When my husband and I were first married I made him a recipe that has become one of his favorites. One that he repeatedly asks for whether it's 70 degrees or 0 degrees. One that I finally taught him how to make so he could make it on his own when I traveled and wasn't home to make dinner. Now, he has it pretty much any time I'm out of town for work and I rarely make it anymore. Which has made me very happy. Because five years later, I am tired of this recipe.
To give you a little background, when we first got married we, like many couples, had very little extra money. We didn't eat anything fancy. Or expensive. Or complicated. I believe I had only one or two cookbooks at that time (that mostly sat unopened on top of the fridge) and hadn't yet discovered that I loved to cook and bake. Most recipes I made my mom taught me.
One winter day when we needed a meal that was inexpensive I remembered a meal my mom made for my brother and I growing up. It was potato soup. I didn't know if she even still made it, but I knew she'd easily remember how to make it. I called her up for the recipe and headed to the grocery store to pick up the few ingredients: a can of potatoes, cream of mushroom soup and hot dogs. We already had the milk. I whipped it up in no time, added a few seasonings and served it to my new husband. He LOVED it. Hot dogs + potatoes = heaven for him. It was the perfect meal to add into the rotation for the first few winters of our marriage. It cost very little to make, and it tasted good on a cold, winter day.
However, five years down the road my taste buds eventually have evolved. I am not a hot dog fan. And I was never a fan of those canned potatoes. They sometimes would taste rubbery. But my husband still asks for potato soup many times when I ask what he wants for dinner. Especially if it's raining out or when the weather is starting to turn chilly. (Of course he'll also ask for it when it's 80 degrees outside.) I knew I had to find a substitute for his precious potato soup.
And today was the day. Our weather here in Minnesota has been really warm the last few weeks, then it all of the sudden turned on us and our weather is only in the 40s. I knew I wanted soup and was planning on making tortilla soup when my husband asked if I were ever going to make him potato soup again. He had this sad, pitiful tone to his voice that I never make his "favorite" meal anymore.
I felt kind of bad that I hadn't made it in a while so I started doing some research on potato soup. There are so many different variations of potato soup out there that I took parts from a few different recipes and made something that turned out surprisingly very delicious. The best part? No hot dogs or canned potatoes!
This recipe is, of course, much more involved than my other recipe. Because, well, it involves peeling and chopping up potatoes, chopping celery and shredding cheese! But otherwise, it's the same basic concept. Just with fresh (read: not canned) ingredients. The hot dogs are left out (thank goodness!) and ham is used as the meat. It has cheese, lots of flavor and is perfect to warm up with on a chilly day. And it's still an economical meal! I can see this as being a great soup to whip up with leftover ham after the holidays.
I have to say that this is way better than the canned potatoes, cream of mushroom and hot dog soup. Although I am grateful for my mom teaching me the recipe, and I know that even if I had this new recipe five years ago, I still would have made her version. It was exactly the perfect recipe for that time in our lives. I am happy that I took her very basic recipe and turned it into an amazing meal. I am sure that my husband will still make potato soup the original way many times this winter, but any time he asks me for potato soup I'll be using this new recipe!
Cheesy Potato & Ham Soup
Makes 3 to 4 servings
2 cups potatoes, peeled and diced
1/3 cup celery
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked ham, cubed
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 to 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 to 1 tsp pepper (or to taste)
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup milk
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded (or whatever cheese you love; I used Cheddar Jack)
Red Pepper flakes (to taste), optional
Seasoning Salt to taste, optional
In a large stockpot, combine potatoes, celery, ham and chicken broth. Bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are tender. Turn heat to low and cover.
In a separate pot, melt butter over medium-low heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant making sure not to burn. Add flour whisking briskly. Whisk until thick. Slowly add milk while continuing to whisk making sure lumps don't form. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes or until thick. Stir in cheese until completely melted.
Add cheese mixture to potatoes and ham.
Add any red pepper flakes and seasoning salt to taste (if using for a little extra spice and flavor).
Cook until thoroughly heated through.
Serve, and enjoy!