Sunday, November 11, 2007

Twice Baked Potatoes with Bacon, Mushrooms, and Cheddar

Twice Baked Potatoes
With the holidays right around the corner, it's the perfect time to make these absolutely loaded twice baked potatoes; but they're so darn good, you'll want to make them all year round. Filled with plenty of bacon, chunks of sauteed mushrooms, and best of all, ooey gooey cheese pockets, then topped with even more cheese for a browned and bubbly cheesy crust, can it get any better? These potatoes are a favorite of Steven and I and have been a holiday tradition for the last few years. Traditionally, a twice baked potato is a regular baked potato with the filling scooped out, mixed with a few more things, then added back into the potato skins, topped with cheese, and baked again. They look great with that browned skin, bursting with filling, and bubbly cheese, but restuffing each potato can be a pain. So instead, the potatoes are simply baked in a large baking dish. For the holidays, digging into a big dish and scooping out mounds onto your plate is fantastic but for something a little more elegant, the filling can be baked in ramekins for individual servings, which is much easier than trying to coax the hefty potatoes back into their skins.

One of the best things about this recipe is the ooey gooey cheese pockets. When I first made this recipe, I mixed shredded cheese into the potatoes and by the time they came out of the oven, the cheese had melted into the potatoes and disappeared. Then I came up with the great idea of cutting cubes of cheese and mixing that into the filling. After the potatoes come out of the oven and you break through the cheesy crust to find the melty cubes of cheese formed golden pockets of deliciousness. If the cubes are too small, they will melt and disappear into the potatoes, if they are too big, they might be too overwhelming; 3/8 inch to 1/2 inch cubes are ideal. And if you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can add in some of the bacon fat from rendering the bacon (only about a tablespoon) and make sure to get the browned bits at the bottom. As for the leftover potato skins, some people really like them, so you can cut them into strips, pan fry them in a little oil (or bacon fat) or brush some oil on them and bake until they're crisp, add a little salt and pepper, and serve them on the side of the potatoes.

- My Kitchenaid capacity makes enough for a 8 x 8 dish. To make a 9 x 13 dish, you'll need to mix everything in two batches. Mixing by hand is possibly doable but tedious.
- For such a tasty dish, it's a shame the photos were taken after dark. But with the sun setting at 5pm, it's hard to get a good photo of dinner.

Twice Baked Potatoes

Twice Baked Potatoes with Bacon, Mushrooms, Green Onions, and Cheddar

2 lbs russet potatoes, about 5 - 6 medium potatoes
8 oz. thick cut bacon, chopped 1/2 in pieces
8 oz. mushrooms, chopped into small pieces
4 - 5 green onions, thinly sliced, separate white part from green part
Half of a 16 oz. container of sour cream (regular kind but you can get away with low fat, but definitely not nonfat)
8 oz. sharp Cheddar
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
Salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Scrub the outside of the potatoes. Using the tines of a fork, poke holes in the potatoes to allow the steam to escape. One time I forgot to do this and a potato exploded in my oven, wasn't pretty. Bake until a knife slides easily into the potatoes with no resistance, about an hour. To speed up the process and cut the baking time in half, you can microwave the potatoes and cook them about halfway and then bake them in the oven until they are fully cooked, will take about another 20 - 30 minutes, make sure a knife can glide through easily.

Meanwhile, heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the chopped bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon bacon pieces are crisp and the fat has been rendered. Remove the bacon pieces to paper towels to drain. Pour out of bacon fat and reserve. I used about 3/4 C of bacon bits.

Heat one tablespoon of vegetable oil in the same skillet and add the mushrooms. Add some salt and pepper to the mushrooms and cook until the water from the mushrooms has evaporated and they start to brown. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Finally, heat up the second tablespoon of oil over medium heat and add the sliced white part of the green onion. Cook in hot oil for about a minute to bloom the flavor, then add the sliced green parts, cook for another 30 seconds and remove from heat.

When the potatoes have finished baking, cut them in half and scoop the flesh out from the skins into a large mixing bowl. Leave the oven on at 400 degrees F. I like to use my KitchenAid and the paddle attachment to mix everything together. Let the potatoes cool a little before proceeding, otherwise the cheese will melt. You can finish prepping the rest of the ingredients as the potatoes cool.

Cut 3/4 of the cheese into 3/8 inch to 1/2 inch cubes. Grate the remaining 1/4 of cheese.

When the potatoes have cooled slightly, add the bacon pieces, cooked mushrooms, green onions and oil, half the 16 oz. container of sour cream, 1/4 tsp of salt (sprinkle it evenly across the potatoes), and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Mix until everything looks about halfway evenly incorporated, then scatter in the cheese cubes and try to separate the cubes that are stuck together. Taste the mixture to determine if it needs additional salt. Usually the bacon and cheese add plenty of salt but depending on the salt content of your bacon, you may need to add a little more. I like to go light on the salt but add plenty of fresh pepper. Mix until everything is evenly mixed.

Transfer the potatoes to a 8 x 8 inch baking dish and scatter the remaining grated Cheddar on top. Bake until the potatoes are hot and the cheese is bubbly and slightly browned, about 40 - 45 minutes minutes. For individual ramekin servings, you will only need to bake about 20 - 25 minutes.

To see other food blogger's favorite Thanksgiving recipe, check out the November Monthly Mouthful over at Chew on That.

Final Note:
I've been extremely busy recently (prepping for one of the most important interviews of my life) and haven't had much time to visit all my favorite blogging buddies. I'm sorry guys! :( With three weeks to go, it's going to get even more stressful, and I'm sad to say I'll have very little time for blogging. I'll try my best to not neglect this humble little blog and I'll visit everyone in a few weeks!

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