Friday, February 14, 2014

Twice-Baked Potatoes (and a little chat about hearts)

Potatoes are your post for Valentine's Day, really? Let me explain.

Twice-baked potatoes were one of my favorite side dishes growing up. I loved coming home after school and seeing my mom prep them on a baking tray, ready to be popped into the oven with dinner. They are easy to make and take everyone's love for mashed potatoes to the next level (who doesn't love mashed potatoes?). I started making them as soon as I moved away from Texas to England nine years ago because I could easily source the ingredients and they tasted like home. They've become a regular rotation at our house, with various herbs, spices, and mustards to liven up the filling. If you don't have herbs or mustard on hand, these will still taste great with just a pinch of salt and pepper.

twice baked potatoes, flavored with herbs, pepper, and mustard, round out a heart-healthy dinner
Speaking of salt, the hubs came back from a regular check-up yesterday with a pamphlet about blood pressure and maintaining a healthy heart... now that we're (just) past 30 both of us are taking strides to make sure we eat healthy and stay active. We follow a pretty healthy day-to-day diet, eating whole food, almost all of it cooked from scratch (because of food intolerances to preservatives and some natural food chemicals), and limiting our intake of fats and sugar. We're getting better at eating vegetarian dinners a few nights of the week, which isn't too hard when there are such beautiful veg and vegan blogs and cookbooks available! However, salt is something we need to try harder to limit. (More about salt and blood pressure over at the American Heart Association. 97% of Americans eat too much salt. It's a big issue, y'all).
twice baked potatoes, broccolini, pesto-roasted eggplant, and sumac-dusted salmon
Though we have drastically reduced the amount of salt we use at the table, sodium and salt are still prevalent in many of the foods we enjoy-- from southeast Asian dishes to Tex-Mex. So in 2014 we're going to make some big changes to the amount of sodium we consume. Citrus, herbs and spices, vinegar, and other strong flavors will take over where we often use salt. If we need a fix, we'll take a ten-minute walk down the street to our beautiful local Sydney beach and soak up some of the Pacific spray.
Valentine's Day roses from the hubs!
So these twice-baked potatoes are made with your heart's health in mind. The recipe relies on herbs and pepper for flavor, with a little mustard and a tiny bit of cheddar if you want it. We served them last night with sumac-dusted grilled salmon, steamed broccolini, and thinly sliced eggplant that I'd brushed with the lightest amount of pesto and baked in the oven for 20 minutes. Filling and delicious, and they didn't need any added salt.

Don't worry, we'll be indulging in watermelon, shallot, and blue cheese salad appetizers, this beautiful grapefruit roasted beet dish over beet greens and white beans with pistachio butter, and linzer heart cookies two ways (with nutella and jam) tonight. But in the mean time, hope you enjoy these flavorful, low-sodium twice-baked potatoes, and wishing you a heart-healthy Valentine's Day : )

Twice-Baked Potatoes (with herbs and mustard)
serves 4

2 medium-sized potatoes
1/4 cup milk (I used skim)
1 to 2 tablespoons natural or greek yogurt (low-fat)
1/4 teaspoon each dried parsley, dried oregano, dried basil
pinch of freshly ground pepper
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
4 thin slices cheddar cheese (optional)

Preheat oven to 200C/ 400F.

Wash the potatoes and pierce them all over with a fork or knife. Place potatoes in the microwave, and microwave on full power for 7-10 minutes, until potatoes are tender to the touch and cooked through. (Alternatively, bake the potatoes in a pre-heated 200C/ 400F oven for 30-40 minutes, until tender and cooked through).

Carefully slice the potatoes in half lengthwise, and leave for a few minutes to cool. When cool enough to handle, use a metal spoon to scrape the flesh out of each potato half into a medium sized bowl, coming as close as you can to the skin of the potato without cutting through it. Reserve the potato skins.

Mash the potato up a bit with a fork, then add the milk and 1 tablespoon yogurt. Mix thoroughly until you achieve a smooth consistency, you may need to add another tablespoon of yogurt at this stage. Stir in the dried parsley, oregano, basil, pepper, and mustard (to taste), and blend thoroughly into the mashed potato.

Spoon the mashed potato into the four potato half skins, and, if desired, top each with a thin slice of cheddar cheese. Place potato halves on a baking tray and bake in the oven at 200C/ 400F for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are piping hot and cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

Twice-baked potatoes will keep, covered in the fridge, for up to 2 days.

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