Friday, September 23, 2011

Beer Cheese Soup

I got sucked into a discussion today. It was about cheese. Mmm, cheese. When it came time to decide what was for dinner, it went without saying that it would have to be something with cheese. I had a single bottle of Oktoberfest beer in the fridge, just waiting to be used. Someone in this world must have been pointing me toward this soup.

Also, this Sunday is a big football week for us midwesterners. The Packers play the Bears, and the Vikings play the Lions. So I had to pull out a recipe to support my favorite Wisconnie team!

The soup requires quite a few ingredients, but don't be put off. Most of them are things you probably have on hand already.

The first thing I did was grab a big pot and toss the butter in. I did not photograph that.

Then I peeled my vegetables.

I did photograph that.

Aren't these red carrots awesome? The only bummer is that they're orange on the inside, not red.

But when you cut into them, they're a sort of tie-dye color, with dark and light orange.

And they smell so rich and carroty.

The celery, onion, and garlic weren't as interesting, so I skipped showing you picture after picture of cut-up vegetables.

I cut everything up pretty finely. I didn't dice, because I wasn't sure if I was going to puree the soup or not.

The pot got turned on on medium heat and the vegetables were left to soften in the butter.

While that was going on, I grabbed some cheese.

I used white and yellow cheddars.

One thing that's important to this soup is the age of the cheese. Aged cheeses have a stronger flavor, but they don't melt well, no matter how well you stir them in. They get sort of grainy. So avoid super-sharp cheese (and even sharp cheese is a little melt-resistant. If you go with a sharp, try to go with a brand that has a softer texture. Anything too firm is a no-go.) Mild, medium, or soft sharp cheddars are best for melting. Or you could use jack, colby, or cojack. Even a swiss would be nice.

Oh, steer clear of smoked cheese, too. It also won't be a good melter.

And here's yet another tip. Don't buy the pre-shredded cheese. I love it, and it's convenient, but it also has an agent that makes it resistant to melting the right way in soup. Go with the blocks.

I don't own a cheese grater. I hate grating cheese, and I hate cleaning the cheese grater.

One of the ways I would recommend to collect grated cheese for melting is simple. Just use a vegetable peeler and peel strips of the cheese off the block. It works best with a cold block of cheese. Even popping the block in the freezer for a couple minutes helps.

Or you could dice the cheese. This method allows you to still get small, uniform pieces of cheese that will melt easily.

First I cut slices off the blocks, just like if I was going to lay them on a cracker and eat them.

Then I cut the slices into planks.

And then the planks became little bits of cheese cubes.

Now that the cheese is ready, you can get back to the vegetables (which I hope you've been watching and stirring occasionally!)

You'll be making a roux for your soup. Measure the same amount of flour as butter (in this case, 1/3 of a cup.) Sprinkle the flour in.

Stir it around, so it gets evenly distributed in the fat. Let it cook for about a minute.

Then pour in the vegetable broth. I used vegetable because it was all I had, but this way it's also a vegetarian dish. You'll need the whole box.

Now for the beer.

I left it out after I took the group picture at the beginning of the recipe. Taking some of the chill off will help my pot of soup heat up faster.

I really wanted to drink this. But it was our last bottle of Oktoberfest, and it seemed blasphemous to make beer cheese soup for a Packers game without anything other than a true Wisconsin beer.

That looks pretty good already--and there isn't even any cheese yet!

Now for some milk.

And some cream. I originally wrote the recipe to use 2 cups of milk and 2 cups of half and half. However, looking through my fridge I realized I only had heavy cream. So I adjusted and used 3 cups of milk and 1 cup of cream instead.

You could use all milk if you wanted to avoid adding more saturated fat.

Let the pot come to a gentle boil. This will ensure the roux is thickened as much as possible.

Once it's boiling, lower the heat. Gentle, gentle simmering bubbles in the soup are okay, but nothing hotter than that.

It's time to add the cheese.

Add the cheese a handful at a time. Stir well after each addition, to make sure it's fully melted.

Plunk in a big spoonful of Dijon mustard. Because nothing goes with beer and cheese like Dijon.

Worcestershire sauce always gives food a nice depth of flavor. It's full of umami, don't you know.

To really round out the typical Wisconsin bar flavor, add a dash of hot sauce.

Um, yum!

If you wanted a completely smooth soup, you could grab an immersion blender and blend the soup at this point. Otherwise, it's ready to eat!

The traditional topping to this soup is popcorn. The popcorn melts pretty fast, though (it makes that popping sound like Rice Krispies make in milk.) You could always top it with more shredded cheese, or some cubed bacon or ham. BBQ chips are my pick! Even if you don't choose a topping, this soup will stand up by itself. Serve this at your next football party alongside soft pretzels and nacho chips. Come on--the Vikings fans need something good to cheer for this year! ;)

 Recipe: Beer Cheese Soup

1/3 c. butter
3 carrots, thinly sliced or diced
1/2 large onion or 1 small, finely diced
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced or diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
1/3 c. flour
1 box vegetable broth
1 bottle beer
3 c. milk
1 c. heavy cream
2 8-oz blocks cheese, diced or shredded
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 stp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. hot pepper sauce
popped popcorn, for garnish

Saute carrots, onions, celery, and garlic in butter until softened. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

Sprinkle in flour and cook for 1-2 minutes. Slowly add in vegetable broth, stirring as you pour to ensure a smooth roux. Add beer, milk, and cream. Allow soup to come to a gentle boil.

Decrease heat until soup is barely simmering. Add cheese one handful at a time, stirring well after each addition until fully melted. Add mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce.

Serve with popped popcorn on the side. (The popcorn dissolves fast, so allow people to continually add the popcorn while eating.)

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