Loaded Baked Potato Soup

Loaded Baked Potato Soup can be made quickly by "baking" the potatoes in the microwave for 12 to 15 minutes. 

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I'm doing my best as a New Englander right now not to complain about the snow. Instead, I'm choosing to wear my Muck boots and L.L.Bean pom-pom hat with pride, while shoveling away my cabin fever. 

Seeing who can shovel the sidewalk first has become somewhat of an Olympic sport between myself and our new neighbors, who have graciously shoveled our sidewalk a time or two "just for fun" when I wasn't looking. Now, I find myself hustling out there, shovel in hand, trying to out-neighbor them and do the front of their walk first. Only in New England can we turn being neighborly into a competitive sport, right? 

"I'll show them," I mutter to myself, sweating, throwing up a mitten wave to my nice neighbor peeking out her window at the crazed woman on her property. 

In between all this shoveling — and really, just figuring out where to put the darn snow once it's shoveled — I've been keeping myself warm at lunch with quick, hearty soups that can simmer in my Dutch oven until my husband comes home for his quick 15-minute lunch break. 

For lunch, I'm normally a PB&J, tuna fish sandwich or salad kind of girl. Nothing fussy; it's about eating up what's in the fridge and leaving enough room in the belly for whatever is for dinner. But all this shoveling calls for something a bit more substantial, don't you think? 

A friend of mine recommended this recipe for a Loaded Baked Potato Soup. Now, I often find that any recipe that says it's going to taste like another recipe, usually isn't that good. It's more likely something created to be clickbait than an actual meal that tastes like the thing it says it tastes like. But one creamy spoonful of this soup and my brain immediately thinks "baked potato bar!"

Even my boys, who are fussy about soups served as anything other than a dipping option for a sandwich, gobble this soup up. Sorry to my non-dairy peeps on this one and those counting calories — this beauty isn't for whatever plans you've got to fit into pants with a zipper, (overrated, I say!) but it will be a crowd pleaser on any cold, winter night. And besides, after all that shoveling, don't we all deserve a bowl of creamy, starchy, cheesy goodness? 

LOADED BAKED POTATO SOUP

(Recipe courtesy of "The I Heart Naptime Cookbook," by Jamielyn Nye)

Ingredients:

4 potatoes, scrubbed

8 bacon slices, cut into 1-inch pieces

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup yellow onion

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

2 cups low fat milk

1 cup half-and-half

2 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup mild cheddar cheese

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup sour cream

fresh chives, for garnish

Directions: 

Pierce the potatoes with a fork, then microwave them for 12 to 15 minutes, or until tender. (Or, you can bake these in the oven ahead of time at 400 F for an hour. I have also saved the inside of the potatoes when making potato skins for this recipe.) Carefully halve the potatoes and let cool. Once cool enough to handle, remove the skins, and cut into chunks.

Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a skillet until crisp. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and cool. Reserve up to 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat from the pan. 

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the reserved bacon fat, garlic and onion and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the onion is tender. Slowly whisk the flour into the pan and stir for 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk and half-and-half. Keep whisking until smooth. Gradually add the chicken stock. Bring to a light simmer and whisk in the kosher salt, garlic salt and pepper. Keep at a light simmer until the mixture has thickened, 5 to 7 minutes.

If you'd like to use cheeses and bacon as a garnish, reserve 1/4 cup of each. Stir in the remaining cheeses, bacon, and the sour cream. Remove the pot from the heat. Scoop potato chunks into the pot, breaking them into small pieces or leaving them chunky, depending on how you like it. Serve hot, topped with garnishes, like cheese, bacon and chives.

Lindsey Hollenbaugh can be reached at lhollenbaugh@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6211. On Twitter: @Lhollenbaugh.

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