The Bat, the Geezer and I hosted Christmas dinner for what I like to call our "Volunteer Family", a group who, with no genetic ties to us more recent than, probably, the time of the birthday celebrant, still chooses to remain close to us and call us family. Because these are people whose company we greatly enjoy, we don't like to waste a lot of time hiding out in the kitchen while they are here, so we plan our menus accordingly.
Dinner, yesterday, was a great big beef sirloin roast, a loaf of Challah, steamed sweet corn, five-cup salad (brought by the matriarch of the Volunteers, who also brought dessert: pumpkin pie and a giant Sam's Club apple pie, for which we provided the whipped cream), and twice-baked potatoes.
The potatoes raised eyebrows and smiles. Our logic in serving them was simple: if you make them ahead of time, all you have to do is bake them. You don't need to make any gravy, no fussing over last-minute details. Simply bake, assemble, and re-bake right before you want to serve them.
The funny thing is, every time the Bat & I make these things, we get remarks like, "Mine never taste as good. They always come out kind of boring." And we think we may have discovered the biggest problem for most people. It's always about ingredients.
If you make anything in which cheese is a major ingredient (breads, chicken pot pie, or twice baked potatoes), ALWAYS use sharp or extra sharp cheeses. Delicate flavors disappear when you bake them into things, unless you pile on extra, at which time the original recipe's texture suffers.
We prefer Tillamook's extra-sharp cheddar, and you can stay with that, or you can use the flavor you most like, whether it be blue, Swiss, or some exotic variety. It's fine to experiment, as long as it's a cheese of strong character.
But here's our base recipe, with which we play (and, if you don't need quite so much potato for your meal, these babies can be individually wrapped and frozen):
Six large russet potatoes
butter to coat
8 Tablespoons butter (one stick), divided
2 cups plain, unsweetened Greek-style yogurt
2 cups freshly-grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup ranch-style dressing
Preheat oven to 400º F. Scrub and dry potatoes, cut off any blemishes, plus trim off one end. Pierce each potato repeatedly with fork or narrow knife. Coat with butter. Place directly on rack in the oven, bake approximately one hour, or until tender, turning once.
Remove from oven.
While they are still hot, cut potatoes in half and scoop as much of the "meat" of the potato into a large mixing bowl, being sure to leave a little to help the skin retain a bowl shape. Set the potato-skin boats on a cookie sheet or jelly-roll pan. Add half stick (4 Tablespoons) butter, all the yogurt, 1 cup cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup parmesan, and ranch dressing. Mix completely, until cheese is all melted in.
By tablespoons, return filling to potato skin shells, in moderately-heaping proportions (if you are feeling fancy, you can use a press for fancy textured tops, but I like the rustic look). Allow to cool in refrigerator a few hours, or overnight.
Preheat oven to at least 325º F (we just bake them alongside whatever meat we're roasting).
Melt 1/2 stick butter in small pan or microwave-safe dish. By teaspoon, drizzle over the top of each potato boat, especially making sure any of the "meat" which had been remaining to shape the boat gets a touch of it. Don't worry if some dribbles over the edge of the boat, because it will help keep the skin crispy. Top with remaining mix of cheeses (if you like, you may add other cheese varieties, here). Place in oven at least 20 minutes, until the potatoes are hot and cheese topping begins to bubble.
Serve hot. (Makes 12)