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AMUSE BOUCHE Potato soup: Something in the spuds
Special to the Online Edition of Windy City Times
by Greg Perrine

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"You know what I like about this soup?" Michael said as he looked over a steaming crock pot of potato soup. "It's not grainy."

I grew up with potato soup; many people do. Every fall it seemed, when the weather started to turn cold, I would come home to a pot of potatoes boiling over the stove, the rich starchy scent lingering through the air. It's one of those "mood" soups. My mom would always say, "I was just in the mood for potato soup."

I've had the soup from scratch, out of a can and in a restaurant and, while I wouldn't consider myself an authority on the soup by any means, I have had some great ones and some bad ones. As far as soup classification goes, there are those soups that fall into a first course category, those that reside as a side, and others that stand alone as a complete meal. My favorite potato soups fall in the ladder, only calling for some fresh baked jalapeno cheddar bread, or a good crusty French baguette.

For some reason my mom's potato soup turns out grainy. The type of grainy that when you turn over your spoon and let the soup run off, you are left with bits of starch clinging to the metal. Michael seems to think that it might be the type of potatoes she uses, or the fact that she may thicken it with flour instead of corn starch, or it could be that she uses milk instead of half and half or heavy whipping cream. Either way I remember as a child grabbing the cheese, and the bacon bits, and the hot sauce, to add those missing layers of flavor.

Michael's potato soup is one of the great ones, if not the best one I've ever had. ( Sorry, mom. ) As with many of Michael's dishes, this potato soup stars a few unhealthy components: heavy cream, a lot of starch and bacon. Don't get me wrong, you need all of these things in order to make a successful potato soup, but it's definitely not a dish you make every weekend.

The key to this soup in my eyes is the bacon. The bacon is a trickster, as it only appears to be used as a garnish. In actuality, the bacon is the first ingredient in the dish, releasing it's grease only to be sucked up by the onion. These bacon infused onions act as the backbone to the soup, adding a rich smoky flavor to every bite. As with any good soup there must be layers of flavor, and Michael's soup starts with the bacon, and continues with dill, Colby cheese and green onion, allowing the flavors to develop over time, making each bite new and exciting.

Soup shouldn't be hard, and I am a stickler for slow cookers. Potato soup, as with many soups need time to mature, to fully develop their flavors, like a nice red wine, and slow cookers allow for that maturation. Other than cooking the bacon, Michael's potato soup is mostly just waiting—four to six hours worth of waiting. But it's that slow process that makes the soup so good.

"Is it time?" I always seem to ask, circling the kitchen like a vulture.

"Almost." Michael quickly replied, adding a bit of salt and a dash of pepper to the pot.

Either grainy or great, potato soup just warms me to the core. It seems to make the shortening days a little more bearable, the blustery winds a little warmer, and the fact that winter is right around the corner, seem okay. To me it's a soup that can be enjoyed at 4:30 p.m. on a gloomy day where the sun hid behind the clouds all day, or alone in front of the couch on a Friday night.

Michael's Potato Soup

6 slices of bacon, cut into 1/2 inch sections

1 large onion, chopped

2 ( 10.5 oz ) cans of condensed chicken broth

2 cups of water

5-6 large red skinned potatoes, chopped into one-inch cubes

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon of dried dill

1/2 teaspoon of white pepper

1/2 cup corn starch

2 cups of half and half or heavy whipping cream

1 ( 12 fluid oz ) can evaporated milk

2 cups grated Colby Cheese

5 green onions, chopped

1. In a skillet over high heat, cook the bacon and set aside.

2. Add the onion and cook until the onions until soft. Drain the excess grease.

3. In a slow cooker, combine onion, chicken broth, potatoes, salt, dill, and white pepper. Cover and cook on low for four to six hours, stirring occasionally.

4. In a bowl, whisk the corn starch and the heavy whipping cream together.

5. Add the corn starch mixture and the evaporated milk to the pot, let cook for a half hour more.

6. Garnish soup with cheese, bacon and green onions.

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