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Baked Chili Cheese Fries (sans chili)

  We all seem to feel very strongly when it comes to french fries.  Some go for that one mushy fellow in the bunch (guilty as charged), others prefer their potato crisped beyond recognition, some use salt with abandon (Yes, even on McDonald's fries...), and others will say that the only way to go is to fry them twice.

  Look, I'm not here to give you the "perfect" fry.  I doubt I could even if I tried, everyone likes them so differently.  So, let me just say here and now, that I'm just going to let a potato be a potato. 

  By the way, the above list is by no means meant to be disrespectful.  Frying fries twice has been proven to be a very effective method.  I'd try it myself, but my mother is prone to queasiness whenever I heat up oil.  So, to save myself a fun time in the mudroom with our little thermometer-less deep fryer, I figured we should just go the baked route here.

  Wait, why is it that I'm making fries at all?

  It's this week's Sundays with Joy recipe.  Duh.

  Baked fries are something I remember doing with my dad during my (even) younger years.  If mom happened to be out for some reason and we were supper-less, there always seemed to be a bag of potatoes handy.

  My younger sister and I would scrub potatoes while my dad handled the knife.  He cut thick, unpeeled wedges, laying them in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Then the spice cabinet would be rifled through, and I'm pretty sure one of each got sprinkled over those potatoes.

  Whatever he did, I certainly can't remember not liking them.

  I had these memories in mind as I peeled potatoes and dug out our fancy crinkle cutter.  These fries are a little different than my papa's, but I still found myself scouring the spice cabinet.  In keeping with my usual cooking form, I abandoned the listed ingredients and directions about 2/3 of the way through the recipe, throwing in a bit of this and a bit of that.  But, I did my best to keep track of these substitutions, and came up with the recipe you read below.

  These were lovely, and should really go on your simplistic comfort foods list.  All the flavor of chili cheese fries, but without the bother of actual chili.  They came together faster than I thought they would, but they still seem to take forever to bake.

  Some parts of us never really do grow up.

Baked Chili Cheese Fries (sans chili)
Yield: about 6 servings

  • 6 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder 
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground thyme 
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt to taste (I used about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 6-7 medium russet potatoes
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon steak sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sweet chili sauce
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar
  • 1 cup grated pepper jack
  • 6 tablespoons chopped green onions and cilantro

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Line a large baking sheet (preferably rimmed) with parchment paper and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and seasonings.  Set aside.

Rinse and peel the potatoes (You may leave them with some peelings, if you're going for a more rustic look.).  Using a sharp knife, slice a 1/4-inch piece off of the potato lengthwise.  Place the potato cut-side down, thus giving you a more stable surface to cut on.  Reserve the cut off piece.  Slice the potato lengthwise into 1/4- to 3/8-inch planks.  Retrieve your cut off piece and put it with the rest of the planks.  Stack the planks in piles 2 to 3 planks high, and slice lengthwise into 1/4- to 3/8-inch strips.  Place the completed strips (your french fries!) into a large bowl.  Repeat with remaining potatoes.

Pour the olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, and sweet chili sauce into the large bowl with the potato strips.  Toss to combine.  Sprinkle the cornstarch mixture over the slices and toss together using a pair of tongs, ensuring that every potato is coated with a bit of cornstarch and seasoning.

Combine the cheddar and pepper jack cheese in a small bowl, set aside.

Spread potatoes onto the prepared baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, removing from the oven 2 or 3 times to toss the potatoes.  Cook until they reach desired crispiness.  Remove from the oven and sprinkle evenly with the cheese mixture.  Return to the oven for a few minutes, just enough to melt the cheese.  Remove from the oven, place the fries on a platter, and sprinkle with green onions and cilantro.  Serve immediately.

Sources: adapted from Joy the Baker's Cookbook