A Marino service project; well, sort of

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Posters went up around the Daily Inter Lake’s offices the week before Halloween announcing a Halloween-themed employee potluck and encouraging staff to bring a soup, side dish or dessert for a chance to win prizes.

What could I put together without too much trouble and what might win … and are the two mutually exclusive, I asked myself.

I’d recently picked up a Costco-sized package of low-sodium bacon. However, in my haste I’d grabbed the regular sodium bacon, or so I thought. Horrors.

From this travesty, however, an idea began to brew. Rather than deal with the hassle of returning the bacon — or worse, consuming it — I’d showcase it in a soup for the potluck. I trolled for recipes online and took what sounded amazing from three, then blended them into my own version of Bacon, Beer and Cheddar soup.

The Food & Wine recipe mentioned throwing in a jalapeno, which stirred up my passion for poblanos. The weekend before Halloween I bought a bunch and talked my husband Jim into roasting them on the grill. Our son Luke later peeled them — a fairly delicate, time-consuming task.

The soup was already becoming a family affair before even a pot had been put on the stove.

Another website, the “Slow Roasted Italian,” called for smoked paprika — scintillating.

And, of course, they all required some combination of cream, half-and-half or milk.

After work on Halloween Eve, I gathered homegrown onions, shallots and potatoes, milk, half-and-half, chicken stock, lots of sharp cheddar — because there’s no such thing as too much cheddar — and bacon, which Jim had already browned and chopped, informing me that I had actually bought the low sodium. I’d misread the package. A Halloween miracle!

Working from three different recipes and needing to triple all the ingredients that went in the pot admittedly created some kitchen chaos.

While I chopped and sautéed onions and shallots in butter and fortified the stock with two good bottles of beer, my husband peeled potatoes, Luke chopped poblanos … and just a little more bacon — because there’s no such thing as too much bacon.

And, in the midst of this madness was Luke’s dog Copper, who is happiest at ground zero in the middle of the kitchen floor — because I guess there’s also no such thing as too much puppy.

The three of us test-tasted, making minor culinary adjustments while the soup simmered, filling the kitchen with the pleasant aroma of beer and smoky poblanos.

I couldn’t call it a skinny soup, and although it got high marks from several co-workers, I can’t say it won the best soup prize at the potluck the next day at work. There were some well-deserving heavyweights like Loaded Potato and Sweet Potato in the potluck chorus line for sure. But I will say that cooking up a cauldron of Beer, Bacon and Cheddar soup with the menfolk was the best part of my holiday. The recipe follows:

Beer, Bacon & Cheddar Soup

Serves a bunch

1 ½ lbs bacon – low sodium, naturally

3 ribs celery

3 onions, diced

6 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups cubed potatoes (parboiled 5 minutes)

1 ½ cups extra sharp cheddar, shredded

24 oz. good beer – don’t take shortcuts (I used an Oktoberfest lager and an amber)

6 cups chicken stock

2 cups half & half

1 cup milk

A few Tbsp. Butter

½ cup flour

2 poblanos, roasted, peeled and chopped

Salt to taste

Smoked paprika to taste

Dash Worstershire sauce and/or Tapatio Hot Sauce

Saute garlic and onion in butter in a Dutch oven pot. Add flour to make a roux. Add broth and beer and simmer for 8 min. Add celery and potatoes and simmer 5 min. And cream and milk. Add poblanos and bacon and simmer 5 min. Add cheddar and simmer 5 min. or until melted and soup is smooth and creamy.

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