potato Soup

Baked Potato Soup
serves 4-6

6 slices bacon
6 medium russet potatoes (about 2.5 pounds total), diced
2 medium carrots, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Toppings:
Sour cream/greek yogurt
grated cheddar cheese
sliced green onions
hot sauce

Baked Potato Soup

1.) Chop the bacon into 1/2″ pieces, and add to a cold, heavy-bottomed pot. Place the pot over medium heat, and cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate with a slotted spoon, and drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease.

2.) Add the carrots to the hot pot; allow them to cook for 3-4 minutes, until the edges are browned and the carrots are beginning to soften. Then, add the onion, and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Season with a pinch each of kosher salt and pepper.

3.) Add the potatoes and chicken stock to the pot, along with a heaping teaspoon of kosher salt. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower to a simmer, cover the pot, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

4.) Once the vegetables and potatoes are nice and tender, you can either choose to leave the soup chunky, or to blend it; personally, I prefer to blend it. I use an immersion blender, but you can also transfer it in batches to a regular blender (be sure to leave at least 1/3 of the blender carafe empty to allow for expansion, and take the round disk out of the center of the lid; cover the hole with a dish towel).

5.) When you’ve blended the soup, return it to the heat; add the cream, stir to combine, and taste for seasoning. If it tastes a bit bland, you need more salt!

Baked Potato Soup

Portion the soup into bowls, and add your choice of toppings! I like to go with a classic baked potato style – greek yogurt, shredded cheddar, crumbled bacon, and some sliced green onions – but this soup is a great base for all kinds of additions. You could try some roasted broccoli and cheddar cheese, some bacon and pickled jalapeños, or whatever else you can dream up!

Soup and sweatpants: a marriage made in heaven,
Tina

Sriracha Deviled Eggs with Bacon

If you are looking for one more appetizer to add to your holiday spread (bonus points for being quick and easy), look no further! For Christmas dinner with my in-laws this year, we decided to try out a format of all appetizers, and it was a fun (and delicious) change of pace. I ended up making this roasted garlic and asiago dip (SO CHEESY AND DELICIOUS), these s’mores treats, and these non-traditional deviled eggs. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with a deviled egg, but the addition of some spice and some bacon definitely livened things up!

Sriracha Deviled Eggs with Bacon

Sriracha Deviled Eggs with Bacon
makes 18-24 deviled eggs*

12 hardboiled eggs
1/3 cup mayo
1/3 cup 2% plain greek yogurt**
1/2 tsp ground mustard
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 T sriracha (or more)
6 slices bacon, cooked crisp
pickled jalapeños

*Unless you have some sort of hardboiled egg-peeling magic trick (if you do, PLEASE SHARE), you’re highly unlikely to end up with 24 egg halves suitable for holding a filling properly. I can’t lie to you, at least half of my eggs ended up looking mighty sad and torn up. But, they still tasted delicious, so it worked out alright!

**You can certainly use all mayo, and leave out the greek yogurt; however, I like to maximize my hardboiled-egg-eating potential, and all mayo is a bit heavy for me, if I’m really looking to go the distance. Replacing half the mayo with greek yogurt allows me to eat as many deviled eggs as humanly possible. (And, I’m pretty sure the additional protein in the greek yogurt makes these deviled eggs qualify as health food, and makes any calories contained in them null and void.)

Sriracha Deviled Eggs with Bacon

1.) Start by carefully halving your eggs lengthwise. Gently scoop the yolks into a mixing bowl, and set the whites aside.

2.) Mash the yolks as well as you can with a fork. Add the mayo, greek yogurt ground mustard, salt, pepper, and sriracha to the bowl, and mix well. Taste the mixture for spice level – I added a bit more sriracha to mine, because I wanted a little more of a kick.

3.) Finely chop 3 slices of bacon, and fold it into the yolk mixture. Break the other three pieces into 1/2″ to 1″ pieces, to top the eggs with.

4.) Add the filling to a piping bag or a large ziploc; cut off the tip/corner, and pipe the mixture into the egg halves. Top each egg with a piece of bacon, and a small slice of pickled jalapeño. (The pickled jalapeños look pretty, but they also add a touch of acid that cuts the richness of the eggs nicely.)

5.) Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve! If you’re making them more than a couple hours in advance, I’d wait and top them with the bacon and pickled jalapeños at the last minute.

Sriracha Deviled Eggs with Bacon

As much as I love a traditional deviled egg, these are a really fun, interesting twist on the usual style! The spice from the sriracha, the smoke and the salt from the bacon, and the acid from the pickled jalapeño are a heavenly combination. These eggs would certainly add a new and exciting flair to your holiday meal!

You couldn’t pay me to set foot into a grocery store today,
Tina