Saturday, April 21, 2012

Potatoes 101

Mashed, baked, twice baked, scalloped, fried, roasted, hash browns, potato salad, casserole, soup, stews, stuffed and appetizers……I grew up on meat and potatoes along with a lot of other people.  It is easy to see why.  They were cheap and you can prepare them so many ways, not to mention they taste so good. 

I have already shared some potato recipes in previous blogs, but I thought I would share just a few of my favorites again with you. 

Roasting Potatoes

I do not fry my potatoes any more because you can roast them and still get a crisp potato that is just as tasty.

Choose russet potatoes, long whites, red-skinned, or new potatoes. 

Scrub the potatoes well. I use a small brush.  Halve or cut potatoes into quarters or eighths, depending on size.  You can even cut them up like French fries or used frozen fries from the freezer.  I prefer to cut mine in oven fried wedges.

Preheat the oven to 375°.

Pour about 1/3 cup of olive oil, melted butter, or that saved bacon fat you saved like my grandma did into a baking dish.

Add potatoes to the baking dish and turn to thoroughly coat with oil. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper, and other seasonings as desired.  I like to add paprika, garlic powder and onion powder.  You can also toss in dry ranch dressing mix.

Roast, turning every 15 minutes, at 375° for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until crisp on the outside and fork-tender on the inside.  Make sure you serve with ketchup on the side.  These are every bit as good as any french fry and better for you.

I saw this and had to save the picture for a great serving idea.  Put your ketchup, mayo or dip in a glass and stick your roasted potatoes in the glass to serve.  Isn't that a great idea?  

Mashed Potatoes

Lumpy or not lumpy?  It is a matter of choice.  I like a few lumps in mine to know it is not those terrible tasteless instant mashed potatoes. 

Russets are a good starchy boiling potato and recommended for mashed potatoes, but I like to use the red potato even though it is a waxy potato.  It has a thinner skin and I like to leave some of the skin on for looks and texture.  They take a little longer to mash.

Never put your potatoes into boiling water.  Start by putting them in cold water and bring them up to a boil.  Salt your water well to flavor the potatoes.  If you cut them in large chunks, it should take about 20 minutes.  They are done when they are fork tender.  Drain them well, but save your water.

Hand mash, a potato ricer, or an electric mixer is your choice also.  If you like them lumpy then don’t use the ricer.  I prefer the electric mixer but do not whip them completely smooth leaving a few small lumps.  If you like them perfectly smooth, use a potato ricer for perfectly smooth potatoes.  Save that potato water if you are going to make gravy.  It can add nutrition to your gravy.

What to add to flavor.  The standard is milk or cream and butter, salt and pepper.  First add your butter and then slowly add your cream or milk so it is not too runny.  Salt and pepper to taste.  You can also add sour cream, butter milk, or roasted garlic.  I have added French onion sour cream dip and the family loved it.  Add some chives or rosemary to it or even some cheddar cheese or Parmesan.  Get creative and think about what you add to other potato dishes.  

To keep them warm put them in a bowl over a warm water bath on the stove. 

Save any left overs for potato pancakes or a potato casserole. 
My Mom’s Scalloped Potatoes

Mom kept most of her recipes simple and in her head.  She made everything from scratch and through it together from memory and experience.  I cook the same way in my day to day cooking and only use a recipe when I’m baking or trying something new.  So in giving you this, it is not exact if you want it all measured out.  Sorry.

I use russets for scalloped potatoes because they are starchier.  I peel enough to fill the baking dish I’m going to use (usually a 9 X 13 glass baking dish).  I let them soak in water while I’m making the sauce so they do not turn black. 

In a sauce pan, I heat about 2 cups of 2% milk, a package of grated mild cheddar cheese, salt, pepper and onion powder to taste and chunks of ham.  I add any ham juices I might have for extra flavor.  Be careful not to over salt if you are using ham.  I make a slurry of 3 tablespoons of cornstarch and water and stir until it is all liquid. When the milk mixture comes to a boil, add your cornstarch slurry and stir until it thickens.
Drain your potatoes and put in the baking dish.  Pour your milk mixture over the potatoes until they are all well coated.  Put in an oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until potatoes are tender.  About 15 minutes before taking out of the oven top with some more cheddar cheese and let brown on top.

Variations:  You may not want to add ham.  You can use Parmesan cheese if you like and add other herbs such as garlic or thyme.  You can toss caution to the wind and use cream if you like.  I have seen people grate a little nutmeg in the béchamel (white) sauce to add a little something to the flavor. 

Baked Potato

I can and have made a whole meal out of a baked potato.  For a quick lunch, I put a potato in the microwave and bake it for an easy lunch.  I only put a baked potato in the oven if I am making a lot of them. 


Clean and dry your potato well.  Poke holes in your potato or slice it with a knife to vent the steam. 

Estimate 3 minutes for a very small potato; 4 ½ minutes for a medium-sized potato; 6 minutes for a large potato; and 7 to 8 minutes for a huge potato. Increase the times by about 2/3rds for multiple potatoes.

Let the potato stand for a few minutes.

Cut open the garnish with toppings of your choice and serve the potato.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Clean and dry your potato well.  I like to slice it with a knife half way through and put a pat of butter into the cut.  I wrap them in aluminum foil and put into the oven for at least 45 minutes.  Time depends of the size of the potato.  You can place them right on the rack in the oven and save dishes.  You can also roast them over your grill.  Test with a knife to see if tender. 

Hint:  To speed up the cooking time, my brother Dion puts a long nail in the potato.


Put together a potato bar or buffet of toppings and let everyone fix their own.  Here are suggestions for toppings bar. 

Extra butter
Different Salts
Pepper grinder
Sour cream
Sour cream dip with onions and chives in it
Bacon, ham or dried beef
Cheese (Parmesan, cheddar, cream cheese, blue cheese)
Broccoli or cream of broccoli soup
Spring onions

What am I missing?  Any suggestions?

Make extra while you are at it so you have left over potatoes for baked potato soup, potato salad or twice baked potatoes.

Baked Potato Soup

In a deep pan sauté an onion and celery until they are tender.  Slice your left over baked potatoes  leaving the skins on and add to your onions and celery.  Just cover the veggies with chicken stock until heated through.  Season with salt and pepper to your taste.  Add bacon or ham.  I prefer bacon.   I like to add a little spinach or kale (fresh or frozen) for color and nutrition.  Add 1 pint of cream or half and half.  Check for seasoning again.  Add salt if needed.  Once it comes to a boil add a slurry of cornstarch to thicken.  Serve with bacon and cheddar cheese as garnish.   

Italian Potato Zuppa

I have already shared this soup with you in a previous blog, but so you don’t have to look it up, I’m sharing it again.  

Boil sliced red potatoes in chicken broth (just enough broth to cover the potatoes).  Fry Italian sausage in frying pan and drain well (you can determine how hot or sweet you want the sausage).  Add garlic and onion to the sausage pan and saute until soft.  Add your drained sausage back into the pan.  When potatoes are tender add a pint of half and half to the potatoes and broth (do not drain the potato broth) along with well drained sausage mixture.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Cut up small fresh kale and add just before serving so it can wilt.  Grate Parmesan cheese over it just before serving.  You may substitute the kale with spinach if you like.

This is my favorite soup.  I use a mild Italian sausage.  Very similar to the Olive Garden’s.

Creamed Ham, Potatoes and Kale (AKA Sunday Soup)

This is how I fix the German creamed kale that my mother and grandmother fixed.  Boil new or small red potatoes in chicken broth until tender along cubed ham, sautéed onion and kale.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Once potatoes are tender add cream or half and half or even 2% milk if you want to keep the fat down.   Once the mixture has come to a boil add corn starch slurry to thicken.   I freeze Kale and always have it on hand for soups.  You can modify this into a bacon, potato and kale soup also.  This is pretty close to the baked potato soup but from fresh potatoes. 

Hash Brown Potatoes

The secret I learned years ago when I worked at Hayes Café was to use Lawry Salt  to season your hash browns.  This is how Duane Hayes taught me to make the Maid Rites hash browns.  Boil 10 large potatoes only half done and grate them.  They will finish cooking when you fry them.  Do not over boil them.  You can peel them after they have cooled.  The skin just peels off. You can also grate a small onions the same as the hash browns and mix with the hash browns.  Hayes and I do not use the onion.  Make sure you oil the skillet or grill well and it is good and hot.  I love to use my cast iron skillet for these.  Drop the mixture into your pan and let it get golden brown on the bottom. Do not play with it.  You'll see the edges get golden brown.  Salt with Lawry’s Salt only before turning them.  Flip only once and brown on the second side.  The more oil you put in the pan, the crisper they will be but don’t make it too oily.  Watch closely so they do not burn.


You can goose the hash browns up by adding a slice of cheese on the top and let it melt before you take off the grill.  A local restaurant in our area makes something called a Magic Mountain where they take a piece of toasted Texas toast and piles on fried loose meat like a Maid Rite and tops it with hash browns with cheese on top.  It is a big seller for them.  I’ve done something similar but kept it for breakfast and just added fried breakfast sausage on top of the toast and topped it with the cheesy hash browns. 

You can now buy hash browns and Southern hash browns in the grocery store and most of the work is done for you.  You can also oven roast the Southern hash browns by mixing the potatoes in oil and salt and pepper to taste.  I see they now also have them with pepper and onions in them.  I also like to add onion powder, paprika, and garlic powder and mix with my hands before putting them on a cookie sheet and putting them in the oven to roast until they are golden brown. 

Simple Seafood Chowder 

1 bag of Southern hash browns
1 can of clams
1 can of crab
1 small bag of cleaned frozen shrimp
1 pint of cream
1 small onion
Salt and pepper
Chicken broth

In a large pan saute you onion in a little butter.  Add chicken stock and a bag of Southern hash browns.  Add the entire can of clams with juice, can of crab, and frozen shrimp.  Add salt and pepper.  When the potatoes are done (fork tender) add your cream.  When the chowder has come to a boil, add your cornstarch slurry to thicken.  

German Potato Salad

Because I’m ¼ German, I’m giving you my favorite potato salad.  I prefer it over the cold potato salad.

3 pounds new potatoes
1/2 pound bacon, diced
1 red onion, diced finely
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon mustard of you choice (I prefer Dijon)
1/4 cup canola oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Spring onions or chives

Clean your new potatoes and slice them so they are pretty much the same thickness (skins on and don’t cut too thin).  Put them in cold water. Cook them until they are tender.  Be careful not to over cook them.   Drain and place in a large bowl.

Fry the bacon until it is crisp. Remove the bacon and drain on a paper towel. Add the onions to the bacon fat in the pan and cook until soft, about 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully add the vinegar and mustard and cook for 2 more minutes. Stir in the canola oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the hot dressing to the potatoes and toss gently to coat.  The warm potatoes really soak up the mixture.  Fold in the green onions or chives.  I prefer chives. Taste and season again with salt and pepper if needed.  Serve while still warm. 

I’m an Iowa farm girl at heart so I love my potatoes. There are so many things you can do with potatoes that I can’t give them all to you.  I just gave you some basics 101 but wanted to also share with you that potatoes are also nutritious and good for you, providing you with an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber so enjoy them. 

Tomorrow I'm sharing my beef and potato stew recipe.

Be happy and may God bless you and yours.  

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