Sweet Potatoes are My Comfort Food

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​Whenever comfort food is brought up, whether it’s a writing assignment or discussion or online meme, my head goes straight to chicken noodle soup and/or Kraft Macaroni & cheese in the blue box, although not eaten together of course. I will eat the mac & cheese as a leftover, but there is nothing like the taste of the macaroni from the blue box, hot and creamy, right when it’s first made.

Out of the pot even.

However, for real comfort, my heart goes to an evening that I was probably about eleven, maybe as old as twelve, where I am sitting in my mother’s bed, my legs sticking out from a nightgown that I hated wearing, with my back against the headboard.

The only light coming brightly from the hallway and that dim blue from the television just beyond the end of the bed. I was watching whatever happened to be on. There were not many options for change before remote controls, and with everyone else in the family downstairs, I was stuck with whatever it was.

On my lap was a plate, and on the plate, I am using my fork to smoosh around a thick piece of butter melting on a warm, soft, sweet potato. The orange flesh absorbing each bit of butter dripping off the pat. Long after this day, I’ve seen people put cinnamon and brown sugar, even caramel and marshmallows on sweet potatoes, but for me all it needs is the hot insides and the sweet, melting butter. 

Even today, the perfect, succulent, sweet potato brings me back to that sick day in bed, the smell, the taste, the warmth from the plate on my legs still warming me decades later.

Champ – Bringing Back Some of Ireland with Me

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I had never heard of champ before asking about it in a quiet restaurant in Glenariff, Northern Ireland. It was listed as a choice of side dish alongside chips, crisps, and veggies. It turned out that it is a mashed potato dish with scallions and a few other things that I couldn’t hear her say.

Mashed potatoes?

In Ireland?

I’m there.

At first I thought it was colcannon, but champ originates in the North and is a Northern Irish dish, and it was delicious. 

It was also different than any of the country mashed I’ve gotten in the US (think Cracker Barrel with gravy) or any I’ve made myself. It wasn’t that I’d never thought of combining these ingredients together, but I was just used to the simplicity of mashed potatoes – butter, milk, salt, crushed under a masher until smooth – ish.

It wasn’t until I did a quick Google search that I saw how simple champ really is to make.

As for our masher, it is almost always at the bottom of the sink or at least it seems that way when I need to use it so I have a few alternative tools to use as mashing tricks.

Large forks are good mashers.

So are large spoons if applied with the right pressure.

And last, my most recent discovery, a copper one-cup measuring cup. This really did a great job.

For my version of champ, I washed, cut, and boiled about seven medium-sized potatoes. I did not peel them, but they can obviously be peeled if you prefer them that way. The ones we had at the restaurant were peeled. Their mash was a perfect creamy white.

After the draining and mashing, I added one stick of unsalted butter, about two tablespoons of salt, three scallions diced as finely as I could get them, and a scoop of sour cream. You could use more scallions if you like. I also didn’t use milk, but it could be added or used instead of the sour cream.

Just before the rest of dinner was ready, I added about 1/4 cup of shredded, sharp cheddar cheese. I used white to keep the color of the potatoes. The topmost photo was taken in bad lighting; I’ll have to correct that when I make them again.

Only the usual suspect (the picky eater) complained despite loving them abroad. Everyone else loved my rendition, and I’m sure they’ll make it into regular rotation.

AllRecipes has a recipe to follow if you like measurements. Usually, I do, but when I’m cooking (rather than baking) I like to gauge how it looks, feels, and tastes.

Recipe – Jacket Potatoes

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Recipe

Jacket Potatoes

I will usually use 1 1/2 large potatoes, but use your judgment for your appetite.

Take the potatoes, wash, dry, and poke holes on four sides with a fork. Bake for 1 hour at 400*.

When the potatoes are ready, cut them in half. Put two or three halves in a cereal or soup bowl.

Keep the potato flesh in the skins, but mash it a little with some butter.

Add to the potato whatever you like. my personal preferences are:

chopped up chives,

bacon pieces (real bacon, not bits),

shredded cheddar cheese (or your favorite flavor), and

a dollop of sour cream.

Jacket potatoes are very versatile. You can smother them with chili, leftover hamburger meet, pasta sauce with meat (I’d recommend mozzarella for that one), broccoli, beef stew leftovers. The options are endless.

They make a great lunch, and pair them with a hearty salad, and they can be very filling for dinner.

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Recently, we had jacket potatoes for dinner. We’d run out of groceries except for a 5lb. bag of potatoes, and some odds and ends in the fridge. No one wanted to make dinner. When I suggested potatoes for that dinner, my husband thought I was being crazy, but since he didn’t have to make the meal, he went along with it.
It’s funny how the simplest thing can seem like the best, most wonderful, unique food on the planet. The first time I had a potato as a main dish like this I was in England in the eatery at Warwick Castle. My friend and I were on a three week adventure through the UK, and we were watching our pennies. We still had another week to get through with the cash we had on hand, and as any tourist place, even twenty-odd years ago, the castle’s food was expensive.

Looking though the menu, we both chose this odd but very interesting sounding thing called a jacket potato. It really was an oddity. A baked potato with stuff in it. It was huge. It was like the size of two potatoes with what looked like four ounces of cheddar cheese on top. I loved it. I came home that spring and started making them for my lunches.

Many years later, upon returning to North Wales, I visited another castle. This one was Caernarfon, 13th century built by Edward I to subjugate the Welsh. They had a gift shop, but no place to eat on site. It didn’t much matter; there were enough places to choose from in the small town.

I ended up in an alleyway, called Hole in the Wall. Too narrow for a car, but perfect for walking or bicycling. There were several places along the small lane, and at least three restaurants all on the same side of the lane, and I chose the cafe across from where the bell tower used to be. The stones that made up the tower and surrounded the bell were still there but half of the stones were missing so one side was open.

Appropriately named The Bell Tower Cafe, it was a tiny place, maybe ten tables, mostly filled with regulars, a variety of ethnicities all speaking the lyrical Welsh language. They were all getting a good, hearty British breakfast. It looked amazing, but I had already eaten breakfast at the hostel, toast and jam. I watched as the steam rose from the white tea someone had ordered. In searching over the menu, I discovered that old favorite from Warwick – the jacket potato. I had that big potato covered in cheddar cheese with a salad and a soda, and it was delicious. I went back the next day and had the exact same thing.