Or, what you eat when Mom's gone.
Occasionally during my childhood, our mother would go out of town for business or whatever, and our dad would be left in charge of my sister and me. This was always an interesting reversal of the norm, since as an active duty army soldier man, our dad was usually the one deployed or away for work. I don't know if they planned it this way, but what I remember most about these times is that our dad always took the opportunity when single-parenting to teach us some new life skills. One time our mom came back and we were suddenly first graders packing our own school lunches in the mornings, and another time she came back and we were nine years old and doing our own laundry.
But by far the best part about these times was what we got to eat for dinner. With our mother gone, foods that would usually never grace our table were suddenly fair game. Don't get me wrong, I didn't grow up eating only brown rice and steamed vegetables, but foods were usually fat free and sugar free, sodas were limited, dessert was not a right but a privilege, meats were lean, and there always had to be something green on the plate. But when it was just us and our dad, we'd have at least one meal with all the works.
Red meat? You got it dude.
Two starches on your plate? You bet.
Fat-full foods? Go nuts.
Usually, this meant steaks, cut thin, marinated in coca cola and grilled until perfectly well-done but tender. It meant corn on the cob, also grilled and dripping with butter*. And it meant twice baked potatoes, cheesy and fluffy and heavenly starchy.
*Just kidding! It was the 90's so in reality probably margarine. Shudder.
The potatoes were delicious, but also they were pulled frozen out of a box. I was pretty sure I could do better than that. Turns out, there really is no excuse for not making these from scratch. Baking a potato is as easy as boiling water, mashing is even easier, and I think we all know how to tell when cheese is melted. The hardest part is choosing your fillings. I went with a Southwest-inspired version, with green chiles, scallions, jack cheese, and some perfectly cooked steak.** I really had my mind set on this unbelievable smoked goat cheddar I tried a few months ago, but it was nowhere to be found of course, so instead I added some gouda to up the smokiness. The result was gooey, a little bit spicy, and more than a little nostalgic.
**Remember my personal growth with the mushroom a few weeks ago? I'm really on a roll because I cooked this steak to "well" instead of "well done". I left the middle pink verging on red. ON PURPOSE. My 10-year-old self would be horrified. So would my 25-year-old self.
Alas, I don't think these would travel well in the mail, so I sent my dad a card, but if you live close enough to cook for your dad on Father's Day, these wouldn't be a bad addition to the menu.
Once you have the method down, these are endlessly adaptable to whatever fillings you want or have on hand. As my dad would say, "This is Burger King."
Twice Baked Potatoes, Southwest Style
Adapted from this how-to from The Kitchn.
Serves 4-6 as a side dish.
2 large russet potatoes
1/2 cup jack cheese, shredded
1/2 cup gouda cheese, shredded
1/4 cup sour cream
2 canned green chiles, diced
1 cup cooked steak, roughly chopped (see note)
salt, to taste
1/4 cup scallions, diced
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Thoroughly scrub potatoes and dry, then pierce 3-4 times with a sharp knife. Bake directly on the oven rack or on a baking sheet for 1 hour, or until easily pierced with a fork. Let cool. Raise oven temperature to 425 degrees.
- Once potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut each one in half lengthwise and scoop out the filling, leaving a thin layer of potato in the skin. Mix together potato, sour cream and half of the cheese with a fork or wooden spoon, mashing as you mix. Mix in the scallions, chiles, and steak, and salt to taste.
- Spoon the filling evenly among the potato shells and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake until warm and cheese is bubbly. Garnish with scallions and enjoy while hot.
- You can use any favorite recipe for preparing the steak. I mixed together a spice rub of salt, ancho chile powder, green chile flakes, and smoked paprika, then cooked the steak on the stove in a cast-iron pan.
- These can be partially made ahead. Pre-bake potatoes and chill whole until ready to use. You may need to bake the filled potatoes a little longer to get them hot.