Lu loves to eat food but I’m pretty sure she loves to talk about it more. She stands at the stove of her little pink kitchen and narrates the dishes she is making for us. (And for her imaginary friends, whose numbers are legion.) There are coconut puddings swirled in caramel, chicken topped with ham and Swiss cheese, and frosted cakes with sprinkles. Many cakes.
She does more than think about food, of course. Lu adores swimming, draws as many hours of the days as she can, reads at least 20 books a day with us, and is starting to read on her own. This is a kid fascinated with the world. But since she hears us discussing dishes at the dinner table “What if we sliced up the jicama into batons and drizzled cilantro sauce on top of a little toppled pile of them?” she has a language for food that feels natural to her.
So we listen to her. Not only because we’re delighted by her vivid stories but also because she comes up with great ideas for dishes sometimes.
A couple of months ago, she and I were sitting in a car in Arizona, talking while Danny bought a tank of propane with his mom. We were going back to their house to grill up chicken for dinner. Lucy, who was eating raw corn on the cob, looked up at me and said, “We should put corn in the chicken, Mama.” Puzzled, I asked her what she meant. She mimed cutting the kernels off the cob of corn. “Oh!” I said. “Do you mean we should shave the corn off the cob, put it under the skin of the chicken, and grill that?” She nodded, vigorously, then went back to her corn.
A couple of weeks later, Danny tried it. He cut the kernels off a ripe ear of corn. Then he sautéed them in a pan of brown butter and basil. After slipping the softened kernels under the skin, he roasted the chicken, basting it once in awhile with the corn-infused brown butter. Holy god. Try it.
So last week, when she told us triumphantly, “Mama, I have made you baked potato pie with cream cheese!” we listened.
And then we made one.
Lu had given us a little puzzle. What exactly does a baked potato pie with cream cheese mean? Do we bake a potato and top it with cream cheese and other fixings? She’s never had a twice-baked potato. Maybe she had invented one, in her mind. I’ve read of other people slicing potatoes thin and using those slices as a quiche crust. Maybe we should try that.
Danny decided to rice the potatoes. That’s a funny expression, isn’t it? Rice the potatoes. There’s a kitchen tool called a ricer, which chefs in restaurant kitchens use. When you crank the handle of a ricer, the cooked potatoes come out the bottom looking like little grains of white rice. If you don’t have one, and you love mashed potatoes, you might want to buy one. Take those riced potatoes, add butter, and just a touch of milk of cream, then a glug of olive oil, and you have the finest mashed potatoes, soft and smooth, without any lumps.
(You can also achieve a similar effect by pushing the cooked potatoes through a fine-mesh sieve with the back of a ramekin, if you don’t want another kitchen tool.)
We decided to take riced potatoes, bind them with an egg, pat it into a pie pan, and bake it. I’m telling you, it looked just like pie crust. It was soft yet held together after we pre-baked it. A new way of making savory pie!
Danny is passionate about twice-baked potatoes. When we had a bacon party, years ago, he made some pretty spectacular ones. Why not make a twice-baked potato pie with our potato crust?
And so he sautéed up several bunches of kale from our garden, in the fat left from the pieces of bacon he cooked, tangled up with soft onions. And he combined it all with the leftover riced potatoes and a bit of cream cheese, topped it with cheddar cheese and Parmesan, baked it, and tumbled down green onions on the top before serving.
I think it might be the best dish we have ever made. If you only make one dish from this website, make this one, please.
Lucy Ahern, thanks for the recipe idea. Keep on talking, my love.
Twice-Baked Potato Pie
This is comfort food, meant for cold weather and dark nights. There’s not much more I need to say, is there?
Except to point out that this potato crust which is grain-free would work well for many other kinds of savory pies. Start practicing. I’m pretty sure your kids are going to ask for this one again.
6 large russet potatoes
1 large egg
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup whole milk
4 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
Baking the potatoes. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Pierce the potatoes with a fork and wrap the potatoes in foil. Bake until the potatoes are soft to the touch, about 60 minutes.
Ricing the potatoes. When the potatoes are done, unwrap the foil. Peel the potatoes and run two of them through the ricer. (If you don’t have a ricer. feel free to use a mesh strainer.) Mix the riced potatoes with the egg. Press the mixture into a greased pie pan, slowly making a crust. Bake in the oven until the crust begins to harden and slightly brown, about 20 minutes.
Mashing the potatoes. Rice the remaining potatoes and put them in a large bowl. Set a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Heat the milk and butter until the butter has melted and the milk is simmering. Fold the milk and butter into the potatoes until the potatoes are creamy and the milk is fully incorporated. Season with salt and pepper. Add the olive oil and cream cheese. Mix until all is combined. Set a kitchen towel over the bowl and put the bowl in a warm place.
Filling for the twice-baked potato pie
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 slices bacon
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 bunch kale, stemmed and chopped roughly
1 cup shredded cheddar
1 cup shredded Parmesan
1/2 bunch green onions, sliced
Cooking the bacon. Set a medium-sized skillet on heat. Add the oil and bacon. Render the bacon until the bacon is crispy and the fat is glistening.
Cooking the onions and kale. Once the bacon is cooked, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon onto a plate. Add the onions and garlic into the pan and place it back onto the heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion and garlic are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the thyme. Once you smell the thyme, add the kale and stir it around the pan. When the kale is wilted, add the bacon and onion mixture back in and then fold this into the potatoes.
Finishing the filling. Add half of the cheddar and Parmesan to the potatoes. Save the rest for the topping. You are ready to make some pie.
Baking the pie. Add the mashers into the potato pie shell, gently, without destroying the shell . Top with the remaining cheeses and bake until it has a lovely golden brown topping, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Top with green onions and serve.
Make ahead? You can make the pie the day before you intend to eat it and have it cold, like a quiche. It holds up really well. If you want to reheat it, simply heat the oven to 400°, cover the pie with aluminum foil and bake for about 20 minutes.