Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: The humble spud is the star

There is nothing tastier than a baked potato that has been scooped out and filled with bacon, cream and butter

There is an old Irish saying, “if beef’s the king of meat, potato’s the queen of the garden world,” and in my childhood home, the potato, or as Dad referred to it, “the spud” was king indeed.

Until I left home, I had no idea what a normal size serving of potatoes was; we all filled our plates at least half full, and often had seconds. My parents bought potatoes two sacks at a time; mind you, there were 10 of us at the table.

Most assuredly, my first restaurant dinner was an eye-opener, with that little rounded scoop of potatoes — what was that all about?  Surely I would starve! I checked my dad’s plate; he had two scoops, because, I was told, “he is a man.” Good grief! To this day the Irish in me loves potatoes; whipped with butter and milk and served with gravy is probably my favourite but a close second is baked, served with butter and lots of salt.

Today’s recipes are neither but are a nice change.

Ultimate Twice-Baked Potatoes

4 large baking potatoes

8 slices bacon

1 cup sour cream

1/2 cup milk

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, divided

8 green onions, sliced, divided

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake potatoes in preheated oven for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside.

When potatoes are done, allow them to cool for 10 minutes. Slice potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop the flesh into a large bowl; save skins. To the potato flesh add sour cream, milk, butter, salt, pepper, 1/2 cup cheese and 1/2 the green onions. Mix with a hand mixer until well-blended and creamy. Spoon the mixture into the potato skins. Top each with remaining cheese, green onions and bacon. Bake for another 15 minutes.

Spinach-Artichoke Scalloped Potatoes

1 cup whipped cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup heavy cream

1 can artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped

2 cups cooked spinach (thawed if frozen), drained well and chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch rounds

1/2 stick unsalted butter, thinly sliced

8 ounces Monterey jack cheese, shredded

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese, heavy cream, sour cream, artichokes and spinach until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste, and add more heavy cream if the mixture is still too stiff to spread easily and bring to room temperature before using if making ahead of time.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a deep casserole dish, lay down a layer of potatoes so that the edges overlap slightly. Spread a thin layer of the creamy spinach-artichoke mixture over the potatoes (it doesn’t have to be perfect), then sprinkle on a thin layer of cheese and top with 3-4 thin slices of butter. Top with another layer of potatoes, making sure the edges overlap slightly and repeat with the spinach-artichoke mixture until you more or less run out of ingredients.

Arrange the final layer of potatoes on top, then brush generously with the melted butter and top with the Montery jack and Parmesan cheeses, then transfer to the oven. Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes until potatoes are tender and top is golden-brown and crisp. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every Wednesday and every other Sunday.