Friday, November 24, 2006

How did it go?

Thanksgiving went rather well. We were only three, but there was enough food for an army. The bird was huge. It came out perfectly. We had several side dishes (mashed potatoes, yams, turnips, green beans, stuffing). It was absurd and wonderful. I have to admit, as far as big holiday meals go, the smaller the crowd the better. I don't enjoy making inane small talk with strangers and people I don't like. I dig the family gatherings where I can catch up with my far-flung relatives--I also like it if there are little kids around to play with--but other than that, the smaller the better.

I tend to hover a bit in the kitchen, but beyond helping determine where to insert the meat thermometer in the turkey and exhorting Owen to remove the bird when the temp hit 160, I didn't help very much. I removed myself from the kitchen while Owen was hustling around getting the side dishes ready. The turkey was done much earlier than expected, which threw the schedule off a bit, but we just ate earlier. No problem. I whipped some cream for the pie I made, I heated up the potatoes I brought--but mostly I let Owen and Barry take care of the meal. They did a great job and you would never have guessed they hadn't make a Thanksgiving meal before.

In the comments, dan-E requested my recipe for garlic mashed potatoes. It's the silliest most labor intensive mashed potato recipe ever, which is why I only make it once a year. But, once a year, it's worth it. It's from Cook's Illustrated, which is a fantastic magazine, but the recipes are so precise it can be maddening. I'm going to reproduce this one from memory--let's see how I do.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Serves 4

2 pounds potatoes, preferably russets
22 cloves garlic (about 3 oz.)
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, melted
1 cup half and half, warmed
1.5 teaspoons salt
black pepper

1. Toast the garlic, unpeeled, in a small saucepan on lowest possible heat for about 22 minutes. Shake frequently. When they are toasted all over, set off heat and cover for another 15-20 minutes until completely softened. Best to use cloves of similar sizes. When cool, peel and trim off hard end of cloves. They may be processed with the potatoes, but to ensure smoothness, I ran them through a garlic press.

2. While toasting garlic, place whole, unpeeled potatoes in a large pot and cover with one inch of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer on medium heat for 20-30 minutes, until soft (easily poked with a fork, not quite breaking apart).

3. When potatoes are ready, drain water. Peel potatoes. (This is a challenging step. The skins will come off easily, but the potatoes are HOT. Wear an oven mitt, hold potato on a fork and use a paring knife to peel.) If you are using a food mill, drop the peeled potatoes in the hopper and process in batches over now empty pot. A food mill or ricer will give the smoothest potatoes. A regular masher is fine, but the consistency will be chunky. If you use a food mill, put the garlic in with the potatoes. If you use a masher, put it through a garlic press or mince first.

4. Add the melted butter to the potatoes and stir with a wooden spoon.

5. Add the half and half and whisk.

6. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately. (Yeah, sure. I've never been able to serve them immediately and they are always very tasty several hours later. Don't refrigerate them, though, unless absolutely necessary.)

A few notes based on Cook's test kitchen: the boiling of whole, unpeeled potatoes is the key to good flavor. If you peel and cube first, it will dilute the flavor into the cooking water. The testers also found that toasting the garlic gave the right level of intensity--not too strong and not too mellow. Also, it's important to add the butter first. The fat coats the starch and makes it more receptive to the half and half. Adding the liquid first will make the potatoes gluey.

My note on processing: I use a food mill, but I've always had a hard time getting enough downward pressure on the blades to force the potatoes through the mill. Yesterday, I stood on a chair in order to get more leverage and it worked like a charm. I probably wouldn't have this problem with a newer, better adjusted food mill, but this seemed to solve the problem--so next year, I'll just start out on a chair. It will also save me from the garlic press step since I'll be able to add the toasted cloves right into the hopper with the potatoes.

I do think it's absurd to use three pots (toasting garlic, boiling potatoes, melting butter) to make mashed potatoes--but what can you do?

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

Grateful for: a mellow holiday.

Drop me a line.

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