Preserved Home: Putting up with potatoes

Cheeseburger twice baked potatoes is a potato recipe that freezes well and makes a wonderful light dinner alongside a salad or a fulfilling lunch. (Photo by Laura Woolfrey-Macklem)

Laura Woolfrey-Macklem

Cheeseburger twice baked potatoes is a potato recipe that freezes well and makes a wonderful light dinner alongside a salad or a fulfilling lunch. (Photo by Laura Woolfrey-Macklem)

Laura Woolfrey-Macklem

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2013_COLUMN_WOOLFREYThere is a domestic urban myth that potatoes don’t freeze well. Most everyone I know is under that impression, and is amazed when I tell them otherwise. With the holidays upon us, and potato sales at their prime, I’ll tell you some creative ways to stock up on potatoes for several months, including stashing some in the freezer.

I recently bought 92 pounds of potatoes for my family of four. No, we aren’t eating mounds of potatoes every week, rather I preserved them using the three major methods of “putting up,” which are dehydrating, freezing and canning.

I’ve been asked why I would put so much effort into preserving potatoes when, even on a bad day, they are cheap. I suppose it depends on your definition of cheap, and if you stock up on food or not. My method for saving money is to buy food at rock-bottom prices, preserve and stash it. When I was offered a 50-pound bag of potatoes for $5, and a 42-pound box of beautiful Russets for $12, I knew I had to buy and employ some creativity.

After I had my husband heft-in my 92 pounds of potatoes in the house, the first thing I did was put some of the potatoes in the refrigerator to use fresh for the month. Potatoes can last awhile in a root cellar or refrigerator. Before dealing with the other 80 pounds, I thought about ways my family eats potatoes. We eat oven fries, hash browns (mostly in casseroles), sliced for scalloped dishes, diced in pot pies and soups, chunked for roasted, and of course mashed. So I went to work, first with the mashed, because that was the easiest for me.

Mashed potatoes freeze very nicely, and they come back together perfectly after fully heated and stirred. I vacuum seal mine and throw the whole thing in a pot of boiling water, and pour them in a bowl when I’m ready to serve.

This year during the holidays, I’m not waiting until the last minute to make the potatoes because they get cold so fast. I made a bunch, vacuum sealed and froze, and on Thanksgiving and Christmas I will put the bag in the pot, heat thoroughly, and keep the potatoes warm in this way until we are ready to sit down.

This method isn’t just good for the holidays, but for a busy day in general. Put a turkey breast in the crock pot, open a can of green beans, and pull your frozen mashed potatoes out of the freezer, and you have a nice turkey dinner in a snap.

Next, I went in on the oven fries.

Now, freezing par-cooked potatoes isn’t hard, but there are steps to ensure your potatoes won’t turn black and mealy. All you need is lemon juice, ice cubes and a couple of pots. Wash your potatoes, and slice into fries. As you slice, place the potatoes in a bowl of water with a squeezed lemon half, or some bottled lemon juice. This will prevent them from turning color. Bring a pot of water to boil. Cook potatoes in water for about 45 seconds or less, depending on the thickness of the potatoes. Then plunge the hot potatoes into a bowl of ice water with lemon, drain, package in bags (preferably vacuum sealed bags) and freeze.

Use the same method for diced and chunked potatoes, hash browns, and scalloped shape, with cooking times varying with the size of the cut potato. Not only is this a good way to stock up on potatoes when prices are crazy-low, but you are also creating a supply of your own convenience foods with no preservatives. It helps to have meal helpers like this to make quicker work of cooking.

Potatoes dehydrate and rehydrate nicely. Why would anyone dehydrate potatoes, you ask?

Freezer space is precious, for one, and dehydrated items have a very long shelf life if stored properly. Also, if the electricity goes out, you might lose everything in your freezer, so it’s good to use all three methods of preservation. We also use dehydrated foods when we camp to cut down on packing.

I dehydrated 8 pounds of hash browns and packaged them in 2-pound portions, since that’s what is typically called for in recipes. (I froze hash browns in the same portions, as well.) If you dehydrate hash browns, I suggest peeling them first. I made the mistake in not peeling my last batch, and it gives a darker color to the hash browns.

You can also make powdered potatoes. Just cook your potatoes to the point of mashing. Put the potatoes in a bowl, and use some cooking liquid to thin them out when mashing. Dehydrate by spreading the potatoes on a tray, at the temperature of 135 for about six hours, or until completely dry. Pulse in your food processor until you get a powder. This would be a great ingredient for thickening up thin mashed potatoes, and is also a handy emergency or backpacking food.

Canning is another way to preserve potatoes. I did this for the first time recently.

I plan on using my canned potatoes for potato salad and other dishes. You can also can stews and other meals with potatoes, but it is not safe to can mashed potatoes. It’s also best to avoid canning Russets because of the starch level, but instead, can smaller varieties such as golden, red or white.

You can also make potato-based freezer meals.

I make shepherd’s pie for the freezer. I brown ground beef, garlic and onion and place in the bottom of a baking dish. Pour gravy over the meat mixture. Cook up some mashed potatoes and add vegetables such as cooked green beans, corn, carrots and peas. Spread potato mixture over meat and gravy. Dot the surface with butter and bake at 375 degrees until the middle of the casserole is heaving and the top is brown. Or, place in the freezer for another night.

2014_11_taste_preservedhome1I also came up with a potato recipe that freezes well and makes a wonderful light dinner alongside a salad or a fulfilling lunch — cheeseburger twice baked potatoes.

Wash and poke holes in seven large Russet potatoes. Bake for an hour or until done. Let the potatoes cool slightly and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out the center of the potatoes. Mix the potato pulp with:

4 tablespoons of butter
1 1/2 cups of cheese
1 cup of yogurt or sour cream (I thought a mixture of 1/2 cup cream cheese and 1/2 cup yogurt was perfect, but just use what you have)
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Stuff mixture in shells. Then cook:
1 1/2 pounds of ground beef
1/2 cup of chopped onion
1 1/2 teaspoons of grill seasoning
1 teaspoon of salt (I know the grill seasoning has salt, but it just isn’t enough)
Drain — do not rinse. Never rinse ground beef.

Return mixture to pan. Add:

1/3 cup ketchup (or to taste)
1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce

Cook until heated through. Make an indent in each potato with the back of a spoon and fill with meat mixture. Top with cheese. Either freeze or bake at 400 degrees until heated through.

Potatoes are a grocery-budget stretcher for sure, and an easy make-ahead. This holiday season, give yourself the gift of put-up potatoes to make your cooking quicker and your wallet thicker.

Laura Woolfrey-Macklem is a former North County resident who produces the Preserved Home blog. Visit www.preservedhome.com. Send questions and comments to columnists@northcoastcurrent.com.

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