We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Michelle's Mashed Potatoes

by Michelle

"What I say is that, if a man really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow."
                                                                                                               ~A.A. Milne

   Mashed potatoes are heaven to me. I've tried to give up the humble potato at many times over the course of my life. It is a useless endeavor. There are times when I even went over a year without tasting a potato, but it was an exercise in futility. I will always return to my true love: the "carbolicious", ultimately satisfying spud. While I thought I had little to say about making mashed potatoes, I found the opposite was true while teaching my daughter the ins and outs of preparing my favorite side dish. 
   You may be surprised to learn that I am particularly fond of adding buttermilk to my mashed potatoes. In my opinion the tang provides a certain flavor note that isn't really identifiable but plays well with the butter and milk. There have been one or two times that I failed to have buttermilk on hand (a bad day at Black Rock) but I have saved the day by using plain Greek yogurt thinned with milk.

    I have found that once the potatoes are mashed and dressed there is a benefit to letting the mashed potatoes sit in a hot oven for about 15 minutes. Some people swear by keeping mashed potatoes warm by transferring them to a heat safe bowl and then placing the covered bowl over a pan of simmering water. That's fine, too. The stovetop is usually premium real estate for me and I find it is more accommodating to put the potatoes in the oven.
    Also of particular importance is the size of the pan you plan on using to cook the cubed potatoes. It needs to be large, in the category of a medium soup pot, so the potatoes can cook in a lot of water, and you have room to stir the simmering pot without sending a wave over the side, potentially burning you, and making the hot burner spit and spray.

    I am happy to report that I have successfully made delicious mashed potatoes for friends and family who abstain from dairy due to intolerance or by preference. When we have non-Dairy folks in the crowd, my plan is to divide and conquer. First, I simmer all the potatoes in one big pot. Then, I drain the potatoes and do a quick mash. Depending upon how many non-dairy folks you have, I remove about 3/4 cup of potatoes per person to a separate heat proof container. To the removed portion, season with salt, pepper, olive oil and vegetable or chicken broth. On these occasions, I may choose to also season the potatoes with garlic. If going the garlic route, in a small skillet gently sauté minced garlic in warmed olive oil until just cooked, one to two minutes. Transfer the non dairy potatoes to the oven in an oil coated, tightly sealed serving dish. Finally, dress the remaining potatoes according to the directions below. Everybody wins the mashed potatoes game.
  As an additional nice surprise for the dairy intolerant, I alter my Mushroom Sauce recipe to use olive oil and cornstarch in lieu of butter and flour (Mochiko rice flour for gluten-free cooking or all-purpose wheat flour, depending upon your leanings and the folks you are feeding). I adore receiving compliments by non-dairy folks that mine are the best mashed potatoes and gravy they've ever tasted.   
   The moral to the story is that a few simple changes can yield really great results and encourage the up most happiness during the holidays when it can be difficult, if not overwhelming, to accommodate a number of diet/eating plans - from vegetarian to gluten-free and everything in between.

Michelle's Mashed Potatoes

  This recipe can easily be doubled; just use a bigger stock pot to accommodate more potatoes and water. My general feeling is that if there are lumps in the mashed potatoes, the cubed potatoes were not boiled long enough. A strong arm while mashing also helps, as does the electric hand mixer. I have friends that push the cooked potatoes through a ricer, and yet another who swears by whipping the potatoes in the KitchenAid. I say whatever makes you happy, do it. But, I hesitate to dirty one more item in the pursuit of obliterating lumps, when my simple method gets the job done. I am completely ambivalent over a stray lump in the mashed potatoes, but if you aren't, I would recommend using a ricer as an insurance plan.
   Lastly, I have been surprised at how beautifully mashed potatoes reheat in the oven. I was of the opinion that mashed potatoes always had to be made fresh. Then, one day, I found myself tired and with a lot of leftovers, so in to the oven the leftovers went for dinner number two. I sprayed the heating container with olive oil spray, covered the dish tightly and popped it in a cold oven. I turned the oven to 350°F and waited about 30 minutes or so for the potatoes to heat completely through. Honestly, I couldn't tell the potatoes were a day old. What a delightful surprise. Now I don't hesitate to make extra potatoes so I can reheat in the days ahead or use to dollop atop a Shepard's Pie or quickly form and fry potato pancakes. Sorry, but, those recipes will need to keep for another time.

Ingredients for Traditional Potatoes:
6 medium russet potatoes, about 4 pounds
1 Tbsp kosher salt, I prefer Diamond brand
4 Tbsps unsalted butter, cut into pieces, preferably at room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk, preferably at room temperature
about 1/2 cup whole milk or half and half, preferably at room temperature
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Ingredients for Vegetarian Potatoes:
6 medium russet potatoes, about 4 pounds (organic preferred)
1 Tbsp kosher salt, I prefer Diamond brand
2 cloves garlic, minced, gently sautéed in approximately 2-3 Tbsps olive oil
about 1 cup reserved potato cooking water or vegetable broth
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Special Equipment:
big pot with matching lid
masher tool
heat resistant rubber spatula
electric hand mixer

The Perfect Accompaniment:
Michelle's Mushroom Sauce

1. Fill a medium soup pot half way with cold water.
2. A peeled potato will turn brown if left to sit in the open air. Therefore, peel and slice one or two potatoes at a time into 3/4 to 1-inch cubes, and quickly transfer the potato cubes from the cutting board to the water in the pot. Once all the potatoes are cubed and in the water, there they can remain for quite some time - say an hour or two, if you want to prep ahead of time. Add additional water, if needed, to cover the potatoes by a good 1-1/2 to 2-inches.

3. When ready to proceed, cover the pot with a lid and bring the water and potatoes to a boil over high heat. Once the water begins to boil, remove the lid and add one tablespoon kosher salt; stir. Return the lid, placing it slightly askew on the pot, providing steam an escape route. Lower the heat to medium-low. Continue to  adjust the heat accordingly to maintain a slow simmer. Stir the potatoes every 4 to 5 minutes for even cooking. The potatoes will be tender in about 20-25 minutes. When the potatoes are done, you will be able to easily pierce a potato cube with a fork. The cube should break in half where it is pierced.
4. If you need some time before finishing the potatoes, simply turn off the heat and cover snugly with a lid. The potatoes sit happily for awhile. I usually try not to keep longer than a half hour, but this resting period gives me breathing room to juggle last minute activities.
5. If you plan on popping the finished mashed potatoes in the oven for 15 minutes or so, preheat the oven to 350°F.

6. Drain the water from the potatoes, reserving about 1-1/2 cups if making vegetarian version. Add the butter (or olive oil and sautéed garlic) to the potatoes and a generous sprinkle of salt, about one teaspoon. Crack some fresh ground pepper over the potatoes. With a hand masher, begin mashing the potatoes. Stop to swipe the sides and bottom of the pan with a rubber spatula (to incorporate any lumpy bits), then mash again, while adding the buttermilk (or reserved potato water or vegetable broth).
7. Add the milk or half and half. Switching to an electric mixer, beat until well mixed. Swipe down the sides of the bowl once more with the spatula. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. Beat again briefly with the electric mixer, to incorporate any seasonings and to encourage the potatoes to be completely smooth. Cover the pot, and transfer to the oven for about 15 minutes, or a little longer, if needed to accommodate your schedule, then serve. Serves: 6-8 adults

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