Wednesday, November 26, 2008

You say potato, I say retarded.

Dear Tricia, Ok, here is a really general topic. I consider myself a pretty good cook for a dude my age with no training. I can make many sorts of dishes pretty well, but I am never satisfied with my potatoes. I really want to be able to make some good breakfast potatoes and a nice side dish for dinner. They always seem to come out too hard in the center or too cooked on the outside. Am I retarded? I am so scared. It is getting cold and dark. Now there is a bright light.

First and foremost, yes you might be a little bit retarded. But that’s not going to stop me from telling you how to cook your potatoes because, what can I say... I’m an equal opportunity advice-giver, and I also donate money to the Special Olympics. When it comes to boiling potatoes to mash them, there’s a really great way to cook them perfectly without getting them too mushy or too hard in the middle. You know how when you boil potatoes, you’re supposed to cook them until a knife can be inserted into the potato easily? (You didn’t? Well, now you do.) Try taking the potatoes out of the water a few minutes before that, when you can put a knife into the potato, but it takes a tiny bit of pressure to get it to do that. Then, put the hot potatoes in a colander to drain them, and cover it with a towel. The potatoes will steam until the centers are perfectly cooked. (I’ve got to give it up to my homie Ina Garten for that trick. Seriously. Watch Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. She's kind of awesome.))
For an easy yet delectable potato side dish for dinner, I’m a huge fan of roasting them: Wash the potatoes, but leave the skins on. Cut the potato into 1” pieces. There’s really no method to this: you just want a piece of potato that is big enough to look appetizing, and small enough to fit into your mouth. Keep in mind that if your guests are children or Japanese business men, you'll probably want to cut pieces on the smaller side. All of the pieces need to be similar in size too so that you don’t end up with some un-cooked pieces, and smaller pieces that turn to mush.
Put the potatoes in a large bowl and coat them with a little bit of olive oil, plenty of salt and pepper, sliced shallots or onions, and some fresh herbs. (Whatever tickles your fancy... rosemary is pretty traditional, and thyme is also quite lovely.) Spread the potatoes out on a cookie sheet and roast them at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until they are done. Not sure what done is? Take one out, let it cool off first so you don’t burn off all your taste buds, and try it. Is it soft, but not mushy? Did you enjoy eating it? Then they’re done. If it was hard and gross and you audibly said “That’s disgusting,” then leave them in a bit longer.
If you want something fancier, bake the potatoes on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees until they're the texture that you like for baked potatoes. (This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on how crappy your oven is, or if you live at high altitude.) Let them cool a bit, and cut off the top third of the potato. Scrape out the insides and mash it up in a bowl with butter, cream cheese, bacon, more bacon, chives, more bacon, salt, pepper, and anything else that can clog your arteries. Then put the mash back inside the potato with a spoon and cover it in grated cheese. Pop them back in the oven until the cheese is melted. There you have it: a new way to eat your feelings when you're feeling down in the dumps.
For breakfast potatoes, try some old-fashioned hash browns. I’m always so surprised at how many people don’t know how to make them because they’re super easy. Wash and peel a couple of potatoes. Get a cheese grater, and grate the potatoes in the larger grate so that you end up with a pile of shreds. Get a large frying pan really hot, and put enough canola oil (not olive! None of that E.V.O.O. crap that Rachael Ray brainwashed America with, it’ll burn too fast) in it to coat the bottom. You're going to cook the potatoes in 2 batches. Put the first half of the potatoes in an even layer into the hot oil. Sprinkle lots of salt and pepper on the potatoes, and then turn the heat down to medium. If you leave the heat on high, you’ll get burned potatoes on the outside, and raw potatoes in the middle. Let the potatoes cook slowly until the bottom is a nice golden brown. Then, flip the entire thing over with tongs or a spatula to cook the other side. Season it with plenty of salt and pepper too. (It’s okay if you break it in half while flipping. No one will notice unless you audibly drop an f-bomb while you do it.) Cook the other side until it too is golden, and voila! Hash browns. Eat, enjoy, and go back to bed to sleep off your hangover.

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