1. In a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or soup pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add bay leaves, thyme, and leeks, stir to distribute, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are just tender, about 10 minutes; do not brown. If you have time, turn off heat and let rest for 1 hour to allow flavors to meld.
2. Add potatoes and chicken broth, increase heat to medium-high, bring to a boil, and reduce heat to medium. Cover, and cook until potatoes are just tender, 12 to 15 minutes. With a wooden spoon, mash some cubes of potato against side of pot and continue cooking until they release their starch into chowder, about 2 minutes.
3. Reduce heat to low, add half-and-half, and heat chowder until it's hot and almost, but not quite, simmering. Whisking gently and constantly, add Cheddar cheese about 1/2 cup at a time, making sure it's fully melted and incorporated before adding more. Season chowder with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaves and discard.
4. Ladle chowder into bowls, sprinkle each serving with chives if desired, and serve with crackers or sliced baguette.
Source: Hannaford fresh Magazine, November -December 2007