Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Key To A Well-Stocked Kitchen and Perfect Mashed Potatoes.


I am not a pack rat.

My local Salvation Army could very well attest to that fact.   Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if they developed a frequent donor program in my honor, complete with key tags, bumper stickers and punch cards  (“After your sixth donation, your seventh one is, um, welcome?”)

I’m not unsentimental, but where some people live by The Golden Rule and others are guided by The Serenity Prayer, the inspirational, uplifting words I live by are, If you haven’t worn it or used it in the past two years, lose it.  I have no problem disposing of unworn clothes, unneeded dishes, unopened boxes of glasses (adorned with hand-painted holly berries), unused gifts (Oh, you shouldn't have -- really!), or even an ex-husband’s bundle of high school newspapers and the snowsuit he wore when he was two.  (OK.  I actually asked whether he wanted those.)

I couldn’t possibly recall all the times Darling Daughter or Snarky Son (before he was "snarky") asked, “Have you seen my Beanie Baby/Lego Star Wars C3PO/15¢ McDonald’s Happy Meal Toy?” and to which, because I’m not a gifted liar, I'd have to look away and mutter in response, “Oh.  Can’t you find it?” knowing all the while that the suddenly-desired toy had taken a one-way, no-return trip to Goodwill.  And also knowing, that I may eventually discard something of such future monetary value that my then-adult child will have no recourse but to take me to court.  Just so you know, I’ll be good for the cost of therapy, but no other damages.

Last week, I loaded the Pilot up to the sunroof with a motley assortment of donation items which had been cluttering the attic for years, including teeny, tiny children’s backpacks, ridiculously-large pieces of luggage, slightly worn double-size bed sheets and twin-size comforters, a kitchen-sized Glad bag of dresses for third grade girls, two unused miniature Bose speakers and a brand new laser printer.  Or, at least it was "brand new" three years ago.

Despite these frequent purges, my closets, cabinets and pantry remain ridiculously well-stocked. I may not be a pack rat, but I stock up like a squirrel in acorn season.

Need some parchment paper?  Here’s a fresh roll.  Lemongrass?  Check the spice cabinet.  A biscuit cutter?  What size? 

And since Thanksgiving’s just around the corner, I’m also reminded that I have a ricer.

I only make mashed potatoes six or seven times a year, but this is one kitchen tool that will never see the inside of the Goodwill bin.  When I was a kid, my mom had a ricer too, but to my recollection, she only used it for ricing hard-boiled eggs to serve the day after Easter over shredded lettuce with Thousand Island dressing.  Since I was a kid, my natural reaction was, “Ick.”

I was an adult before I realized that the ricer -- not a masher, or heaven forbid, a handmixer --  is also the secret to making perfect-every-time, never-gluey-or-gloppy, velvety mashed potatoes – the only kind that should grace a table -- at Thanksgiving or any other meal.

Always Perfect Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
Buttermilk adds the perfect tang – just like sour cream on a baked potato – without adding any real fat.  Despite the rich-sounding name, buttermilk has about as much fat as 1% milk.  Adding goat cheese makes the potatoes a bit richer and fancier.

2 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons butter
¾ cup buttermilk
4 ounces goat cheese (optional)
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives (optional)
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
fresh ground pepper
gracious plenty kosher salt

Put unpeeled potatoes and peeled garlic in a large stockpot.  Add enough water to cover and one tablespoon of kosher salt. Bring to a boil, then, reduce heat to simmer and cook gently until potato is easily pierced with a fork.  (Potatoes will cook more quickly if the pot is lidded.)

Remove and drain potatoes.  When cool enough to touch, use your fingers to peel off skin.  Cut potatoes in chunks.

Push through the ricer in batches, into a large bowl with remaining ingredients.  Heat from the potatoes will melt the butter and warm the milk.  (You could, of course, zap the ingredients in the microwave before adding the potatoes, too.)  Stir everything together, adjust seasoning, and serve.
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