Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Creamy Chicken and Asparagus Soup

Once a month, three other moms and I feed the staff at my girls' elementary school.  This month we'll be doing a dinner on Parent Teacher Conference Night instead of lunch, so I thought I'd invite the girls over for lunch so we could have the chance to plan out our conference dinner and just catch up.  It's always a treat to sit down and have a leisurely lunch with friends.

I often try out new recipes when I have company.  This may be an unusual practice for some, but I like the challenge of finding something new that might please my guests' tastes.  I was fortunate in that my guests all said, "I don't think I ever met a food I didn't like!"  It was a dreary day, the kind of day that seemed to call for soup, and a creamy soup at that.  I saw this post on Mel's Kitchen Cafe about one of her favorite creamy soups containing simple vegetables, chicken, potatoes, and cream cheese and decided to give it my own spin. 

I have been clearing out my freezer stash, so I decided to put together a simple lunch menu based upon what I found on sale at Kroger and the chicken breasts I had leftover from last week's shopping trip.  I first spotted some baby bibb lettuce, grape tomatoes, and English cucumbers for $1 and a yellow pepper for $1.25.  That inspired me to do a simple mixed salad with a light oil and vinegar dressing seasoned with a bit of garlic, salt, and pepper.  When I went to the store to pick up a few things, I spotted asparagus for just $1.99/lb.  I love asparagus, and I thought the green would make a nice addition to the soup.  I also picked up a few red potatoes because I thought the red skins would make a nice touch over regular Idaho potatoes.  I planned to make another batch of artisan bread.  What a wonderful way to greet my guests with a house that smelled of fresh baked bread!  One of my guests offered to bring dessert, so I was all set.

The soup turned out beautifully!  The color combination of the red potatoes with their skins on, the green asparagus, and the orange carrots was very appealing to the eye.  The cream cheese gave the soup a smooth, velvety texture and just the right amount of zing.  The salad was light and offered a nice balance of crunch and sweetness.  The fresh baked artisan bread spread with just a little bit of real butter balanced out this luncheon feast.  What a treat to sit, laugh, and share a great meal with friends.  I was able to get this feast on the table in less than an hour and the entire meal cost less than what it would have cost for just one You Pick 2 Combo at Panera.

Creamy Chicken and Asparagus Soup

Here's the recipe:

Creamy Chicken and Asparagus Soup
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup onion, diced
2 celery ribs, diced (the inner stalks with the leaves are fine)
2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
1 tsp minced garlic
3 cups chicken broth (I used 1 cup homemade stock, 2 cups water + 2 tsp bouillon)
3-4 red potatoes, diced with skins on
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
4 Tbsp flour
1 cup milk (I used 1%)
1 block of low fat cream cheese, softened (I put it in microwave for 1 min @ 40% power)
1 bunch asparagus, cooked and cut into 1 inch pieces (saute or steam; I sauteed)
2 cups cooked, diced, chicken breasts (I cook mine in the crock pot in a large batch)

1.  In a large stock pot, melt the butter.
2.  Saute the onions, celery, and carrots for about 2 min or until the onions turn opaque.
3.  Add in the potatoes and chicken broth and seasonings; stir.
4.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer with lid on for 10 minutes.
5.  Check potatoes to see if they are cooked; you don't want them mushy.
6.  Whisk the flour into the milk in a 2 cup measuring cup.
7.  Pour the flour and milk mixture into the soup pot after the potatoes are done.
8.  Gently stir and bring soup to a boil.  (turn up the heat a bit)
9.  Boil for 3-4 minutes, stirring gently to keep it from sticking on the bottom but not enough to break up the potatoes.
10.  Return the heat to low.
11.  Add the cream cheese in cubes.  (The cream cheese should be very soft, so it melts easier.  It might look like it's clumping up; be patient; it will melt.)
 12.  Add the cooked asparagus and the chicken to the soup and heat through.

I always taste my soup after I get everything cooked and in it.  Sometimes I need to add more salt and pepper depending on how much the potatoes absorb or how salty the broth or chicken is.  Adjust it to suit your tastes.

When I make soup, I like to chop all my vegetables first and have them on the counter so I can see if all the ingredients are in balance and add more if necessary.  The great thing about soup is that your measurements don't have to be exact in terms of the ingredients.  Go for balance.

I have learned to do some batch cooking of chicken breasts to have cooked, diced chicken on hand.  I buy chicken breasts only when they are on sale for under $2 a pound.  I cookziploc  bags or containers.

For this recipe, I opted to saute the asparagus before adding them to the soup so they would retain some of their firmness.  I have not put asparagus in soup too many times before, and I didn't want them to end up all mushy.  By sauteing them lightly, they stayed bright green and had the perfect amount of crisp tenderness.   If you don't like asparagus or they are not on sale, I think that green beans would also do nicely for this soup.  You could probably add the green beans with the potatoes and they would cook appropriately.

This was the first time I had used cream cheese in a soup before.  It really did a nice job of making a rich, creamy soup!  I have not done a caloric comparison of using cream cheese to using cream or half and half, but I would imagine it is less.  It had a much richer flavor than the creamy soups I have made in the past using just milk.  The trick to getting the cream cheese to melt nicely into your soup is to soften it quite a bit before adding it to the pot.  I was worried when I made it the first time, because it seemed to be all gloppy, but by the time we served the soup, it had all melted and was incorporated into the base just fine.

I made this soup a second time for dinner last night because I thought it was so good for a cold winter day!  It was just as yummy and came together in about 30 minutes or so.  The kids really liked it, and John took the leftovers for lunch today.

What's your favorite recipe to serve for a special luncheon?

1 comment:

  1. I love the addition of asparagus! I bet it was delicious and I'll have to give it a whirl next time I make it. Thanks!