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In the past seven years, the number of guests descending on my parents’ house at every major holiday has more than tripled, the biggest cohort being eight grandchildren ranging in age from seven to two. To prepare for this gaggle, my mother spends weeks arming the house with diapers and wipes at every turn; loading toy baskets with Magna-Tiles, building blocks, and puzzles; and setting up Swedish cots, each with its own welcoming team of stuffed animals, the only remaining vestiges of my siblings’ and my childhood. Within minutes of our arrival, my mother’s tidy house looks as though a tornado passed through it, leaving in its wake a sea of legos and sippy cups, the children's tiny clothes and ratty, treasured blankies everywhere.
Holidays for us, as they are for many, are loud, chaotic and often stressful, and though my mother loves the company, she’s been known for suggesting multiple times a day: “Maybe it’s time for everyone to go outside?”
If I could point to one part of the day that consistently is calm, however, it’s lunch. And this is thanks primarily to soup, a particular one with Vermont cheddar, from a recipe my mother’s sister (from Vermont) adapted from the Bakery Lane Soup Bowl cookbook. With a pot of soup in the fridge, my mother never has to worry about fixing lunch for her guests. By now, we all know to help ourselves at the lunch hour, to warm the vat of soup slowly on the stovetop to prevent the bottom from scorching, and to toast a few loaves of bread in the oven. Loaded with vegetables, rich with cheddar and milk, this soup, for us, is the perfect lunch, hearty enough to be a meal, but not so heavy to ruin dinner. Best of all, with full and warm bellies, my mother finally gets her wish: Time for everyone to go outside.
A Few Notes
Prepare yourself for lots of chopping. Get out your garbage bowl, bench scraper, and peeler. Put on a good podcast, and try, if you can, to enjoy the mindless task of dicing the carrots, potatoes, onion, celery, and red bell peppers, keeping in mind the upshot: a huge pot of soup to sustain you and any guests you might be hosting for days.
Grating cheese. If you have a food processor, use it! The shredder attachment is a godsend for large-batch grating. In seconds, it will turn a pound of cheddar into four heaping cups of shreds.
Stock. For years, I made this only as directed by my mother and aunt, who make it with homemade chicken stock. Recently, I’ve found vegetable stock or water to work just as well. I’ve also found that the original recipe's bacon, the fat of which is used to sweat the vegetables, can be replaced with olive oil to keep the soup vegetarian, if desired.
To make ahead, let soup cool completely, then transfer to storage containers: I love plastic quart deli containers for freezing soups and stocks, but use what you like. Ideally, thaw the soup overnight in the fridge, then reheat it slowly on the stovetop. Otherwise, run the storage container under hot water to release the frozen block of soup, then reheat it slowly on the stovetop.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 to 3 cups diced onions, from 2 to 3 onion
- 1 to 2 cups diced celery, from 4 to 5 stalks
- 2 cups diced carrots, from 4 to 5 carrots
- 2 cups diced red bell pepper, from 1 to 2 peppers
- 2 cups diced, peeled red potato, from 4 to 5
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- a few sprigs thyme
- 6 cups water, vegetable stock or chicken stock, homemade is best
- 12 ounces beer
- 3.5 cups milk, 2% or whole
- 4 cups grated cheddar cheese, about 1 lb.
- 2/3 cup flour
- dashes Worcestershire
- dashes hot sauce
- fresh cracked pepper to taste
- bread for serving
What do you make the lunch before Thanksgiving dinner? Let us know in the comments!