Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Healthy(er) Broccoli Cheese Soup

From my senior year in high school to my winter break of sophomore year at Fordham, I worked at Panera Bread back in Connecticut.  And I loved it.  Seriously, if I hadn't needed to grow up and get a full-time office job, I would have kept working at Panera through last summer.  But now I'm at Travelers, and I love them too.

I have lots of love for my workplaces.

Sadly, my Panera days are no more, but that does NOT mean I have forgotten my Panera roots (my Sears roots, however?  Long gone.  Loooong gone).  I visit and eat there every time I go home, even though I want to jump behind the counter and make everything myself, because the food is actually good!  No, really... I'll bet that anyone who worked at McDonald's or something never wanted to eat that food again.  But even though all of the Panera food isn't as healthy as you think it is, it is fresh and it isn't so bad for you.

And what is the one thing that always, always, always reminds me of Panera?  Broccoli Cheddar Soup.  Do you know how healthy restaurant Broc-Ched soup is for you?  Not healthy at all.  Do I still eat it?  Yessirree!  However, when I'm making broccoli cheddar soup at home, I try not to fill it with bad stuff, for my own sanity.  I found this recipe, originally published in Cooking Light magazine, and it has worked out really well for me.  I do think that my version looks better than the one on the webpage... but you can decide that for yourself.

Enjoy my version of Healthy Panera Broccoli-Cheese Soup (and the pictures to go with it)!
(P-dub, I love you, I do.  But your soup is fattening.  And full of sodium.  I'm sorry.  I can't help it).

What you'll need:
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2.5 - 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 16 - 20oz. package of broccoli florets (whatever you can find)
  • 2.5 cups 1% milk
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese (you can do low-fat if you want... I didn't!)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
How to make it:

1.  Heat a little bit of olive oil over medium heat in a large pan.  Add in onions and garlic and saut√© until soft (about three minutes).

This is about a cup of onion - one half of a medium-to-large onion

2.  Add in your broccoli florets (they shouldn't be completely frozen; if they are, just defrost them in the microwave for a little while).  Pour in broth at the same time.  Bring the mixture to a boil, turn down to medium heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.

 The broccoli is still a bit frozen, but I got it to break up.
That's what you want!
Covering the broccoli mixture makes it boil faster
...or that's my philosophy, at least

3.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flour and milk until there are no lumps.  Then, pour it into the broccoli mixture (still over medium heat) and stir until it thickens.
 Note that I transferred everything to a bigger pot.
I'm bad at planning ahead
As you're stirring, you can also mash up some of the broccoli if you have some pent-up anger.
I didn't have any pent-up anger- it just saved me a step later.
Plus, it was fun.

Another note: it's difficult to both cook and take pictures while your mother is also cooking dinner on the stove.
It's probably easier just to kick her out at this point.
(Just kidding, Mom)

Would you look at that?  Your broccoli is all mashed up already.  Good job!
If you chose not to mash, take about a third of the mix and put it into a blender.
Then, add it back into the pot.

3.  What's missing from this very pale picture?  Ah, that's right: cheese.  Remove the pot from heat and stir in your cheese (a little extra never hurts, either).

Now, that's the stuff.

Look at this color!  That's looking more like broccoli-cheddar soup

4.  Oops!  Forgot the pepper.  Stir in 1/4 tsp (or a couple shakes) of black pepper (and maybe even a little salt too).

I hate black pepper, but I relented.  It's not so bad.

6.  Check for taste and make sure it's seasoned well!

Yeah, baby, that's some good soup.
Just take a little taste and make sure it's up to par...

...but make sure you don't drop your spoon in the pot of soup.
That's what I get for trying to take a one-handed photo.

That's a good lookin' spoonful of soup!
Broccoli cheddar perfection
It goes great with a salad and some bread...

... or right into the Tupperware to freeze.
The things I do for my family.

If you freeze your soup, like I had to (I'm still getting over it), make sure that you reheat it on the stove, not in the microwave.  The microwave will just make it gloopy and weird.

Recipe review:

One thing I did not mention is that in high school, I made homemade broccoli cheddar soup for my then-boyfriend Nick.  And let me tell you, THAT SOUP WAS OUT OF THIS WORLD!  But it also had butter, Velveeta cheese, and lots of whole milk.  No good.

This recipe is so great because a lot of it is actually chicken stock, and you can use skim milk without it tasting bad!  The key is in cooking down the chicken stock so that it is concentrated enough to get the right consistency.  It's flavorful and much lower in calories, fat, and sodium.  I'm always a fan of more rather than less cheese, but as you can see from the color of the final product, this is plenty cheesy.

The final grade for this recipe is definitely an A.  But I'm not saying that you shouldn't still stop at Panera from time to time...!

For next time...
  • I wonder what other types of cheese would taste like!  I challenge one of you to tackle that
  • Different vegetables??  Maybe....?
  • Don't drop the spoon in the soup.  It will not behoove you.
Got any recipes that mimic your favorite restaurants' dishes?  Share them in the comments section!

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