Here's the recipe for today's warming bowl of soup, some comfort food to welcome the 2016 Winter Solstice on December 21, a day when the sun reaches its most southerly declination. This is the shortest day and longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. In Seattle solstice daylight measures 8 hours, 25 minutes and 25 seconds between sunrise and sunset. I mistakenly thought solstice had already arrived on several dark, dreary days earlier this month, times when the clouds covered the sun for the entire day. And today, the shortest day of the year, the sun shone all day. Go figure!
Humans have noted this special day for ages. link link
"The Stonehenge monument - built in 3,000 to 2,000 BC - shows how carefully our ancestors watched the sun
"Across the world in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, the ancient stonewalled city Mayan city of Tulum also has a structure honoring the solstices. When the sun rises on the winter (and the summer) solstice, its rays shine through a small hole at the top of one of the stone buildings, which creates a starburst effect.
"Stonehenge is carefully aligned on a sight-line that points to the winter solstice sunset...
"It is thought that the winter solstice was actually more important to the people who constructed Stonehenge than the summer solstice. The winter solstice was a time when most cattle were slaughtered (so they would not have to be fed during the winter) and the majority of wine and beer was finally fermented.With no cattle to slaughter and a total lack of homebrew to sample, I'll honor the Winter Solstice with a bowl of soup, some comfort food to warm the tummy and recognize the shortened daylight hours. I'll also celebrate the fact that from now on the days will grow longer, minute by minute, until we reach the summer solstice with its promise of maximum light. Sigh, my inner California girl is so ready for more hours of sunshine!
This cheese soup is not showstoppingly pretty, not even close, but it does pack a delicious flavor punch. Think cheese fondue studded with healthy vegetables and you're close. Version 1 of the recipe came from the Vincent Price cookbook, A Treasury of Great Recipes. Price's recipe for Vermont Cheese Soup strained the vegetables (leeks, celery & onions) out of the broth to produce a silky liquid base for melting the cheese. I added carrots to the mix in Version 2 and did not strain out the vegetables. This produced a more casual, rustic soup, somewhat heartier than Price's refined, suitable-for-company presentation.
|Photo: Version 2 Cheese Soup with Vegetables|
In Version 3 cauliflower and broccoli florets, minced garlic and fresh thyme joined the party. I tinkered with the process, played with the seasonings, and voila! we have a new current favorite. Here's the 2016 version of Cheese Soup with Vegetables from my galley.
Cheese Soup with Vegetables
3 Tbs butter
1 fat leek, chopped (white part only)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled & minced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1/2 cup cauliflower florets
1/2 cup broccoli florets
2 Tbs flour
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups half-and-half
Hot sauce, to taste, or sprinkle of cayenne (optional)
Generous splash or two of dry vermouth or sherry
1 cup, firmly packed, shredded sharp white cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
Fresh thyme leaves for topping
- Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat. Add leeks & onions; stir occasionally & cook until softened.
- Add the garlic, celery, carrots, cauliflower & broccoli; cook for a minute or two until garlic is fragrant. Sprinkle the flour, pepper & nutmeg over the vegetables and stir to coat. Cook until the mixture just begins to brown.
- Whisk in the chicken broth & cream. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat and simmer until vegetables soften to desired texture.
- Move the pot off the heat & stir in the hot sauce and vermouth. Let the soup cool slightly to avoid curdling when you add the cheese. Slowly add the shredded cheddar and jack cheese, whisking until the cheese melts. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves and serve immediately.
Note: to hold and reheat, remember to use low heat.DO NOT let it boil or it will separate. I guarantee it. The soup will taste the same, but look... unlovely.