Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Humble Potato- Elevated

Ronald Reagan said that "all great change in America begins at the dinner table."  I'm not a Reagan fan, but I am down with that statement.   Let's start with the basic, the favorite, the most potentially delightful object on many an American dinner table, or supper table, if you're from my neck of the woods, and change THAT- or at least the way many of us prepare it.   


Mashed potatoes.  They don't come out of a box. They're not made by fictional tarts called Betty or Ida. :-)  They DO take more than ten minutes to prepare, but most good things in life take more than ten minutes to make, do, arrive at, or accomplish. 


If you've been dragged down into as many caverns by your spelunking parents as I have, you will know that potato flakes smell exactly like bat guano. If you haven't been dragged down into countless caverns (or as I like to call them, the bowels of hell) consider yourself blessed and lucky. 


You with me still?


Get some potatoes.  Figure on one per person- or two per if you're feeding the family I grew up in.  Big brown potatoes.  You don't want tiny new potatoes for this.  Those little red guys you roast entire with olive oil and herbs or you turn them into a yummy German potato salad- no mayo allowed.  But that's another post.


Give those taters a good rinse and scrub off any visible dirt with a veggie brush or non-soapy scouring-type pad. Peel those potatoes, or don't.  That's up to you.  Kevin and I like the peel in there, but Mimi won't touch it.  Dice up those taters into smallish cubes.  The smaller your pieces, the faster they'll cook.  (A sharp knife is really important here.  You don't want a dull knife slipping off the potato's damp flesh and into yours.)  


Add the cubed potatoes to the big pot of salted water you've already got going on the stove.  I usually smash a clove or two of garlic and throw them in the water along with the potatoes.  


Let the water come to a boil, then boil a couple of minutes, before reducing the heat a little so the pan doesn't boil over.  Prod a piece of tater after five or ten minutes- the cooking time is totally dependent on how small you diced your praties.


Once they are tender, but not disintegrating, drain them in a colander as you'd drain pasta.  Now for the fun part.  


Melt some butter in the tater pot, which you should have over low heat now, add some milk, salt, pepper, and a dash of Tabasco, and let the ingredients warm up.  Alternately, you can you use chicken or veg broth to cut fat and calories, but this is mashed potatoes, so...


Now return your taters to the pot and mash away with a potato masher.  If you have a potato ricer, use that for finer, fluffier taters.  You can also use a big spoon or fork if that's what you have.  I wouldn't recommend any electrical means of mashing or whipping here- a hand beater, immersion blender , or fo-pro will only turn your fluffy little lovelies into wallpaper paste.


Once you've got your babies mashed, you can add diced green onions, chives- whatever strikes your fancy.  Chipotle mashed potatoes anyone?  Bacon mashed potatoes?  Oh, my!
Mmm, taters!
Anyway, there you have it.  Homemade mashed potatoes are easy and you can get creative and/or crazy with them, and you're keeping all those potato flake boxes out of your recycling bin or landfill. 


Your new mantra: 


NO MORE ICKY FLAKES!!!

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