Six years and seven months ago my Carrot and I met working alongside each other at the Famous Dave’s restaurant in Madison, Wisconsin.
I don’t think I’ve ever disclosed to you how my Carrot and I met. I’m not sure why. Probably because for some reason or other, I find it disgraceful that this farming couple, this local food enthusiast pair once found themselves gainfully employed at a corporate restaurant where a disturbing amount of food came in bags. And not for a short time.
Famous Dave’s claimed three years of my life and even more from my Carrot. But what can I say? We all have to start somewhere and thank goodness for those years because where would I be without this man?! There’s quite a bit more to the whole how we met story. Maybe I’ll share it with you someday. It’s all pretty embarrassing. But I digress.
Believe it or not, besides unexpectedly finding the man of my dreams, I also picked up a culinary technique or two from my time slinging sauce at Famous Dave’s. This place is to blame for my long-standing obsession of pulled barbecue pork served with a heaping pile of coleslaw on top. Little did I know before 2007, it’s an absolute match made in heaven.
Bread and butter pickles zipped up with jalapenos and peppercorns (“Hell-Fire”) has also become a habit I just can’t kick. I have been trying for years to replicate them in my home kitchen with our cucumbers we’ve grown. I’m getting closer.
Famous Dave’s also taught me how to make THE BEST baked potatoes. They used to have this thing on the menu– this absolute monstrosity of a baked potato. A gigantic russet potato was piled high with butter, sour cream, cheese, bacon bits and an unhealthy amount of barbecued meat (yes, I often added coleslaw as well). It was totally absurd and I loved it. This behemoth got me through many a double shift. I would eat it all day long and never feel a pang of hunger. But what really stuck with me was this crispy, salty potato skin holding in all the goodness. Even better than the toppings (and we know how I feel about toppings) was this perfect potato skin I couldn’t help but devour.
After washing and forking a russet potato, the chef at the Madison restaurant would rub the whole exterior of the potato with vegetable oil and then heavily salt it with Kosher salt before popping it into the oven for an hour. The result was unbelievable: a potato skin you wanted to eat! I’ve been slathering my baked potatoes in vegetable oil and Kosher salt ever since.
This week I stabbed a couple russet potatoes with a fork, rubbed them with olive oil and sprinkled them with salt: the first step in a twice-baked potato to rival all other baked potatoes. This potato has an ultra-smooth (thanks butter and heavy cream!) yet tangy (thanks yogurt!) filling that absolutely melts into it’s well-crisped skin. The cilantro pesto lends brightness and just a touch of interest to an otherwise classic (dare I say boring) recipe. These potatoes are also green which I find mildly unsettling, but let’s just pretend it’s because I’m on my holiday cooking game. Happy (it’s almost) St. Patty’s Day! Enjoy!
All my love,
P.S. Have I convinced you to just start keeping cilantro pesto in the fridge yet?! Favorite. Winter. Ingredient. Hands down.
TWICE-BAKED POTATOES WITH YOGURT & CILANTRO PESTO
Takes 1 hour, 40 minutes (most of it inactive)
Makes 6 halves (plenty for 4-6 people)
3 russet potatoes, washed and well-scrubbed
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons Kosher salt, divided
1/4 cup cilantro pesto (recipe below)
3/4 cup plain yogurt (Greek would fine)
1/2 cup half & half or heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Sour cream for topping, if desired
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Stab the washed potato with a fork until well-pierced on all sides. Rub (generously) with vegetable oil and sprinkle on all sides with 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt. Bake on a roasting pan (or directly on the oven rack) for 60 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes to allow to cool enough to be handled.
Slice in half and scoop out flesh from the inside of the potato. Do so carefully so that the skins stay well intact. Place flesh in a large bowl and add remaining salt, cilantro pesto, yogurt, cream, butter and pepper. Mash with a potato masher until smooth. Add additional yogurt or cream if desired.
Scoop potato mixture back into potato skins and bake for additional 20 minutes until just browned on top. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and perhaps a side of our favorite oven-baked spare ribs and some sauted onions with collard greens.
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup toasted almonds
1/4 cup parmesan
1 cup cilantro (stems and leaves are fine; it was just about 1 bunch for me)
1 tablespoon lemon juice, fresh if you’ve got it
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Prepare the pesto by pulsing garlic and almonds in a food processor until very fine. Add cilantro. Pulse until the mixture resembles a course meal. Add lemon juice, salt, red pepper flakes and pepper. Turn the food processor on and slowly add the olive oil. You may need to scrape down the sides of the food processor occasionally. If it seems like it isn’t coming together well, add additional olive oil slowly. Taste and adjust salt, lemon juice or red pepper flakes to your preference!
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Did you know Miss Leek, that that is your Grandma Z’s absolute favorite way to prepare the outside of a baked potato? She’s been doing it for years! How fun is that?