Saturday, January 12, 2013

Chicken Cheddar Broccoli Soup

I love winter.  Actually, I really love all four seasons, especially in regard to their food-related qualities.  But now it's wintertime, and I'm appreciating the cold season's uniqueness.  While I absolutely love snow, and I love the winter holidays, and I love how things seem to slow down and allow more time for reflection and renewal, I also LOVE winter food. 

Soups, stews and chilis just taste better when the air outside is crisp.  A mug full of chocolately-sugary-creamy-coffee goodness fits with a warm blanket, cozy pajamas and a good book like a hand in a glove.  But only in the winter.

I have to confess.  I start looking forward to winter eating months in advance.  The first cold day of the season (you know, the one that happens smack-dab in the middle of fall marked by winter-haters complaints about what's to come) is celebrated in my house with a pot of something warm and filling and yummy.  Usually a beef stew, sometimes a chili. 

A few weeks ago, I was itching to try something new.  I had received an e-mail from one of our local farmers about what would be available that week.  Through the winter, our town doesn't have a formal farmer's market, but several farmers use an e-mail list to keep folks informed of greenhouse or other offerings they have available each week.  Inspired by farm-fresh, locally-grown broccoli and carrots available in December, I began dreaming up a homemade cheddar broccoli soup.

As I began thinking of more and more vegetables to add, I realized my husband would likely look in the pot and -- as much as he likes a can of cheddar broccoli soup for lunch -- ask, "where's the meat?"

Instead of coaxing him to try a bite, which I was confident he would love, I decided to skip that whole conversation and add chicken. 

I threw all the yummy, complimentary foods I could think of together in a pot and the result was finished off at a church potluck the next day.  Below is a recipe that very closely resembles the foods I used and process I followed that day.  (I did do some minor tweaking as the original result had too many peas for my taste, and also, the seasonings are a best guess on my part.  I love seasonings and dump a variety in until I get the taste I'm looking for.)

As always, feel free to use your favored brands and products and experiment, add, and change the recipe however you'd like.

Hope this helps warm you up on a cold evening!

3/4 lb to 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (or more or less to your liking)
32 oz chicken broth
1 pint half and half
3-6 carrots
3-5 celery stalks
broccoli florets from 4-7 heads of broccoli (I used A LOT of broccoli, but feel free to use less for your recipe)
1 cup frozen peas (I used a whole bag - it was too many)
1 box velveeta cheese (medium size box... maybe 16 oz... not the little box, not the really big box)
shredded cheddar and other cheese blends
1 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)
1 tablespoon chicken boullion granules (optional)
2 teaspoon garlic (optional)
1 teaspoon house seasoning (salt, pepper, garlic mix, optional)

Put chicken and broth in a pot and bring to a boil.  While chicken is cooking, shred carrots and add to chicken.  Finely dice celery and add.  Chop broccoli florets to a very small size (I use very little of the stalks and stems) and add.  After 20-30 minutes, remove chicken from soup and chop or shred as desired.  Return chicken to pot. 

Continue to boil/simmer veggies until they are desired consistency.  I like mine very tender -- almost like "vegetable mush." 

Add half and half.  Cube velveeta and add to pot.  Add desired seasonings to taste.

If you'd like it a little more cheesy, add shredded cheese blends.  I added two additional cups of shredded cheddar (what I had in the fridge).

Variation:  This can be converted to a chicken pot pie recipe...
Increase the amount of chicken and veggies, decrease the amount of half and half and cheese.  The result will be a thicker consistency.  Pour into a casserole dish, and top with a prepared biscuit mix (such as Bisquick's garlic cheddar biscuit).  Bake in oven until biscuits are done. 

This is also a good recipe to freeze as a make-ahead meal.

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