Home Books Recipe Stash Cooking Tips Blog About Julie Appearances Newsletter Connections

Posts Tagged ‘potatoes’

Best-ever jacket-baked potatoes

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

One thing that struck me at The Food Show in Auckland this year is how much those attending the demonstrations in the Electrolux Cooking Theatre hung on every word, devouring every little tip. The interest and desire to learn was palpable. It seems one of the most useful tips I gave out, without even thinking about it, was how to get crunchy skin on jacket-baked potatoes. This is something I presumed everyone would know, but apparently not. It’s too easy to presume that everyone knows the basics when you are demonstrating, and quite grounding to be reminded that isn’t so!

The skin on potatoes is full of nutrients, and when scrubbed clean and cooked as I describe below it’s delicious. If you’ve never tried it, or don’t quite believe it, read on! I’ve had great feedback on this method and thought it was worthwhile sharing. I did have two other interesting comments made to me… one woman informed me that it was an awful waste of electricity to have the oven roaring away for so long just to get crunchy potato skins (1½ hours). I replied that it is perhaps not the wisest choice when making just one or two potatoes – but, potatoes are a cheap way to fill a crowd (think upwards to 20!), so are perfect for large gatherings. If cooking for a smaller group, choose other dishes which cook at the same temperature to utilize the oven heat ie stuffed baked mushrooms, which could be served with the potatoes along with a salad to make a tasty, nutritious, easy and inexpensive meal. Another woman queried whether the potatoes could be started in the microwave then finished in the oven. I replied, ‘No’. Stick with the method below for the perfect result – I developed it years ago and it has been tried and tested hundreds and hundreds of times in various ovens. Start with a floury potato and I guarantee success (in New Zealand I use agria).

Here’s a flavoursome mushroom sauce given a flavour boost with a handful of porcini mushrooms. Served over crunchy potatoes it makes an excellent vegetarian main course. Or try it with an omelette, with sizzled chicken breasts or panfried pork snitzel.

Jacket-baked potatoes
Mixed Mushroom Sauté

Life of a Peach

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

My father’s beans

I’m at the table alone and eating my father’s beans for my dinner. He’s 99 and I’m eating his beans. I don’t care about anything else, I am just so happy for the moment. They’re scarlet runners – the best kind of beans – meaty and sweet, and I’ve got them nestled on top of four potatoes I’ve just pulled from our garden and lightly steamed, and I’ve slathered them with butter and sprinkled them with a shocking amount of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. God, they’re good.

* *

One of my favourite family memories is of my dad, who has always grown beans, with my brother-in-law Billy, sitting around our big black wooden table with a mound of steaming beans picked from the garden just some moments ago and a stack of thickly sliced generously buttered white bread in front of them. There were three other accompaniments: salt and make-you-sneeze white pepper, and of course, beer. Billy’s dead now. We miss him terribly. But I see him in my mind’s eye as if it were yesterday, at the table with my dad eating beans and buttered bread, sipping through foamy white heads on top of golden beer, no sound or interaction just an occasional grunt and nod of the head, but their eyes were smiling.

My father has always eaten an extraordinary amount of vegetables, and many of them homegrown. He reckons that is why he has led such a long, fit and well life. He’s probably right. He’s been right about most things he’s told me and I’m not going to start arguing now.

Cheap Winter Eats

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

The cold has settled in and we’re in for a long run of wintery days by the looks of it! One comfort is food – soups and homecooked meals fill the kitchen with gorgeous smells that’ll bring them running. Look for dishes based on seasonal vegetables, or inexpensive vegetables which one tends to pass over in favour of something more exotic (think cabbage – how many times do you walk past that and buy something three times the price because you think cabbage is boring).

Potatoes are an excellent ingredient to fill hungry tummies. They’re especially good for us when jacket-baked.

How do you get those gorgeously-crunchy potato skins on jacket-baked potatoes? Easy. Scrub the potatoes and while they’re still damp sprinkle them with salt. Move them to a dry part of the bench, turn them over and sprinkle the top side also with salt. Transfer to an oven preheated to 200°C / 400°F (fanbake) and bake for at least 1 1/2 hours, even longer – up to 2 hours. Immediately you remove the potatoes from the oven, split them in half with a sharp knife, otherwise the steam inside the potato will soften the skin. Either serve as they are, with butter, salt and pepper, or with sour cream, or top them with a homemade Bolognese or tomato sauce – such a great way to use up small amounts of leftover pasta sauce, and you don’t need any added fat!

Alternatively, scoop out the flesh and mash with a little hot milk and butter and pile it back into the potatoes, top with grated cheese and grill until sizzling. Or mix the potato flesh with any manner of ingredients before stuffing it back into the potato shell: chopped ham or bacon or roast chicken, chopped spring onions or snipped chives, canned beans or sweet corn, chopped onion and celery softened in a little olive oil, and so on and so forth. The recipe here is one my kids loved when they were growing up.

Jacket Potatoes with Bacon and Sweet Chilli Sauce

One of the great things about pasta dishes is their speed. They’re also nutritious and fill you up. I always keep canned beans in the pantry, and many types of pasta shapes, and with a bunch of rocket from the garden, a meal like this is easy on the budget, and on me – over and done in twenty minutes.

Rocket & Beans with Fusilli

A mug of homemade soup is an inexpensive nutritious after-school warm-up.

Make the soup, even a double batch, then when it is cool, line soup mugs with snap-lock bags and fill with soup. Seal and freeze, then remove mug. Then you have the perfect amount to thaw quickly in the microwave (or in a saucepan) to fill a mug. Potatoes help thicken the soup, and leeks are inexpensive at this time of year. You could use homemade chicken stock in this soup, and even swirl in a little leftover roast chicken at the end.

Chunky Leek and Potato Soup

I’m so happy! Finally, we’ve dug up some potatoes!!!

Monday, February 2nd, 2009
I was hopeful that our Jersey Benne potatoes would be ready for the Christmas table, but as the big day drew close it become obvious that there was not much going on in the potato patch and that like many other people we’d be paying a fortune for a box or two of organically grown new potatoes for Christmas lunch. Oh yes, the plants had shot up, flowered and were wilting, but several excavations revealed nothing – just hairy dirt, really. We were bitterly disappointed – I had hoped to eat homegrown potatoes in the Year of the Potato. Oh well, we left the plants in the ground in the hope that something might grow, even a cupful of tiny tatters would be nice.

But today was the day and we decided to get in with a garden fork and forage. And there they were! I nearly cried with excitement – as did Remo, my husband and gardening buddy. I don’t feel this way about everything we grow, but potatoes, well, potatoes, they’re engraved on my heart (there’s a little red heart with an arrow going through it with ‘I love potatoes’ on it inside me, for sure). It’s the Irish in me. I can eat them any which way and love them every way.

The amazing thing about your own potatoes is not just the flavour, but the texture. Being freshly dug, the peel just slips off under running water with the dirt, and the texture is fudgey and dense and when they cook they smell all sort of mealy and starchy and remind me of my mum. And they’re loaded with Vitamin C, a great healthy antioxidant.

There’s not much to be done to new potatoes. They’re so good just with butter, salt and pepper, but my daughter Ilaria doesn’t eat butter so she has hers with extra virgin olive oil. I steam them, rather than boil them, because, sitting above hot water, rather than in it, preserves more of their flavour and nutrients (Vitamin C is water soluble, so you lose some of if you soak potatoes, or when you cook potatoes in water) and there’s less chance of the potatoes becoming waterlogged or overcooking.

The thing about growing potatoes is this: you don’t need a big garden to grow them – you can buy potato tube thingies – they’ve got a name I’m sure but I just can’t think of it – and grow them on your deck. Or convert a clean trash can (metal or plastic, but plastic is lighter and easier to move around) into a potato grower. Drill a few hole in the bottom and on the sides coming about one-third of the way up the container and fill the bottom with any smashed crockery or broken terracotta pots you might have around the place (we’ve always got a stack of broken things, and this is a great way to recycle them). Cover the broken china with 15cm of rich potting compost. You could use dirt and beef it up with seaweed or plant food if you want. Then take half a dozen sprouting seed potatoes and sit them on the compost with their sprouts pointing up. Cover them with more potting compost and give them a good watering. Once the green leaves appear, cover them with more compost, and just keep on with this little game letting them grow, then covering them, until you reach the top of the container. Keep them watered throughout and in a sunny position. Make sure not to drown them with water, or they’ll rot, but don’t let them get dry, either or they’ll not grow well, just regular and even watering. Once the plants flower and die down and the leaves dry and turn brown, dig ‘em up!

And lucky old me, we’ve only dug up a quarter of the potato patch so we’ve got plenty more potatoes to unearth!