Growing up in the Midwest, celebrations meant going out to the steakhouse. In my family, that meant going to one in particular. Cousins in town? 50th anniversary? Funeral luncheon? It was always Syl’s. Syl’s was my grandparent’s steakhouse of choice, a restaurant founded in the 40s and that, save the clothing choices of some patrons, could have passed for being in the 40s still. It was at Syl’s where I would order the fillet mignon with mushrooms, unaware of its extravagance and without my parents correcting me. It was at Syl’s when Abby daringly tried frog’s legs and declared after careful chewing that they tasted just like chicken. It was at Syl’s where my Grandpa and Uncles would order rounds of Manhattans, and where as a legal adult I disappointed them all by ordering an Old Fashioned.
It was a magical place, old fashioned and jovial. It left me with a serious appreciation for steak, the only meat that I craved during two separate bouts of vegetarianism. It was my template for what an grown-up restaurant was until I was well into college. And it fed me on a steady diet of potatoes.
Syl’s, like any good steakhouse, was serious about their potatoes. They came as a side for any steak in a list of magical variety. Whipped! Garlic mashed! Baked! And the king of it all, double baked potatoes. Even if I hadn’t gained a taste for steak, I would have still ordered it to get that side of potatoes.The potatoes were the main event. The steak was only a very tasty accompaniment.
I was evangelical about my potatoes. And double baked have long been one of my favorites. My aunt would bring them for Christmas, filled with cheddar and sprinkled with bright red paprika. I would gobble up so many my mom would shoot me a look across the room. My parents would buy them frozen from the bulk store and I would eat them for many dinners, mostly satisfied with their buttery flavor and smooth filling contrasted with tough skins. They were on the menu at Syl’s, beautifully piped. And double baked potatoes were on the menu of the first meal I tried to make my family. (Along with potato skins and gnocchi. Like I said, I have a thing for potatoes.)
Like so many things from my childhood- Applebee’s spinach artichoke dip, cinnamon toast crunch for breakfast, Dannon peach yogurt- double baked potatoes haven’t had a place in my life for a long time. The older I get, the more the double baked potato- white potatoes drowning in dairy- seems resigned to the list of food I can’t feel good about eating anymore. But when I was making a list of things I wanted to make double baked potatoes kept popping up. And I realized that I don’t have to slavishly recreate my nostalgic double baked potatoes. I can smarten up my childhood love for me to enjoy now.
These double baked potatoes are a stunner. They’re stuffed with kale and shallots and bound together with a tart helping of Greek yogurt with a little bit of milk for moisture. The goat cheese is for a grown up palate, and the dusting of smoked paprika is a twist of smart nostalgia. They are satisfying and hearty. If you eat meat, they’d be stunning with steak and if you don’t, they make a beautiful meal on their own. They are not the recreation of my childhood love, but rather the heir to its legacy. They’re what I love about where I was, and what I crave where I am.
Kale Stuffed Double Baked Potatoes
4 medium Yukon gold potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large bunch of Dino kale, centers removed, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Smoked paprika, to sprinkle
Preheat the oven to 400. Prick each potato in several places with a fork. Place the potatoes in the preheated oven and roast, for about an hour, until the potatoes are cooked through and give a bit when squeezed. Remove from the oven and set aside until you can comfortably touch them, about ten to fifteen minutes.
In a skillet warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the kale, shallots, and a sprinkle of salt and stir well. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale has cooked down and the shallots have softened. Sprinkle the two tablespoons of vinegar over the kale and continue to sauté for about another minute. The kale should be tender. Remove from pan and set aside.
Slice the potatoes in half. Using a large spoon, scoop out the insides of the potato and place in a large bowl. Be careful to leave a ring of potato around the edges- you’ll need a bit for structure. Use a potato masher or an electric mixer to smooth the potatoes.
Combine the potatoes with the kale-shallot combination, the yogurt, the milk, and the nutmeg. Mix well add the goat cheese and mix again. Taste the poatao filling, and add salt as necessary.
Evenly divide the filling between the empty potato skins. Sprinkle with the smoked paprika. Place on a tray, and bake until the edges are crispy, about 30 minutes.