This spud’s for you

Oct. 15, 2013 @ 08:11 AM

 I’ve got ’em all snowed.
 When my mom is planning a special dinner, she asks me to prepare it.  When I make it for Petey, he thinks he must have been a very good boy.
The thing is, my twice-baked potatoes might impress, but couldn’t be easier to produce.

In addition to being simple to put together, they also have two of my favorite traits.
First; the recipe is just a jumping off place.  The only item in twice-baked potatoes that is mandatory is a spud.  If you don’t have access to Hickory Grove, use something else.  Replace the sour cream with Greek yogurt and olive oil instead of butter.  Switch out scallions for chives, and pancetta in place of bacon.

You’ve got options when you stuff them, too.  I normally smooth the top and sprinkle on cheese, bacon, and green onions before baking.  But you can do a riff on Duchess potatoes.  Duchesses are mashed potatoes which are piped out and then baked.  You can use a very large star tip and pipe them into the skins.  When you bake these, turn on the broiler for the last couple of minutes so that the ridges brown a bit.
Secondly; the spuds can also be made up to a month or so in advance.  I normally get them ready early in the day, wrap and refrigerate.  Or, you can get ready except for toppings, wrap them individually, and freeze them.  Then when they’re on the menu, take out just what you need, defrost, top, and bake them off.
I always bake more potato than I plan on serving.  If I use 2 or 3 spuds, I leave one boat unfilled, so there is plenty of filling.  If I make 4 or more whole potatoes, I leave two shells empty, and have one extra tater’s worth of filling.  The extra skin can be stuffed with something else, or dressed with cheese and toppings, and served as potato skins.  And also, sometimes no matter how careful you are, one of the boats will break while emptying.  Extras will mean no tears during assembly (There is no crying in the kitchen.).
To get the meat out of the potatoes, I use an ice cream scoop.  The curves help me to get the most potato, yet leave a nice even layer in the skin, for stability.  
Twice Baked Potatoes
3 large russet potatoes
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup sour cream
½ cup shredded Chapel Hill Creamery Hickory Grove cheese plus more for tops
3 slices of bacon, sliced into thin strips and rendered in frying pan, reserving bacon fat
2-3 scallions thinly sliced
Olive oil
Seasoning blend (I use Goya bitter orange adobo)
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350.  Prepare potatoes:  wash, prick a few times with a fork, massage olive oil, paprika, seasoning blend, salt and pepper all over them.
Bake for 1 ¼-1 ½ hours or until completely cooked through.
Remove from oven, and while still very hot, using an oven mitt, slice the potato in half, lengthwise.  Scoop out the flesh into large bowl, leaving about ¼ of an inch of it in the spud.
Brush the inside of the shells either with olive oil or bacon fat.  Season and then put them back into the oven until the flesh is toasted and firm.
Add the butter, sour cream, cheese, 2/3 of the scallions, and half of the bacon to the bowl with the scooped insides.  Mash the filling with a potato masher until the texture is right for you.  If you will be piping it back into the shells, make sure it is smooth enough to go through bag and tip.  Season, then taste and adjust if necessary.
Remove skins from oven and spoon in filling.  For smooth tops, sprinkle on extra cheese, bacon, and scallions.  For Duchess-style lightly sprinkle with paprika.
Place filled boats in baking dish, and return to oven at 350 for 30-45 minutes, or until heated through, and lightly sizzling.
The variations for these are endless.   With twice-baked, you are master and commander of your own fancified spud fleet.
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is