One of the frustrating things about chronic life is that it delimits what I can do.
Depending on the day it does so rather severely.
This means I am cooking far less these days. Most of my time and energy goes into tea.
And I love tea, I do. I love the endless possibilities and permutations, I love the internal (and sometimes external) smiles and cackling that are provoked when I find out someone truly enjoyed one of our blends, or was assisted by one of our medicinals.
But I also love good food.1
I especially love the type of good food that comes with a side of feeling accomplished – when the delicious meal you are enjoying is something that you created. The happy sighs and utter focused quiet coming from your partner are something you caused with Kitchen Witchery.
So, on a Monday in late March2 I decided I was fed up with not cooking. My Monday had gone better than expected, and I’d knocked off all the absolutely essential paperwork – and made some decent headway on the laundry in and around the edges of that. So I gave myself the latter part of the day to create food.
First I wanted biscuits3 Partially because biscuits and gravy is one of Mister Tea’s favourite foods, and partially because they are a comfort food for me. Strawberry shortcake is one of the few sweet concoctions that does not involve chocolate that I will seek out, and there are many variations on the theme that can be accomplished.
But, in my world at least, they all require biscuits.
This first step, before trying to accomplish “proper meal cooking,” should have been relatively painless and easy. Due to one simple fact.
We have a stand mixer.
I almost never remember that we have a stand mixer because it is a weird and arcane device that was not present when I was learning the basics of the Kitchen.
This time I did. I wrestled it over to the table (not the greatest idea, granted, but better than unending use of a pastry blender) – and set it up. Crowing happily inside because I had remembered the Easier Thing. I knew Mister Tea would be so proud.
However, the distraction of this small victory led me to forget an important fact.
The stand mixer has multiple attachments. For different purposes.
As it so happens, I fished the wrong one out of the “gadget bits and cake decoration supplies” drawer.
I have now learned that if you want to make biscuit dough in a stand mixer, you really do need to use the bread hook piece, rather than the mixing bowl piece.
Getting the dough off the standard mixing attachment took more flour, both on my hands and the dough, which then required some hand-kneading – and a little more liquid and… it had been a bit over-mixed to start, because it took me a bit too long to realize my error, and I’d been waiting for the texture to resolve into what I expected.
Eventually I managed something resembling our go-to biscuits – and they came out relatively okay. Bit denser than usual, didn’t rise as well, and cooked more slowly – but still completely edible, and still a happy treat.
However, that error made me approach the other thing I had wanted to cook that day with a bit of trepidation.
It was a New Recipe, and not an arena I had stepped into before.
I’d made soups, but only one or two that were dairy based, and both of those had happened close to ten years ago.
I waved off the wariness and settled in to attempt the soup.
The basic recipe was as follows:
4 cups peeled and diced potatoes (3-4 large russet potatoes)
1 small onion, chopped
3 cups chicken broth
4 T butter
¼ c flour
¼ c sour cream
1 ½ c heavy cream (half and half will also work)
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Bacon, cooked and crumbled; 1 ½ c cheddar cheese, green onions
I began by bringing the slow cooker over to the top of the stove. Made possible by the fact that we have an extra-spiffy glass-topped one. It makes a shorter trip for ingredients and water, and is thus worth dealing with the weight of the thing.4
Then I had to face what turned out to be the second hardest part of the process5 We use jars of bouillon paste when I’ve not planned enough in advance to have broth defrosted. They are sometimes ridiculously hard to open. I fought with it using just my hands, I applied a variety of grippy-things that are supposed to assist with jar opening, and finally resorted to running a thin stream of hot water over the lid. This will often loosen any crystallization that has occurred, and will allow me to open the jar.6
I ended up with a bit more water in with the bouillon than called for, as even with water from the kettle, sometimes the jar-paste doesn’t dissolve particularly swiftly. As I had to add even more water later, this turned out to be a useful oops.
I started with 3 potatoes, because the definition of “large” anything varies author to author and recipe to recipe. Scrubbed them down but did not peel them. There’s a lot of nutrient in those peels, and life experience has made “peel-on” things made out of potatoes more comforting than things without.
Chopping the potatoes and onions got a little complicated due to the existence of cat. He could smell the chicken bouillon, and also the biscuits, and both of those are personal siren songs for him. He equates bread smell with butter – which he loves, and chicken… Well, every cat I have ever had has had an affection for the smell of cooking meat – chicken often preferred above all else.
As I was chopping and dicing I had to watch out of the corner of my eye for wigglebutt.exe – which is the primary warning sign that he is about to leap to my shoulders.
I don’t always dissuade him from this, and have eaten many breakfasts with a cat draped over my shoulders wishing I had some sort of harness or armor for my shoulders and upper back. This particular day I knew that my pain levels were too high, and having the sudden weight7 might have caused a knife skip – and Mister Tea didn’t need to get that text message:
“I need you to come home because I’ve sliced my fingers to a point where my level of first aid isn’t going to cut it. A bowl and some ice are involved.”
There ended up being a rhythm to it, 3 or 4 cuts, fend off cat with foot, 3 or 4 more cuts. Eventually I got the potatoes to my liking – though I did not go for “diced.” Thinner slices, larger pieces. More efficient than dicing, and I didn’t think it would extend the cooking time at all.
Once I cut into an onion, Merlin abruptly lost interest. There are many human foods he loves – none of them are alliums.
I was very happy that Mister Tea was able to find young onions. They tend to be a little gentler on the eyes than full size, and there’s a neat flavour aspect that I can’t quite explain but I know is there. They are also easier to chop to size than full size onions – which is a lovely bonus to an already spiffy thing.
Before wandering off to let it simmer for hours, I corrected a sizable flaw in the recipe. (As far as the preferences of this house.) It didn’t call for garlic.
I used garlic. By some assessments I cheated, because we keep a jar of minced garlic on hand. I do prefer to chop it up fresh, but as the capacity to cook has become so infrequent for me, the jar is less wasteful.8 I don’t exactly measure it, per se, but it was probably somewhere between 1 and 2 tablespoons.
Dusting of pepper (no salt, it didn’t seem like it needed it) – and I lidded the pot, set it to high, and wandered off to do other useful things until the next steps needed to be done.
One of those useful things was Second Food. Which was slightly complicated by the smells emanating from the kitchen – many things do well with the scent of onions and garlic – but there are also things that do not.
Over the course of the next few hours I checked on it every time I was in the kitchen. Given my tea consumption – this probably meant it was stirred every 20-40 minutes. Which turned out to be necessary – as was the addition of more liquid. Additionally, the potatoes became “tender” faster than the recipe had told me to expect, so I did drop the temperature down to low for the last couple hours before Mister Tea came home.
A nice side benefit to this was that I was able to mush some of the potatoes into the broth – creating a thicker base – which I theorized would make for a better soup.9
The last part was interesting. For some reason I’ve never gotten along particularly well with whisks.
I melted the butter, whisked in the flour, heavy cream, and sour cream… and I really thought that I’d gotten the mixture to a consistent smoothness… I discovered I was wrong when I added it to the soup. The whisk did not function in the main soup, but the spoon I’d been using to stir worked fairly well for working the dairy and flour goop into the main mass of the soup.10 I will have to take more care with the whisking when next this is made, or time it so that Mister Tea can manage that part. (He is far better at such things than I.)
At this point it was down to “what extras do I want to add?”
Cheese, for certain, so I grated a bunch of cheddar.11 I did not measure it. Frankly I almost never measure grated cheese. Metric is either “until it looks right,” “until my wrists start dipping into the bluer end of their vocabulary,” or “until the pile on the plate starts to fall over.” In this case it was “looks right.”
I sliver-sliced some of the green tops remaining from the onions used earlier. Probably should have done a bit more of them – the volume of soup was deceiving – there was far more there than it seemed.
Then I had to confront the concept of protein. It really seemed like there should be something in there, but I hadn’t had the spoons to deal with bacon. Though the consideration was more for the aftermath of cooking bacon than the actual cooking of the bacon. So messy.
However, we had a rotisserie chicken that I hadn’t finished stripping down in the fridge – and I was pretty sure shredded chicken would make a fine addition to the soup. Again, and unhelpfully, I know – I didn’t measure this. Just cut off bits and tore them up, stirring through after each chunk, waiting until the ratio looked appropriate.
The cheese melted through nicely and swiftly – and changed the colour of the soup to a wonderful yellow, several shades shy of Welsh Rarebit, but still indicative of cheese.
End result: Something I’m tempted to try to freeze. I quite enjoyed the taste, and Mister Tea commented (in several different ways) while consuming that first bowl regarding how amazing it was.
So we shall call this experiment a success.
Slow Cooker Loaded Baked Potato Soup
- 4 c peeled and diced potatos
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 c chicken broth
- 4 T butter
- 1/4 c flour
- 1/4 c sour cream
- 1 1/2 c heavy cream or half and half
- salt and pepper to taste
- bacon, cheese, green onions optional adds
- Add potatoes, onions, and chicken brother to your slow cooker. Cook on low 4-6 hours on high 3-4 hours or until the potatoes are tender.
- 30 minutes before done, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Whisk in flour and cook until bubbly. Slowly add heavy cream and sour cream. Add this to the soup and stir. Continue to cook in slow cooker for 20-30 minutes.
- Add whatever toppings you like, you can also stir them into the soup entire.
- Mostly the feeding it to other people part. I like eating it as well, but that’s framed more as a happy side effect in my head.
- Of 2018. It took far too long to get this post put together.
- American biscuits. Of the can be used for savory things or sweets variety.
- Depending on the day, admittedly. Then again, a day where I cannot handle the weight of the slow cooker is probably not a day I will be attempting to make food.
- The first involved my cat, Merlin, but we’ll get to that here in a bit.
- Jars are in the same category as Ziplocs, and often attain nemesis status.
- He is generally quite skilled at leap, and rarely causes pain or draws blood, other than the unavoidable vibration ow caused by over 10 lbs of cat abruptly landing on you.
- It is also one of those irritating concessions to Spooniedom.
- Spoiler: I wasn’t wrong about this.
- I apologize for the lack of pretty pictures from here on out – at this point in the process I was talking to Mister Tea as he headed home, and I only have so many hands.
- Thank you, Costco for having large bricks of decent cheddar for a manageable price.