Just Souper

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This is a Wheatless Wednesday post misplaced by a couple days… 🙂

There aren’t many people who would rave about their high school cafeteria food experience. Quite honestly, I didn’t buy it much myself — with an almost endless supply of free bagels, there was little need to spend the money. But not every high school had the blessing of whom we fondly referred to as “The Bread Lady” & her partners in crime who made many things from scratch. How many students have had the pleasure of sitting in class and inhaling the satisfying aroma of baking bread? And then there was the opportunity of tasting that warm homemade (or does that become “school-made”?) bread spread with butter. And then there was the soup…

Yes, I truly believe that experience fed into my culinary craziness. They raised the bar on cafeteria food. And that was just the bread and soup! I would wonder at the mystery that my large stack of college room & board dollars couldn’t glean fresh bread and soup. For years I would crave the cream of broccoli soup of high school yesteryear. It was creamy, but it wasn’t cheesy. That’s what made the difference for me. Too often broccoli cheese soup can get like eating liquid nacho cheese with chunks of what used to be broccoli. Yuck.

So through the years I’ve strived to attain that soup-making perfection. We didn’t have a lot of soup in our house. There were days of homemade chicken noodle or chili; but beyond that, I don’t recall a lot. My experience has been through trial and error. It’s been such a fun time! I love imagining the layers of flavor in each spoonful and then throwing ingredients in to achieve that flavor, always, always tasting as I go. It’s such a budget-stretching, satisfying, crowd-pleasing thing. Most of the time it doesn’t even take more than 30 minutes. And when your own soup pot can satisfy those warm memories of bar-raising cups of soup, all is well with the world.

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Cream of Broccoli Soup

I’ve found that the best cream of broccoli soup is made by cooking the broccoli in two batches to let the different flavors of broccoli shine– the first contributes to that smooth, mellow layer of cooked broccoli while the second addition shows the chunky, bright freshness of broccoli. Fresh broccoli may be used in place of the frozen. Cooking times will need to be increased.

  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • ¼ cup margarine or butter
  • 5 cups water or chicken broth
  • 4 chicken bouillon cubes (omit if using broth)
  • 1 16-oz. package plus 1 cup frozen broccoli* (about 3-4 cups total)
  • 4 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in ¼ cup cold water
  • 1 can evaporated milk*
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic or 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • ½ tsp. dill
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (you may also use mozzarella for a mellower flavor)
  1. Cook onion and margarine over medium-high heat until onion is tender.  Add broth or water and bouillon cubes; heat to boiling over high heat.
  2. Add package of broccoli.  Bring back to boiling and cook until broccoli is tender.
  3. Place mixture in blender (as much as will safely fit) or blend with immersion blender.  Blend until almost smooth.  If using blender, return to pot.
  4. Add remaining broccoli, garlic, salt, pepper, and dill. Bring mixture back to boiling; reduce heat to medium to medium-high to maintain a vigorous simmer.  Cook until broccoli is tender but still bright green.  Stir in cornstarch mixture.  Cook until thickened (may have to increase heat; if mixture is still not as thick as desired, add another 4 Tbsp. cornstarch dissolved in water).
  5. Add evaporated milk and cheese.  Heat through.  Serve with additional cheese, if desired. Drop baking powder biscuits (I use Betty Crocker for that) make an excellent accompaniment.
*You may decide to add more broccoli or to add more milk — skim, 1%, 2%, or another can of evaporated milk to increase amount of soup and creaminess. Increase seasonings to reach desired taste.
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