Life-changing, lip-smacking, fist-pounding good!

Dear friends,

I’ve been known to exaggerate now and again. I have. But today I’m not.

Today, I’m just going to tell you about the best mashed potatoes in the world. Potatoes so good, they’ll change your life.

I know, it’s hard to believe potatoes will change your life. But maybe you were like me — making mashed potatoes any old way. Maybe you peeled your potatoes and maybe you didn’t. (I’m lazy. I didn’t.) Maybe you mashed them with an old-fashioned metal masher and added some butter and some milk. (I’m sure it wasn’t enough of either, and if you were like me, you added both straight from the frig.) Maybe you added cream cheese or sour cream, or maybe like Pioneer Woman, after adding cheese, you put the potatoes in a baking dish and reheated them.

Well, I’m here to tell you — you were misguided. Tragically.

And so was I until I got my hands on Mark Peel’s “New Classic Family Dinners” and learned how professional chefs make mashed potatoes. And, lawzie, there’s a difference. A considerable difference in the preparation and a magnificent difference in the result.

If you’re like me and good enough is not good enough when it comes to food, try these potatoes. Even if you only do it once, at least you’ll die knowing what honest-to-goodness real mashed potatoes are supposed to taste like.

Like buttah. Like velvet. Like buttery velvet with a hint of garlic, a whisper of salt, and a creamy goodness that will make you wonder why most of the world has no clue how to make everyone’s favorite comfort food.

Like everything else in the world, perfection requires an investment. You’ll need a steamer, a ricer, a medium- to large-weave strainer (buy a cheap one, it will have a larger weave than an expensive one), and a double-boiler to prepare these potatoes. If you don’t have these items, pick them up. They are versatile pieces of kitchen equipment that will come in handy more often than you know.

Mark Peel’s Mashed Potatoes

2 lbs peeled potatoes cut into large chunks (I prefer Yukon Gold)

2-3 large cloves of garlic, whole and peeled

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

3 sticks butter

Salt to taste

Place potatoes in a steamer pot with the whole garlic and as little water as necessary, then steam until fork-tender. Meanwhile, put 2 sticks of butter and all the cream in a small saucepan over low heat until simmering. When potatoes are tender, drain and discard garlic. Working in small batches, put the cooked potatoes through a ricer into a large bowl. I like to put both parts of my steamer pot side-by side in the sink as I rice the potatoes. (The potatoes will be in the steamer basket, while the bottom part of the pot should be drained of its water and used to catch the potatoes as they are put through the ricer.)

When all the potatoes have been put through the ricer, mix the potatoes with the simmering cream and butter mixture and salt to taste (for me, about a teaspoon and a half). Use a rubber spatula to make sure it’s thoroughly mixed.  You might be tempted to stop here because the potatoes will be fairly smooth and creamy, but don’t.

Trust me.

Next, put a strainer over a clean bowl and again, working in small batches, put the mashed potatoes through the sieve.

This part takes some real muscle and it’s where the magic happens. Hold the sieve in your left hand (assuming you’re right handed) and use your right hand to firmly push the potatoes through the sieve. Don’t be inpatient because it takes time. And strength. And most of the potatoes won’t fall into the bowl — they’ll stick to the back of your sieve. But keep pressing and pushing until there are no more potatoes in the concave side of the sieve — then flip it over and scrape the potatoes off the convex side of the sieve into the bowl.

At this point, the potatoes can be covered and set aside as you prepare the rest of your meal. Or you can refrigerate them. When it’s time to reheat them, put them in a double boiler with the last stick of butter (cut into tablespoon-sized pieces), cover with a lid, and heat until the butter is melted and the potatoes are warm. Stir occasionally to mix in the butter.

In the words of the chef:

“We chefs lie about our mashed potatoes. We don’t tell you we’ve used 1 1/2 pounds of cream and butter with 1 3/4 pounds of potatoes. You don’t need to know. Mashed potatoes are one of the very simple dishes that require some work and technique. The results when you do them right is spectacular. You will never again need to bring anything else to a potluck. Cream, butter and a good sieve are essential, and so is a double-boiler for heating them. This will create some extra dirty dishes and take more time than other methods, but do it this way anyhow.”

The chef’s “spectacular” is an understatement. Perfect in texture, taste and consistency is a better description. They are silky beyond the powers of my description. They are glistening. They are ultra potato-y. I could eat a plate of these potatoes with nothing else and be perfectly fat and happy.

By the way, this recipe will easily feed six. If you’ve got leftovers, simply refrigerate them and reheat the potatoes in the double-boiler. Or, alternately, you can spoon them onto a baking sheet in patty-sized servings. Use your spoon to creates peaks on your potato-patties, then put the baking sheet in a 425-degree oven and reheat until the peaks of the patties are toasted. Carefully serve each potato-patty by lifting it from the baking sheet to the plate with a large spatula.

I served my mashed potatoes with an old-fashioned meatloaf and buttered peas. It was a Sunday supper for three on a simple but lovely table . . .

which is the only dose of comfort this mother needs.

With gratitude {for culinary secrets that make my heart go pitter-pat and my boys very happy},

Joan, who hasn’t made “regular” mashed potatoes once since she discovered this recipe six months ago

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Heartbreak in the grocery aisle.

Dear friends,

I think it’s obvious that food has been on my mind lately. A lot.

Clearly, food being on my mind is what led to the cleanse. And now that I’m a full five weeks into the cleanse, food is on my mind for a different set of reasons. Some of the conclusions I’ve drawn are what I expected; others have surprised me. I thought I would share these thoughts with you — and the easiest way to do so is with a list. Er, two lists actually.

What I miss:

  1. Cheese: Cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese! I miss cheese so much I can’t describe the feeling. I knew I would, and I was right. And the craving for cheese and the enjoyment of cheese hasn’t diminished one bite. Er, bit. I haven’t cut cheese out entirely, but I estimate I’m eating about 20% of the volume of cheese I used to eat. I no longer eat cheese every day. And a typical serving is now 1 oz. In case I haven’t said it, I love cheese. I miss cheese. Cheese broke my heart. And is there anything more tragic than heartbreak in the grocery aisle?
  2. Wine: I haven’t given up wine entirely, but I’ve really limited my intake. As much as I enjoy it, I remind myself it’s liquid (empty) calories. And it’s hard to drink wine without craving cheese. They’re the devil’s duo in my life.
  3. Crunchy, packaged snack foods: Cheetos, Doritos, Pita Chips, Pretzels, Fritos, Triscuits, Pork Rinds, Saltines . . . you name it, if it crunches and comes in a package, I miss it. I crave it. Whereas I have managed to moderate my cheese intake, I can’t be trusted around the salty, crunchy stuff. I don’t go near it. Can’t. I know you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy comfort and it comes in a Pringles can.

What I don’t miss:

  1. Butter: I can’t believe I’m saying this. I love butter, always have. But giving it up has been one of the easiest transitions to healthier eating I’ve ever made. Haven’t missed it for a single second.
  2. Sugar and sweets: Just like butter. I simply don’t need sugar and never find myself craving it. Once you give it up, you realize how naturally sweet many vegetables and legumes are. Or, maybe I was born with a cheese tooth instead of a sweet tooth. Whatever it is, I’m doing fine without sugar. I miss baking. Actually, I miss baking a lot. But sugar? Not at all.
  3. Salad dressings: There are so many hidden calories and weird ingredients in most commercial salad dressings. I gave it up immediately in favor of a teaspoon each of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Now, I don’t even need the oil. A sprinkle of vinegar allows the texture and flavor of salad greens to really shine and it’s amazing how much flavor exists in a salad if it’s not drowning in dressing. I’ll never go back.
  4. White rice and bread and pasta: This one really surprised me. I thought I would die without bread. And pasta. Guess what . . . I’m doing just fine. In five weeks, I’ve eaten one slice of bread and two small servings of pasta. And there have been no nervous breakdowns. Who knew?
  5. Huge portions of meat: I like to call myself a “flexitarian” because although I enjoy meat, I’ve never been a devoted carnivore. Four ounces a day has been easy breezy. And surprisingly, on the two occasions I’ve exceeded my daily limit, my gut has made sure I realized the error of my ways. Earlier this week I ate lunch at a nice cafe, where pan fried chicken livers were the daily special. In spite of the fact I knew they’d be breaded in white flour, I ordered them. And I really enjoyed every single bite. But you know what? Two ounces were all I needed to feel entirely satisfied.
  6. Huge portions of anything: I’ve been weighing all my food at home even though I’ve gotten really good at judging by eye. I’m truly surprised how satisfied I can be with four ounces of just about everything.
  7. 13 pounds: I can’t believe I’ve lost 13 pounds in five weeks. I’m astounded. And now I realize how much crap I was eating and what it does to my body.

I’m wondering if you find it interesting that there’s only three things I miss and seven things I don’t miss. I never made it past Algebra II, but I think the math is working in my favor on this one. Although, have I mentioned I miss cheese?

I’m also not missing a rigid adherence to arbitrary rules. I told you I’ve always had trouble with moderation. So I’m trying to do better about not sweating the small stuff. Last night, Mr. Mom and I went out for dinner at a very nice restaurant. I had salmon and risotto. The risotto was loaded with cheese and butter, but instead of fastidiously avoiding it, I ate a few bites. It was pretty good, I have to say. And since the salmon filet was huge — probably a good eight ounces — Mr. Mom got a second entrée with half of my salmon and most of my risotto. He thoroughly enjoyed it (in addition to his Italian sampler). By the way, I took two bites of his stuffed veal Florentine. It was oh-my-god good and I didn’t feel guilty for one second. That’s real progress, folks.

Today’s big meal is also about progress. I’m just betting you I can be happy with one small piece of fried chicken and no cake. Not that long ago, I wouldn’t have cooked such a meal in the midst of a cleanse mindset. Feast or famine, you know. But I enjoy cooking so very much (and my family enjoys my cooking so very much) that it seemed ridiculous not to do something we all love. And like I said, boiling brown rice and making vegetable soup just isn’t all that interesting.

So today I shall cook. And I shall eat. With joy and without guilt.

With gratitude {for moderation, blessed moderation},

Joan, who wants to make certain you know she misses cheese and always will