The Inspired Cook

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Digging potatoes

                I dig potatoes! Well, not literally, of course. But, Charles, my better half, actually does. He grows them every year in one of his two gardens, along with a variety of other produce.

Not only are his thumbs green but also his other eight digits as well. He must have inherited this fertile gardening gene from his late mother, a prolific gardener in her own right.

I, on the other hand, kill every plant unlucky enough to fall into my possession. In fact, I have admitted publicly many times that even my silk flowers contract root rot.

Anyway, the insatiable student in me yearned to learn more about these tasty tubers, so I performed a quick online search. My results proved quite interesting.

Did you know that potatoes rank fourth as the world’s biggest food crop? Well, they do. Only rice, wheat, and maize, respectively, outrank them.

Potatoes possess a fascinating history. Beginning about 8,000 BC to 5,000 BC, the Inca Indians of Peru cultivated the first-known crops. Then, Spanish Conquistadors, after conquering Peru in 1536, brought back potatoes to Europe. Families of these sailors began growing crops in Northern Spain along the coast of Biscay.

Although Sir Walter Raleigh acquainted Ireland with potatoes in 1589, almost 40 years passed before crops spread throughout Europe.

Potatoes reached the US colonies in 1621, arriving in two big cedar chests. Along with some vegetables, the potatoes were a gift from Nathaniel Butler, the governor of Bermuda, to Francis Wyatt, the governor of Virginia.

Historians estimate that Scotch-Irish immigrants planted the first permanent potato patches in 1719 near Londonderry (Derry), New Hampshire. After that, potato crops sprung up throughout the rest of the country.

So, now that your tuber tutorial is over, let’s talk about two new recipes that I recently formulated. Both recipes were inspired by my love of potatoes and cheese. The first is called provolone cheese-topped buffalo-chicken potato skins. Since I occasionally suffer from acid reflux, I used as much hot sauce as my poor stomach can tolerate. But if you prefer spicier dishes, feel free to increase the amount to your liking.

The other recipe, called loaded baked-potato soup, is a culmination of several recipes I’ve made over the years. Charles and I love it because it really tastes like a baked potato loaded with all the fixings.

Provolone Cheese-Topped Buffalo-Chicken Potato Skins

Ingredients:

                4 russet potatoes, medium-sized

                1 (13-oz.) can chicken breast, drained (about 1 1/2 c.)

                8 slices Provolone cheese, halved

                1/4 c. Bleu cheese salad dressing, plus additional for dipping

                2 T. Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, plus additional for garnish

                2-3 scallions, sliced

                Extra-virgin olive oil and finely-ground sea salt for coating potatoes

Directions:

                Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Wash, scrub, and dry potatoes. Using your hands, coat potatoes with oil and sprinkle them with salt. Lay the potatoes on a sheet pan and place into the preheated oven. Bake them for 45-60 minutes or until easily pierced with a sharp knife.

                Remove from the oven when done and allow them to cool for a few minutes. When cooled enough to handle, slice the potatoes in half lengthwise with a sharp knife. Using a spoon, remove the flesh, leaving a 1/4-inch shell or skin. Place the flesh into a small container, cover with a lid or plastic wrap, and save for another use. I used mine to make my Loaded Baked-Potato Soup.

                At this point, the cooled potato skins can be placed into a covered container for up to 2 days before preparing this recipe.

Into a small mixing bowl, put the drained chicken and flake it with a fork. Add 1/4 cup of dressing and 2 tablespoons of hot sauce, or more if you like it spicy, mixing thoroughly. Place the potato skins in a baking pan and stuff each with the chicken mixture.

Bake them for about 15 minutes or until they are heated through. Remove from the oven, and add 2 halves of cheese on top of each potato skin. Preheat your broiler and then broil the skins until the cheese melts and is bubbly. Remove from oven.

Plate the skins and drizzle the hot sauce across the tops in a zigzag pattern. Sprinkle each with sliced scallions. Serve with additional Bleu cheese dressing along with carrot and/or celery sticks, if desired.

Yield: 4-8 servings

                Loaded Baked-Potato Soup

Ingredients:

                12 oz. bacon, regular not thick cut

                1/2 c. yellow onion, chopped

                1/4 c. celery, finely chopped

                1/4 c. carrot, finely chopped

                2 T. Organic Better Than Bouillon Chicken Base

                1 3/4-2 lbs. russet potatoes (about 5 medium-sized), peeled and cut into 1-in. cubes

                1-1 1/2 c. baked potato, cut into bite-sized chunks

                6 c. water

                3 T. cornstarch

                1 c. half and half milk

                1 t. finely-ground sea salt

                1/2 t. black pepper

                1/2 t. garlic powder

                2 c. Cheddar cheese, shredded

                3-4 scallions, white and green parts sliced

                Sour cream, optional

Directions:

                Using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut bacon crosswise into 1/4-inch lardons or strips. Into a large Dutch oven, place half of the strips after separating them with your fingers. Cook over medium-high heat until browned and crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon to a plate lined with paper towels; set aside. Repeat with the other half of bacon. Reserve 1/2 cup for garnish.

                Into the rendered bacon fat, place chopped onions, celery, and carrots. Cook over medium-high heat until onion becomes translucent. Add diced raw potatoes; stir. Cook about 3 minutes. Pour in the water and stir. Add the salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and chicken base, stirring well to incorporate. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot with a lid, and cook for 20-25 minutes or until the potatoes can be pierced easily with a sharp knife.

                Stir in the baked potato chunks along with the cooked bacon, making sure to leave half of a cup for garnish. Put the milk and cornstarch into a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake to combine. Pour this slurry into the potato mixture, stirring constantly. Cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes to allow the soup to thicken. Then, add the cheese and stir until it melts. Remove from heat and serve.

                Ladle the soup into bowls. To each bowl if desired, add 1 tablespoon of sour cream on top or stir into the soup. Sprinkle reserved bacon and sliced scallions on top to garnish.

Yield: 6-8 servings