Sunday, November 07, 2010

Betty Does the Classics: Mashed Potatoes

For many of you, this is old hat. Still, some of you are gearing up to cook your first Thanksgiving meal and even the simple things become a little overwhelming in the midst of busy meal prep.

I am not attempting to reinvent the wheel here or making this staple side dish Martha Stewart-complicated. I'm just going to walk you through, so you aren't worried on the big day.

First. let's talk potatoes, because, as this Irish girl can tell you, not just any ol' potato will do. For instance, just because the grocery store has a sale on potatoes, doesn't mean they are the ones for you. In fact, I find that if the store has them on sale, they are probably about to rot or go to seed (you know, they are all rubbery and sprouting?)

We could get into a discussion also of waxy (smooth skin, great for boiling) versus starchy (rougher skin, great for baking and mashing) potatoes but if you want to just cut to the chase and have an all purpose potato in your pantry, buy Yukon Gold's. True to their name, they have a golden skin and subtle buttery yellow insides. You could buy 10 pounds of these babies, use them for everything and never be sorry.

Now, let's talk about procedure:

Potatoes grow in the dirt. Wash them.

As you are washing them, look for any green areas (sunburn) or cuts in the skin that cause browning. Cut out any bad parts and toss.

If you are old-school, you can peel your potatoes. I personally prefer the skins and the fact that so many vitamins and nutrients are found there mean my kids are eating the skins too.

Cut the potatoes into evenly-sized chunks, usually quarters. By cutting them into even sizes, you ensure that they all cook in the same amount of time. The smaller the pieces, that faster they cook. Knowing this will help you know how far into dinner preparation you want to get these babies on the stove so they are hot and steamy on the table.

Once cut, place in a large stock pot and cover with cold water so the water is about an inch above the pile. Place on the stove, cover and bring to a boil.

When the water begins to boil, remove the lid. This is a great time to get a facial or just add some moisture to the air in your house to counter act the effects of winter air, by the way.

Let the potatoes boil until they are fork-tender. Contrary to popular opinion, fork-tender does not mean that when you push a fork into a chunk, it completely falls apart. That, my friend is actually called over-cooking. Fork tender means the fork slides in easily while the chunk retains its shape, but without the fork sticking into the center (which would be under cooked).  Generally speaking, potatoes need to boil for approximately 10 minutes, depending of course on what size you cut them into.

It's time to drain the water off the spuds. If I may suggest, you can keep this water--it's got vitamins and minerals in it now and once cooled, is good for houseplants. I like to keep a bit back anyways in case my potatoes seem too thick. Not much, just a cup or so in case.

Now put your hot potato chunks back on the stove to mash. This is also when I add a big ol' knob of butter, an ounce or two of cream cheese and a splash of milk. Be careful, though, to not add too much milk because this is often the cause of "gluey" potatoes. Just a fourth of a cup will do nicely.

Choose your weapon at this point: are you a hand-mashing kind of cook? or do you need to get said spuds on the table stat without fuss? Hand mashing will give you a rustic, some-chunk bowl of potatoes. Hand mixer will incorporate some air and remove any major chunks. Either way, get'er done-the natives are getting restless (is that a bad metaphor to use for Thanksgiving dinner?)

Please don't forget to season your potatoes. They need salt and pepper. You may also want to "pretty them up " with some dried parsley.  And don't forget-once they are ready to serve, top with another knob of butter. mmmmm

Don't be concerned with leftover potatoes, either. Use them to top a shepherd's pie or baked them a second time, covered in shredded cheese. Add egg and cheese to them, beat and drop into a hot skillet. Add egg and flour for gnocchi dough. Fill pierogies. Or, assuming you haven't added any parsley to them, use them in yeast bread for potato bread (personal favorite...makes me think of my grandfather).

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