TORONTO - No one will ever guess the secret ingredient in your moist chocolate cake is mashed potatoes.
Spuds don't just come mashed, scalloped or twice baked any more. They can be used in many other creative ways, such as a replacement for taco chips in nachos, thinly sliced and substituted for pasta noodles in lasagna as well as in sweets.
The Prince Edward Island Potato Board came up with a recipe for chocolate cake that incorporates mashed potatoes, which are substituted for some of the oil and keep the cake extremely moist.
"You can't see them or taste them. They mix right in with the batter and the chocolate. You can keep the cake for a few extra days," says marketing director Kendra Mills.
At the Canadian Potato Museum in O'Leary, P.E.I., which documents the history of the vegetable in the province and is notable for the four-metre fibreglass potato in front, Mills says samples of chocolate potato fudge are handed out. The recipe, which also uses mashed potatoes, is on the museum's website.
"It also boosts the nutrition in baked goods because you're adding a vegetable that contains potassium and vitamin C and all of those things into something that isn't known for having much nutritional content," Mills says.
Potatoes are misunderstood when it comes to nutrition, she notes. They're often lumped into the bread, pasta and rice category but are actually a vegetable. They contain more potassium than bananas and offer 45 per cent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C.
"A potato itself around the size of your fist has 110 calories. It's not high calorie, it has no fat, it's naturally salt- and gluten- and cholesterol-free. It's what you put on it."
Taters star in summer fare like potato salad, and can also be used in composed Nicoise salads with tuna, tomatoes, green beans and hard-boiled eggs.
In summer, grill packets of potatoes on the barbecue or over a campfire. Wash and scrub them. Leave the skin on as that's where the fibre is. Dice or cut in wedges and place on a large sheet of foil, then add butter, salt and pepper, onions or garlic — whatever you fancy. Bring the short ends of the foil together and fold twice to seal; fold in the sides to seal, leaving room for steam. Place on the grill just before adding steak or fish.
Raw mini potatoes can be threaded onto skewers and cooked until tender and crispy. If you're including other vegetables, blanch potatoes first as peppers and mushrooms take less time to cook than raw potatoes. Brush with a little oil and season with salt and pepper.
Cook extra mini potatoes with your meal the night before, then grill them the next day.
If desired, marinate potatoes with meat for extra flavour. Be sure to discard any marinade that has been in contact with raw meat.
Depending on size, whole potatoes will take 35 to 45 minutes to cook on the grill, while diced will take 10 to 15 minutes.
No access to a grill? "If you can bake a potato, you can make a meal," says Mills, who grew up on a potato farm.
She bakes a potato in the microwave in five minutes and tops it with whatever she has in the fridge — pasta sauce, chili or grilled vegetables.
Potatoes are synonymous with Prince Edward Island and, indeed, the crop has been grown there since the 1700s. The red loamy sandy soil is high in iron and adequate rainfall means little irrigation is required.
"P.E.I. is the largest growing region in Canada, so we grow 25 per cent of the Canadians' production of potatoes on our little tiny island. We call it the million-acre farm," says Mills.
Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario, Quebec and Alberta also grow the vegetable.
Russets, with a dryer flesh, are classic all-purpose potatoes and good for baking, mashing or fries. Round whites are also good for mashing.
Yukon golds have a unique yellow flesh and creamy, buttery consistency. This very popular variety is also good mashed.
Red potatoes have a higher moisture content and are good for salads and grilling where you want them to keep their shape.
Baby, fingerling and coloured potatoes are often used in restaurants for their plate appeal and convenience. Their smaller size means less prep and cooking time.
Potatoes should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place such as a cupboard if you don't have a root cellar.
"The fridge is too cold," Mills explains. "When they go from the fridge to a pot the sugars are too cold and as the potatoes cook the sugars caramelize and have a tendency to turn dark or grey."
Potatoes exposed to too much light may turn green. This "sunburning" can occur if they're left out on the kitchen counter or aren't covered part of the time in grocery stores that remain open 24 hours.
The green parts are bitter and can be cut off, but if the potato is quite green toss it out, Mills advises.
PEI Potatoes, www.peipotato.com
Canadian Potato Museum, www.peipotatomuseum.com