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Beyond Mashed Potatoes

Buttermilk mashed potatoes
Courtesy of America's Test Kitchen
Buttermilk mashed potatoes

It's easy to get stuck in a rut with potatoes. We all have our two or three favorite recipes... and then, that's it. So just to give your imagination a jolt, we've come up with a few potato ideas that will get you moving on. As Chef Jerry Pellegrino reminded me, there's more than baked potatoes and mash, right?

One potato dish that I should have been making all along is Scalloped Potatoes, AKA Potatoes Gratin, closely related to Potatoes Dauphinoise. These of course are thinly sliced potatoes cooked in a Béchamel sauce loaded with tons of cheese. If you're doing Scalloped Potatoes you will want to pre-cook the slices in milk. If it's Dauphinoise, you just go raw. All you have to do is build up layer after layer of the slices, drenched in the Béchamel and sprinkled with grated cheese. You can also do what my Mom did, and scatter thick slices of ham between the layers. Very decadent.

In surfing the web for ideas, I came across something I hadn't heard of before: Hasselback Potatoes. Named after a Swedish restaurant, the Hasselback potato closely resembles a loaf of old fashioned garlic bread. You take some Russet potatoes, wash them up and cut a thin slice off one side so it won't wobble. Then you will take a very sharp knife and begin cutting 1/4" slices almost all the way down, being careful not to cut all the way through. You next mix up a sauce of melted butter, olive oil, herbs and garlic and begin brushing it on, using maybe half the sauce. Pop them on a tray and into a very hot oven for about an hour. Toward the end, the slices with open up and fan out, so you can take the rest of your butter sauce and work it into all the little slices. Finish baking until the skins are crisp.

One of my favorite bar foods is Potato Skins, which are closely related to another favorite: Twice-Baked Potatoes. In each case you bake whole Russet potatoes in a hot oven for an hour. Take them out, cut them lengthwise and scoop out a generous cavity. Brush the cavity with a melted butter and herb sauce and sprinkle in some shredded cheddar cheese. Bake again and after the cheese is melted, finish it off with crumbled bacon, chopped chives and sour cream. And of course for Twice-Baked, you mash up the removed potato, add some sour cream and re-stuff the potato half. When those are done, you can garnish with herbs and cheese. Very similar ideas, and very satisfying.

Finally, how about Potato Soup? If you made Potato Skins yesterday, hold on to the left-over garnished and the scooped-out potato flesh and make some soup.

Cook up some bacon, and sauté some onion and garlic in the bacon fat. Add some butter and flour to make a blond roux. Take a fork to a peeled and boiled potato. Add the mushed-up potatoes to the roux along with some chicken broth and milk.

Bring to a boil, then simmer and season with salt and pepper and perhaps a little garlic powder. Garnish with the bacon and chopped chives and there it is! All ready for the brave folks who went out to shovel the driveway.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.