Monthly Archives: February 2012

Beginner Basics: The perfect creamy Mashed Potato – no butter needed.

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Seriously. No butter needed.

And not because I’m trying to make a healthy recipe. It’s because you don’t need it. At all. Unless your conscience can’t take it. (Or your grandma.) Then, by all means, add the calories. But you really won’t have to.

The reason? Most people add butter for flavor and richness, to make up for the lack of creaminess. But you can get that on its own – without the butter.

Go ahead and forget everything you know about mashed potatoes.

The box of powdery dryness.

The “peel, then cut, the dump in boiling water.”

The “pour in milk, butter, and salt until you like how it tastes.”

No, this way, the best way, isn’t any more difficult. Just different. So hear me out, and give it a try next time, ok?

The Golden Pick

You have to pick the right kinda potatoes. This is the most important step. Yukon Golds are the #1 best (and only, in my opinion!) potato to use for this. You’ll see why a little later. But seriously, keep your eye out for these beauties. They are creamy and the flesh is slightly yellow. The taste is slightly sweeter than a “regular” baking potato or even small red ones.

A Cut Above

Second, (after you wash those potatoes of course), cut them into equal sized squares. In the culinary world, this is called a large dice. Just make it even. BTW, when you use these beautiful Yukon Golds, you don’t have to peel them if you’d rather save the time (and your forearms!). The skin is really thin compared to the regular baking potato.

Get in the tub before you turn on the water.

As in the potatoes should get in the pan first. Then add the water. Cold potatoes – Cold water. Simple as that. Your water should cover the top of the potatoes.

This is so the potatoes all cook evenly and heat up slowly with the water.

Add in a tsp or 2 or salt at this point.

Turn on the heat

At this point, I cook them on 8. As in high medium high. Keep them uncovered. If you don’t, you’ll have a volcano of starchy water all over your cooktop.

And while I’m on that point – add in a little bit of oil and your water won’t foam (and boil over) as much!

Boil, boil, toil and trouble.

Well, it’s not trouble (if you put that oil in your pot and resisted the urge to cover them.) But definitely boil. You should start to see some white coming to the top of the water. Don’t panic. That’s just the starch from the potatoes leeching into the water. The time you boil depends on a couple of things – how big your “large dice” is and how many pounds of potatoes you used to begin with. Just keep boiling and checking by trying to pick one of the hoppin’ potato squares up with a fork. If your fork goes through very easily, then you’re done cooking. For me, because I use a smaller “large dice”, this step usually takes around 10-15 minutes.

When they get out of the bath, don’t get the water on the floor!!

Well, I mean, who likes wet floors when you’re walking around in socks? My husband certainly doesn’t! Your potatoes don’t want anymore to do with water either. When you drain your potatoes in a colander, let them hang out in the colander and extra minute or two longer than you’d think. We want all the water gone. On that note, do this for your pasta too. You went through all this trouble already, don’t ruin your almost-perfect concoction by letting boring ol’ water hang out with your golden beauties. But another (often neglected) important step is to put those potatoes back into your hot pan. On top of the hot burner. For just a few minutes – usually about 2 or so. You’ll need to shake your pan around to keep the ones on the bottom from burning. This totally dries out the potatoes and ensures you have all the water out. And it is another step in ensuring you’ll have no lumps!

Sorry about the out-of-focus photo! I’m still learning my new lens!

Don’t you just love the detail on the side of my pot though?

Don’t make glue!

Potatoes have such a complex makeup of sugar and starch. So complex an entire biology lesson should be devoted to it. One thing, though, that will turn your potatoes into glue faster than you can run to your craft box and grab it yourself is dumping a bunch of cold milk or butter into these hot potatoes. Lumps of glue is what you’ll get. So, please, please, don’t dump cold stuff into your hot potatoes!

Grab some buttermilk and heat it up (with your butter if you’re using it.)

No buttermilk handy? That’s OK – use a whole milk – we get ours from a local dairy farm nearby – and add in a Tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar for each cup of milk you have so it curdles ever so slightly. Set it aside, before you heat it, for about 5 minutes and it’ll be ready.

Then heat it up. You want it hot – as hot as your potatoes.

But don’t put it in the potatoes yet!!

Mash ‘em with a Masher

Here is where what I did will not correspond with what I’ll teach. Using a masher or a ricer is the best best best way for getting fluffy (not glue-y) potatoes. Because when you use a blender, or a mixer, or a food processor, the blade can go right through those starchy cells, break ‘em apart, and make a nice paste-y, glue-y mess.

But I really wanted to use my KitchenAid. :) So, I used the paddle attachment, set on 2 (hoping it wouldn’t be too violent), and mixed away.

The biggest key to this step is to mash your potatoes – no matter what method you use or what tool you have – before you add any liquid.

I’ll say it again – Do not add any liquid to your potatoes until you mash them as smooth as you want them. Dry. Just do it.

Buttery Golden Smooth Potatoes

Here’s where those Yukon Golds come into play really nicely. (As opposed to a different kind of potato.) When you add in the flavor of the extra salt in the boiling water with the creamy sweet flavor of the potatoes, this bowl of deliciousness will actually taste buttery. Ever so slightly. Go ahead, try it.

See? It’s like magic! And we still haven’t added any liquid.

Now that you’re itching to do it, give the babies some milk.

Now you can do it. Add in your hot buttermilk. (And butter if you must, to keep yer mama happy.)

I did say to make sure your milk was hot, didn’t I? BIG key.

Also, if you really like flavor, add in one block of cream cheese. Again, make sure it’s hot. This is optional (and not pictured), but it’s how I make ‘em. And how I get compliments. So, if you like compliments, add it.

One More Time

Now is the final mix. It shouldn’t take long – your potatoes are already smooth. Which is important – the longer you mix and mash, the more starch you break down and the glue-y-er they get. You can taste (and taste and taste) at this point to see if you need to add a little more salt. You probably won’t need much though.

Showtime!

Now you’re done.

Whew! Seem like a big ordeal for simple mashed potatoes?

It’s worth it. Trust me.

And from start to finish, including peeling, the whole thing really only takes about 35 minutes. That’s half the time of the last Downton Abbey episode you watched.

I just wanna dive in.

Ingredients for 12 heaping servings

6 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 tablespoon oil added to cooking water to reduce foaming
12 ounces neufchatel or cream cheese
2 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, parsley flakes or dried chives, salt and pepper to taste

My cupcake decorating secret! (and a great deal on it!)

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The cupcake tips I use for decorating are on sale on Amazon right now – not sure for how long – but I thought I’d mention it while it was at an all-time low price!

I use the really big tips when frosting my cupcakes – instead of spreading the frosting on with a knife or a spreader – that gives them the really nice “bakery” look – and it’s really fast and easy. It’s much faster than spreading with a knife!

This set comes with 8 decorating bags, 4 decorating tips, and and easy to follow instruction booklet.

And the price is only $4.85 – down from $8.99!

It likely won’t stay this low for long, so get in on it if you want while you can!

The best spinach dip I’ve ever made.

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At least that’s what I call it. I’m working on a better name.

Like…maybe…umm..”The most amazing spinach dip I’ve ever made?” And it came from the back of the Knorr Vegetable Dip mix packet. Sigh. Sometimes those recipes aren’t total throw-aways!

Here’s whatcha need:

1 10 oz pkg of frozen spinach

1 cup of mayo

1 cup of sour cream

1 pkg of Knorr’s vegetable soup/dip mix <—– this makes the ENTIRE thing.

2-4 green onions, chopped

Go ahead and thaw that spinach (in the microwave if you want – Is there another way to do it that doesn’t take all day?).

Drain it real good-like.

Then mix in the rest of your ingredients.

Then refrigerate. Or not. But refrigerating is definitely best. For a few hours or overnight.

Then serve it up in a nice bowl with some crackers, or veggies, or just…with a big spoon.

That’s it.

Then, if you want, you can do what I did…invite a few friends over for a craft party. For this one, we had a hair bow swap night.

Look at all that ribbon. That gets me almost as excited as a pantry full of chocolate chips.

My friend, Ashley, with her first hairbow. She did an awesome job on these!

Check out all the bows that made it into my daughter’s’ growing collection that night!

A sweet little birthday party for a sweet little girl. (With only $25!)

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When I start travelling 530 miles round trip to decorate for a bday party, I know I’m close to needing an intervention. I just can’t help it. I hear the words, “I really want to do a birthday party for my little girl, but I just don’t have time to get it together. And quite frankly, I’m out of ideas,” I kinda go nuts. Like, my brain starts spinning; I can’t sleep because my heart is racing – like my mom’s when she drinks caffeine right before bed.

And all she wanted was a pink party.

That’s it. By the time I’ve even discussed the possibility of leaving town with our family’s one and only vehicle for the weekend with my sweet generous husband, I’ve already got the entire thing planned out.

We had a low budget for this one. (Like $25!) So my creative stockpile was put to the test. DISCLAIMER: snacks and cake was not included in this budget – but pigs in a blanket, carrots and celery with ranch dip, potato chips, heart cookies, and a homemade cake was easy and cheap to come by.

Actually, it was my schoolroom closet stockpile that was put to the test. And my cricut.

And they performed beautifully.

And so did my ever faithful frappacino bottles. Cost: $0.00.

If you want the straws, I get ‘em from here. Her stuff is A-DOR-A-BULL! Straw cost: $5.50

Thanks to some seat covers I made for my little girls’ bday party last year, I was able to dress up the (already beautiful!) dining room chairs without any cost at all. Cost: $0.00

I used a roll of tulle – 30 yards – Cost: $2.50

Paper for banner (letters done with my Cricut – the Plantin Schoolbook Cartridge). Cost: $.59 a sheet of 12×12 scrapbook paper x 8 sheets = $4.72.

Tissue paper pom-poms (easy tutorial here) – $1.29 a pack x 2 colors = $2.38.

Friends and cousins? No cost. Just necessary for the loads of fun we had. We played about 15 minutes of some of my Laurie Berkner music and danced around the living room. That got out some of the excited energy and they had a blast going to the moon and back, marching like dinosarus, running like bees, and jumping on all the stars. Cost: $0.00 (It was already on in my iTunes library. But feel free to check it out here. If you have a toddler or a preschooler, it is WAAAAY worth the $8 purchase!)

Smiling faces? Again, no cost. Just nice to have around.

Egg race. Put the egg in a spoon. Run a race on the porch with it. Don’t let it fall. Sound easy? It was. Because they all had this fabulous idea. “Hey, Party Lady? Why don’t we hold the egg on with this hand, that way the egg won’t fall off!”

I still used boiled eggs. That made it nice, because invariably, even with “holding them on” they still fell off, and I didn’t want any heartbroken 5 year olds on my hands.

Cost of eggs: $1.29 for one dozen.

See? It just makes so much more sense to play the game this way. You have two hands. Why not use them both? And keep the egg on the spoon? Minor details.

A beautiful birthday girl – she was easy to come by. ;)

Something about drinking out of a swirly straw…kids LOVE ‘em! I think I should try putting my kids medicine in one of these bottles the next time they need it. I don’t think I’d have any problems.

We made some “diamond” candles for the birthday girl. They turned out really nice – and everyone had a blast making them. Even the 2 year olds!

Tealight Candles: $.99 for 12

Candle Holders: $.50 each x 10 = $5.00

Giant pink heart crystals: $2.89 a pack

Small round clear crystals: $2.89 a pack

Even the boys didn’t mind getting involved with making “crystal diamond magic” candles for the bday girl. :)

Especially when we lit them all, then brought out the bday cake. They all got to blow out their candles when the bday girl blew out hers. It was fun all around the table! These also doubled as their party favors. They got to take them home to their rooms and keep enjoying them.

Happy Birthday, Gwendolyn! Thanks for being such a great friend to my girls!