Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cheap Eats:Baked Potatoes

Baked potatoes are an inexpensive vehicle for all sorts of tasty things. Things like chili, cheese, stew. I would say anything that can go on top of noodles will also be great on a baked potato. And cheap! A 10 ounce baked potato - that's a pretty hefty potato - costs about 60 cents. You can learn a bit more about potatoes here. The best potatoes for baking are russets, also known as Idaho since most of them are grown there.

Most people go for the convenience of the microwave. I don't think it's the best way to bake them, but it is fast. The best way to bake a potato is to, well, bake it in a hot oven. That's how you'll get crispy skin, if you do it right. I have always loved the crispy skin. You'll never get crispy skin in the microwave because you're really steaming the potato, not baking it.

Though not the preferred way to bake potatoes, here are instructions for microwaved "Baked" potatoes: Poke the potato a few times with a fork so it doesn't explode in the oven. A single large potato takes 6-8 minutes. Two large potatoes take 8-10 minutes.  They will still be firm after cooking; let the potatoes sit for a minute after cooking then check for doneness. Old or dried-out potatoes do not microwave well whole.

The right way to bake a potato: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Rub potatoes all over with a little vegetable oil if you want really crispy skin. Poke potatoes with a fork. Place in the oven on the rack. This allows the hot air to circulate all around the potatoes, which helps to crisp up the skin as well. Bake for 50-60 minutes until tender when poked with a fork. Serve with your favorite toppings. Try with our green chile sauce in our recipe for chicken enchiladas or how about this simple vegetarian chili?

Basic Bean Chili
(makes enough to top 6 baked potatoes; total cost is $5.00)

2 Tablespoons Oil
2 Onions, chopped
1 medium Green Pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 cloves Garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon Cayenne
2 Tablespoons Mild Chili Powder
1 teaspoon ground Cumin
1 teaspoon dried Oregano
1 15-16 ounce can diced Tomatoes (Mexican seasoned tomatoes, like Ro-Tel brand are good here)
1 15 ounce can Pinto Beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 ounce can Kidney Beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon salt

Heat oil in small soup pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add chopped onions and green pepper. Saute for a few minutes until onion is softened. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add cayenne, chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Cook for 1 minute.

Add remaining ingredients, reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes.

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