Ah, Spring! It’s difficult to narrow down what’s best about this time of year— is it the warming temperatures and longer days? The cheerful daffodils that are already in full bloom in the beds in front of our house? I am already envisioning donning my garden gloves and putting down soil for this year’s garden. Easter will be here before we know it, and that’s always a sign of a fresh start. It’s all so exhilarating!
But the thing that everyone around these parts is excited about has nothing to do with weather, flowers or new beginnings. Nope— this month, it’s all about March Madness, baby!
Many years ago, in what seems like a different lifetime, I worked in the main branch of a large, North Carolina-based bank. The “madness” that I witnessed included executives from the bank clearing their calendars so that they could stand in the lobby of the bank, focused on portable TVs that someone had plugged in right there along the teller line (this was all before the internet and smartphones, of course). Customers who came in to do their routine banking would stop for a few minutes, enjoy snacks that the bank staff brought in for a potluck table, and watch some of the games. Someone kept up with the brackets, to report to visitors which teams had advanced to the next rounds.
Weird, I thought, for all of this to occur in a business setting on a weekday— but I was the newcomer who had not yet learned that North Carolina has five key religions— Southern Baptist, Methodist, NASCAR, pulled pork barbecue and ACC hoops.
Thirty five years later, It no longer seems weird to me to see people interrupt business as usual to watch a basketball game in the middle of their workday. During my years in radio, I even sat courtside for a couple of those games and it is indeed a thrill. We have plenty of that excitement around here this week, too, as the rivalries intensify at the ACC Tournament, happening right now in nearby Greensboro.
If you need a hearty snack for your own March Madness viewing, consider it done with these zesty Mexican-inspired potato skins, with all the flavors of queso dip inside a split-and-scooped baby russet potato. These little guys can be prepped in advance for the most part, then popped into the oven at the last minute so the toppings— chorizo, fire-roasted corn, queso dip and jalapeño—all melt together in a melty, gooey self-contained snack that’s easy to eat while you’re watching the games. These skins would have really wowed the gang at the bank!
The first step in making them, of course, is prepping and baking the russet potatoes. I chose smallish ones for this recipe so the skins would be better suited to game day snacking. My secret trick with any baked potato recipe is the brine. Yes, I soak my scrubbed potatoes in heavily salted water before baking, and it ensures a crunchy, flavorful skin that is just as tasty as the fillings you put in them. The brining step only takes about half an hour, and the outcome is well worth it. I browned up the chorizo in cast iron while the potatoes soaked, and kept the drippings in the skillet.
When the spuds were cool enough to handle, I split them in half and scooped out some of the filling, keeping enough to hold the fillings without leaking. You can do whatever you like with the scooped out part; I added them to the current batch of homemade food for Nilla. To give the skins a bit of extra flavor, I fried them briefly (face-down) in the chorizo drippings, just long enough to get those edges crispy. From there, it was just a matter of filling them up with shredded cheese, queso, corn, chorizo and jalapeno.
A second trip through the oven melted all the tasty fillings together, and I finished them with a quick scatter of sliced scallions.
Queso Fundido Potato Skins
This is a fun game day snack that puts a Mexican queso dip twist on classic potato skins.
- 8 smallish russet potatoes, scrubbed
- Hot, but not necessarily boiling, water
- 1 Tbsp. kosher salt (for brining the potatoes)
- 6 oz. fresh Mexican chorizo sausage* (see notes)
- 1 to 2 Tbsp. olive oil, if needed
- 1/2 container Land o Lakes queso dip*, cold from fridge
- 1/2 cup fire roasted sweet corn
- 1/2 cup Monterey jack or pepper jack cheese, shredded
- 16 pickled jalapeno slices
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
- 1/2 cup sour cream (optional), for serving
- Preheat oven to 400°F, with oven rack in center position. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- Place scrubbed potatoes in a large, heatproof bowl. Sprinkle kosher salt over the potatoes, then fill with enough hot water to cover the potatoes. Swish the water a bit to dissolve the salt. Let them soak for 30 minutes.
- Brown the chorizo in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Scoop the chorizo out into a separate bowl and keep the drippings in the pan.
- Dry potatoes with paper towels and arrange on the foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 35 minutes, until potatoes are easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out some of the soft potato, leaving about 1/4-inch around the edges and bottom. Use the excess potato in another recipe.
- Place the chorizo skillet back onto medium heat. If the drippings are skimpy in the pan, swirl in a little olive oil. When hot, place the scooped potato skins face down in the pan, to crisp up the exposed edges. Arrange the skins on the foil-lined pan and prepare to fill them.
- Divide about half of the shredded cheese among the skins and top each with a teaspoonful of the roasted corn. Transfer the queso cheese into a glass measuring cup and microwave about 20 seconds to loosen it up. Pour the queso over the filling in the skins, up to the edges. Top with chorizo, jalapeno slices and the remaining shredded cheese.
- Place skins back into the 400°F oven for about 5 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly and skins are heated through. Sprinkle with sliced scallions and serve immediately.