From my Petaluma Post column: (ok, I'm a little tardy on posting again...oops)
What is the favorite dish at your holiday meal? With my family it is the mashed potatoes. Rich creamy buttery mashed potatoes plus lots of gravy. One of the nice things about mashed potatoes is how simple they are and how well they hold. It is a great dish to take to potlucks and office dinners. They can be basic, fancy or speak to old regional traditions.
Let’s start with the basics. What potato to mash? There are two potatoes that we often use, Russet Potatoes and Yukon Golds. I grew up on Russet potatoes, they make a nice light fluffy mashed potato. They tend to be a bit dryer and take milk and butter well. I wash and peel the potatoes, cut them into even pieces, usually thirds, cover with water and boil until tender. Russets should be drained immediately. If you are not going to mash immediately you can hold them drained on the back of the stove for 30 to 45 minutes. Mash with butter, milk, salt and pepper.
Yukon Golds also make great mashed potatoes; they have a firmer texture and are a bit creamier. Yukons are not usually peeled so they have a bit more of a rustic look. The skins are tender enough to eat without difficulty. Again, cut the potatoes into even pieces, cover with water and boil until fork tender. However these can be held in their water for 20 to 30 minutes until you get to the mashing. Milk, butter, salt and pepper are the traditional additions.
Mashed potatoes hold very well; if traveling or simply needing to hold them, place them in an ice chest wrapped in plastic and a table cloth to keep them warm and moist. They will hold hot for up to 2 hours and free up space in your oven. One trick that we use for the catering company to hold them in the oven is to cover them with plastic wrap and then foil. The plastic wrap will keep the moisture in, and the foil will keep the plastic wrap from melting.
Now let’s get creative… when I married my husband I was a potato purest. Don’t mess with the mash. My mother-in-law always added carrots to hers for color. By adding just 2 to 3 carrots at boiling, and finishing normally the carrots add a touch of sweetness and color.
There are others that can be fun too. Yams are a great way to go. Instead of boiling, just puncture the skin with a fork and bake on a sheet pan. The sugars will dip out, once tender, allow to cool and then the peels will come right off. Try mashing with just a bit of butter and brown sugar. Great to serve with ham and turkey.
One more to try is cauliflower, with the gluten free trend (yes potatoes are gluten free too) this wonderful vegetable is getting tons of interest.
1 head cauliflower, cut up into 2 to 3” pieces
6 cup water
2 Tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
Bring water to a boil, and add the cauliflower, boil until very tender. Drain well, this holds a lot of water, so make sure to shake it to help drain properly. Then return to the pot, mash, and add olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
Now that you have mashes down, think about some add-ins. Grated cheeses are great, you can add texture and flavor; chèvre adds a full flavor, sharp white cheddar is a favorite of mine. For a rich and decadent variation try substituting mascarpone for the milk. Roasted garlic can be used to add great creaminess when pureed and mixed in. Fresh herbs can be added at the last minute for color and flavor.
One of my favorites is the addition of browned butter. Brown butter is a French method that browns the solid bits in the butter. It will greatly intensify the butter flavors; I love this approach. Place the butter in a thick sauce pan, melt and bring up to a boil, and immediately turn the heat down to medium. Continue cooking until the butter begins to turn brown. Take to a medium color, and remove from the heat.
For more options see my blog (blog.SonomaCaterers.com). I love potatoes and other root vegetables and over the years have put quite few recipes out there that would be great for the holidays, or just the winter months. When you get there try searching for “potato” or “yam” to find some good options. Or search for “Tourtiere Stuffing” to find hubby’s Ganny’s traditional French-Canadian mashed potatoes which includes sausage.
So the next time you are asked to bring a dish, just say yes to the mash! Enjoy and Happy Holidays!