Sunday, January 15, 2012

Baked Potato Bar

Toppings from left, grated cheddar, ham chunks, bacon, asparagus, spinach, mushrooms, sour cream.
Zaro’s, the famous New York bakery, had a baked potato concession in Grand Central Terminal in the 1980’s.  This was a quick and filling option when there was just enough in the wallet for a fast food value meal but not the stomach for that fare.

It’s still a good idea and an easy option for a winter night. A baked potato bar can feed a crowd or help stretch leftovers for two.  Depending on how you load yours, this can be a light meal that feels satisfying.  On weeknights, with reheated cooked vegetables and a bit of grated cheese it’s a fairly effortless meatless meal. Add a few more toppings and it’s a simple set up to feed a crowd during playoff season.

As with any buffet its up to the diner to pick and choose to create something balanced and up to the chef to provide some logical combinations.   Here are some we like for white and sweet baked potatoes. 

Broccoli Cheddar
A classic.  Keep it pure by using steamed broccoli and grated cheddar.  If you’d like a cheese sauce that’s still pure, melt equal parts cheddar into cream cheese with a bit of beer or water and a dash of paprika.  (You can use the microwave for this, but keep an eye on things.)

Chili Night
Offer a spicy green turkey chili, classic beef chili or all-bean chili along with sour cream (or Greek-style yogurt), grated cheddar, pickled jalapeños, chopped avocado and olives plus salsa.

Vegetarian Moussaka
Sautéed eggplant, onions and mushrooms topped with stewed tomatoes, roasted red peppers and grated Swiss cheese.

Touchdown
Sour cream, grated cheddar and bacon (cook it yourself, accept no substitutes), chopped scallions.

Particularly good with Sweet Potatoes:
Chick Power

Heat drained chickpeas with cumin and cilantro (or curry powder). Top with your favorite chutney (mango, lime, tomato-onion for example) or chopped dried fruit (especially apricots) and a dollop of yogurt and more freshly chopped cilantro or mint. 

Walnut Ricotta
Add just a touch of honey and lots of black pepper to a quarter cup of low fat ricotta.  Sprinkle on chopped walnuts. 

Black Bean Salsa

Mix drained black beans with fresh salsa and heat.  Top with a little crema or queso fresco.

How To
For a crowd, bake 1-2 potatoes per person.  Scrub the skins and place in a 400˚F oven for 30-45 minutes.  Midway through baking, prick the skin with a fork down the center to allow steam to escape.  This provides a light and fluffy texture.   For those who like a crispy skins leave in a bit longer.  Keep potatoes warm in a very low oven— under 200˚F.  If baking sweet potatoes, place a sheet of tin foil on the rack beneath the rack where potatoes are baking.  This will catch any caramelized juices that emerge as the potatoes finish baking. 

What you’ll need:
Baking potatoes (1 per person) Starchy baking potatoes (like Idaho) and/or sweet potatoes
Toppings
Cheese: grated cheddar, grated swiss, crumbled blue cheese, queso fresco, crema
Sour cream, Greek yogurt (plain)
Real bacon (see how to cook a batch of bacon in the10/19/2011 blog entry)
Chili or sloppy joe filling
Cooked vegetables—chopped broccoli, asparagus, sautéed mushrooms, roasted peppers, roasted fennel and onions
Cooked ham, chicken, pork
Pesto, chutneys. Barbeque sauce, salsa, mustards
Fresh chopped herbs, especially chives, basil, cilantro, dill

If you are offering any of the special combos above, set those ingredients on the table clustered together to help guests see the possibilities or write on little menu cards with combo suggestions. 

A medium baked potato with skin, just under 1/2 pound, provides about 175 calories and 4 grams of protein along with its 40 carbohydrate grams. Potatoes are low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and provide vitamins C, B6, potassium and manganese.  Though higher in carbohydrates, potatoes are a nutrient rich food that will help you feel full.

A medium sweet potato, baked, provides a similar number of calories and half the protein and carbohydrates of a baked white potato.  Aside from similar vitamin profiles, sweet potatoes also provide slightly more dietary fiber and are lower on the glycemic index than white potatoes, so a nice choice for any one watching blood sugar levels.