My First Recipe “From Scratch” and other Lessons (Broccoli Cheddar Soup with Caraway)

I talk a lot about how I sort of use recipes, or how I made something according to a particular existing recipe, -ish. At this point in my culinary existence, most of the time when I’m “following a recipe” I am following one of two things– 1) technical guidance around how to cook a particular thing I’ve never done before (e.g. pork chops, or a type of squash), or 2) a flavor palate that I found inspiring. So, basically, I’m either using the bones of a recipe, or the meat of it, but rarely both. Even though most of the recipes I’m “following” I could probably just wing, I’ve always found that having something to anchor me in while I’m cooking is helpful.

But last night I decided to get ambitious, and completely wing it. I’d been staring at broccoli cheddar soup recipes all day, including this one and this one from Half Baked Harvest, a food blog I’ve been loving lately, particularly for its excellent photography and over-the-top cozy fall/winter recipe style. Don’t you just want to pull these food photos over your head like a blanket and make a pillow fort and some hot chocolate? (For some reason I’ve been finding the pillow fort metaphor particularly salient lately)

Anyway, I’d been browsing for the right broccoli cheddar soup recipe to riff off of for some time, until I realized, hey, I’m like, kind of a food blogger now! An incredibly fledgling, in need of a new camera and more content and WAY more time, food blogger, but what the hell- shouldn’t I make up my very own recipes now? Isn’t that some sort of essential right of foodie passage? Don’t all the other food blogs I follow just sit around smelling fresh produce until exact measurements and ratios and compositions leap fully formed from their heads? (I am really really hoping that this is not the case, otherwise I’m sunk before I even really get going.)

So off I went!

I grated a carrot, diced a large yellow onion, minced about 6 cloves of garlic– oh, by the way, a while back I forced myself to discard my garlic press (which probably had something to do with Anthony Bourdain) and learn how to mince garlic properly, righteous nose in the air and all. Flattening it with the edge of a knife blade, like so

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makes a world of difference. But I digress–

I melted about 4 tablespoons of butter in a large pot, and sauteed the onions to soften them (carefully noting the time… 5-7 minutes… no, wait, maybe more like 7-10… okay, definitely 10 minutes).

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Seven minutes in and nowhere near as browned as I wanted them.

I then poked around my messy, beloved spice cabinet for inspiration, and then turned for validation to one of the only cookbooks I actually use with any frequency (if you can call it a cookbook)– The Flavor Bible.

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It’s this gorgeous sort of– I don’t know, thesaurus? Dictionary? Definitely some sort of flavor lexicon– which indexes recommended flavor pairings for all sorts of ingredients.

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Sometimes I use it for inspiration, other times I use it to validate my whimsical ideas. I had decided to add mustard powder and caraway seeds to my broccoli cheddar soup. My perusal of the Flavor Bible allowed me to decide that yes, yes, this would be a wonderful idea. And I do think it was. However.

After adding the garlic, about 1/2 teaspoon of mustard powder and a heaping teaspoonful of caraway seeds (which I love, and am constantly looking for new ideas for ways to use them– got any?), I then added the grated carrot and about 4 cups/2 large heads of chopped broccoli. And I stirred and stirred all of the above around, waiting for the newly added veggies to brown.

Which they never quite did, to my disappointment. Alas. After about 15 minutes of stirring and hoping for the delicious “browned” feel and smell, I got impatient, and discouraged, and felt my confidence begin to fracture. I went ahead and added 1 cup of half and half (might have used milk but that’s what I had on hand) and 1 cup of pork broth (might have used chicken but that’s what I had on hand– this is the kind of cook I am) and simmered to soften everything into the broccoli soup of my dreams. Meanwhile, I grated about 8 oz of sharp cheddar, and waited.

However, as I had failed to cover the simmering pot, the liquid started reducing. And then I decided, well, maybe a bit more broccoli, so I added some more broccoli, and I’m going to stop providing measurements from here on out because by this time I’d decided that what I REALLY should have done– and intend to do next time I make broccoli soup– was roast the broccoli first while the onions were browning, then add the roasted broccoli to the pot with the browned onions, THEN add the liquids and cover and simmer. I’m just sure that this would have yielded the broccoli soup I then held in my mind’s eye (mouth’s eye? That doesn’t make any more or less sense than the mind having an eye, IMHO).

However, dinner still needed to happen, so I finished the soup, remembered to use my immersion blenderstirred in the cheddar, and topped with fresh thyme and cracked black pepper. And it was good. It was! I enjoyed it! Really! It just… wasn’t the broccoli soup I’d wanted to make.

I also learned that making a pureed vegetable soup look appetizing in a photograph is quite rather difficult.

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(I swear, it really was delicious)

Well, mistakes were made. And lessons were learned. And I enjoyed my soup with humility, and with resolve to try again soon.

Do YOU have a favorite broccoli cheddar soup recipe?

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