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07/27/2015

~This Spuds for You: Loaded Twice-Baked Potatoes~

IMG_0599Everything tastes better with bacon, and, cheddar makes everything better too -- even broccoli. Everyone loves a steamy, creamy, buttered baked potato, and, twice baked potatoes are, well -- they're the Rolls Royce of the baked-potato world.  Men love them, kids adore them, and, from a mom's perspective, they'll get you as many accolades as a hot fudge sundae.  Every once in a while, I get so hungry for a twice-baked spud that I just gotta make 'em.  Today is such a day.

IMG_0593Making twice-baked potatoes is a method, not an exact recipe.

IMG_1696A twice baked potato is exactly what the name implies:  It's a potato that gets baked in the oven twice.  After the first bake, the potato is sliced in half and the light, fluffy soft-center is carefully scooped out, leaving the shell/the potato skin undamaged. The cooked center is then mashed, mashed-potato-style, with butter, salt, pepper and/or various IMG_0547seasonings and creamy options like sour cream, yogurt and/or cream cheese.  Then the fun begins:

"Add-ins", absolutely anything you want, usually family-friendly favorites (like today's combo of bits of bacon and blanched chopped broccoli topped with shredded cheddar cheese), get folded in.  The flavor-packed potato mixture is scooped back into the the potato skins and baked a second time, which makes the skin crispy and melts the cheese on top -- it's twice baked potato perfection.

IMG_0565From a method standpoint, the way I make them is not the quickest, but, that does't mean it's tedious.  I simply don't take short cuts, which are a definite compromise.  The microwave is a no-no (I want crispy, not soft steamed, potato skins), I use real-deal bacon (not store-bought bacon bits), and, my broccoli is freshly chopped (not frozen and thawed).  I have no exact recipe, but here's my estimated formula:  the mashed centers from 3-4 large Russet potatoes + 3-4 cups of add-ins, then sprinkle the tops of all with additional shredded cheese.

My recipe = cheese on the bottom, in the potato-y center & on the top too!

Tip from Mel:  I've tasted a lot of creative versions of twice-baked potatoes in my lifetime and the best combinations always contain some type of cooked meat or poultry, a vegetable, and, grated cheese.  Great twice-baked potatoes are not pot-luck or a place to throw your leftovers -- they are usually very-well conceived.  That said, I've never tasted a lo-calorie version of a twice-baked potato that had a purpose.  Who in the world counts calories when eating these?

IMG_0584When making twice-baked potatoes, the Russet potato reigns supreme:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c740aa5a970bA bit about the Russet potato: Known as the Idaho or Burbank (after their developer, horticulturist Luther Burbank), these potatoes are generically labeled "baking". They're long, slightly-rounded, and, have thick rough skins, which when baked are quite tasty. When cooked, they have pearly white, dry flesh. Their low moisture/high starch content gives them superior baking and frying qualities.  For more details, read my post ~ Dear Perfectly Baked Potato:  Your Crispy Skin and Fluffy Center, Make My Steaks Taste Even Better ~ in Categories 4, 15 or 20!

While they make great mashed potatoes and potato salad too, they don't do well when boiled, so bake them for use in those two culinary applications too.  For the best texture and most even cooking, always choose (preferably hand-pick), medium-large (10-12-ounce), even-sized, very firm potatoes. Stay away from ones that are spongy, have dark spots and/or a lot of eyes.  Store them singularly (not in a plastic bag), in a cool, dry, dark place, and, never, ever, refrigerate!

Whomever invented the twice-baked potato deserves a standing ovation!

PICT2736For the potatoes and the first bake:

3-4 large (10-12-ounce), whole, even-sized Russet potatoes  

3-4  tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon fat

3-4  tablespoons coarse sea salt

3-4  tablespoons salted butter, melted

6-8 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese

6a0120a8551282970b0163055c3d7f970dStep 1.  Using a vegetable brush, thoroughly scrub the desired number of potatoes under tepid water, to remove any dirt.  I'm making six today.  Pat them dry in a few paper towels.  Using a fork, prick the skin of each one 16-18 times evenly around the surface.  

Note:  Pricking the potatoes is the step that allows steam to escape as the potatoes bake, which results in light, fluffy centers.

PICT2736Step 2. One at a time, place each potato in a shallow bowl or on a plate.  Drizzle each with about 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil, and, using a pastry brush, paint the entire surface of each potato with oil.

Note:  If you are making any version of twice-baked potatoes that includes fried bacon, feel free to paint the potato skins with the bacon fat rather than the vegetable oil.  Or, if you keep bacon fat on hand, feel free to use it instead of vegetable oil throughout this recipe.

PICT2739Step 3.  Line a baking pan with parchment paper.  A 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" pan will hold 6 potatoes, a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" pan will hold 8-12. Depending upon the size of the pan, sprinkle  2-4 tablespoons of coarse sea salt over the parchment. Arrange the oil-coated potatoes, well apart, on the prepared pan. Sprinkle more salt over the tops, about 1/2-1 teaspoon atop each.

PICT2737Step 5.  Bake on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven about:

30-40 minutes for small potatoes

60-70 minutes for large potatoes

Potatoes should be very soft and tender when pierced with a fork, and, slightly-crisp on the outside. Remove from oven and let rest until cool enough to handle with your hands, about 20-30 minutes.

IMG_1686 IMG_1696Step 6. Using a serrated knife, cut potatoes in half horizontally and open them up like a book.  Using a paring knife and a tablespoon carefully scoop out the soft center from each half, leaving about 1/4" of potato around the sides and on the bottoms.  Note:  Use the knife to mark a 1/4" line around the sides -- not so deep as to pierce the skin, just to loosen the proper amount.

IMG_1702 IMG_1698Step 7. Return all of the potato skins to the pan, insides up. Melt butter in microwave.  Brush insides with butter, flip potatoes over and brush outsides.  Return to oven and bake, 6 minutes.  Note: I'm doing mine in two batches of six tonight because I have to take  a series of photographs.  It's complicated.

IMG_1714 IMG_1708                                            ~ Step 8. Remove potatoes from oven. Flip them over, insides up.  Return to oven and cook until edges are turning brown, 12-15 minutes.  This is an important step.  Give them all the time they need to crisp up.

IMG_1744 IMG_1719Step 9. Remove potatoes from oven and immediately sprinkle about 1 1/2-2 tablespoons of shredded cheddar into the cavities.  

IMG_1721Return to oven and bake briefly, just until the cheese melts, 3-4 minutes. Remove from oven and fill cavities with:

IMG_0551For the mashed potato filling, the add-ins and the second bake: 

Advance Prep Note:  The potato mixture stirs together in less than five minutes provided the bacon has been fried and diced, and, the broccoli has been blanched and chopped in advance.

4  cups potato flesh, scooped from the soft centers of above baked potatoes, hot

4  tablespoons salted butter, very soft or melted

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, to taste

1/2  cup sour cream

2  (generous) cups very very small broccoli florets, blanched in boiling water for about 45-60 seconds, until 'al dente', well-drained and cooled

1  (generous) cup crisply-fried and diced bacon, about 8 strips of thick-sliced bacon

1 (generous) cup shredded cheddar cheese, for stirring into potato filling

6-8 additional tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese, for topping

IMG_0546 IMG_0547 IMG_0565 IMG_0568~Step 10.  In a large bowl, using a fork smash the potatoes.  Add the butter and stir until thoroughly incorporated.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Fold in the sour cream, followed by the broccoli florets, bacon bits and the 1 cup of shredded cheddar.

IMG_0585 IMG_0587 IMG_0614~Step 11.  Fill potato cavities with  potato mixture and top with cheese.  Return to oven and bake for a second time, about 15 minutes.  Cheese will be melted and tops will be golden.

Serve hot or warm.  Love 'em with a knife and a fork...

IMG_0618... or pick'em up and enjoy 'em as an appetizer or a snack.

IMG_0636This Spuds for You:  Loaded Twice-Baked Potatoes:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable brush; fork; pastry brush; baking pan; parchment paper; serrated bread knife; paring knife; tablespoon; 1-cup measuring container; cheese grater; cutting board; chef's knife; skillet (for frying bacon); saucepan; for blanching broccoli

IMG_6481Cook's Note:  Twice-baked potatoes are a great side-dish to serve with all sorts of grilled chicken or steak, and, they pair nicely with a bowl of chili too.  That said, my family really loves them served with my ~ Chili Cheddar Cheeseburgers w/Chile-Lime Mayo ~.  You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 2, 10, 13, 17, 19 or 20.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

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