I don’t know about you, but I am ready to curl up into a little ball, and burrow into a nest of protective blankets on the sofa for the next couple of weeks. The new year is not going according to plan. I feel like retreating, and keeping warm and safe in my cozy lair. It’s hard to stir myself enough to cook dinner. That is a self-indulgent fantasy that won’t come true anytime soon. There are deadlines to meet, a dog to walk, and a couple of growling tummies every night that cannot be ignored by magical thinking. Instead, I will compromise with some easy loaded and stuffed-to-the-gills, hot, baked potatoes. And by turning off the talking heads and going to bed early with my stack of Christmas gift books. (A New Year’s Resolution I made was to read more. I hope it was one of yours, too!)
One of my culinary pursuits is perfecting potato delivery systems. I aspire to making the perfect French fry, which has been a decade-long quest. I have decided that I am terrible at making fries from scratch. However I slice or dice the potatoes, I never seem to fry the frites of my dreams. I compromise by frying up frozen, store-bought shoestring potatoes. And in these stress-y days, that is OK. Store-bought are reliably crisp, tender-on-the-inside and importantly, hot.
Baking potatoes at home is much easier. Baked potatoes do not need searing hot peanut oil (or canola, grapeseed, corn, vegetable, olive or peanut oils) with an expensive immersive deep fat fryer, with a sensitive (and accurate) thermometer. Nope. Baked potatoes just need an oven. I can do that.
For a plain Jane baked potato I use a russet potato that weighs about 10 or 11 ounces. (I only know that because I weighed the two I have in the kitchen just now.) I think you know your potato preferences, so find one of a pleasing heft, and proceed.
I pierce the potato skin with a cooking fork a few times, wrap the potato in a paper towel, and pop it into the microwave for 3 minutes on high. (You can skip this step if you are opposed to microwaves. Some people have higher standards.) Then I place the steaming potato on the rack in the oven, which has been preheated to 400°F. After about 45 minutes, I poke the potato with the cooking fork and see if it tender. When it is done, we proceed.
Now comes the fun. Just adding butter, salt and pepper is for purists. For the more adventurous, you can dabble with twice-baking the potato, which has been our latest go-to variation. Since we aren’t venturing out into the COVID world much these days, we have been trying to re-create our favorite (or aspirational) restaurant meals at home. Lately, when we are playing Let’s Go to Smith & Wollensky, we add twice baked potatoes to our homemade à la carte menu. “Jumbo Twice Baked Potato: aged cheddar, apple smoked bacon, scallions, sour cream – $12.” (https://www.smithandwollensky.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Dinner_Fall_Miami2020.pdf) (One upside to the pandemic is that we are saving a lot of money. Imagine if we flew to Miami to eat at Smith & Wollensky! Airfare, plus hotel, plus Uber, plus $12 for one potato. Money saved! I love being frugal.)
This recipe is for a large party of potato eaters, which we are not. But you can do the math yourself and use what you need: https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/overstuffed-twice-baked-potatoes
Here is a sightly more simplified version: https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/cheesy-stuffed-baked-potatoes/
And for those nights when you do not feel like pretending to go to a pricy steakhouse, when you are curled up on the sofa, wrapped in your toasty blankets and ennui, you can add a variety of goodies to a potato as a special home-styled comforting treat for yourself. Luke the wonder dog wishes you will drop some bacon chunks in his direction, but he is always hopeful of little, everyday miracles, isn’t he?
• Rummage through the fridge and look for leftover bacon, taco meat, chili, Sloppy Joe meat, barbecue, diced ham or chicken, shredded beef, smoked salmon, shrimp, pepperoni, crumbled sausage
• Cheeses: Cheddar, gorgonzola, Colby, feta, mozzarella, gruyere, Monterey Jack, Swiss
• Greek yogurt, sour cream, hummus, guacamole
• Broccoli, chives, green onion, green pepper, mushrooms, corn, tomatoes, olives, capers, jalapeño slices, caramelized onions, leeks
• Fried egg and Sriracha
• Old Bay, steak sauce, barbecue sauce, pesto, honey mustard
Let’s enjoy our daily comforts, as we venture out into the cold new year. Stay warm. Curl up with a good book. Spring is in its way.
“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”
― James Baldwin