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Saturday, September 25

My Best Spud!!

I love spuds...or potatoes...or taters...or any OTHER name you give 'em!!  Potatoes have to be the most versatile vegetable ever discovered, not only in name, but in culinary usage.  They can be a main dish, side dish...even dessert (ever hear of potato candy?). Definitely tops the YUMMY list!! 

Yes, the whole world loves potatoes.  Did you know that, on average, each of us consumes 73 lbs of potatoes EACH year?  I'm talking world-wide!!  Yet, for all it's popularity, it's relatively new on the culinary front.  Potatoes came from Peru about 4 centuries ago (they were cultivated there for centuries before that), and yet since then, they have been cultivated into over 5000 varieties (9 known species)!!  I'd say that's not too shabby for a little nub growing in the ground!!  What's really surprising is, considering their popularity here in the US, we didn't get them direct from South America...they came to us via Europe!! In fact, the Irish loved them so much that they were used as currency!! 

Ok, enough on history.  So what's so special, eh?  What makes the potato one of the best foods that exists?  Well, to start with, they are nutrition powerhouses.  A medium potato has 10 vitamins and minerals (27 mg of vitamin C, 620 mg of potassium, 0.2 mg vitamin B6, and trace amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, folate, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc), as well as 9-15 (skin off-on) grams of daily dietary fiber!  Oh, and by the way, folks...the notion that a peeled potato isn't as healthy isn't true.  The only thing you lose by peeling a potato is part of the protein content, since most of that IS close to the surface.

One more thing of note...did you know that potatoes are in the same class with deadly nightshade and henbane (2 highly lethal poisonous plants)?  Of course, so are tomatoes and eggplant, for that matter.  Not to worry though...today's common potato varieties have been bred specifically to reduce any toxins.  Just a little trivia...

So...ON TO THE FOOD PART!!  As I said at the beginning, the potato is one of the most versatile veggies on the planet.  You can mash them, fry them, bake them, even make candy out of them!!  I'll touch on the traditional methods of preparation today, but mostly I'll concentrate on the lesser known, but equally delicious, recipes out there.  Yes...I WILL include a candy recipe...haha.

Certain varieties of potato are better for some preparations than others.  For example, if you are baking a potato whole or making mashed potatoes, you would do best with a typical Russet potato.  They have a higher starch content, which makes them "fluffy" when cooked.  If you were looking to make potato salad, you would need to lean towards a red or "new" potato...they are a little waxy in texture, and hold up better (earlier this month, I posted a recipe for potato salad that is fantastic, if you want to try some).

Some cooking tips on the traditional methods:

BAKING: Choose large Russet potatoes, scrub under running water lightly to clean, then dry in a paper towel.  Using a fork, stab deeply (close to center) 6-8 times to allow steam to vent.  Lightly oil the skin (just a dab will do, then rub all over to coat), sprinkle a little salt, and bake at 350 for about 1-1 1/2 hours, or until skin takes on a crispy appearance.  No, you don't need to wrap them in foil...that's just something restaurants do to make it look pretty on a plate (ooooh, shiny).

MASHED: Again, choose large Russet potatoes.  Scrub and dry them, then cut into cubes, about 1 inch in size.  Put into boiling water, and cook for around 20 minutes (if you want to salt the water, you can).  Drain in a colander thoroughly, then place in a large bowl.  For every 3 potatoes you cut up, add 2 tbsp butter and 1/4 c milk.  Using a hand masher or hand mixer, crush the potatoes, blending the butter and milk in, until you reach the consistency you desire (you can add more butter/milk as needed, small amounts at a time).

SALAD: For this, choose a waxy potato...red or new potatoes work best.  Again, scrub and dry them, the cut into cubes about 1/2 inch in size.  Put in boiling water, and cook for about 8-10 minutes, until tender enough to bite into, but firm enough to not collapse when you do it.  Drain thoroughly, then mix according to your favorite recipe.

Ok, that covers the mainstream preparations.  Now on to the FUN!!!

I'm going to give you 3 recipes today...potatoes au gratin, potato soup, and potato candy.  There are TONS more ways to eat potatoes, you just have to do a quickie internet search to find recipes.  Yes, some take more work than others, but they are ALL SCRUMPTIOUS!!!

POTATOES AU GRATIN

1/3 c unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 lbs russet potatoes, scrubbed, dried, and cut into 1/4 in slices (leave skin on)
1/2 c grated Gruyere cheese (you may substitute swiss cheese)
1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese
1 c heavy cream (also called whipping cream)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp paprika

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 1 1/2 quart baking dish with a little of the softened butter.  Arrange a layer of potato slices in the bottom of the dish, then sprinkle a little cheese over it...continue layering and sprinkling until done, using potatoes layer last.

In a small bowl, blend the heavy cream with the salt and pepper.  Pour mixture over the potatoes, dot with remaining butter, and sprinkle with paprika.  Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, until top is golden brown and bubbling.  Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

POTATO SOUP

3 lbs russet potatoes, scrubbed, dried, peeled, and cut in 1/2 cubes
1 tbsp butter
1 1/2 c onions, chopped
2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 can (14.5 oz) chicken broth
3 c milk
1 tsp salt
1/4 black pepper

Boil potatoes in a 6 quart dutch oven until just done (like for potato salad), remove 1/3, drain, and set aside.  Continue boiling remaining potatoes until soft, drain thoroughly, set aside (yes, you will have 2 bowls with potatoes in them).  Return dutch oven to stove, and put butter, onion, and garlic in it.  Cook onions and garlic until softened and translucent, about 6-7 minutes.  Put completely cooked potatoes back in the pot, and mash thoroughly, mixing with onions and garlic.  Add chicken broth, milk, and seasonings as you do this, mixing thoroughly.  It will be very soupy.

Bring to a light simmer, but do not allow to boil.  Add reserved potatoes, and allow to cook for about 10 minutes, or until those potatoes are fully done.  Serve with your choice of toppings: shredded colby cheese, crumbled bacon, or chopped scallions are some of our particular favorites.

POTATO CANDY

1 small potato (about the size of a large egg), scrubbed, dried, peeled, cut into 6-8 pieces
1 lb confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
3/4 c peanut butter (smooth or crunchy, you're choice)
2 tbsp unsalted butter

Boil the cut potato until very soft.  Drain thoroughly, then in large bowl, mash completely with butter.  Mix in the confectioners sugar a small amount at a time, until it's all used (yes, this WILL be a very stiff dough).  On waxed paper, roll out the dough until about 1/3-1/4 inch thick.  Spread peanut butter over surface thinly...go all the way to the edges (if you need a little more peanut butter, that's fine, just keep it thin).  Roll up in jellyroll fashion.  Wrap in plastic wrap, and put in fridge overnight. 

Next day, slice into 1/2 inch slices, and place in container. Store in fridge, or give as gifts!!  Either way, they'll last up to 3 weeks (well...no they won't, cause these are GOOOOOODDDDDDD).

So there you have it, folks.  Three new, and delicious, ways to enjoy the old fashioned potato.  I hope you have as much fun as I do discovering new ways to make this into a tasty part of almost any meal.  ENJOY!!!

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