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A Spring Folly: Beer and Cheddar Soup

On a wonderful, but rare trip home recently, I opened the newspaper to find a massive picture of daffodils covering the front page. It was an ant’s view, staring up into rays of sunshine drifting down on towering green grass shoots and delicate stemmed flowers. The bright yellow blossoms stretched above and below the paper’s fold, shouting the message that spring had arrived.

But no amount of wishful thinking can coax spring to throw her bright colors permanently over the mountains of southern Tennessee as early as the first week of February. This was one of those moments where warm weather and new blooms say a quick hello before bowing out to winter, the rightful magistrate of February.

Those blips of warm weather, when true sunshine and blue skies are still months away, can be lovely. They are the perfect antidote to the winter blues – the literal proof that light is at the end of the tunnel. But when you go to sleep with spring weather and wake up to a return of winter, those cold temperatures are all the more dreary.

Why, you might be wondering, am I talking about this? With picnic blankets and snoballs, I made sure you know that spring has certainly arrived in the Crescent City. The problem is this: I made a serious error in judgment this week. I’ve been tearing out recipes from magazines like it’s my job. And by that I mean, that instead of taking a lunch break, I’ve started to take a recipe-tearing break. Amongst all this, I found the perfect beer and cheese soup recipe tucked in the pages of a November magazine. I say perfect for two reasons. The first was that the recipe called for a lager, so I immediately thought I could grab a dark Irish lager and make a St. Patrick’s Day themed meal. The other reason is simply that the soup is essentially a fancy version of Mexican cheese dip made to be acceptably eaten with a spoon.

I couldn’t stop myself from making it. My grocery cart just steered itself to the dark beer and the smoked cheddar. So with my windows open and fans blowing to fight against the 80° nighttime heat, I ate a bowl of this soup that would be ideal for a snowed in night in front of a roaring fire in a ski lodge.

Facing a harsh winter day after a brief interlude of springtime warmth is hard. Luckily, constant sunshine makes it much easier to rally from a craving for the weather that calls for heavy soups. So just tuck this recipe away until next fall and know you have the perfect soup on the first blustery day of fall.

Beer and Cheddar Soup
A recipe by Jonathan Erdeljac
Serves 6

½ pound piece of slab bacon, sliced ⅓ inch thick and cut into ⅓-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
¼ cup all-purpose flour
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tbs chopped thyme
1 large jalapeno, seeded and chopped
4 tbs unsalted butter
one 12-ounce bottle of lager
1 cup heavy cream
2 ¼ cups low-sodium chicken broth
½ lb. sharp yellow cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded
4 oz. smoked cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded

Cook the bacon in a large saucepan over moderate heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a bowl. Add celery, onion, jalapeno, garlic, and thyme to the same saucepan and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add half of the beer and cook until reduced by half. Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

In a small skillet, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Whisk the roux into the soup until incorporated and bring to a simmer. Cook until thickened, about 8 minutes. Add the cream, cheeses, and remaining beer and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and creamy. Stir in the bacon and season with salt and pepper. Serve.

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