An Englishman, a Scotsman, and an Irishman are burgling a house. They see blue lights pulling up outside, run to hide in the cellar, and climb into some sacks in the corner, just as the police burst in.
One of the officers kicks a sack, and the Englishman inside it goes "MEOUW".
The officer says "it's just a cat".
Then he kicks the sack with the Scotsman in, and hears "SQUEAK SQUEAK".
"Oh," he says, "it's just a bunch of rats."
Then he kicks the third sack and the Irishman says "Po-tay-to".........
Now that I've offended most of my Irish readers, I'll stick the last knife in by referring to their national dish.
There are a few items of food that I never like to run out of, and one of them is potatoes. You don't starve if you've got potatoes. A baked spud is tasty, filling, good for you, and cheap. There's no downside. Life in the old world must have been pretty grim before these earth apples arrived, I tell you.
I use them a lot. Let's be honest here, it wouldn't bother me if all the rice and pasta in the world just disappeared. And this is quite handy, because rice and pasta are more needy. I can grow potatoes in my garden. No matter how many jokes I tell about certain bits of my land in wet weather, I can't grow rice here, and making pasta requires....... several steps. I suppose I COULD produce my own. I could grow wheat, harvest it by hand, dry it, mill it, make the flour into fresh pasta. It would be very good, I'm sure. But oddly enough I don't plan on doing that.
Have you ever bought those specially selected potatoes already wrapped in foil, that are perfect for baking? I haven't. What a rip-off they are. About 5 times the price and all you need is a bit of knowledge. Ideally you want a fairly large potato, yes, but the most important thing is the texture. You need a "mealy" potato. Russets are the best North American choice for mealy potatoes, grown in the western United States and the Maritimes of Canada, or the Yukon Gold. In Britain it's the King Edward or Maris Piper. When you cut into them they are floury/dry rather than waxy, and this is your clue. But if you don't have ideal bakers, just generic white potatoes, that may actually be waxy, there's no reason why you can't use them. You can put skewers in them to help them cook internally.
If you're going to serve mashed potatoes, you can actually bake them first instead, gives a different (some might say better) flavour, but takes a lot longer. A pot on the top of the stove is far more economical, especially if you put a lid on it. What are you planning on doing with them next? If you're going to mash them then the mealy type (see above) is the better choice, but if they are going in a potato salad, the waxy type is better (less likely to break up).
When using potatoes in soups, curries, and stews you can actually use your knowledge of mealy and waxy to pre-determine results. Waxy potatoes can take considerable time to soften, and may not even be tender if not given long enough. On the other hand if you want to see actual potato pieces in your dish, use the waxy ones. Conversely if you just want potatoes to thicken the liquid use the mealy. If you want thickness and pieces too, you can either use two types of potato, or start them at different times.
Whether deep-fried or sautéed in a pan, these are best if you use the mealy type. There are endless variations on a fried potato, and some are rather frou frou and posh. In fact I would say this is where the true art of potato cooking comes in. It's something I'd like to get into more, but because of the quantities I have to do for my brood, it's a bit restricted. Maybe that's why fancy pan-fried potato dishes are more often found in good restaurants, where they cook for one or two at a time. SOME of these recipes can be done in the oven. I've found that par-boiling before trying to fake frying in the oven brings better success. Which leads me to...
I'm very fond of roast potatoes but they have to be done right. They definitely need to be par-boiled first, and then baked with some fat. My oven is usually full of a roasting pan at this point, so I deep fry them. They come out perfect. Yes, I know it's not actually roasted at all, but I dare anyone to tell the difference.
So, I was going to end here by offering you my potato soup recipe in detail. But I'm as lazy as the next person, and when somebody told me about this:
I decided to save myself a lot of work and just make a few observations.
1. Cheese? In potato soup? REALLY? Well, if you like. I wouldn't, but, if I did, I'd be honest with suspecting diners and tell them it was Potato and Cheese soup, so I would.
2. Not Cajun spice mix. No. Again, each to their own, but I think just black pepper is perfect.
3. Pioneer woman buys chicken broth in a box? Yes, lots of boxes of broth in pioneer times, oh yes. Give me a break. Not that I have anything against broth in a box, I just think it's really funny how she portrays herself and then uses that. I hate affected people, I really do.
Still, her basic recipe and method is sound, and the step by step photos would be really helpful for new cooks. So I'm passing her along to you.