Kathy Maister's Start Cooking

Baked Potato Toppings

posted in Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

What’s great about a baked potato is that it can be eaten as a side vegetable or as a main dish. Baked potatoes are one of those meals in my house that fit the category of, “I’m really tired and I’ve gone brain dead and I really don’t feel like cooking.”
While your potato is baking in the microwave you’ll have about 7 minutes to think about what sort of topping you would like to put on it. Classic ingredients like butter, sour cream, bacon bits, and chives are always delicious. But there are tons of other choices as well!

Some of my favorite toppings include:

  • Cottage Cheese
  • Plain yogurt
  • Salsa
  • Chili
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Mushrooms fried in olive oil

Many places around the world refer to a baked potato as a “jacket potato” and use very different toppings then what people in the USA use. For example it is quite common in the UK to use baked beans or tuna salad as a topping.

What’s your favorite topping?

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Cooking with Beer: Recipes and Techniques

posted in Recipes by Kathy Maister

Beer has a wealth of flavors. It is made in (and imported from) all over the world, and there are sophisticated beers from boutique or micro breweries that have developed their own unique flavors with locally-grown ingredients.

Using beer as an ingredient in cooking can add a whole new dimension of flavor to a recipe, just like adding salt or spices can. The beer flavor should not dominate, but enhance the flavors. Common usage of beer in cooking includes beer-can chicken , soups and stews, mussels and bratwurst steamed in beer, beer-battered foods that then get fried in oil, and desserts – particularly made with chocolate and Guinness. (See links below)

For the beginner cook, substitutions are very tricky and certain beers can negatively alter the appearance, as well as the flavor of the recipe. For example, using a stout for beer-battered recipes can turn the batter an unappealing shade of grey. Do be careful with substitutions. If the recipe specifically says what type of beer you should use, then do not substitute it for another beer. (For example, my recipe for Guinness Stout Beef Stew is based on using stout beer not light beer or ale.)

Guinness Stout Beef Stew

What about the alcohol?

According to our friend Kevin Wagner (a frequent contributor to this blog):

Alcohol boils at 172 degrees, so any cooking you do with any kind of alcoholic beverage won’t leave any alcohol in the food once it’s done. It all evaporates off early and fast. So, you can serve/use any of these recipes/techniques for the whole family including kids and others who may be sensitive to such things.

Plus, there’s not that much alcohol in beer to begin with; it’s mostly water. The tricks you see in some food presentations where they flambé things (French for “set on fire”) only work if they pour concentrated alcohol (usually brandy) on right at your table and light it immediately, and you’ll notice it goes out very quickly as the fuel is consumed so fast.

The truth is, beer doesn’t have enough alcohol in it to burn. But, it does taste good, so here are some useful things you can do to share the wealth.”

Beer recipes

Beer-Can Chicken is one of those odd inventions that seems to have developed a life of its own. The basic premise is to stand a chicken up on an empty beer can and cook it standing up.

For beginner cooks, I would rate the “Degree of Difficulty” on all Beer-Can Chicken recipes as “med-high,” as most involve firing up a barbecue grill in addition to preparing the chicken.

Crepes of Wrath has a great photo-tutorial on how to make Beer-Can Chicken

If you don’t have a barbecue, Vicki’s Healthful Eats and Sinful Treats demonstrates the same idea in the oven, following a Food Network recipe.

LiveFire actually uses the can method to smoke chickens. They look really scrumptious!

And finally, Cooking for Engineers shows us how to make Smoked Beer-Can Turkey. This recipe would be a fabulous change of pace for Thanksgiving dinner!

Warm, hearty soups and stews made with beer are great wintertime meals. Shaula at Your Mileage May Vary may well have fallen in love with Vermont because of this Cheddar and Ale soup recipe! I really like the look of this recipe as it is very specific about what beer, cheddar cheese and type of potatoes to use. This is very important information for the beginner cook!

Chocolate and chili sounds unusual but it’s quite a popular flavor combination. Jen has what looks like a fabulous Chocolate Stout Chili photo-tutorial that is also made with jalapenos. If you know how to brown beef, chop an onion, cut jalapenos, and mince garlic, this recipe is for you!

One of the simplest ways to cook with beer is to make Beer and Brats, as in bratwurst sausages. Brewed for Thought has two photos that are enough to make me want to try this recipe. In a nutshell, you sauté (fry) onions and sausages until they develop a nicely browned color, then pour on some beer, and let the onions and bratwurst simmer in the beer for 15 minutes. Then sit back and enjoy.

(Note: Be sure not to boil the brats in the beer as the intense heat may make the skin burst.)

Baking with Beer

Beer breads are generally described as “quick breads” as they use baking powder or baking soda to rise instead of yeast and take a lot less time to make. I did an Irish Bread video that is also a quick bread. Have a look at that video to see if quick breads are something you are ready to tackle.

The ingredients for beer bread are simple; flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and beer are the basics. You can then add all sorts of herbs/cheese to fit your taste.

Farmgirl Fare has a really good basic recipe called Beyond Easy Beer Bread Recipe: A Warm Crusty Loaf In Under An Hour. She also gives all sorts of variations including adding shredded cheddar cheese and dill, or garlic and herbs, or rosemary and feta cheese, etc.

Epicurious has a really simple recipe using just the basic ingredients as well. They use 3 Tablespoons of sugar whereas Farmgirl uses only 1 Tablespoon of sugar. Neither recipe specifies what kind of beer to use, which is a pity.

As with all baking, measuring must be precise!

My Chocolate Cake For Beginners is made with Guinness.


This moist, rich, dense, chocolate cake is one that you will want to make again and again. (Here is the Metric Recipe.)

Serving Beer

We all know that pairing certain foods with certain wines makes perfect sense. The same is true with beer. The right pairing of beer and food can make a huge difference to the taste of the meal. For example, as the NBWA says; “light ales and lagers go well with spicy Mexican, Indian, and Caribbean cuisine while brown ale beers go well with steak or roast beef. Just as nuts like walnuts and hazelnuts and potatoes roasted with garlic and rosemary go well with stout, dark ale.”

If you have used beer as an ingredient in the meal, you may want to serve that beer at your dinner party as well.

I would like to stress that I am not a beer drinker. I do hope that some of my readers that have had experience cooking with beer will jump in and help with any questions or comments.

**I would also like to thank Kevin Wagner for inspiring this post and Jessica Howard for her input!

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How to Cook Potatoes in a Microwave

posted in Soups, Salads, Sides and Sauces, Vegetables and Beans by Kathy Maister

I love baked potatoes, and have already written about how to bake them in the oven! Unfortunately, I often don’t have the time to wait for up to an hour for my baked potato to cook in the oven, even though they definitely taste better that way.

So, like lot of people, I often zap potatoes in the microwave. In less then 10 minutes, they get cooked, covered with sour cream and bacon, and I’m ready to turn on the TV!

Here’s how to cook a potato in the microwave oven.

First, wash the potato under running water (no soap!). You can scrub it with a vegetable brush or just rub it with your hands. Then pat it dry with a paper towel.

Puncture about four holes in the potato, with the tip of a sharp knife or a fork. This is important, as it allows the steam to escape. Otherwise the potato may explode when you cook it. (Seriously! If you don’t puncture it, the potato will go SPLAT all over the inside of you microwave!)

If you are baking potatoes in the oven, you can rub a small amount of oil on them so that the skin gets nice and crispy. It is not necessary to rub oil on potatoes you are cooking in the microwave oven.

Place the potato on a microwave-safe dish. Check the small print on the back of the dish to be sure. Then place it in the microwave oven. (By the way, microwave ovens do not have to be preheated.)

Many microwaves have moisture sensors inside so that all you need to do is press the button that says ‘potato’ and just wait for the microwave to beep at you.

If your microwave doesn’t have a potato button, a general rule is that one 7-to-8 ounce Idaho potato takes about 7 minutes to cook. 2 will take about 11 minutes.

The microwave will often say REST. That means the potato, not you! You need to just let it sit for a couple of minutes, for it to actually finish cooking.

But remember, each microwave oven is different, so you need to stick a knife in the potato to see if it is done. The knife should slide in easily and you should be able to squeeze the potato without too much resistance.

To open a microwave ‘spud’, it needs a bit of a bash first to break the fibers apart.

First, slice the top with a knife.

Then place a folded paper towel over the microwave potato. Using the bottom part of your fist, give it a bash. Be really careful as the potato will be very hot.

Now if you give it a squeeze it should be nice and fluffy.

You can now top it with your favorite topping.

As my Irish grandfather used to say, “I’ve never met a potato I didn’t like!”

Here are a few more startcooking.com potato posts:

Baked Potato Toppings

Baked Potato with Salsa

Mashed Potatoes

Oven Baked Potatoes

Roasted Potatoes

Sweet Potato Casserole

How to Choose and Use Potatoes


Microwave Potatoes Ingredients:

(4 Servings)

  • 4 medium baking potatoes

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