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Shred the cheese from a block, measure out the half and half. Let them all sit out at room temperature.
Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch cubes. Add to a stock pot and cover the potatoes with 1 inch of water. Add the salt and boil gently for 10 minutes or until very fork tender. Drain, then gently mash. Stir in 2 TBS Butter and a splash of half and half. Set aside.
While the potatoes boil, melt the 3 TBS butter in a large soup pot and add the onions and celery. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ½ tsp dried thyme, ½ tsp onion powder, and a pinch of ground sage. Cook for 1 minute.
Add the flour and use a silicone spatula to stir for 1 full minute to remove the raw flour taste.
Add the chicken broth and bay leaf. Slowly stir in the half and half. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.
Add the mashed potatoes and stir them until combined into the soup. Discard the bay leaf.
Remove from heat and use an immersion blender to blend the broth until very creamy and combined. You can also use a blender and blend in batches. Blending is optional but makes the soup so thick and creamy.
Add in the diced ham and stir to combine. Let it simmer for 10 minutes or until ready to serve.
Turn off the heat. Sprinkle the cheese gradually over the warm (not hot!) base and stir until melted and combined. Taste and season with salt/pepper if desired.
Garnish with chives and serve!