I say potato, you say potahto. It’s a mashed up world….

If you stop, you can almost feel the shift in the wind. We are heading into “Hearty Meal Season”. Today’s handy dandy tip is for mashed potatoes. You don’t have to tell others that you love them. Keep pretending no carbs enter your mouth. It will be our secret. In New England, it’s gets gosh darn cold. You need something to stick to your bones, so you don’t blow away with a strong Northeast wind. Let’s make some mashed potatoes. Apply directly to hips.

2 ½ pounds of Idaho potatoes (fine, 5 pounds)

butter (the real stuff, puh-leez)

salt

pepper

Making mashed potatoes is very personal: cream cheese vs. butter, lumpy vs. smooth, roasted garlic mashed vs. plain……There are so many options. This is a basic recipe. Unless you are feeding a small army, about 2 or so pounds are plenty. If not, too bad.

Peel your ‘taters. I like to use an Oxo potato peeler for my gnarly hands. Use whatever works for you. I peel towards me. So wrong, but so right. After you peel your ‘taters, rinse them in cold water. I cut mine into small, uniform pieces. You want them to cook evenly. When you cut them smaller, they cook faster. This may or may not be true, but I NEED to believe it.

Place cut potatoes in a large covered pan. Fill the pan with water so it covers the potatoes, and then some.  Sprinkle on some magic salt. About ½ tsp. will do. Bring the covered potatoes to a low boil and cook for 20 minutes. You want to cook them to at least “fork tender”. That means a knife or fork can break up a piece, with no effort.  I like to over cook them a little. They are easier to mash! You don’t want to under cook them.  Inedible.

Drain potatoes, reserving about ½ cup of potato water. Use something heat resistant. Boiling water can make things explode. So my friend told me. This water goes back into your potatoes. Always add warm into warm. You can use a colander to drain, but why dirty something else? I just use the lid. A little tilt over the sink and there you go. Now for the step that separates one from an amateur potato cooker person.  Put the covered pan back on the stove. Make sure the burner is off. Let it set for a minute. Check to make sure any residual water is gone. Your potatoes should look dry. Add a couple of table spoons of butter, and a ½ tsp. of salt.  Put cover back on pan and let it sit, still off heat, for a minute. The butter needs to melt. Use a potato masher or a hand mixer. If you’re using a hand mixer, be careful to not over mix. The gluten goes crazy and makes the potatoes heavy. Pour a little of the hot potato water at a time, back into the potatoes. Mash, mash, mash. Add more water, a little at a time, if you want. It’s personal, right? Mash until you get the consistency you want. Salt and pepper to taste. More yummy butter if you want…..

Add a steak to the side, with some green beans, ya got dinnah! Someday I may share my gravy recipe!

 

 

Crispy Smashed Roasted Red Potatoes…get ’em while they’re hot!

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Simple, elegant and flavorsome. Bundles of yumminess. These potatoes require only three ingredients: small red potatoes, salt and olive oil. The best part is the potatoes are boiled ahead of time.  I am a fan of things done in steps. The potatoes are boiled for about 30 minutes, smashed and left to dry out for as long as 8 hours or as soon as 1 hour. I love to make them when I am not using the oven. Last night I made them to accompany Mark Bittman’s twice cooked pork.  They are fantastic with a roasted chicken too. I’ve cooked them ahead, let them sit on the counter, and reheated them while the meat rested. Still fantastic. You do your best with one oven, right? You can fancy them up with flavorings like parmesan, onion powder or garlic powder. Try them plain first. The simplicity is what makes them heavenly. There is a little prep work for the pan, but it makes clean up effortless.

Let’s get cooking!

12 to 15 small red potatoes

about 3 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place the potatoes in a pan. Fill with water to one inch above the potatoes and add 2 teaspoons of salt. You want the potatoes covered so they cook evenly. Cover the pan. Turn heat on high and bring water to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook until the are tender. I test them with a sharp knife. To test for readiness, the knife should go in with little effort. This should take about 30 minutes.

While the potatoes are boiling, prepare the pan. I like to use a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. Then I place parchment paper on top of the foil. Then I place a clean kitchen towel on top of the parchment. Stay with me! When the potatoes are done, place them on top of the kitchen towel. Let them drain for a minute.

Now comes the fun part. Smashing them! I fold another dishtowel into quarters, and place it over a potato. Push down with the heel of your palm. Flatten the potatoes to about 1/2 inch thickness. I love the popping noise they make as you push. Just me? Don’t worry if they break. You can still use them. Leave the potatoes to cool. If you aren’t using them in more than an hour or two, put them in the fridge.

Life the towel off the parchment. You can roll it back row by row also. Drizzle some olive oil on the parchment. Place the potatoes on top of olive oil. If they break, still put them on the parchment. They will still taste delicious! Sprinkle some olive oil on top of the potatoes and sprinkle with salt. The olive oil is what roasts them crisp and golden. The original directions say to heat oven to 450 degrees. If I do that, all the smoke detectors sing me a little ditty. So, I cook them at 400 degrees for a little bit longer, 45 minutes or so. If you are roasting a chicken at 350 degrees, plan on the potatoes taking about an hour. This recipe is very adaptable to temperature. They still crisp up, and the fire department doesn’t have to visit me. Win. Win. You can flip them half way through their cooking, using tongs or a spatula. They can still be fragile and break. I don’t flip them. Call me lazy,  but they still cook through and crisp up. You want them to get a golden color. Serve them hot. I guarantee you, none will be left.

Enjoy!

 

Winter Vegetable Soup

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Winter Vegetable Soup

My friend Lisa gave me this recipe last winter. I made it once and was discouraged since all I had was an old blender. It worked well, but it was late in the day and I was losing patience. The soup tasted wonderful, but it wasn’t the experience I had hoped for. I just recently bought an immersion blender. It made such a difference. Don’t get me wrong, the blender worked. I had just been too tired. It’s times like this that make me wonder what did we ever do before we had these contraptions. I guess with this soup, you would have withheld most of the liquids until the potatoes were cooked and mashed them. It could work! I am a novice with immersion blenders and I went a little too crazy with it. Next time I will follow her directions to the word and puree half the soup and then add the rest of the spinach. Ooops!

I hope you try this soup. On a cold and snowy night, a bowl of soup and a hunk of bread will fix what ails you!

4 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces (or more if you love bacon)

4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter

2 cups finely diced leeks (white part and 1 inch of green)

1 ½ cups finely diced onion

1 cup finely diced celery

1 ½ tsp. dried tarragon

½ tsp. dried thyme

salt and pepper to taste

5 cups of chicken stock or canned broth

2 ½ cup finely diced potatoes (about 4 potatoes)

1 lb. fresh baby spinach

½ cup heavy or whipping cream

This potato/leek soup is easy. But I have to stress that you need to do your prep work before you start. You should cut you leeks, onions and celery ahead of time. I peel and dice the potatoes while the other vegetables sauté.  Trust me. It makes cooking more enjoyable if you are prepared. As the French stay, “mise en place”….everything in place.

If you haven’t cooked with leeks, you should know they can be very sandy. I usually cut them, and then let them soak in cold water. The sand will drop to the bottom of the bowl. You just scoop out the cut leeks when you need them. You can drain them in a colander or on paper towels. Simple. Effective.

In a large pot (at least 4 ½ quarts), cook the bacon over a low heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisping. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon. Drain the bacon on a paper towel. I used it as a topping for the soup. It really makes the soup magnificent.

Add butter to the pot and sauté the leeks, onions and celery. You wanted them wilted, not brown. Cook them on a low heat and stir them. You can always take the pan off the heat for a minute if they are cooking too quickly. Add the tarragon, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir well. Keep in mind you will season it again with salt and pepper before serving.

Add the stock and potatoes. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, but not mushy. This will take about 15-20 minutes. I used only 4 cups of stock. I like my soups thicker. That’s my preference.

Add half the spinach. Simmer for about one minute.

Remove the soup from the heat. Put half of the soup in either a blender or food processor. If you are using an immersion blender, put the soup in a saucepan or deep bowl. Puree this. If you are using a blender, be careful. Let the soup cool for a few minutes. Blenders are temperamental about hot liquids. Pour the pureed soup into the original pot and heat on a low heat. Add the remaining spinach and the cream. Heat through, stirring well, but do not boil. Adjust the seasoning, top with the bacon bits, and serve.

For those of you worried about the cream, don’t! I mistakenly left it out last night and the world did not end. It would have added some color and smoothness, but the soup was still delicious!