Growing up, I was surrounded by phenomenal cooks. My grandmother and my mother can take the most unusual ingredients and create a dish that takes your taste buds on a journey. There are few things either of them can’t cook. My mom has a stock-pile of recipes that she makes on a regular rotation to appease my picky-palette Texan of a father. I swear my father’s 4 basic food groups are Kansas City BBQ, Grease, Pinto Beans (only made by his sister) and Tootsie Pops. He is the pickiest eater alive. Don’t get me wrong, he’ll eat anything you put in front of him, but he’ll grumble and complain loudly with each bite. Then, when you think it’s over… he’ll put his fork down an thank God that dinner is over. Occasionally, I’ll make something that makes dad smile and ask for seconds. Did I mention he’s the skinniest man I’ve ever known?
With such talented women around to do the cooking, The Brother and I occupied our time with more important things like mud fights and pouring salt on slugs (which I will never forgive myself for). The only time I shed my tomboy attitude and acted like a girl was when mom begged. There was screaming from both of us. Mom always had me make the mashed potatoes while she finished preparing dad’s favorite sandwich: Open Faced Roast Beef & Mashed Potatoes. I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure the only reason I liked making mashed potatoes was because I got to play with a power tool: the kitchen aid hand mixer. Besides, throwing steaming hot chunks of potato at my brother was the best time ever!
By the time I was 15, I was a pro at mashed potatoes. We were at my aunt’s house for Christmas dinner and I boldly left the other kids, walking away from the stables into the kitchen where I volunteered to make the potatoes. Everything went smoothly. I peeled, chopped, boiled, tested, drained, seasoned and then my pain-in-the-arse cousin, Marci, came in and picked on me for my use of pepper. I ignored her for the first 20 minutes. She kept goading me, “Did you use a whole can of pepper in those potatoes, Cat? They’re black!” The potatoes, in fact, were not over-seasoned.
Conversation at dinner centered around how delicious dinner was, especially the potatoes. I sat at the table with a triumphant smile on my face. My favorite cousin, Michael leaned over and whispered in my ear that the potatoes were the best he’d ever eaten. Marci wouldn’t relent though. She was the favorite granddaughter, favorite niece, favorite, favorite, favorite. Hmm… that sounds awfully Brady Bunch. Soon, the entire table was agreeing with Marci. The potatoes were horribly over-seasoned with pepper. My aunt excused herself from the table, went back to the kitchen and made Marci a new batch of mashed potatoes. Spoiled brat.
Although my cousin Michael, his wife, my parents and brother were on my side, my ego was crushed. I excused myself from the table and went to the bathroom where I cried until everyone finished dinner. I didn’t make mashed potatoes again until I got married six years later.
Thankfully, Marci is bald at 30-something and I still make darn good mashed potatoes that my husband and dad both love.
Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
An Old Family Favorite
4-6 Russet potatoes, peeled*
2 T butter, quartered
Salt & LOTS OF PEPPER
1/4-1/2 c buttermilk
Start by cutting your peeled potatoes in half lengthwise. Find your smallest potato halves. If you have a runt potato, that will be your easiest way to gauge how large to cut your remaining potatoes. Go ahead and quarter all the remaining potatoes lengthwise, then chop into similar sizes (generally 1″ cubes).
Place potato cubes into a stockpot and just cover the potatoes with cold water. Place on a burner over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Boil for approximately 15 minutes or until a fork can be inserted into a potato.
Drain the potatoes and return to the pot**. Add butter pieces, salt and LOTS OF PEPPER. For the love of Pete, do not under-season potatoes… this goes for salt too. The salt makes the potatoes magically transform from tasting like earth to a potato. Magic. I promise.
With a potato masher, start breaking the chunks up and mixing in the butter, salt and pepper. Add buttermilk gradually, mixing in after each addition until the potatoes are fluffy and super-creamy (but not runny). Taste. Reseason with more salt and LOTS OF PEPPER. Enjoy!
*I’m aware that potatoes are all sorts of different sizes and it’s hard to gauge how many to purchase. Generally, I cook 1 lb of potatoes for just The Husband and I. We do 5 lbs for a family dinner (6 people).
** At this point, depending on how many potatoes you are cooking, it might be easier to transfer to a bowl or a kitchen aid stand mixer. For large family dinners I use the kitchen aid and whip the potatoes into shape.
Plain Jane: I don’t always have buttermilk on hand so in that case I’d about 4 T butter and swap the buttermilk for plain ‘ol 1% milk.
Cream Cheese & Chive
In place of the butter and buttermilk, soften an 8 oz package of cream cheese and add a few splashes of 1% milk to get the right consistency. Garnish with chipped chives.
Oh, baby! Sour cream mashed potatoes are the best! Omit the buttermilk and butter and substitute with about 1/2 c sour cream. A small splash of milk might be needed to reach a good consistency.
Twice Baked Mashed Potatoes
Complete recipe coming soon.