Thursday, April 2, 2009

Potatoes, mashed and otherwise

It is very difficult for me to adequately stress the necessity of potatoes.  In my house, though we don’t eat potatoes every day, we could: it is the one starch my children never grow tired of.  Pasta, bread, even rice you can only fix so many ways; potatoes are versatile.  For instance, last night I made a chicken stew for my parents.  My mother is gluten intolerant, so I’m in the habit of making a separate flour-free portion for her.  The recipe called for 3/4 cup of flour to thicken the sauce.  No can do for Mom, so I whisked some leftover mashed potatoes into hot broth instead.  The sauce thickened up nicely, and no one was the wiser.  I’ve been toying with the idea of keeping a box of those powdered potatoes on hand for just such an emergency.  If I do, I’ll let you know how they work as a gluten free sauce/gravy thickener.

Potatoes are good.  When I was younger living in New York City and continually strapped because I kept spending any leftover salary on Joan & David shoes, I used to stop at this little knish shop on the corner of 5th and 13th street.  A hole-in-the-wall was spacious compared to this shop, which was made up of a counter, a guy behind the counter and an oven to warm the knishes his mother had made earlier in a kitchen in Brooklyn.  If you didn’t get there before 6:30pm, they’d be sold out, and there was always a long line of yuppie guys in rumpled suits grabbing a knish to snack on before hitting the bars.  For me, the knish was dinner.  At about $1 a knish it was filling and economical.  I particularly loved the cheddar and spinach combo.  I’d wrap my dinner in several napkins and nibble at it while walking home.  If I didn’t have a buck, 25 cents bought a single potato from the bodega on the corner which I could bake at home and eat with butter, or, if the cupboard was completely bare, with just a bit of salt.  I was never so skinny, and I never again had such beautiful shoes.  I owed it all to my utter love for potatoes.

Potatoes are the ultimate comfort food, are they not?  Particularly when it's been raining for several days and I want something hot and filling.  My convection/toaster oven bakes up a crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside russet or Idaho potato in about 15 min.  A little Irish butter, and I am over the moon.  Last week I had a lot of leftover mashed potatoes because we’d had people over for dinner and I wasn’t sure how much they’d eat.  (My husband is always remarking that I never make quite enough... I’ve been working hard at changing that reputation...and have perhaps gone a bit overboard.)  Of course, I could always warm them up by sticking them on a burner and adding a little more warm milk, but that seemed like the easy way out.   Perhaps because so many of my friends have been planning Passover meals, I found myself thinking of potato pancakes.   Could I make pancakes out of my left over mashed potatoes?  Would they hold together?  

I mixed the potatoes with some shredded cheddar, flattened about 1/2 a cup of this mixture in my hand, dipped them in a whisked egg then dipped them in breadcrumbs.  Then I fried them up in a bit of olive oil until they were golden and crispy.  As Emma would say, OMG!  Friends, I can tell you my little mashed potato pancakes not only held together, but they were unbelievably yummy and satisfying.  Almost as satisfying as that perfect hot knish from my salad days.  Almost.  

Now if I could only find a way to recreate those perfect little Joan &David pink and white spectator pumps...

Basic Mashed Potatoes (feeds family of 4 with leftovers)

4 Russet or Idaho potatoes

1 cup of milk (I use 2% lactose free milk, but you can use anything)

2 tbslp unsalted butter

Kosher salt to taste

white pepper to taste

Wash and peel potatoes.  Cut into chunks that are all about equal in size.  Stick into a large enough pot and cover with water.  Throw a little salt in the water.  Bring to a boil and simmer until you can easily stick a knife or fork into the potatoes.

Meanwhile, warm the milk over low heat.  (** sometimes I stick a smashed garlic clove into the milk, then I discard the clove before I add it to the potatoes.  You can also use the same amount of chicken stock if your family has lactose issues.  Your potatoes won’t be as creamy, but there will be more protein)

When your potatoes are done, mash them up -- I’ve got a nice heavy potato masher from OXO that Maddy loves to use, but a fork, a large spoon, the back of a ladle, anything will work here.  Then add your milk and butter a little at time until your potatoes are as creamy and buttery as you want them.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Mashed Potato Variations

I know people who use 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup sour cream -- and people who leave out the butter and add some shredded cheddar.  Very delicious.  Some parsley tossed in is good (my girls hate parsley, but perhaps yours don’t).  Bacon, of course, the perfect addition... Oh, and you can always throw several carrots in the water with the potatoes, or parsnips, or turnips and mash them up with the potatoes and milk. Roast a yam or a sweet potato, scoop out the flesh and toss it in the pot with the boiled potatoes. The possibilities ... Good Lord I’m hungry now!

Crazy Leftover Potato Pancakes

Left over mashed potatoes however much you have

Cheddar cheese, shredded 

1 or 2 eggs

2-3 cups of breadcrumbs

Kosher salt

Olive or Canola oil

Mix the mashed potatoes with the cheddar and form into small not-too-flat(1/4 in?) pancakes.  Crack the egg(s) and whisk ‘em up in a bowl or pie plate.  Dump the breadcrumbs in another pie plate and add a little salt.  Set your oven to warm and pop in a paper towel lined cookie sheet.  Heat the oil in a skillet or saute pan until it is shimmering.  Carefully drop your potato pancakes in and let cook until golden on one side, then turn.  This won’t take more than a few minutes.  Put the cooked pancakes in the warming oven and cook the next batch or batches.  It all depends on how many leftovers you have.

We actually ate these as a vegetarian meal one night -- with some sauteed broccolini and a salad.  Plates were cleaned and no one was hungry until breakfast.

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