National Soup Month . . . and we're ready with Broc-Cheese Soup

      January is the perfect time for comfort food and soup reigns high in my estimation. Besides that . . . it’s National Soup Month! A bowl of steaming soup is a great way to warm up and recently I read,  “Soup has been popular from its beginning in Greece in 600 B.C. when it was considered the first fast food.” Even though some recipes can be time consuming, once it’s done, soup becomes a meal it and of itself, often lasting for more than just one mealtime.
    Inspired by a recipe that Debbie Johnson Elliott gave me years ago, I tweaked this recipe to make it just a little healthier. Debbie made it in a slow cooker and I have prepared it early in the day so it would be ready for lunch. However, this version is one that can be made about an hour (or less) before eating – I’ve included directions for both methods.
   Such a versatile recipe – add 2 to 3 cups cooked chicken or turkey or, top it with bacon as in this batch I just made, or just serve it meatless. Add extra cheese or reduce it to lower the fat content; I often add some grated carrots when I reduce the cheese – they add extra flavor, nutrition and color.

Broc-Cheese Soup
About 3 tablespoons olive oil
3 celery stalks, minced
¼ cup minced onions
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried
½ teaspoon pepper
2½ to 3 cups chicken, turkey or beef broth
2½ to 3 cups of fresh, steamed broccoli florets OR 10 to 12 oz. bag frozen broccoli (a broccoli vegetable mix also works)
1 cup grated carrots, optional
2 cups grated Cheddar cheese or more to taste
Additional broth to thin soup (I used about 1 cup)
Optional topping: crisply fried and chopped bacon + fresh thyme

1.     In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat; sauté the celery and onion about 5 minutes or until they turn translucent.
2.     Stir in flour, salt, pepper and thyme; cook for a couple of minutes and then begin stirring in broth, a little at a time. 
Flour and seasoning have been stirred in; ready to add the broth.
      At this point, add to a slow cooker if desired, along with the broccoli and carrots; cook on low for 3 hours adding cheese and broth during the last 30 to 45 minutes.
3.     If not adding to the slow cooker . . . allow mixture to thicken slightly and then add broccoli and carrots. Cook until veggies are tender and soup has thickened a bit more. At this point add cheese and additional broth.
4.     Serve with fried bacon, extra cheese & fresh parsley if desired.

Broccoli Equivalents, Measures, and Substitutions
• 1/2 pound broccoli = 1 serving
• 1 medium bunch = 3 to 4 servings
• 1 bunch = 1-1/2 to 2 pounds
• 1 pound fresh broccoli = 2 heads
• 1 pound fresh broccoli = 9 ounces trimmed
• 1 pound fresh broccoli = 2 cups chopped
• 10 ounces frozen broccoli pieces = 1-1/2 cups chopped
• 10 ounces frozen chopped broccoli = 2-1/2 cups chopped

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