Baked Potato Bar!

Last Monday, our family was in Virginia Beach with my parents and my oldest brother’s family of five. We each had a cabin on a little dead-end street in a beautiful state park, and we all took turns making dinner for one another.

Of course I volunteered for Monday 🙂 #MondayNightDinnerParty

I wanted to do something that would be relatively simple and healthy that could be tailored by each person according to their dietary preferences (one does not eat meat, one does not eat dairy, etc.) I went to the grocery store in hopes that something there would inspire my menu, and discovered that baking potatoes were on sale. Score! I decided to do a Baked Potato Bar, and it was a huge hit!

Here’s how I did it, from start to finish:

Grocery List:

12 baking potatoes

1 package of fresh chives

1 yellow onion, sliced

1-2 c sliced mushrooms

1 can of chili (I used Amy’s Organic Chili with Vegetables—not spicy!)

1 package frozen or fresh broccoli crowns

1 package of shredded cheddar cheese

1 container sour cream

1 container of spreadable butter

coconut oil

salt & pepper

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400.

Scrub each of the potatoes clean and pat dry.

Scoop out a teaspoon or so of coconut oil, rub it all over your hands, then rub each potato all over with the coconut oil. Get more oil on your hands as needed. Place potatoes in a baking dish or cookie sheet, leaving room between each potato. Poke each potato with a fork two or three times if you want to (I do because my mom always did, but I’m not sure what purpose it serves!) Liberally salt and pepper the potatoes in the pan.

Bake for 60-90 minutes. (Note: there might be some smoke at first as some of the oil burns off the potatoes. That’s normal and will stop unless they’re actually on fire!)

Meanwhile, heat a skillet to medium and add about a teaspoon of coconut oil. Sautée your onions until clear, then add the mushrooms and continue to stir/sautée them until they’re cooked. Remove from heat.

Steam your broccoli (stovetop or microwave, your choice).

Warm the chili just before serving (again, stovetop or microwave).

Chop your chives.

Presentation:

Set out the toppings, buffet style. I left the sour cream and butter in their store-bought containers, but if you wanted to get a bit fancier, you could, of course, put them in nice bowls. I did set out the cheese, chives, chili, and onion-mushroom sautée, but left the broccoli on the stove so it would keep warm.

Set out the potatoes.

Set out a stack of plates and a jar of utensils.

Call everyone to dinner.

This menu is especially appealing to kids, because they love to fix their own food! It was so fun to watch each of them get creative with what they put on their potatoes.

This menu is especially appealing to adults, because there was zero whining or negotiating about who would eat what or how much. Oh, and also it turns out adults like to have the freedom to fix their potatoes the way they like them too 🙂

NOTE about using coconut oil:

I am pretty much obsessed with coconut oil these days. I use it on my body, on my kids’ bodies, to brush my teeth, and for cooking. I love how it smells and how it tastes, but note that it does add a definite flavor to your food when you cook with it (at least, the kind I buy does). So if folks in your midst don’t like coconut, or have coconut allergies, substitute olive oil, which is what I used for baking potatoes for years.

NOTE about baking potatoes:

I like the skins crispy. Some people like them softer. If you prefer softer potato skins, wrap them in foil before baking. Otherwise, leave them just oiled, not foiled, and they’ll be deliciously crispy. 

ANOTHER NOTE about baking potatoes:

This would also work well with sweet potatoes! Perhaps you’d choose different toppings, but sweet potatoes or yams make great baked potatoes as well, and add a bunch of good nutrients to boot!

# # #

Y’all, this is one of the simplest, crowd-pleasingest menus you could do. There is almost no actual “cooking” involved! It’s mostly prep! And you could easily involve your kids in the prep if you wanted to (mine were too busy running around with their cousins this time, but other times, they’d be right there with me, chairs pushed to counters).

What would you add to the menu? Do you have favorite baked potato toppings I didn’t include?

20934811_1973039742977838_8751260454254989239_o

Christy’s Roasted Chicken with Butternut Squash (Recipe)

This is a recipe I picked up while staying with friends in South Africa. It is my own variation based on what I remember from watching it being prepared, along with a brining trick I picked up from listening to The Splendid Table with Lynn Rosetto Kasper. It is so easy, so delicious, and so predictable, I often make it for company.

Below is the basic gist of the recipe, but what’s great about it is that you can substitute different vegetables and it tastes just as great. (Just be sure to stick with heartier veggies, like winter squashes and root veggies, which can handle being cooked for an hour without disintegrating!)

Note: DO NOT skip the brining process. That is the most important part!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 large container of white vinegar
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • salt and fresh pepper to taste
  • optional: italian seasoning or a favorite seasoning mixture, like Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning or Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute

Here’s what you’ll do:

  • About 1-3 hours before cooking, wash the chicken and place it in a large bowl. Cover it with white vinegar. Let it sit (brine) for 1-3 hours in the fridge.
  • Preheat oven to 400.
  • Place the butternut squash pieces across the bottom of a large glass or ceramic baking dish
  • Break the onion pieces up and scatter the pieces across the squash
  • Scatter the cloves of garlic across the squash and onion
  • Remove the chicken from the vinegar and drain off all of the vinegar into the sink. Briefly rinse the chicken with cold water, then let it drain again.
  • Place the chicken on top of the squash/onion/garlic
  • Whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice then drizzle all over the chicken
  • Salt and pepper over the chicken and remaining veggies in the pan to taste. If you want, add the optional seasoning as well.
  • Bake at 400 for about 75 minutes. Depending on the size of the chicken, it might take another 15 minutes or so. Use a meat thermometer if you want to be sure the inside is cooked, but for me, it never takes more than 90 minutes total.

Recommended Side Dish: Christy’s Amazing Rosemary Potatoes (Click for Recipe)