Q: I had a wonderful potato soup at a friend's house over the holidays, and she gave me the recipe. I'm puzzled why it would call for, and be underlined for emphasis, two kinds of potatoes. How much difference can that make?
A: What kind of potato you use will make a big difference in the texture and consistency of the soup. Probably one kind is there to fall apart and make the soup thick and creamy, and the other is expected to hold its shape and provide nice chunks of potato.
Although there are more than 200 different varieties of potatoes, they all basically fit into two main categories. Mealy potatoes have starch that falls apart when they're cooked. They're good for mashing and baking. Waxy potatoes are dense and solid, and their starch keeps them together. They're best for salads. So having both kinds in your soup would let the mealy potatoes disintegrate to give the creamy base while the waxy potatoes hold their shape and give structure to the potato chunks.
Of course the recipe might also request other potatoes just for their color or slightly different flavors. Mealy potatoes are often thought of as baking potatoes, and include Russet and Idaho with a rough skin, and California long whites with a thin papery skin. Waxy potatoes include fingerlings as well as the round red or round whites sold as 'boiling potatoes.' They usually have a freckled white or red skin. Yukon Gold potatoes are also in the waxy category, as are many of the newer more colorful varieties, the blue, purple, pink and red-fleshed kinds.
Q: What can I do with two loaves of sweet breads that were slightly over-baked? They taste fine, but they are extra brown, too much for me to give them as gifts the way I intended. They're also too dry to enjoy just sliced. Any ideas, before I throw them away?
A: My first thoughts are that they'd made wonderful bread pudding or French toast. Being slightly dry would let them soak up the milk, egg and flavorings. Use any sweet bread pudding recipe you like, just don't add quite so much sugar to the mix. If the slices are too crumbly you might need to slice them extra thick for French toast, but they should be very tasty. You also could dry them out even further by toasting slices in the oven. That will let you keep them for several months or more. The sweet crumbs would be a good alternative topping for fruit crumbles or betties.
Mix cut fruit with sugar and spices in a baking dish, and top with the bread crumbs tossed with a little melted butter. Then bake the dish until the fruit is soft and juicy and the crumbs are golden. Serve with ice cream or milk. It isn't quite the season now, but local strawberries are ripe, so a summer pudding made with sweet bread could be a no-bake treat.
For this, you line a bowl with slices of bread. Make a filling by slightly cooking fresh berries or fruit with a little sugar, until it's soft and juicy. Fill the bread-lined bowl with fruit, put a layer of bread slices over the top, then cover with plastic food wrap. Put a small plate on top of the bowl to press the fruit and bread together and refrigerate the bowl for several hours. To serve, you turn the bowl upside down on a plate and lift it off the pudding. Serve with whipped cream.