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Easy-Bake Ovens, Rose Gray, and Twice-Baked Potatoes

These three things might just seem like random stream-of-conscious musings on the state of the universe, but, in reality, they are a few things that have appeared in the food press over the course of the last few weeks. They sort of don’t really go together on the surface, so I’ll see if I can link up everything.
The inventor of the East-Bake Oven died more than a week ago. He was also the inventor of the Spirograph. What do these things have in common? I wasn’t allowed to have either one of them as a child. On the blog posts that lament the inventor’s passing, I’ve found out I am not the only one who has a latent semi-bitterness at not owning one of these baking devices. My mother, and apparently other people’s as well, felt that I had a real oven with which to put together real cakes and cookies. She didn’t understand the appeal. Sorry, Mom, this just goes right up there with things that had to be played with at other kids’ houses, although for some reason, I never did get to try it anywhere else either. I missed out on a childhood icon for my generation. Of course, this had nothing to do with my later love for baking.
One of the founders of the River Cafe in London passed away last week. Rose Gray had an amazing background, which I’ve only just learned about from reading her obituary. She and her partner, Ruth Rogers, created a celebrated restaurant and mentor some of Britain’s current crop of culinary superstars, including Jamie Oliver. They also published a series of River Cafe cookbooks. While I long-since got rid of those from my library, I still have a great respect for the fact that they were designed to get folks to appreciate the Italian sensibility for preparing flavorful, uncomplicated meals with wonderful seasonal ingredients. Someday, when my bank balance and work schedule allow it, I would really love to be able to eat at their restaurant.
The final thread in this chain is the couple of articles that I came across this week about twice-baked potatoes. With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, I think the great spud is calling my name. It’s also getting to be spring-like weather, but we haven’t seen all the new produce that also comes with the change of seasons. Everything is still very winter-oriented with root vegetables prominent at the Greenmarket.
I’ve overlooked this dish for far-too-long, I realize. I first learned to make it when I lived in London after college. With ingredients as basic as potatoes, cheddar cheese, butter, sour cream, salt, pepper, and chives, it was perfect for a poor student’s budget. Paired with a side salad, it is a filling, flavorful, and simple dinner. This is why I was surprised to see it featured in print. Here are two versions that I made:
My version of Twice-Baked-Potatoes, with ham added

Eggs in baked potatoes from Yum Sugar (who took it from Real Simple)
 
The East-Bake Oven served as inspirations to thousands of young home cooks and likely encouraged the fledgling careers of many. I can’t say that I would have ever tried to bake a potato in those toy cooking units, so maybe that’s why I’ve always looked for ways to prepare tasty food in a real appliance. The potatoes elevate a simple, yet tasty vegetable to new heights, much in line with how Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers wanted their public to see how food could be prepared at a time when British food was still miles away from where it has moved to today.
 
Buon appetito!