Dan, my brother, was kind enough to write a guest post for me while I recover from back surgery. He made a delicious-looking soup with his girlfriend, Lea, and reminded me that I had completely forgotten about the Velveeta tupperware of our childhood. Enjoy (and drool)!
Allow me to shamelessly steal the reins of Life and Kitchen from dear sister in her time of respite and recovery. My past entries have included Mom’s Ham Casserole for Dan and a Faux Primanti’s Sandwich. I’ll complete my family inspired trilogy with a simple cheese soup in tribute to the spirit and tastes of Mom.
Velveeta (one brick) Black pumpernickel bread (half a loaf) Yuengling Beer (one 12 ounce can) Beef Stock (20 ounces) Apple Schnapps (two ounces per person) Baby portabella mushrooms (12 ounces) Apple Cider (fill an ice cube tray) Sweet yellow onion (1/2 of one large) Bratwurst (one link) Butter (half a stick) Flour (a few pinches) Green Onion (a few for garnish)
So, let’s begin with the Velveeta (insert condescending sneers in now, foodies, but remember, yesteryear’s peasantry fare is today’s haute cuisine). Let’s just say that Velveeta was a pretty big deal in my childhood home in Hagerstown, Maryland. I don’t recall it ever not being in the fridge. Grilled cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese and queso with salsa were regular expressions of nutriment and love. For the longest time, I thought a Tupperware Velveeta Keeper was a basic kitchen essential, along with the pots, pans and knives.
I considered making a gourmet mushroom and grilled cheese sandwich, but ultimately opted for the higher calling of embracing the Velveeta, not turning my back to it. Mom would be pleased.
I also remember fried mushrooms and onions as culinary mainstays in our home. Bratwurst replaced the hot dogs and burgers when more favored company visited in the summer.
If at this point you’re thinking, “hmmm, very German-American Midwestern, mid-later 20th century” you would be absolutely on the mark. My parents grew up in northwestern Ohio, whose values and narratives still infuse our lives, decades after much of the family moved away. I am reminded of a nice quote by Kurt Vonnegut,
“All my jokes are Indianapolis. All my attitudes are Indianapolis. My adenoids are Indianapolis. If I ever severed myself from Indianapolis, I would be out of business. What people like about me is Indianapolis.” —Kurt Vonnegut, 1986
The Yuengling beer makes a departure eastward and reflects our later years in Pittsburgh, where Yuengling was Mom’s favorite beverage.
To Make the Soup
Slice open the bratwurst casing and empty the loose meat into the pot. Discard casing. Brown the bratwurst with butter over medium heat.
Finely chop half of the large yellow onion; thickly slice the mushrooms and add both to the pot. Sautee until the onions and mushrooms are tender.
Move the bratwurst, onions and mushrooms toward the side of the pot. Add more butter and a few pinches of flour. Stir until brown to make a rue.
Add beef stock and beer. Simmer for a few minutes to heat the liquid and combine flavors.
Cube the Velveeta and add to pot. Stir until cheese is melted and soup is incorporated and smooth. Add more broth if needed. Salt and pepper to taste.
Plate with black pumpernickel bread and sliced green onions for garnish and fresh crunch.
For the Drink
Pour apple cider into an ice cube tray and freeze. The cubes may take longer to freeze than you would expect, so get them started early
Place apple cider cubes into whiskey glass, add a good German apple schnapps (definitely not Apple Pucker, unless you have some self-loathing need to relive your high school days).
I chose not to add potatoes and only used one bratwurst for taste because I wanted the cheese and mushrooms to be the main event. I was looking for a smooth, creamy soup with rich, deep flavor. Major thanks to my lady friend Lea for the chopping, taste testing, cleaning, and unshakable confidence in my flavor combinations. We both agreed that the soup is very rich and would be best on a cold winter day, maybe after shoveling the driveway. The cool sweetness of the apple schnapps and cider helps to balance the soup. Also, cheese and apple have always been one of my favorite flavor combinations and I’m not sure why we don’t see it more often. Next time we might experiment with adding sherry and crab.
I know that Mom would love the dish and I hope you will too.