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Tasty taters a great addition to any table

Whether you like yours mashed, baked, fried, shredded, sliced, diced, wedged or whole, potatoes are a versatile vegetable and a delicious side dish for any meal.

At our house, potatoes are considered a staple along with rice, grits and pasta, but I have to say, potatoes top the list. There are hundreds of ways to cook them and they are an easy food to combine with other ingredients because they go well with just about anything.

Potatoes come in many varieties, each of which has its own qualities and uses. For general purposes, I classify potatoes into three groups — baking potatoes, all-purpose potatoes and new potatoes. It is best to choose potatoes by how you will be using them; however, varieties overlap in the way they can be used.

I read that the russet potato (my favorite), also known as Idaho or baking potato, is the most widely used potato variety in the United States. These potatoes are high in starch and are characterized by netted brown skin and white flesh. Russets are light and fluffy when cooked, which makes them ideal for baking, frying, roasting and mashing. These potatoes are available year-round.

The long white or large, round white fits into the category of all-purpose potatoes. Both these potatoes have a medium starch level along with smooth, light tan skin and white flesh. Long and round whites have a firm, creamy texture when cooked; these potatoes are very versatile and can be used in most potato recipes, although I would not recommend baking them. The long white is available spring through summer and the round white year-round.

Round reds, often referred to as new potatoes, are now more widely available and can be found almost year-round. Their skin is rosy red; however, the flesh can be white, yellow or even red. Red potatoes have a firm, smooth and moist texture, making them well suited for salads, roasting, boiling and steaming.

Technically speaking, “new” refers to any variety of potato that is harvested before reaching maturity. Depending on the variety, these potatoes vary in size and shape.

Yellow potatoes (Yukon Gold) have become increasingly popular and are now available in the supermarkets almost year-round. These potatoes have a dense, creamy texture and golden flesh, which makes them look like they are buttered. They are great for roasting, baking, boiling and steaming.

When shopping, look for potatoes that are firm to the touch and free of blemishes and sunburn (a green discoloration under the skin). Also, avoid potatoes that show a sign of decay, have large cuts, green spots, sprouts or shriveled skin. The price of potatoes has gone up along with everything else, so I buy whichever potato is on sale.

Potatoes should be kept in a cool, dark place with good ventilation. Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator as a temperature below 40 degrees will cause the potatoes to develop a sweet taste due to the conversion of starch to sugar. This increased sugar causes the potatoes to darken when cooked.

Keep potatoes away from prolonged exposure to light, which causes them to turn green. This greening causes a bitter flavor.

If your potatoes develop green areas or start to sprout, just trim these off before using.

This is the way I estimate the quantity of potatoes I need when preparing a recipe: 11/4 pounds (3 medium potatoes) = 3 cups chopped or sliced raw potatoes = 2 to 3 cups cooked mashed potatoes.

It is best to refrigerate any leftover potatoes within two hours of serving to prevent food-borne illnesses and they should be eaten within a few days.

I do not recommend freezing cooked potato dishes, as they tend to become watery after reheating.

Diann Greene, whose column appears weekly in Accent, can be e-mailed at downhome cook@gmail.com.

POTATO PANCAKES

q 3 medium russet potatoes, pared and shredded

q 1 cup finely chopped onion

q 2 tablespoons flour

q 1/2 teaspoon salt

q 1/8 teaspoon ground pepper

q 2 eggs, beaten

q Vegetable oil

n Shred the potatoes, rinse them well, then squeeze out most of the moisture, using a cheesecloth if necessary.

n Combine the potatoes and onions in a large bowl; add the flour and toss.

n Add the salt, pepper and eggs. Mix well.

n Lightly oil a non-stick skillet.

n Portion 1/2-cup of the potato mixture into the hot skillet and spread into a four-inch round pancake or make one big pancake and cut it into sections.

n Cook over medium heat about 5 minutes or until brown on one side. Turn and cook 2-5 minutes longer or until browned on the second side.

n Keep warm until ready to serve.

n Makes 6-8 pancakes.

n Serve with maple syrup, sour cream and applesauce.

POTATO SKINS

q 4 medium russet baking potatoes

q 3 tablespoons canola oil

q 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

q 1/2 teaspoon salt

q 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

q 1/4 teaspoon paprika

q 1/8 teaspoon pepper

q 6 strips, cooked and crumbled bacon (or store bought real bacon pieces)

q 1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

q 1/2 cup sour cream

q 2 green onions, thinly sliced, including the green top

n Scrub the potatoes, dry them, and then rub them all over with a little canola oil.

n Bake them in a 400-degree oven for about an hour or until the potatoes are cooked through and give a little when pressed.

n While the potatoes are baking, cook the bacon strips in a frying pan on medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towel. Let the bacon cool then crumble.

n Remove the potatoes from the oven and let cool enough to handle. Cut them in half horizontally. Use a spoon to scoop out the pulp, leaving about 1/4 of an inch of the potato in the skin (save the scooped potatoes for another use).

n Increase the oven heat to 475-degrees.

n Place the skins on a greased baking pan or cover the pan with non-stick Reynolds aluminum foil.

n Combine the oil, Parmesan cheese, salt, garlic powder, paprika, and pepper; brush over both sides of the skins.

n Bake for 7 minutes on one side, then flip the skins over and bake for about 7 minutes more.

n Sprinkle the insides with cheddar cheese and bacon. Bake about 2 minutes longer or until the cheese is melted.

n Remove from the oven. Add a dollop of sour cream to each skin, sprinkle with green onions and serve immediately.

n Serves 8

BAKED POTATO FANS

q 4 medium russet baking potatoes

q Salt and pepper to taste

q 2 tablespoons melted Keri Gold Garlic and Herb butter

q 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, rosemary or thyme

q 4 tablespoons grated cheddar cheese

q 1-1/2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

n Preheat oven to 400-degrees.

n Peel the potatoes and trim off a thin slice from the bottom and the ends of each potato. This allows them to sit flat and gives the slices extra room to fan out during baking.

n Cut crosswise slices down the length of each potato, trying to leave the bottom intact to hold the slices together. Note: Chopsticks placed on each side of the potato provide a foolproof guide for slicing without cutting all the way through the potato.

n Gently rinse each potato under cold running water while flexing the fans open (this rids the potatoes of excess starch that can impede fanning). Drain and dry off exterior.

n Place the potatoes in a greased (I use the canola spray) baking dish.

n Mix the butter with the herbs.

n Fan the potatoes slightly, season with salt and pepper then, drizzle or brush the butter/herb mixture in between the slices of the potato and all over the top.

n Bake the potatoes for about 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the cheeses.

n Bake the potatoes for another 10 minutes or until lightly browned, cheese is melted and the potatoes are soft inside (check with a fork).

n Good served with a dollop of sour cream on top.

n Serves four.

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