Friday, January 7, 2011

Baked Potatoes

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch (or join us) as our family of 6 eats (or tries to) on $6/day

Today for lunch I wanted a baked potato. Microwaved ones are edible, but just not so great. And it seemed silly to bake just one, so I threw in a bunch of sweet potatoes, russet potatoes, and a small butternut squash leftover from last year's garden.

If you're new to cooking, baking a potato is a great place to start. Here are the basic cooking instructions. Wash the potatoes. Don't bother to wrap in foil or anything. And don't poke with a fork like you would if you were microwaving them. Place them in an oven set at 400 degrees. Bake for about an hour or until they give easily when you squeeze them (with an oven-mitted hand because they're stinking hot). 

And what will I do with all the potatoes I do NOT plan on eating today, potatoes that won't be nearly as good the next day warmed up in the microwave. Well, first off, potatoes that are baked in the first place do make better leftovers, even when re-warmed in the microwave. But most of ours won't make it that far. Why? Because you can mash or puree them and use them in lots of great stuff.

Butternut Squash
1. Pureed butternut squash is perfect--perfect--to nutrify boxed mac and cheese. Use about 1/4 C per box.
2. Seeing it sitting on the counter, my husband ate half of the butternut squash anyway. That wouldn't normally happen, and it was especially good for him today since he has a cold and can use a little vita-boost.

Sweet Potatoes
1. Serve with a bit of butter and brown sugar and you and your baby will both love them.
A little something for baby...

With some extra love for mama.

2. Pureed sweet potato is great snuck into so so many foods. Following is a surely non-comprehensive list. Add to:
Ground beef (add 1/4 C to raw meat, work it in, then cook)
Mac and cheese (1/4 C per box)
Canned soups (1/4-1/2 C)
Mix a bit in with the peanut butter of your kids' sandwiches (1 tsp per sandwich)
Mix a bit in with your oatmeal (1-2 Tbsp per bowl)
Pancakes (2-4 Tbsp) per patch of 6 pancakes
Several of the breakfast cookie recipes on this site. (Try here or here.)
Bread or biscuits or muffins (1/4 C to dough/batter)
Spread onto one side of a quesadilla

1. I find these not quite as versatile as their orange neighbors when pureed, but if you add them (well-mashed) to breads, pancakes, etc. they'll make your breads even better (about 1-2 C for 2 loaves bread. 1/4 C to a full recipe of pancakes)
2. Mash with milk and butter and warm them to make mashed potatoes.  
3. To make gnocchi (a type of potato pasta). Reading on the internet makes gnocchi seem like it needs the perfect touch. I put off trying it for months because I was intimidated by all those Italian grandmothers out there. But when we had several baked potatoes withering in the fridge that I was going to toss out, I figured I had nothing to lose. And I made pan-fried gnocchi. And it was AMAZING. Not to offend those with culinary high-mindedness, but they kind of tasted like really awesome home-made tater tots. And in this family, that is a very good thing. (Gnocchi will get its own post in the next week or two, so fret not if you don't know how to make it or even, really, what it is.)

By the way, to puree a starchy vegetable, like these:
-Scoop out the good stuff and put in blender or food processor
-Add water by the Tbsp until it's blendable.
-You can store it in the fridge for a few days and in the freezer much longer.
-I often freeze it in ice cube trays, then dump the cubes into a freezer bag. That way if I need a couple Tbsp for a breakfast cookie or a baby, I've got it right there.

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