By Betty Gordon
© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.
On a rare snowy day in January here in the deep South, when going outside for any length of time was further discouraged by temperatures barely in the 20s and a gusty wind, I headed to the kitchen. I weighed making some of my favorite recipes, but this seemed like an opportunity to try some new ones.
(I’m not a cold-weather wimp — I’ve lived in North Dakota, Connecticut, Michigan, upstate New York and Missouri. Residents of those states know a thing or two about cold and snowy weather.)
I love cheese, particularly extra-sharp cheddar. I build sandwiches around it, eat it out of hand with apple slices, snack on it with crackers, layer it in casseroles, and fold it into savory baked goods. All in moderation, of course, because cheddar has a hefty fat content.
With a 20-ounce block of Coastal rugged mature cheddar, made by Ford Farms in Dorchester, England, in the refrigerator, I decided to build around that ingredient.
And what better food on a blustery day than soup? On an earlier spin through one of my cookbooks, I had marked Potato, Parsnip and Cheddar Cheese Soup, and settled on making that.
The roux made from flour and butter (or margarine) helps thicken the soup, as does the addition of heated milk and melting cheddar. When all that is whisked together, then stirred into the vegetable base, the yield is a stick-to-the spoon thick, mildly flavored bowl of comfort.
Because cheese can present one of the hardest cleanup tasks, use an enameled Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, for making the soup. If you don’t own one, then keep a close eye on the soup and the heat level on the stove once you’ve added the milk-cheese mixture. You don’t want it to burn and make a crusty mess.
To accompany the velvety soup, and to have a “utensil” to mop up every little bit of it from the bowl, I made Cheddar and Black Pepper Scones. Hot out of the oven, they reminded me of bumpy, flaky biscuits. The cheddar oozes as the scones bake, giving them that little extra oomph. When cooled, the texture was denser, more like traditional scones.
Light cream-colored Coastal cheddar is aged for up to 15 months. Flakier than some cheddars, it has thin veins of calcium lactate crystals that impart a subtle crunch. The hit of salt is also a nice contrast to the mellow, nutty flavor of the cheese.
The soup can be a main course, balanced with a mixed green salad with red bell peppers, grape tomatoes, celery, onions, carrots and olives. Or any combination of your own liking, of course.
If you’ve had a an outdoorsy day, burning a lot of calories and energy, then there’s no need to feel guilty about this splurge on the cheddar side.
Creamy Potato, Parsnip and Cheddar Cheese Soup is stick-to-your ribs comfort food.
Potato, Parsnip and Cheddar Cheese Soup
Hands on: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Serves: 6 to 8
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about two large), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cups water, vegetarian stock or chicken stock
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter or margarine
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, cut in small dice or shredded
Carrot curls for garnish (optional)
In a large, heavy Dutch oven, combine potatoes, parsnips, carrots, onion and water or stock. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover partway, and reduce heat to medium. Stir every 10 minutes or so. Simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes.
After the soup has been cooking about 20 minutes, begin the milk-cheese part. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter or margarine over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk. Lower heat as necessary and do not let the mixture reach a boil. The mixture will thicken as you continue whisking, for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cheddar cheese and continue whisking as it melts. Keep the mixture warm until the soup is ready.
Pour the milk-cheese mix into the vegetables. Stir thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into individual dishes and garnish with carrot curls on top. As it cools, the soup will form a skin on top, so stir before serving.
Refrigerated leftovers will keep 3 to 4 days in a tightly covered container.
Adapted from “One Potato, Two Potato: 300 Recipes from Simple to Elegant — Appetizers, Main Dishes, Side Dishes, and More” by Roy Finamore with Molly Stevens (Houghton Mifflin Co., 2001, $35)
Lining the baking tray with parchment paper can make cleanup easier because any cheese that melts won’t stick to the paper.
Cheddar and Black Pepper Scones
Hands on: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes
Makes: About 40 (1 1/2-inch) scones
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine
1 cup (4 ounces) cheddar cheese, shredded or cut in small dice
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper (decrease the amount if you want less heat)
3/4 cup (6 ounces) buttermilk, plain yogurt or sour cream
Milk for glaze (optional)
In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. With a pastry cutter or two forks, cut in butter and cheese. Stir in black pepper. Cover and refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Stir in the buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream. The mixture will be very crumbly. It should hold together, but if not, add buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream by the tablespoon as needed.
Gather dough into a ball and turn out onto a well-floured surface or piece of parchment paper.
Pat the mixture into a 12-by-8-inch rectangle about 3/4-inch thick. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares. Transfer the squares to parchment paper-lined baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between squares. They will rise and expand as they bake. Brush top of each square lightly with milk, if desired.
Alternatively, use a 2- or 2 21/2-inch floured biscuit cutter to stamp out scones, or cut dough into larger squares or triangles.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, turning the sheets about halfway through and swapping positions on oven racks, until lightly golden on top. The melting cheese may dribble a bit, and baking on parchment paper will speed the cleanup.
Store for up to a week in an air-tight container.
Nutrition information, per 2-scone serving: 132 calories, 6.4 grams fat, 4 grams protein, 1 gram sugar, 1 gram dietary fiber, 19 milligrams cholesterol, 302 milligrams sodium, 14 grams complex carbohydrates. (These figures apply to the 1 1/2-inch scones.)
Adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe, http://www.kingarthurflour.com