3 lbs baking/russet potatoes [approximate]
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided [2% works!]
10-12 slices bacon cooked and crumbled
4 cups 2 % milk
1 1/2 cups low fat half & half
2 [14.5 oz] cans chicken broth
1 8 oz light sour cream
1/2 cup all purpose flour
8 chopped green onions
5 Tbsp light margarine
1 minced shallots/red onion [about 1/3 cup]
2 Tbsp fresh chopped Italian parsley
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp salt
1/2-1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning [see cook's note]
black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wash the potatoes, and remove any blemishes, but, don't peel. Pierce each potato with a fork 2-3 times, then wrap in aluminum foil. Place onto a baking sheet and bake for 1-1 1/2 hours until fork tender. Remove from the oven, and cut into bite size chunks. I leave the peel on my potatoes, but, if you prefer them without the peel, you can peel them after baking.
In a medium stove top pot, melt 5 tablespoons of margarine. Add 1/2 cup of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of old bay seasoning, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of dry mustard and black pepper to taste. Cook until the roux blends and the flour cooks slightly. [about 1-2 minutes]
Slowly whisk in 4 cups of milk. The roux tends to stick to the edges of the pot, so be certain you mix all of it into the milk, or the sauce won't thicken properly. Bring to a boil stirring constantly, then lower the heat to a simmer. Allow the sauce to simmer for 4-5 minutes, until the flour has cooked. The sauce will be thick at this point, don't worry, we'll be thinning it out a little later. Keep a close eye on the sauce and stir often to prevent it from sticking.
While the sauce is cooking, in a large pot or dutch oven, cook the bacon. After the bacon has gotten crispy remove it from the pot, and discard all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings. Saute the chopped shallots in the drippings until translucent. Add the minced garlic and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. Add half of the chopped green onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
After the sauce has cooked for 4-5 minutes and thickened, add 1 1/2 cups of low fat half & half and 2 cups of shredded cheese. Stir until the cheese has completely melted then, remove from the heat.
To the dutch oven add the chopped potato chunks, and 1 1/2 cans of chicken broth. Set the burner temperature on medium. You may need to add all of the chicken broth depending on how thick you like your soup. If you used slightly less potatoes than I did, you may not need both cans of broth. Likewise, if you used slightly more potatoes, you may need to use both cans. I find it's easier to wait and make this adjustment after I add the sauce to the pot. Pour the cheese sauce into the pot and stir until blended. If you thin your soup a little too much, don't panic, you can easily thicken it by mashing some of the potatoes. Starch is a natural thickener, and the soup will continue to thicken as it cools.
Allow the soup to bubble, but do not boil, for about 15-20 minutes. The soup can separate, if you let it cook too vigorously. Lastly, add the chopped parsley, half of the crumbled bacon and 8 ounces of sour cream.
Continue to cook on medium just until heated through. Taste and adjust the seasonings. To serve, ladle into a bowl, sprinkle with shredded cheese, crumbled bacon and green onions. Serve hot. Yield: 6-8 servings
The Old Bay Seasoning is optional but, we really like the "kick" it gives to the potato soup. Creole seasoning would work great, too.