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Hearty Celery Soup

12 sl Bacon
2 Onions -- sliced
3 c Chopped celery
2 Garlic cloves -- chopped
5 c Chicken broth
3 c Milk
1 ts Celery seeds
1 1/2 tb Fresh thyme -- chopped
Freshly-ground black pepper
1 c grated cheddar cheese
1 c celery leaves -- coarsely chopped

For the bacon - select a thick-sliced country-style peppered bacon. In a large skillet fry the bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towels, crumble into small pieces, and set aside. Pour off all but about 4 tablespoons of the bacon drippings. Add the onion, celery and garlic and saute until the onions begin to turn a golden brown, about 10 minutes. In a large stockpot, bring the chicken stock to the boil and then add the sauteed vegetables. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes, or until tender. Strain the vegetable solids, reserving the broth, and puree them in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return the pureed mixture to the broth and add the milk, celery seeds and thyme. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook 5 minutes longer. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper to taste. Serve sprinkled with the reserved bacon, cheese and celery leaves.

Yields 8 servings

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