Saturday, January 4, 2014

Twice Baked Potatoes are Simple as Can Be

Twice Baked Potatoes
Twice-baked potatoes are certainly not "rocket science." If you have never tried making them, or are timid in the kitchen, it might seem so. They might also seem to be just one step too far, too much work, or any of a number of other excuses.

To be clear, it was not really all that many years ago that I made them for the first time, and then it was mainly because they were a request from my husband for a special occasion. He doesn't request things very often, so I decided it was time. As for a recipe - I will give one here below, but it is really more of what you happen to find interesting mixed with baked potato - and then implementing. It's kind of like making mashed potatoes. You can make them with butter and milk, as my Mom did, or you can get inventive and add all sorts of interesting things. These days, I usually make my mashed potatoes by first boiling them in water with at least a tablespoon of salt along with a couple of parsnips (peeled and cut into pieces smaller than the potato chunks). Then I scoop the cooked vegetables out of the liquid with a slotted spoon into a ricer (ensuring no lumps) over a bowl that already contains a mixture of cream cheese, butter and chopped scallion, or a mix of butter and Chevre cheese and scallions. Sometimes I substitute the scallions for caramelized onions. I have also occasion substituted one of the cheeses with Boursin Cheese, with rave reviews from guests. If liquid is needed, I use some of the potato cooking liquid still in the pot.

Tomato Corer, great for scooping

So while this blog is not about mashed potatoes, that was just a way to clarify that there are so many ways to make potatoes flavorful, even when they are "just" mashed! Back some years ago, my son and his wife were visiting. My husband decided we should have an impromptu wine tasting event. My idea for a wine tasting is to tailor certain appetizers to specifically go with certain wines, thus ensuring the wine will shine. One of the appetizers we made was mini twice-baked potatoes, using very small, round potatoes. I baked them, and then gave them to my daughter-in-law to scoop out and make the mixture with some great ingredients, then re-fill the potatoes. I gave her a little tomato corer to scoop out the tiny insides of the little potatoes. She scooped them into a bowl and then asked if I had a recipe. I never thought about needing a recipe! I told her to fry some bacon, and then think about what tastes good mixed with potatoes. Things like sour cream, chives or scallions, shredded cheddar? She proceeded to mix these ingredients and then asked how she should know if this was enough? I said, "Taste it! That will surely tell you if it's going to be good or not." She said, "Oh!" It really is that simple. And potatoes are pretty forgiving. They are a nice blank canvas, upon which you can paint the picture you desire.

So, that all said, I have made them before, a few times. And I made them again for our New Year's Day feast a few days ago. I was serving a nice prime rib roast (without bones, so probably called something else: Rib-Eye Roast or Eye of Rib Roast, for example). My other side dish was my Green Beans with Gorgonzola. Since the roast was going to be made using a high temperature roasting that requires the oven door to stay shut for about 2 1/2 hours (see my New Year's Day blog), I decided to bake the potatoes early in the afternoon, then start the roast and leave it to do its thing. Once the roast was out of the oven, I would heat the oven again and bake the re-filled potatoes just before sitting down to eat. This timing worked perfectly. I am telling this sequence of events to make it clear that sometimes it is really to your advantage to make Twice Baked Potatoes.

Scooped out potato skins

Twice Baked Potatoes

3 large russet baking potatoes
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup scallions, chopped finely
3 slices (thick-sliced) bacon, fried and crumbled (about 1/2 to 2/3 cup, total)
1 cup shredded cheddar
1 teaspoon salt
pepper, to taste

Wash the potatoes well, dry them and set them into a preheated 400-degree oven for about 1 hour, or until baked through. Use a thin skewer or toothpick to ascertain if they are completely cooked through, inserting the skewer into the side of the potato. You do not want holes poked all over the skins, which you want as intact as possible. 

Re-filled Potatoes, before baking
Once baked, allow the potatoes to cool enough to handle, then with a very sharp knife slice them in half across the length. With a spoon, scoop out the insides, leaving about 1/4 inch thickness (or slightly less) of potato in the skin for stability. Put all the scooped out potato into a bowl and lightly mash them before mixing with the rest of the ingredients. Re-fill the potato skins with the potato mixture. At this point they can be set aside for a few hours as needed, or can even be wrapped well and refrigerated for a couple of days.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to about 350 or 375. Set the stuffed potato halves on a baking sheet and bake them for about 30 minutes, or until they are golden on top and heated through. If the potatoes were previously refrigerated, it may take slightly longer baking time to compensate for how cold they were when started.

Add other ingredients if desired, or leave some out. This time I actually passed the potatoes through a ricer for a smoother effect, but a quick mashing with a fork is sufficient. They are so delicious, and this was a great way to time my dinner just right.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.