Cheddar Ale Soup with Homemade Croutons

As I mentioned at the start of 2011, I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, and I certainly won’t be making any related to dieting. I didn’t always make the best choices around the holidays (cookies for lunch), so I’ll definitely be working to clean up my act now that 2012 has arrived, but I won’t be eating a salad for every meal or cutting all desserts out (because that would just be crazy!). I’m a firm believer in all things in moderation 🙂

All that said, throughout the year I’m continually setting food-related goals, both related to the way we eat and the things I want to do for the blog. Last year I tried to make better choices for breakfast and worked to expand our horizons and make us more adventurous eaters. Progress was made on both fronts, and we’ll continue to work on these goals in 2012. I’ve also decided I want to add more soups to our meal plans in the new year. They’re warm and comforting (especially nice at this time of year), plus they make it easier for me to sneak an occasional meatless meal by Shane! I’m looking forward to sharing these (and several other blog-related) goals with you along the way.

Cheddar Ale Soup with Homemade Croutons

It would be fair to say the first soup we tried was a resounding success.  This cheddar ale soup came together easily and was really warm and filling. Maybe it goes without saying, but the cheese is the prominent flavor, so use something you really like.  The beer flavor is subtle but present, and though the recipe calls for a pale ale we didn’t have one on hand and thought our lager substitute worked great.  I urge you not to skip the bacon and crouton garnish (substitute store-bought croutons if you don’t want to make your own) – they really elevate this soup from good to awesome!

Cheddar Ale Soup
adapted just slightly from Williams-Sonoma (originally seen on Fake Ginger)

6 thick-cut bacon slices, cut into 1/2 to 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup pale ale
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cups milk (I used whole)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/4 lb sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
croutons (optional, for garnish)

Set a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat and add the bacon. Cook until crisp, stirring occasionally, then transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain all about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat in the pot.

Add the butter and give it a minute to melt, then mix in the onion, carrots and celery. Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables have softened. Add the garlic, cooking just until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Sprinkle the flour over the veggies and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently (you’re just trying to get the raw flour flavor cooked off). Add the beer and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture forms a thick paste, about 2-3 minutes. Mix in the Worcestershire sauce, milk and chicken broth until smooth. Increase the heat to medium-high and let the soup come to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium-low and allow it to continue simmering for 10-12 minutes. Turn off the heat under the pot and puree the soup with an immersion blender (or, if you don’t have one, in a traditional blender – you’ll probably want to do it in 2 batches.)

Set the pan over medium-low heat and, stirring constantly, add the cheese a little at a time. Be careful not to allow the soup to boil. Continue until you’ve added all of the cheese and the soup is smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve garnished with the bacon and croutons.

Serves 6

Homemade Croutons

day old bread (I used French bread)
olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to mix well.

Baked for about 15 minutes, or until the cubes are golden brown and crisp.

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