One of the food trends I've spotted for 2018 that has me very excited is one of getting back to basics. It's an emphasis on embracing kitchen fundamentals and doing them well. We are talking about taking simple, everyday, cornerstone recipes and making them the very best they can be.
This is about searching for the consummate recipe in every category of the recipe box — that classic buttermilk pancake recipe that causes all other pancakes to fall flat, the chicken stock that becomes as vital to your cooking as the stove it's simmered on or the perfect chocolate chip cookie that you can't live without.
I think we might be seeing fewer frills and techniques and more of a trend toward coaxing the most potential out of the individual ingredients and allowing them to shine. This is great news for home cooks and those of us who like to focus on flavor and keep things simple.
Which all brings me to a humble bowl of broccoli cheddar soup. Back when I first started my food blog in 2011, I got a recipe request for broccoli cheddar soup from a friend, because friends were about the only readers I had to speak of at the time. I researched recipes and, one night arrived at what I thought to be a pretty perfect pot of this soup. Not too thick and not too thin, made with real, sharp cheddar cheese and not that other stuff that makes up the base of a great many cheese soup recipes. There was loads of broccoli in every spoonful, and the vegetables still had a little bit of a bite to them, because I had thrown them in fresh and taken them off the heat at just the right time. It was a keeper, all the things I imagined broccoli cheddar soup should be.
Years went by and I forgot about this recipe. Somehow, my wife and I were talking about broccoli cheese soup, and it dawned on me that I had a recipe of my own from seven years ago. But I gave her a disclaimer: the old photograph was awful. "Let me see," she said. I could tell that she was skeptical. What she didn't know was that the inexperienced young food blogger that I was had photographed the soup at night, under fluorescent overhead light. To add insult to injury, I had plated the pale soup up in a drab green plastic bowl, atop a burnt orange plastic plate. The look on her face was priceless, somewhere between a cringe and a grimace, with a smile plastered over top to try to soften the blow. "Eeesh, you were right. That is bad," she said as gently as she could, with a bit of a laugh.
When I said a "humble" bowl of broccoli cheddar soup, I meant it. But oftentimes the most humble, unphotogenic food we make is the very best food.
(P.S. I took a new photo for you.)
Broccoli cheddar soup
6 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup flour
2 heads of broccoli, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
3-4 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups half and half
2 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste
To a large pot over medium heat, add the butter and melt. Cook the onions until tender and translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the flour until everything is coated and cook another two minutes, stirring often.
Add the broccoli, carrots, 3 cups of the chicken broth, bay leaves and nutmeg to the pot, stirring to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender. Remove the soup from the heat. Stir in the half and half and the cheese until melted and smooth. If the soup is too thick, add more chicken broth as desired. Discard bay leaves and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve while hot.
Recipe originally adapted from an old issue of Food Network Magazine.
Maya Wilson lives in Kenai and blogs about food at alaskafromscratch.com. Have a food question or recipe request? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your inquiry may appear in a future column.