Potato Ideas that Pop
Growing up in Maine, I’ve always been a potato girl. They’re one of my comfort foods, and I dare say the same is true for a fair number of other folks as well. While there are more things to do with them than I could really do justice to here, I’ve compiled some of the coolest (in my opinion) potato ideas for these little nuggets of yum from around the web and from my own experience. Feel free to post any other great potato ideas you have below.
1. Make plastic! Yes, plastic. Who knew? Certainly not me. Apparently there is a whole category of products being developed out there which use potatoes instead of petroleum. Potato farmers and tree huggers of the world, rejoice! Here’s a cool link to a set of basic instructions on how to do it.
2. Potato printing: It’s not just for girl scouts anymore. Print stamps to decorate gift wrap, curtains, fabric napkins, clothing and more. This is a great way to get new life out of plain colored slightly stained T-shirts, curtains and tablecloths. You can also let the kids go nuts on craft paper and party invitations. They’ll have a ball. Here’s a link and picture to a post on designing your own kitchen curtains. There’s also a company that sells children’s clothing decorated with potato print stamps. How cool is that? Need a resource for designing your own stamps with flair? Here’s a link to some directions for designing gift wrap stamps, but you could use the idea for whatever else you wanted to decorate.
3. Make candy. If you’re from potato country, you’ll already know about this. But for those of you who aren’t, it’s pretty freaking great. Here’s a link to several recipes.
4. Remove a broken light bulb from the socket. You’ll need a raw one for this, and preferably a bit of safety equipment. Here’s a full set of directions.
5. Baked potato soup. What’s that, you say? Potatoes are only one ingredient? OK. But in this case they are the main ingredient. Recipes for this range from humble to oh my God good, and even the more expensive ingredient lists are comparatively inexpensive as opposed to eating out in a high end restaurant. Here’s a link to a decadent large batch restaurant style version. Have some stylish soup garnishes on hand to dress it up, like bacon bits, shredded cheddar cheese and chopped chives or scallions.
6. Throw a dirt cheap dinner party for a large group of people. How? With a baked potato topping bar. You can bake up about 20 pounds of russet potatoes in a standard sized oven at a time. Have lots of toppings on hand like chili in a crock pot with sides of shredded cheese, hot sauce, chopped scallions, etc. Or try sour cream and bacon bits / chives, hot cheese sauce in a small heated crock with steamed broccoli, baked beans, flavored herbed butters (whipped is a nice touch), Tex-Mex toppings, or smoked salmon and whipped cream cheese. Need more ideas? How about chopped ham and peas with a cream sauce, pizza like toppings, stroganoff with mushrooms, ground beef and gravy, turkey sausage and white gravy, sloppy Joe filling, BBQ beef, taco style filling options, ranch dressing . . .get the picture? You can satisfy just about any group with this idea. It's also a very affordable pot luck if you and all your friends are temporarily broke but still want to get together. Bonus? Kids dig it.
7. Latkes. These are a great little winter holiday treat that costs nearly nothing to make. Here’s a link to a recipe with pictured instructions.
8. Make ahead holiday sides. OK, I realize the actual idea of mashed potatoes is hardly the most original. But consider this, how many times (at least if you’re American) do you eat mashed potatoes between mid September and spring? And how many times during our fall / winter holiday season do you end up making / eating the jazzed up version? Here’s a simple way I make all of my holiday batches of mashed potatoes ahead of time and store in the freezer. Relatives have asked me what I do differently that keeps them from crystallizing. The only thing I know of is that I whip the hell of them before transferring into freezer containers. These always come out well and go great with whatever gravy you’re serving. Bake off two ten-pound bags at once in the oven. When done, cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides, leaving a quarter inch or so around the edge of the peeling (you’ll see why later in the list). Dump all the filling you scoop out into an extra large (giant) mixing bowl and add milk, butter, garlic, softened cream cheese, pepper and salt and perhaps dried parsley or chives. All ingredients are to taste, but I try to go decadent enough so they’ll feel like a holiday side dish, but not so overboard I’m killing them with calories. Mix everything with your electric hand mixer until good and creamy. Store in freezer to oven 8 inch x 8 inch casserole dishes with covers. Take out one when you’re ready for a holiday meal and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or so. This will do 4-5 containers of the mashed potatoes. If I can find time to do this a couple of different afternoons in the fall, I’m set for the holiday season. I have a smaller family, though . . .
9. Restaurant style potato skin appetizers. Considering how much people pay for these in restaurants, this is a huge money saver. Bonus? They taste fantastic. Remember those potato skins with about a quarter inch or so of baked potato inside the rim left over from the mashed potatoes above? Put 6 – 12 of them at a time into freezer bags and toss into cold storage. When you’re ready to make some, take them out to thaw and line a cookie sheet with tin foil. Spray it with cooking spray and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. When you take out the thawed skins, they will be a bit watery and not so great looking. That’s OK. By the time you’ve finished cooking them, they’ll be crisped back up again. Lay each one out flat, brush with olive oil to help with crisping and pick out your favorite restaurant topping for these, for example cheese and bacon. Top and bake for about 20-30 minutes or until slightly crispy around the edges. You can also just go with the olive oil, salt and pepper and then make a sour cream dip on the side for afterward. These are a dirt cheap party appetizer with tons of restaurant style for pennies. As potato ideas go, this is one of my favorites.
10. Bread dough. You can keep this stuff in large batches in an airtight container in your fridge to bake off at different times throughout the week. If you want the fresh factor quite a bit but don’t have time to mix from scratch every day, this could be a solution for you. Here's a link to a recipe.
11. Homemade potato chips. I love this one! Word to the wise? I’d highly recommend a mandolin. We tried it once with a food processor and only a few of the slices came out thin enough. I like this because if you are dirt broke you can still have a fun little family movie night snack for hardly any money. Just break out the Fry Daddy and grab a salt shaker. Feeling a little richer than that? Make a dip. These really are fun to have when they are freshly made.
Again, if you have any "out of the norm" potato ideas or projects, don't forget to share them with the rest of us!