This soupy story begins post-college. I had procured a job teaching with an educational company called Readak that sends its teachers for a month or two to private schools all over the world to teach kids better study skills. My first assignment was in Orlando, Florida, where a lovely single lady who taught at my first school offered to house me during my stay there. At her house, I ate well--home cooked meals, as you might expect. I had no complaints, except for the fact that, as a good southern girl, she had been taught that vegetables must be cooked until they are grey and mushy. She told me it was the southern way. Hopefully that isn't true. One day, I cooked--and when I told her the fresh green beans shouldn't take any more than about seven minutes or so, she looked at me like I had flipped. Of course, she drank her Sweet Tea so sweet, it was practically syrup, so to say we came from different culinary backgrounds would be an understatement. Moving on...
My second assignment took me to a boarding school just a bit north, in Altamonte Springs. There, I was housed by the school in one of the spartan "hotel" rooms on their campus usually reserved for visiting parents. When I say the room was spartan, I mean it--no phone, no TV, no refrigerator, no cooking device of any kind--so I did all of my eating (ALL OF IT) out. I tried the cafeteria at the school, hoping for a lower-cost meal option, but the school was a Seventh-Day Adventist school, and they served only vegetarian fare. Apparently, the highlight of their menu was their faux sea scallops. Considering I don't even like the real thing, I opted out of that particular delicacy, and all of the other pseudo-meat meals they offered.
I had family in Florida at that time, though, and they recommended to me a then-new restaurant called Bennigan's. Yep, that Bennigan's. They told me that I must go there, and that furthermore, I must partake of their Baked Potato Soup. Having no reason not to take their recommendation, I went, and suffice it to say that I loved that soup. Thick, creamy, and served steaming, topped with generous portions of crumbled bacon, cheddar cheese, and sliced green onions, it was a comfort food I eventually came to crave--even when it was November in Florida and still hotter than Dante's Inferno. I think it goes without saying that I made many trips back to Bennigan's for this comforting soup--though, it's so thick and so rich, the name soup barely applies.
Fast forward a few years, when I've moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where they drink tea that isn't syrup and green beans that aren't mush. That Bennigan's soup was still a favorite, but since I was now paying rent and utilities and working full-time for a non-profit ministry, I had considerably less disposable income to apply toward meals out. I determined to re-create Bennigan's soup at home, so I set about scouring the internet for a recipe that sounded similar. I found two. The first used mashed potatoes and chicken broth as a base; it looked healthy and relatively easy, and, as a connoisseur of mashed potatoes, I was comfortable with the cooking processes involved. When my parents came to visit shortly thereafter, I decided to try out this fantastic recipe for dinner, wanting to show them just how delicious and life-changing this soup could be.
We were all very disappointed.
The recipe said it was a copycat recipe, and "just like" the original, even promising that we "wouldn't know the difference!" But we did. I tossed that recipe bitterly, cursing its failed promises of deliciousity.
I still had the other recipe I'd found, but two things held me back from trying it: 1)I was so disappointed at being burned by the first recipe, I just wasn't ready to trust again, and 2) it required that I make a roux, which sounded way too difficult.
Fast forward again, to the beginning of my marriage. I was unemployed at the time, and so had all sorts of time to experiment in the kitchen. Feeling adventuresome, I made another dish that called for a roux, and found it to be very easy--all you do is melt an amount of butter, add an equal amount of flour, whisk until no lumps remain, and cook over low heat for just a minute. What had I been afraid of all those years? It turned out my fears were completely unfounded. Roux were simple.
And then an alarm sounded in my head--a ROUX! I knew how to make a ROUX! Maybe, just maybe, it was time to dust off that second Baked Potato Soup recipe and give it a go. So I did.
Lawsie. It was good. It was very, very good.
It quickly became The Recipe That Everyone Wanted a Copy Of, and I was happy to acquiesce. Over the years, I have tweaked the original recipe, so now, it's even better. It has become a family favorite, and that's the truth.
So without further ado, here's a recipe that will change your life.
Baked Potato Soup
6 lg. russet (baking) potatoes
3/4 c. butter
3/4 c. flour
6 c. milk
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp. chicken base (like Better Than Bouillon, available in your soup aisle)
8 oz. sour cream
Shredded Cheddar cheese
Sliced green onions
Bake potatoes at 400 degrees for 1 hour. When they are cool enough to handle, scoop out the potato and discard the skins. Slightly mash up the potatoes, and set aside.
Make a roux with the butter and flour. Gradually add milk, whisking well to avoid lumps, and cook over medium heat just until thickened and bubbly.
Stir in potato, salt, pepper, and chicken base. Cook just until potato is heated through--do not boil.
Add sour cream, and again, just heat through. It won't take long.
Sprinkle individual servings with the cheese, bacon, and green onion. Add a lovely salad, and you've got yourself a humdinger of a meal!