I hate cold weather. Like, seriously hate it. I’m one of the rare people who LIKES to get into a hot car in August in South Carolina (except for that whole skin blistering on the back of my legs from the hot car seat thing – that part sucks). I’m pretty cold-natured so I just never seem to get warm in the winter. Winter in my world, by the way, is any day when temperatures drop below about 60F. So when winter rolls around, we do a lot of soups and stews at our house. It warms me up from the inside out. My fingers and toes will never ever ever be warm but at least my tummy will be happy.
I remember when I had my tonsils out in my twenties (Oh! The humanity!) and my sweet mom took care of me for several days We tried to think of something I could eat. Logic says ice cream, right? Nope. The dairy actually makes you feel like there’s a lot of gunk in your throat and makes you cough. Not what you want after throat surgery. Mom finally settled on mashed potatoes with chicken stock and lots of black pepper. But she made them a little loose, like a thick potato soup. Seriously one of the most satisfying things I ever ate. So potato soup is always a comfort for me. It just makes me feel like I’ll be all better soon; even if I’m not sick.
I’ve seen a lot of great potato soup recipes going around of late and have tried quite a few but none really hit exactly the notes I wanted. I LOVE potato-leek soup but I don’t always have leeks at home – I have to actually PLAN to make that in advance (and often do). But I wanted just a regular old potato soup with all the savory things I love on a baked potato, with similar flavors to a comforting chicken soup, and with ingredients that I probably already have at home. Tall order but I can fill it! This is simple feel good food.
You can make this really smooth or nice and chunky. I prefer mine smooth and velvety so that’s what my photos show for the most part, but it’s just as easy to leave bits of whole veggies in there. This is pretty easy to adapt to whatever you like.
This is a great meal to snug up with next to the fireplace when a winter storm hits (i.e. a mildly windy, drizzly day where the temps dip into the 50s).
Loaded Potato Soup
- 3-4 strips bacon, cut into small pieces*
- 1/2 C diced onion
- 1/2 C diced celery
- 1/3 C diced carrot (too much more and your soup will be a little orange)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 Bay leaf
- 1/4 t cayenne pepper, optional
- 2 large russet potatoes (about 2 lbs), peeled and diced
- 32 oz low-sodium chicken stock, homemade or purchased*
- 2 T butter
- 2 T all purpose flour
- 2 C whole milk
- 1/2-1 C diced ham (I usually get a ham steak from the meat department or use leftovers)*
- 1 C shredded cheddar cheese, divided
- 1/4 C chopped scallions or chives, divided
- 1 C sour cream, divided
- salt and pepper, to taste
Heat large stock pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Cook bacon pieces until crisp. Remove bacon with slotted spoon and allow to drain on paper towels, reserving some of rendered fat. Set aside bacon for later
In same pot, use about 2 T reserved bacon fat (or if you are going meat free or kosher here, heat 2 T vegetable oil) and saute onion, celery and carrot until veggies are becoming translucent and starting to brown just slightly. Add garlic and cook for one more minute. If you want chunks of veggies in your soup, at this point you would remove the veggies to a bowl with a slotted spoon. I like my soup a bit smoother so I leave everything in there.
Add potatoes and cayenne to pot and cook for a minute or two. Add bay leaf and stir in stock. Allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are very soft. Remove bay leaf and discard. I usually puree my soup at this point with my immersion blender leaving only a few chunks of potatoes and veggies in there.
Meanwhile, in another pot, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook for a few minutes just until raw smell of flour has lessened. It should be browning slightly and smell kind of nutty. GRADUALLY whisk in milk until very smooth with no lumps. Simmer for about five to ten minutes until slightly thickened and then slowly stir into potato mixture. Combine well. If too thick, stir in a bit more stock or even some water.
Allow to simmer for 3-5 minutes. Stir in ham, if using, half of cheese, half of reserved bacon and half of scallions. When well combined, remove from heat and stir in half of sour cream. Taste soup and add salt and black pepper as needed
Serve in shallow bowls garnished with reserved bacon, scallions and cheese. Put a little dollop or drizzle of sour cream in the center of each bowl. Commence happy slurping. Best served with a warm blanket and a healthy dose of Netflix.
*You could make this vegetarian or kosher by leaving out the bacon and ham and using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. But I’m going all in on this one.