Silky Smooth Cream of Tomato Soup

It's been a stressful few days trying to get my daughters home for the holidays--flights to Portland cancelled, stuck in airports, re-routes to Seattle, car rentals and driving through the snow and ice and freezing rain--they finally made it to Roseburg late last night, two days later than planned. I had a batch of this soup waiting in the crockpot; the perfect accompaniment to a grilled cheese or chicken salad sandwich. This is nothing like the overly sweetened, high fructose corn syrup-laden, condensed tomato soup that comes in a can! If you've never had homemade cream of tomato soup, you're in for a treat.

1/4 cup (1/2 a stick) butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups milk (I happen to have whole milk on hand for baking, but 1% or 2% works fine)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or basil (my home-canned tomato juice already has basil in it)
4 cups (1 quart jar) tomato juice or V-8 juice
salt and freshly ground pepper
heavy cream for garnishing (optional)

Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon or rubber scraper and blend into a smooth paste. Cooking, stirring constantly, for one or two minutes. Whisk in the broth, milk and thyme (or basil) and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for one minute. Whisk in the tomato or V-8 juice and heat through. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Garnish each bowlful with a drizzle of cream and swirl through with a spoon. Makes about 8 cups of soup.

If you are using home-canned tomato juice (which you must acidify with lemon juice) and you find the soup a bit tart, adding a pinch of sugar will balance the flavors.

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