Two Potato

Last week I talked about turning out a well-baked spud.This week I’d like to talk about all the wondrous, glorious things you can put inside said potato.  This time of year, it’s an easy cheap meal, that once you get in the oven practically does all the work for you.  And if people are coming over, baked spuds with a topping bar and a big salad make a nice easy spread.

A lot of these ideas will be delicious on either a russet or a sweet potato.  But some just work better on one or the other.  At the end of each idea, I’ll tell you what I think.  But hey, you do you.  Let that baked potato freak flag fly.

…but not that kind of tuber experiment.

And if you’ve got an awesome topping you like that I didn’t mention, drop me a line and let me know—I’m always up for a little tuber experimentation (That sounded kinda creepy, didn’t it?  Sorry.).

I’ll list the suggestions from the healthiest to the most indulgent.

Okey-dokey, let’s play!

Salsa, with some canned black beans stirred in.  Then top it with some non-fat Greek yogurt in which you’ve mixed in some lime juice, cumin, and cilantro.  Works with regular and sweet.Shredded chicken from a store-bought rotisserie and drizzled with chicken stock spiked with lemon juice, and thickened with a cornstarch slurry which you’ve studded with defrosted frozen peas.  Again, works with both types of spud.

One of my favorite things to do with holiday leftovers: drizzle a sweet potato with some fat-free (as fat-free as possible) turkey gravy, drop on a few dried cranberries, and speckle it with some freshly ground nutmeg.

Top with some giardiniera; Italian spicy pickled vegetables, roasted garlic (Cut head in half, drizzle with olive oil, season, wrap in foil and bake 1 hour at 350.), and top with a little Italian dressing.

One of Petey’s favorites is chili with a small sprinkling of grated cheddar and a dollop of light sour cream.

My brother Bud’s favorite: broccoli with lashings of cheese sauce.  He likes the neon orange, plastic sauce from a jar, which aside from being full of chemicals and sodium, is surprisingly low in fat and calories.It may sound really weird and trendy enough to make you wanna holler, but I love creamed kale on a baked sweet.  If you can’t face kale anymore, try creamed spinach.

Fry up a couple pieces of bacon, and set them aside.  Pour off most of the fat, but leave enough to sauté a peeled, cleaned, and cubed apple or pear.  Season it traditionally with cinnamon and nutmeg, or get crazy with some Chinese five-spice.  Add some dried cherries, and deglaze with something alcoholic like brandy, rum, or applejack.  Top with some butter toasted pecans.  Best on a sweet.

Caramelize a couple of yellow onions, sprinkle in some dried thyme, and deglaze with white wine.  Top with some crumbled goat cheese, cashews, and fresh chopped parsley.  Works with white or sweet.Drop on some diced ham and a poached egg or two.  Then spoon on the hollandaise.  Best with white.

Crisp up some pancetta.  Set aside and with some of the fat, caramelize mushrooms.  Add heavy cream, thyme, shallots, and cook until thick and creamy.  Spoon into russet and top with crispy pancetta.  Best on regular.

And, finally the classic: butter, sour cream, and chives.  It’s the classic for a reason.  But do it right, or do something else.  Use thick, tangy, full fat sour cream, the fanciest butter you can afford, and fresh chives.  Done right, this is a poem.  And, good on both.

But, what do I know?  As a kid, I put mayo on mine.Thanks for your time.

Spuds not Duds

The Kid calls them Shearon Harris potatoes.It’s not because they’re grown in the shadow of that nuclear power plant and set off Geiger counters, but because the baking potatoes at Carlie C’s are huge.  Just one of these puppies could make fries for everybody at Woodstock, or enough Vodka to get all of Moscow gloriously snockered, or if hollowed out, become a charming two-story starter home.

A couple times a month I bake two of these colossal tubers for Petey and me for supper. Sometimes I’ll switch it up for myself with their equally monstrous sweet potato.It’s a cheap meal.  For a couple dollars, I can purchase a large amount of hearty comfort food, which we can dress to our own desires.

Nutritionally, you could do a heck of a lot worse.  In one big’un, you’ll get about 90% of your RDA (recommended daily allowance) of vitamin C, around 50% of your potassium, and 30% of both B6 and fiber.  A nice, healthy portion of iron and calcium are also present.  Plus, undressed, they’re fat-, sodium- and cholesterol-free.  And a sweet potato is even more nutrient-dense than its pale associate.But tragically, many folks ruin the dining experience by failing to get the very best out of them.

The addition of fat and seasoning is the threshold of flavor.  But handled well, they can be so much more than not awful.  The starting point for well-baked is insuring they’re baked well.

If you just wrap your tater in foil, they will steam.  This can be tasty, but it is in no way a “baked” potato.First, set the oven to 350 degrees. Then clean them.  I scrub mine under warm running water using only my hands and a drop of dish detergent.  They’re grown underground, so they need to be well-cleaned.  Just make sure every last lick of soap is rinsed away.

Then dry and poke a few shallow holes in them.  You really just need to puncture the skin.  To cut down on mess during cooking, you need some type of drip tray.  Make a very shallow sided, thin vessel with tin foil; just fold and manipulate it until it resembles the lid of a shoe box.  Put your foil boat on a rimless sheet pan, and set in the taters.At this point you want to prepare the skin for the oven, and flavor it.  A little bit of fat will crisp the skin and allow the flavoring component to stick.  Any kind of fat will work, except things like olive, truffle, or toasted sesame oil, because the long bake will impart a bitter taste and unappetizing aroma.

Now dust the potato with a couple teaspoons of a seasoning mixture.  I like coffee salt and freshly cracked pepper, and Petey likes adobo seasoning—really any flavor that makes you happy.  Then massage those herbs/spices all over the outside.

When it’s time to bake, set the sheet pan on the oven rack, then slide it out from under the foil boat and remove.  Bake about 45 minutes, then flip the potatoes over and bake 45 more.  This is usually long enough to cook all but the very largest spuds, so if you’ve got a couple honkers, give ‘em a poke with a paring knife at 90 minutes to make sure they’re cooked through.The plan with this column was to give you some interesting topping ideas for your well-cooked taters.

I think we’re gonna have to cover that in this space next week.

Who would ever have thunk that I could be long-winded?Thanks for your time.