Broccoli-Cheddar Soup

Broccoli…ranks right up there with spelling the word vacuum…and why I normally refer to it as “broc.” – it’s just easier.

Don’t even get me started on gray vs. grey…

I woke up this morning to dreary weather. It was gray/grey and overcast with a drizzle. Rain and high winds were slated for the afternoon. I knew the hub was riding his motorcycle to work, so I was worried about that …enter the never-ending headache’s return and I knew it was going to be a sucky Monday. No worries, I pressed on. I got to work just before the rain started really coming down.

It was definitely soup weather. This was confirmed when I got caught in the middle of the storm without an umbrella. By the time I got from building A to my car, I was soaked. It was at that moment that I decided to make soup for dinner.

On my way home from work, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up the bread for the bowls and some of the ingredients that I didn’t have on hand. I had come across a “Copy That!” recipe in the January/February Food Network Magazine for Panera’s Broccoli-Cheddar Soup. It just happens to be one of Hilly’s favorites, so I thought I’d try mastering it. She’s under the weather with a cold, so she couldn’t try it in person…but there was enough for the freezer for a later date.

The Ingredients:

Disclaimer: This is definitely not a low-fat soup…see all of those cubes of butter? Full fat half-and-half…yep! I was not going for healthy this evening. I was going for comfort. I can think of several ways to cut down on the goodness calories. Fat free half-and-half, reduced fat cheese, etc. Not sure there really is an etc., but there has got to be other ways.

6 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
1 Small Onion
1/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2 Cups Half-and-Half
3 Cups Low-Sodium Chicken Broth
2 Bay Leaves
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Grated Nutmeg (note: could use a grinder – birthday hint…)
Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
7 inch Round Bread Bowls – the only fresh out of the oven ones were the Dutch Crunch – it was fine, but sourdough would be better
4 Cups Broccoli Florets (worked out to be one head)
1 Large Carrot, Diced
2 1/2 Cups (about 8 ounces) Grated Sharp White and Yellow Cheddar Cheese

I added the onion once the butter started melting over medium heat…cook onions until tender – about 5 minutes.

Adding the flour and juggling the camera one-handed proved to be a little difficult.

Whisk in the flour and cook until golden brown (took about 3 minutes)

Gradually whisk in the half-and-half until smooth – not exactly sure how you get it super smooth with the onions…but close enough.

Action shot…hold your excitement…I added the chicken broth, bay leaves and nutmeg…

Then I seasoned with salt and ground pepper. I brought things to a simmer, reduced the heat to medium-low and then cooked uncovered until thickened – 20 minutes.

I diced up the carrot, shredded the cheese and got the broccoli florets ready for the pot.

I then got the bread bowls prepped and ready for filling…

I added the broccoli and diced carrots to the broth mixture and simmered until tender – it took just over 20 minutes.

I broke out my craptastic work horse of a blender…tried a smoothie blender and it sucked, this one has done just fine. I used a ladle to transfer the soup into the blender and then let it rip…(note: I just used the blend button – make sure you remove the bay leaves before the puree process) – I had to blend in two batches. Option 2 – if you have one, you can use an immersion blender right in the pot.

I then whisked the cheese into the green slop 😉 over medium heat. The recipe gives the option to add 3/4 cup water at this point, I didn’t need to do that, the consistency was perfect.

Soup is served! Yes, it really is that green.

I thought it really did taste like the Panera soup. The only difference being that I don’t think Panera purees it to the level that the “copy cat” recipe called for. Dan was not a fan of the texture. He prefers the Broccoli-Cheddar soup from Boudin Bakery at Disney’s California Adventure Park. I will now be on the search for that recipe.

I got 4 servings out of the batch and put 2 in the freezer for future lunches. Next time I think I’ll just drive to Panera to shell out $6.00 and some change.

All in all…I’m glad I tried it.  

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Mother's Day and Margarita Fruit Salad

First off…Happy Mother’s Day wishes to all of you amazing Moms out there. I was reminded today how blessed I am to still have my Mom in my life. Several dear friends have Moms that are really ill right now and my heart goes out to them. I actually picked up the phone last night (knowing that I just saw my Mom Friday night and that I would be seeing her again today) just to tell her how much I loved and appreciated her. Life is definitely too short to not let those close to you know how much they mean to you.

O.k…onto the food porn.

My brother decided to host a BBQ lunch for our Mom at his place this year. He is definitely the master of the grill. He even has a rib cook off medal to prove it.

I was asked to bring a fruit salad and rolls. Sounded easy enough. I put off grocery shopping until this morning. I wanted super fresh rolls and I had other things going on yesterday.

The grocery store parking lot was insane. People driving in every direction. The store had placed two racks of cards and 3 massive bucket displays of flowers, balloons and other last-minute Mom’s day gifts by the front doors. I counted 22 men, with children in tow, hovering around the same “Mom, you’re the best!” tri-fold cartoon cards…written in Español – hah! Seriously…wasn’t much of a selection.

I gathered what I needed and had an hour to clean, photograph, cut, prepare and photograph (again) my dish. Hmmm…probably why we ended up being 45 minutes late, whoops! What?  This food stuff takes time.

The Fruit:

The frozen peaches didn’t make it into the photo…can’t wait until peach and nectarines are back in season…

The Ingredients for the sauce

Margarita mix, honey and lime.

The super easy recipe called for the following measurements:
12 cups of fresh fruit
3/4 cup margarita mix
1/3 cup  honey
1/4 cup lime juice (I used less lime juice since the margarita mix had lots of lime already in it – I used the juice of 2 limes)

I whisked the margarita mix, honey and lime juice in a bowl and set it aside while I cut up the fruit. Pineapples are a big pain in the ass…I’ve seen the nifty pineapple cutters, but I don’t think it’s necessary…they are only a PITA when crunched for time…nothing beats fresh pineapple, yum!

Once I got the fruit cut up, I poured 1/2 the mixture over the fruit and lightly tossed it. I then took the bowl outside for its photo shoot.

It was kind of overcast today with a slight drizzle. None of that mattered, I could not wait to dive into the fruit bowl…the pool was looking pretty inviting too. The less than 60 degree water temp, not so inviting.

Sidenote: I actually tried kiwi with the skin on for the first time today. It took a little getting used to, and to be honest, I’ll probably continue to eat them sans skin. I’d seen so many food bloggers mention that they eat it like that, had to give it a try.

We got to my brother’s place and the tri-tip was close to being done. It smelled delicious!

They had bought some really pretty flowers and I couldn’t resist taking photos. Yes, I’m now “that” girl.

Star of Bethlehem Flowers – so pretty…

Godetia Flowers – super bright and cheery…these were part of their gift to my Mom…she’s definitely got the green thumb in the family. Let’s just say they went to the right house…I’ve chosen super hearty plants for my house/yard for a reason.

We were also greeted by the fur babies…

Max – he’s the tall tank…

Ozzie – He’s the short tank…the two of them are adorable and such loves…

Higgy stayed home, he’s not ready to play with the big dogs. He still has the drag with his left leg and down time is better for him. He promised to hold the couch down while we were gone. 😉

Lunch is served…

Tri-tip sandwiches, sweet potato fries w/lemon pepper and margarita fruit salad. We had sorbet and lemon cookies for dessert…

I had a great day spending time with my family. It’s back to the 8-5 grind tomorrow and menu planning for the week. Here’s to hoping that it’s going be a good Monday!

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Leek Newbie…

A recipe for a Wild Rice and Leek dish shared the same Food Network Magazine page as the Cauliflower Tabouli – having never cooked with leeks before, I thought I’d give it a try.

I had taken chicken out the night before and whipped up a marinade of olive oil, garlic, shallots, white wine, thyme and misc. seasonings from my spice cabinet. I knew this would be the perfect side, I even thought I could sell the hub on it.

I got advice from several co-workers and friends on how to properly clean a leek. I even watched a few YouTube videos…God, I love the Internet.

First up…

The Ingredients:

Leeks – the recipe called for 1, I used 2 – next time I might even use 3-4
2 tablespoons butter
Hazelnuts – to be used as a topper
Thyme – A few fresh sprigs worked great
Salt and Pepper to taste
Wild Rice – any kind will do – I used some from Trader Joe’s

I’m having  a lot of fun laying out the ingredients – I’m used to running around the kitchen like a mad woman flinging open cabinet doors, the fridge and pantry. Often forgetting to actually close the fridge…hah! I guess there is something to be said about keeping a clean work area/work station if we’re talking Top Chef or Chopped…not quite there yet. 😉

Getting off work right at 5:00 PM also helped. I didn’t feel rushed or flustered…

I got my wild rice on the stove before I took on the task of preparing the leeks.

Leek Cleaning 101

Everyone has a different take on how much of the green you should leave…an inch or two seemed to be the consensus. Most are pretty consistent with the white portion. It seems that lots of people save the green ends for soup stock. Shhh…I chucked them.

I slit the leeks down the center (not going all the way through) and then opened them up under the water. The silky dirt hides in the different layers.  I then started chopping, the recipe called for thin slices.

The next step was to get them into a bowl of cold water for more washing

I gave them a good swirl under the water and then put them into a colander for more rinsing and draining.

I’ve been wanting to get a collapsible colander and salad spinner…does anyone have one? I’ve seen several different Progressive and OXO models at Target and Bed Bath and Beyond.  I’m curious as to how the silicone holds up. I sure could use the extra cabinet space.

I then used  paper towels to pat dry the leeks before putting them into a pan with the butter, thyme sprigs and salt and pepper.

The thyme/butter combo made the entire kitchen smell amazing. I let them cook in the pan for the suggested 8 minutes on a medium to high heat.

I then added 1/2 the leek mixture to the wild rice. I transferred the rice into a serving dish and added the remaining leeks and chopped hazelnuts to get it ready for it’s photo shoot.

Everything came out great. Next time I don’t think I’ll cook the leeks for the entire 8 minutes and I might make the leek slices a tiny bit thicker.

Dan really like the chicken and wild rice combo. I did notice that he wasn’t a fan of the hazelnuts – so next time I might actually tell them that they are in the dish, LOL…or I will sub them out for slivered or sliced almonds, something that isn’t so bulky.

All in all….I give it 2 thumbs up. I will definitely make this dish again. I’m supper excited to try more leek recipes. I love the mild flavor and the green color is so vibrant – I’ve found a million different soup recipes, but I think I will try Alton Brown’s Grilled Braised Leeks next time we fire up the grill – Come on? Bacon and goat cheese? I’m so there!

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