Kitchen

Basic Kitchen: Potatoes

We love potatoes. I mean we LOVE them. I have come across so many different ways to make and/or season them, that we really do love them.

I think sometimes people get stuck making potatoes the same couple of ways, so it’s not as enticing a side dish to make as it COULD be. 🙂 Plus, they seem to get a bad rap for taking a long time to prep that we don’t make the effort to have them with dinner.

Here’s a couple ways to take care of your potatoes to extend their shelf life as well as a couple different (possibly new to you?) ways to prepare them.

First, ways to handle, store, and extend the life of your potatoes:

1 – Store them, unwashed, in a cool, dark place. I know some people who regularly wash and refrigerate them after purchasing them. Washing and cooling in the fridge before they hit their peak point of freshness, actually diminishes their freshness. I keep mine in the bag I bought them in, wrapped in the plastic shopping bag and in the lower shelf of our pantry. It stays pretty dark and cool in there.

2 – Store them away from onions. I forget all the chemistry behind it, but storing onions and potatoes next to each other makes them go bad quicker. Eyes grow very quickly on the potatoes and they don’t last as long.

3 – Don’t throw them out just because they grew eyes. I know sometimes those eyes look creepy and yucky, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve gone bad. You can scrape off the eyes when you wash and peel them, and as long as the potato isn’t mushy or too dark green under the skin, they will taste fine.

4 – Green under the skin isn’t a sign of nastiness either. I read online that being slightly green under the skin isn’t good for young children or elderly people; I forget why (and was too lazy to re-research that this morning), but they are safe to eat. I think it’s some chemical that is released or is of higher concentration when they’re green, but that doesn’t mean they are rotten. I typically peel off the green as much as possible, with the peel, before cutting or using. No big deal, really.

Now that we know how to STORE the potatoes, let’s talk about a few fun ways to EAT them. 🙂

1 – Mashed: typical peeling of potatoes, chopping into pieces and boiling til soft and mashable. I like to cut my pieces pretty small, so they cook through quicker. Takes a little more time on the chopping side, but I hate having to check the pieces every few minutes, hoping that they’re soft enough to mash. I drain them and then mash with my potato masher (or just the beaters on my hand mixer), add a little butter and milk or cream and start mixing. I typically do NOT measure my milk or butter. I just add a little at a time until I have a consistency we like. Too much milk, and the consistency becomes like that of baby cereal. Too little milk and they taste very dry. I salt and pepper at the end to taste. The best tip for making them this way is to try and keep the chopped pieces of uniform size; this will keep you from having small mushy pieces and bigger, uncooked pieces.

2 – Smashed: A close relative of mashed. This is pretty much the same as mashed but you stop short of completely blending the potatoes into the fine mashed-ness. (Not sure about that word.) I like to make smashed potatoes if I’m adding cheese or ranch to them. I enjoy the slightly chunkiness of the potatoes to go with the zing of the cheese or ranch. I also do not measure the cheese or ranch. I’m sure there are plenty of great measurable recipes for both of those online (try AllRecipes), but I just add a little at a time until I reach a taste we like. We LOVE cheese, so I’m pretty sure I add way more than a recipe would call for! 🙂

3 – Boiled: If I absolutely do not have time to play around with the mashed or smashed, I just leave the potato peel on and chop into big chunks before putting in some water. I boil them just until they are soft, but not to the point of mashing upon impact from my fork. I drain them and put a little butter, garlic salt and pepper on them. Super easy and fairly quick way to add potatoes to the meal. If you let them boil too long and they’re mushy, just mash them with the peels and add butter and cream like for mashed or smashed. The peel actually has the best vitamins, and I really like the flavor with the peel in (though my kids and husband do not!).

4 – Baked: This can be done a few different ways. First, you can microwave bake them. Yes, microwaves suck vitamins out of everything they “cook”, but if you are strapped for time this is the best way to do it. Take a fork and poke a few holes around the potato (after you’ve washed it very thoroughly). Microwave on high for 4 minutes or so (or use the Cook setting for Potatoes, if your microwave has one – it’ll ask for the weight and will guesstimate for you the time needed to cook it; I enjoy this when I’m doing more than one at a time.). You might here them whistle and pop a little, but as long as they don’t explode it just means they’re cooking. BE CAREFUL, THEY WILL BE HOT when the time is up. I use a hand towel to grab them out and keep them wrapped up and warm. Squeeze the potatoes slightly to help loosen the insides. Cut a slit down the middle and top as desired to serve.

Second baking method: Oven. Wash and poke with holes as you would for the microwave. Wrap each potato in foil and bake at 400 degrees for at least an hour. I do not like making them this way unless I have something else I’m going to be baking at 400 degrees with it. Seems like a waste of oven temp and time, but they do taste the best when baked this way. 🙂 Again, THEY WILL BE HOT when you take them out. Squeeze them to loosen slightly inside and serve with desired toppings.

Lastly, a great way to change up the whole baking method is to wash the potatoes and cut them (with the peel on or off) into big chunks. Lay the chunks out on a piece of foil that is large enough to roll up and close over the potatoes. Before closing them up, though, dot with butter and sprinkle with seasonings. We like garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and cracked peppercorn. Close up foil and fold over opening. Poke a few holes in foil for venting. Place foil pouch on baking sheet and bake at 375 for about 40 minutes, or until chunks are slightly soft when poked with fork. DELICIOUS!! My mom does this on the grill in the summer, but when grilling isn’t an option you can always use the oven. So good! Not totally healthy because we love a lot of butter on ours, but very tasty and you can mix up the seasonings any way you like.

5 – Fried: Not the most ideally healthy way to consume them, but you can wash and slice potatoes into thin pieces and fry them in oil for a few minutes and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. I don’t like messing with heating oil, so we never eat them this way. An alternative to frying is to cut them just as thin, brush them with oil and put them on a baking sheet and bake them until just soft enough to pick up and eat. Sprinkle with salt and enjoy. You can still have that slightly oily taste without having to heat a whole pot of oil.

Of course, there’s also Twice Baked and other fun and fancy ways to make them. But for those of us that don’t always have the time to experiment with several steps of a recipe, these couple of ways will help keep a variety when it comes to making them. Of course, trying out new fancy recipes is fun, too. Then you can get used to making them just as quickly as these simple ways. Continually building on your recipes is great to keep dinner making from getting boring!

Trying different or new ways to make potatoes can make them more enjoyable to include in your meal prep. One thing I like about them is that if you have planned to use them at some point in the week, you can prep them (wash, peel, chop) ahead of time and store them covered in water in a closed tupperware dish. The water should be changed every couple of days (3 or 4 days), so they don’t get slimy, but this makes the dinner prep time shorter on the day you’ll be using them! I did this 2 years ago for Thanksgiving. I prepped my potatoes 2 days before and stored them in a giant tupperware bowl with a lid, completely covered in water. Then, Thanksgiving morning all I had to do was drain them and throw them in a pot of new water to boil and then mash. Soooo much less time to make them on that day, when we have a bazillion other things going on in the kitchen. 🙂

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