My challenge recently has been cooking well-balanced, tasty meals on weeknights while taking care of a 9-month-old without sitting down to dinner at 9 p.m. (we aren’t that sophisticated around these parts). Cooking while putting the baby to bed is a challenging endeavor. The other night I was braising chicken during the bedtime routine, which I thought would work out well. But it took a little longer to get him settled than usual, and when I came back downstairs, the liquid had all evaporated, the onions were black and stuck to the pan, and the chicken was dry and bitter-tasting. We ate frozen veggie burgers that night.
Some ways I have found to cope are to look for one-dish meals that incorporate a good mix of vegetables, protein and carbs, and to try to plan ahead as much as possible. Everything that I can make ahead of time ensures that we can sit down at the dinner table a little earlier that night.
One such meal is Twice-Baked Potatoes. I used to make these as a side dish for a special occasion because they actually take a long time to cook. But with some advance planning and a little extra stuffing, these potatoes make a satisfying meal all on their own and are appropriate for weeknight cooking.
The trick is to pre-bake the potatoes. You can bake them during the afternoon or early evening, or even a day or two ahead of time. Then you only have to assemble the stuffing and do the second baking right before serving. If you choose a couple of hearty vegetables and a good cheese to stuff the potatoes with, they are both tasty and satisfying as a main dish.
For this version, I added sauteed spinach and mushrooms, but other ideas for stuffing include bacon, steamed broccoli, roasted peppers, boiled peas or any other combination of cooked vegetables you like. Of course, if you omit the hearty vegetables, these still make a terrific side dish. But the cheese is not optional!
Hearty Twice-Baked Potatoes
Time to make: ~1 hour 30 minutes (potatoes can be baked ahead of time)
Yields: 1 serving per potato as a main dish or 2 servings as a side dish
What you need (per potato):
- 1 potato
- ¼ cup cheese, shredded, such as cheddar, Monterey Jack or any kind of firm cheese
- 2 tbsp. milk, buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream
- ½ tbsp. butter, softened
- Salt and pepper
- 4 med. mushrooms, sliced and sauteed (optional, or substitute another cooked vegetable)
- ½ cup spinach, sauteed (optional, or substitute another cooked vegetable)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Wash the potatoes, lightly coat with olive oil and pierce the skin with a fork in several places.
- Bake for 1 hour, or until the potato gives somewhat when squeezed.
- Remove from the oven and let cool at least 10 minutes. At this point, you can refrigerate the potatoes, if needed, and return to finish the recipe at some later point.
- Raise the heat to 400 degrees.
- Cut each potato in half and scoop out the flesh, leaving the shell intact.
- Return the shells to the oven on a baking sheet and let crisp while you prepare the filling (about 10 minutes).
- Mash the potato flesh with the milk or other dairy and the butter.
- Mix in the salt, pepper and cheese.
- Fold in the cooked vegetables, if using.
- Scoop the filling into the shells and return to the oven until spotty brown, 10 minutes.