Most people add cheese to scalloped potatoes as a matter of course, though purists will claim that real scalloped potatoes are baked in a white sauce. It should go without saying that I belong to the purist school. I make a blond roux with butter, add enough whole milk or a mixture of whole milk and heavy cream to make a somewhat thin sauce, which I season with salt and white pepper. I then parboil red (waxy) potatoes, peel and slice thinly, layer them in a glass or porcelain baking dish, spooning the sauce between the layers. This is baked in a medium-high oven (350 or so) until the potatoes are tender through and the top somewhat browned.
When I was a boy, mom gave me a “boys and girls” cookbook. Okay, actually, she gave it to my sister, and I stole it. I did not grow up to write Other Voices, Other Rooms, nor do Cher’s hair, but I did learn how to make frosting. Some people consider this insignificant, but sugar is tricky.
Cooking is an important skill. Speaking strictly for myself, I don’t trust anyone who can’t boil water. Teaching your kids how to cook is an important, multi-faceted experience for both children and parents. You might remember cooking with your parents. Simply being together, doing something together, strengthens family bonds, gives everyone a chance to relax and open up, to talk about what’s going on. Preparing food themselves teaches kids to appreciate the effort others put into cooking for them. It’s also a confidence-booster, as anyone who has pulled a beautifully-baked cake out of the oven can attest. You’ll feel yourself smile when your kid says, “I made it myself!” Reading and interpreting a recipe boosts reading comprehension and math skills, of course, but it’s also the best introduction to chemistry to be found in the home. Learning how to cook also helps make kids curious about foods in general, having the potential to expand the palate of a picky child.
You can teach your children how to make many things, and in turn you may well learn yourself. In case you don’t know how to make oven fries, here’s how. Take a large baking potato and cut it into thick wedges or strips. Brush with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, place in an oiled pan, and bake in a very hot oven, tossing at least twice until browned and crisp. There you go; so simple even a kid can do it.
Method is the most important part of any recipe, even how to boil an egg, for which there is no good way: in-shell eggs must be steamed to cook. My method for baking potatoes results in crisp, toothsome skin and a molten, crumbly center.
Any given potato must be washed and scrubbed, then dried thoroughly before coating with salted oil and placing in the oven, which must be very hot. A large (10-12 oz.) white potato will take an hour in a 400F oven. Potatoes can be pierced and microwaved to start, but should be finished in the oven; likewise, waxy potatoes should be parboiled. Wrapping them in foil before baking ensures a steamed potato, which is wonderful and nostalgic, but lesser fare than baked.