Monday, March 9, 2009

The Prodigious Potato, A Spectacular Spud!

I don't know who was hungrier, the first person to eat an oyster or the first to eat a potato. Imagine walking down a deserted stretch of beach. The ocean is actually hard to hear over the growling of your very empty belly. Suddenly, you stumble upon what looks like a funky shaped rock. Without quite knowing why, you start hitting it against another rock until it opens up to reveal what looks like snot. Yes, a shell. You are so ravenous with hunger that before your gag reflex can even begin to kick in, you've sucked it down...raw...and whole. Every salty, slimy bit. What's even more amazing is you go back for a second one! Then there's the potato. Again, you're starving. You'd have to be to actually dig into the ground and find a filthy, dirty, lumpy root that almost looks like something your horse may have once eaten (hmmm....did you ever think of eating the horse?!) and devouring it almost like an apple. I wonder if the first potato was eaten raw? I know there are countless numbers of people who dig oysters and that's fine. I just happen not to be one of them.

Potatoes though.....ooooh, you'd be hard pressed to find a soul that doesn't love a spud. Mashed, boiled, fried, baked, shredded, hashed and's hard to mess up a potato. Mashed potatoes are one of the classics among comfort food. What would Thanksgiving be without mashed potatoes to go along with the bird? Meatloaf? It goes together with mashed potatoes like peanut butter goes with jelly. How many times have you ever gone through a drive-thru without ordering french or curly fries?? And what goes along with our eggs for breakfast better than home made hash browns? Potato chips are the most popular snack food on the planet. Of course the British have to be be frou-frou about it and call them crisps. (They also call the bathroom "the loo"....what the?!) Anyway, I said over the weekend that I was going to focus on meals that can get the family together around the dinner table and even get the kids involved. Today I was thinking about a potato bar. What could be easier than throwing however many potatoes you need into the oven? Not the microwave!.....the oven. A microwave actually steams your potato. Yes it cooks it, but it's seriously lacking in that classic flavor, fluffy flesh and crisp outer skin that only comes from baking it in the oven. No matter how many your baking, wash the potatoes off with water and dry them thoroughly before placing them in a 400 degree oven for about an hour. If you really like your skins crisp try rubbing them with a little olive oil, salt and pepper then wrapping them in foil before baking. While these are baking you and the little ones can get all the fixin's for a potato bar ready. Be creative....this is when those little imaginations really come in handy. Of course if your 3 year old suggests M&M's on his potato you'll probably want to nix that idea for something a little more nutritious. Besides, M&M's can be dessert. There are the classic toppings: butter, sour cream, chives, cheese. To make the meal complete, serve a protein along with it. Maybe some deli ham cut into small cubes. As a nod to my friend Gretchen who is passionately in love and I do believe lust, with bacon, some real bacon bits would be good or how about some left over taco meat and salsa or chicken you might have leftover in the fridge? Steamed broccoli with cheese is always good.
The reason I'm so hip on getting kids involved in food preparation and cooking, is that I've noticed over the years that the more dependent we've become on fast and prepackaged foods to feed our children, the less they really know about where their food comes from. Alot of kids think that hamburger just magically appears on a Styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic at the grocery store. Many don't even know which animal it comes from! That's pretty sad. Not only do they need to know where it comes from, they need to know that food is more than just something to fill your belly. It contains the building blocks that makes your body healthy and strong. The more nutritionally valuable the food is the healthier you'll be. With the rise and popularity of cooking shows and Food Network more and more people are starting to get in touch with their domestic side and cooking at home. Children need to learn how to cook so they can care for themselves when they get older. I can't tell you how many of my friends didn't know how to boil water when they finally got out on their own. It's hard for me to comprehend. When I was growing up I'd watch my parents, who both loved to cook, in the kitchen. It was like having Cooking 101 every night. My father who was from the south, taught me to love grits, collards, corn bread and fried chicken. My mom, a northerner, taught me how to make classic northern dishes; chicken corn soup, pork, saurkraut and mashed potatoes for New Year's and whoopie pies. Children learn best from example. Let them help in the kitchen as much as possible. Let them wash the potatoes and rub the oil on. Give them the bowls and let them put the toppings in and set the table. Doing this makes it more than just a family makes it a memory, one that they'll cherish.

Just a side note about potatoes. Potatoes rank highest in potassium among the top 20 most frequently consumed raw vegetables and the 20 top most frequently consumed raw fruits. This nutrient can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure and promote heart health. One medium potato (5.3 ounces) with the skin contains 620 mg of potassium. That’s 18% of your daily requirement and more than a banana. Potatoes are are sodium free, fat-free and contain just 110 calories per serving. They have:
  • More protein than most of the 20 most frequently consumed raw fruits and vegetables – 3 grams per medium potato
  • 2 grams of fiber (with skin on), which may aid in weight loss, lower blood cholesterol levels and decrease risk of heart disease
  • 45% Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C, or as much as you will find in a tomato. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that keeps the immune system healthy
The trick to keeping this meal healthy is to use healthy toppings. Some of the modifications I use to reduce fat and calories are:

Reduced fat sour cream - The fat free just doesn't have the same taste or feel and reduced fat has only 40 calories for 2 tablespoons.

Hormel 50% Less Fat Bacon Bits - These are real bacon and taste great! I use them on potatoes, in omelette's, soups...anywhere you'd want real bacon.

Reduced Fat Cheese - Ok, you know I'm a cheese snob, but not necessarily for this type of meal. A good, reduced fat, sharp cheese works very well. It may not melt quite as much but it tastes pretty good.

So, don't let you or your kids be couch potatoes! (Sorry, I know it was bad but I had to say it) Get everyone involved and bring back the Family Dinner Table, one meal at a time. Let me know if you have any ideas or recipes that would help the family gather together!


  1. 2 things...a note to your friends who "can't boil water" lol...pierce the potato before you cook it, mmkay? Also, I agree about the oven vs. microwave, but if you're in a hurry, you can "par-cook" them in the microwave, then put them in the oven to finish them.
    Just a thought!
    I heart potatoes. All incarnations.

  2. Thanks Gretchen! Interesting....not a single comment on your freaky love of bacon. I mean freaky in the best way because I heart bacon too!

  3. Well, Gretchen may love bacon, but I'm bacon's bitch.

    My potato suggestions:
    If your intending to mash your potatoes (or in my case motatoes, Paris Hilton: hotatoes, Queen Latifah: foshotatoes, Eminem: yotatoes) I assume you'll boil them. Add copious chicken stock, or half a bottle of beer, or vegetable stock, or Worcestershire sauce to the water to impart another level of flavor. Adding this flavor also allows you to reduce the salt (you aren't adding salt to your water...well that explains it). Oh, don't waste your expensive sea salt on this stage. Just use iodized salt. Save sea salt for bringing out the flavor of the finished product.
    This works nicely for potato salad as well, especially if you plan the kind of potato salad ahead of time. Best potato salad ever: loaded baked potato salad, with crumbled bacon, extra sharp cheddar, sour cream, chopped broccoli, fresh garlic chives, parsley, caramelized onion, fresh cracked pepper medley and homemade roasted garlic, and herb mayonnaise.
    Shelly, I love this blog. You write clearly, with heart, and humor. Love,
    Bacon's Bitch

  4. Neil...I love you. That is all.