As I was rummaging through various cookbooks this week, I happened upon 2. The first, How To Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman, encompasses over 2,000 easy recipes of which any laymen in the kitchen can put to the test. I received this book as a gift on Russian Christmas and haven’t tapped into it — until now. Take one look at the back cover of the cookbook and you’ll see that Bittman is bestowed and showered with praise from culinary visionaries and entertainers alike. Without much more thought, I decided this would be a pertinent place to start.
My dinners have consisted of an unusual amount of potatoes dishes this past week. I’m going to attribute this trend partly due to the fact that there were a large number of yams and potatoes just staring blankly at me in the kitchen this week. At the start of the week, I created a sweet potato cakes recipe from the Plenty cookbook and decided to carry on and stay on the same wavelength. I’ll fully attribute the rest of my reasoning for my spud consumption to cravings and a yearning for comfort food. As a kid, twice-baked potatoes were amongst by favorite side dishes, for a few reasons. For one, mashed potatoes embody what it means to be a comfort food. Texturally perfect and rich in butter, you simply can’t go wrong with any recipe. Secondly, the skins of the potatoes emerge from the oven with a distinct crispness that can’t be found in other variations. And lastly (and most importantly), the toppings. The world is your oyster when it comes to what you choose to place inside or atop these masterpieces.
After seamlessly coming to the conclusion that I would be cooking twice-baked potatoes, my next decision revolved around what toppings to use. I bought a 5 lb. bag of Russet potatoes, so that I could experiment. Mark Bittman recommends everything from fresh herbs to various cheeses to cured meats. In this particular case, I went with all of the aforementioned items. In my mind, I wanted a lighter (jocular and slightly ridiculous, I know) and heavier variation. For my very own “meat lover’s twice-baked potato”, I opted for chorizo, cheddar, and chives. Generally, I feel like most (American) people enjoy the classic bacon, cheddar, scallion and/or chive blend with their potato recipes, but by amending it ever so slightly I felt I was able to make this topping more of my own. Chorizo, Cheddar, Chives. The words roll off the tongue nicely and if this post was a graded assignment, I’d be expecting bonus points for alliteration.
The second, lighter variation of twice-baked took a little more thought and planning. While scribing my list of groceries, I stumbled upon my second piece of cooking rhetoric. The Flavor Bible, which happens to be one of the most underutilized books in my kitchen, came to the rescue. This guide is a departure from the classic recipes found in Bittman’s cookbook. The Flavor Bible’s main principles encourage cooks to conjure up new dishes “based on imaginative and harmonious flavor combinations.” Everything from a listing of flavor affinities to the ways to brighten up a dish are found within this book. I panned to the potatoes listing and found these words inscribed: potatoes + garlic + shallots + tarragon. Bingo. And thus, my “vegetarian twice-baked potato” topping was born (and I use that term loosely, as there are no veggies to be found).
My method for crafting this was simple. Wash and scrub the potatoes prior to baking at 450 for about 50 minutes. While the potatoes cooked, I readied the toppings by cutting the herbs and the duo that hail from the onion family, the shallots and garlic. I also cooked the chorizo over stove top using a easy recipe I obtained from trusty Google. After utilizing Bittman’s mashed potato recipe, I scooped the new and vastly improved flesh into their skins and topped half of them with chorizo, cheddar, and chives, while the other half acquired the tarragon, garlic, and shallots. Mine only needed about 20 more minutes in the oven and came out just as I envisioned: aromatic herbs, shallots, onions; crispy skins; and decadent, creamy potatoes.
The best part about twice-baked potatoes is that you can use whichever toppings you please. Here are a few more that Bittman recommends in addition to herbs, cheeses, and meats:
1.) Chopped olives, hot red pepper flakes, chopped parsley, and olive oil
2.) Puréed or finely chopped cooked vegetables, such as eggplant, carrots, broccoli, or spinach with butter/olive oil
3.) Minced shrimp with pesto or any other herb purèe
4.) Any chutney
5.) Cold mustard sauce
6.) Salsa Roja
7.) Smooth Green Chile Sauce, Indian Style
8.) Hollandaise Sauce
9.) Coconut milk and curry powder, garam masala, or chaat masala
Twice-Baked (Mashed) Potatoes
Recipe amended from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything
Yields 16 potato “boats”
3.5 lbs of Idaho or Russet potatoes
1 1/2 cups of (whole) milk, heated
1 stick of butter, softened
Fresh tarragon, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1-2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
1 chorizo link, uncooked (you can get chorizo pre-cooked if you’d prefer)
1/4 cup cheddar cheese, grated
Salt and pepper, to taste
Wash and scrub potatoes briefly before cooking. *Preheat oven to 450 degrees and cook for 50-60 minutes. After they’ve cooled, scoop their flesh into a large bowl, leaving the skins intact. Mash the flesh and add softened butter, heated milk, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix on medium-low until potatoes are fluffy. Add toppings into the flesh and scoop flesh back into the skins. Re-heat at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.
*Bittman states that not wrapping the potatoes in foil while cooking makes the skins crispier and yields an overall better crust. Simply a matter of preference, though.