Thursday, September 4, 2008

One Potato, Two Potato

Tonight I held an informal Baked Potato Soup taste off. I'm trying to create the perfect recipe for this delicious fall/winter soup. My ideal soup would be creamy but not too thick; have lots of flavor and tender potatoes; and not be a caloric nightmare.

The contenders consisted of two soups: one called "California Dreaming's Baked Potato Soup," which I found on the Cooking Light bulletin board and seemed to be a big favorite with home cooks; the other "Makeover Baked Potato Soup," from Healthy Cooking magazine. I made a few modifications to each recipe, based on my family's tastes.

Appearance wise, we all thought "California Dreaming" looked the most appetizing. It's the soup on the left, in the yellow bowl. It was snowy white, thick and creamy with chunks of baked potatoes throughout. "Makover Soup" was beige with many flecks of color from the parsley, bacon and spices throughout. I topped each soup with cooked bacon bits, chopped chives and shredded cheddar cheese.

All of my tasters asked for more bacon on their soup (that's to be expected, since my tasters were my kids and husband). In a surprise upset, "Makeover Baked Potato Soup" was the favorite of 3 of the 4 tasters, who cited its excellent flavor and consistency; only one taster chose "California Dreaming" as her favorite. She liked the thickness of the soup as well as the mild flavor.

Without further ado, the winning recipe, adapted from Healthy Cooking:

Makeover Baked Potato Soup
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Yield: 8 servings (2 quarts)

3 medium potatoes
8 bacon strips, diced (5 for soup; 3 for garnish)
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 cup flour, divided
6 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 T. fresh chopped basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 cups milk
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, plus more for garnish
Additional parsley, chives, cheese, and bacon for garnish

Scrub and pierce potatoes; place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave uncovered on high for 8 - 12 minutes, or until tender, turning once. Remove and let cool while you begin the recipe.

In a heavy dutch oven or very large nonstick skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon to paper towels to drain. Save about 2 T. bacon grease in the pan.

Saute the onion in the bacon grease until tender. Stir in 1/4 cup flour; cook and stir for 5 - 7 minutes, or until golden brown. Add the parsley, basil, salt, pepper and hot pepper sauce. Bring to a boil Cook and stir for 2 minutes, or until thickened.

In a small bowl, whisk the remaining flour with the milk until smooth; add to the pan. Bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Peel and cube the baked potatoes; add to the soup. Add 5 slices of the cooked crumbled bacon (a bit more than half). Cook and stir until heated through. Add cheese and stir until just melted. Garnish with additional parsley, chives, cheese and bacon if desired.

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