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December 2013

Food for Thought

Mashed Potatoes and Gravy . . . and Cake for Dessert
By Lorinda

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What are mashed potatoes without gravy?


Can we talk potatoes? Specifically, mashed potatoes . . . without big lumps? I've been making holiday dinners for 40 years and never mastered fluffy, creamy, lump-free mashed potatoes. My family claims to like them that way, but that's just because they don't know any better.

This is the year I master mashed potatoes. I will make those 'taters jump up and salute when I enter the kitchen. It's them or me.

I typed "lumpy mashed potatoes" on a search engine and spent an hour being entertained by cooks who are absolutely certain that their way is the only correct way to prepare spuds. I saw insults and arguments that seemed out of proportion to the issue, so maybe I'm not the only one who is obsessed with proper potato mashing protocol. They argued about what kind of potato was best, how long to cook them, how "done" was "too done," and what to use to mash them.

I listed all of the hints that seemed logical, tested the results, and removed suggestions that didn't work for me. One person claimed the potatoes would have more flavor if boiled whole and unpeeled. I discovered that it was very, very difficult to remove skins from hot potatoes. That idea was rejected, though the potatoes were wonderful fried the next morning.

Here is the method that I found to be successful. There were a few teeny, tiny lumps in the mashed potatoes, but they were barely noticeable. I was thrilled.

  1. Choose russet potatoes, or a combination of russet and Yukon Gold.
  2. Peel the potatoes, cut them into large chunks, and cover with cold water in a large pot. Soak for 15 minutes and then drain.
  3. Again add fresh cold water to cover the potatoes, put a lid on the pot, and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat and simmer (don't boil) until fork-tender.
  5. Drain and return to the pan on low until moisture is evaporated.
  6. Use a ricer, food mill, electric hand mixer, or old-fashioned potato masher to mash the potatoes. (I used a potato masher.)
  7. Add cold butter and continue to mash. (I switched to a hand mixer at this point.) Slowly add warm milk while mixing, until the potatoes reach the desired consistency.
  8. Serve immediately, or keep warm in a slow cooker.


Slowly add warm milk while mixing.


The amount of milk and butter you use will depend on how many potatoes you are cooking and how dry they are. Remember, you can always add more milk, but if you put too much in to begin with you will end up with soupy potatoes. If you add the milk slowly, you will know when the texture feels right.

What are mashed potatoes without gravy? My mom made gravy the old-fashioned way—scraping the little browned bits in the bottom of her roasting pan, stirring in the perfect amount of flour, and then adding liquid (milk for turkey gravy, water for beef) a little at a time until the mixture became a perfect, richly flavored gravy.

I fail miserably at this. My turkey gravy is uninspired but serviceable, made with a combination of milk and flour stirred into extra broth that I collect from the roasting pan every time I baste the bird. It tastes like turkey gravy, but isn't very pretty, and I usually add a few drops of Kitchen Bouquet (a meat-browning sauce) when no one is looking, just to make it look richer.

This year I made my gravy the day before Thanksgiving. I found instructions on a food blog, and wondered why I'd never thought of doing it this way. The cook used turkey wings, which were nowhere to be found in our town. I made do with turkey legs, and they worked just fine. A rich broth is made by baking and then boiling the meat with vegetables and herbs, and then thickening the resulting broth with flour slurry. Mine turned out delicious, and I'll be able to freeze enough for a few future meals. Here's the link: Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy.

With mashed potatoes keeping warm in the slow cooker and gravy ready for action, the last-minute flurry just got a whole lot easier!


Gravy ready for action.


Even though I know you will see plenty of gorgeous holiday feast ideas in glossy magazines and on Pinterest, I feel a little bad that this is such a practical, inelegant column. So . . . I am also bringing you dessert. Behold, an Orange Cranberry Cake, with white chocolate glaze.


Orange Cranberry Cake


Mashed potatoes, gravy, and cake. Who could ask for anything more?


Contact Lorinda at lorindamckinnon@gmail.com

Lorinda resides in Eastern Washington, where she joyously combines her love of cooking and gardening. Baking is her passion, and licking the batter off the spoon after making a cake is her reward. When she's not in the kitchen, she's out in the garden pulling weeds and snacking on young peas. Also enjoy Lorinda's blog, The Rowdy Baker.


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