my mom’s mashed potatoes

This week I’m posting Thanksgiving recipes, most of them on loan from my mom, who rules.

My mom’s magical mashed potatoes come not from a recipe, but a philosophy. What that means, really, is that I have no specific quantities for this post. When I asked Mom for the recipe, the conversation went something like this:

SUZY: How many potatoes do you use?

MOM: That depends on how many potatoes I need.

SUZY: How long do you cook them?

MOM: Until they’re done.


So, in lieu of an actual recipe, here are some basic guidelines to making perfect mashed potatoes:

  • use Yukon Gold potatoes
  • cut the potatoes into chunks, and place into cold water
  • bring to a boil, and cook until the potatoes are tender
  • drain the potatoes and return to the hot pan, off the heat
  • heat butter and heavy cream together in the microwave
  • pass the potatoes through a food mill
  • gently stir in warmed cream and melted butter
  • salt to taste

The resulting golden mashed potatoes are so delicious, I believe they could probably balance the national budget. And now I’m considering running for office on a mashed potato platform.

orange cranberry sauce

This week I’m posting Thanksgiving recipes, most of them on loan from my mom, who rules.

Along with my irrational childhood contempt for stuffing, I wasn’t really crazy about cranberry sauce as a kid, either. Granted, we used to eat the canned cranberry jelly thing, served in the shape of the can, but still.

As I recall, I didn’t really care for any Thanksgiving food, other than mashed potatoes and gravy.

My deep and passionate love of mashed potatoes has only grown over the years. But so has my appreciation, and yes, love for all the beautiful dishes served side by side with the gallant potatoes.

Mom and I have been tweaking our cranberry sauce recipe for the past few years, and we’ve finally settled on a winner. The recipe below is perfect – it’s just sweet enough and just tart enough. The port makes it rich, and the orange keeps it from being too rich.

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my mom’s stuffing

This week I’m posting Thanksgiving recipes, most of them on loan from my mom, who rules.

When I was a kid, I didn’t like stuffing.

Something about the texture – that was unlike our normal fare – aroused my suspicion.

As my palate has matured, I’ve found a very special place in my heart and my stomach for my mom’s incredibly delicious, yet traditional and simple stuffing.

Pre-stuffed and post-stuffed, it’s a perfect side dish: savory, creamy, crunchy.

I suggest serving it in a big bowl with two spoons, cuddling with your sweetheart in a tandem Snuggie on the sofa, watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

I’m so glad that I got over my texture issues and realized how entirely fabulous my mom’s stuffing is.

But until the day I die, I swear I will NEVER eat rice pudding. Gross me out the door.

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honey wheat bread

I had every intention of exploring the local cuisine of Houston on my trip last week. I left behind the remnants of Minnesota’s first snow, dreaming of fresh salsa, spicy chili, and sticky barbecue. As the days of the conference flew past, though, and I and my fellow conferencees consumed countless boxed lunches and buffet breakfasts, I lost hope that I would experience the authentic regional cuisine of Houston.

While I tasted no salsa, no chili, and no barbecue, my story has a happy culinary end.

One warm evening after an exhausting day of bookselling in the BigTent store, I saw an entire six blocks of downtown Houston walking to the Strip House for a fantastic dinner with a handful of conferencees. We shared decadent sides like Black Truffle Cream Spinach and Goose Fat Potatoes. I had the buttery red snapper, and managed to earn the nickname “Profiterole” over countless glasses of wine. It was a lovely evening.

I returned home late Saturday night to a stern lecture from Professor Meowington, who was very cross about being left home alone for five days in a row. I slept in my very own bed, and woke up to the last of the Honey Wheat Bread in the freezer for my first breakfast home.

This slightly sweet, dense wheat bread, toasted and slathered in strawberry jam, made a perfect welcome home breakfast treat.

The recipe is by Ron Miller, and it’s another from my new favorite cookbook, Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club. I cut the recipe down to make one loaf rather than three, but I made no other changes, resisting the temptation to add a bit more oil (the recipe calls for one teaspoon oil for three loaves!). Even with so little oil, this bread is surprisingly moist.

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pita bread

I recently learned an important lesson as part of my breaducation: when baking at 500 degrees, do be sure that no meatloaf drippings remain in the bottom of the oven, lest you anger the smoke detector and scare the crap out of the cat.

(Professor Meowington is a scaredy cat by nature, and really should not be antagonized.)

When the smoke cleared in the galley kitchen and the professor emerged from the music cabinet, we discovered golden, chewy puffs of delicious pita bread, and all was forgiven. Bread means never having to say you’re sorry.

The recipe is Marie Wang’s Baked Puffed Flatbread from Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club, and it was a perfect beginner bread – really quick and easy to put together, with clear instructions and simple ingredients.

It made eight tasty and sturdy wheat rounds, just right for stuffing with tuna salad or smearing with hummus.

The book, fast becoming one of my favorites, includes charming stories and beloved family bread recipes from fifteen bakers of the St. Paul Bread Club. It was a gift from my fabulous friend, Alison. She has really good hair.

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Parsnip and Potato Pierogi

In addition to the three golden delicious crapples included in this month’s Fare for All groceries Mom shared with me, we also received the usual 5-pound bag of russet potatoes.

Last month I faced Iron Chef: Battle Potato by making gnocchi two ways – Gnocchi with Roast Chicken, Asparagus, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes in Pesto Cream Sauce, and Gnocchi Gratin with Spinach and Gorgonzola. (Yes, you can bake gnocchi. I was shocked, too.)

I have a freckle on my palm. Is that weird?

This month I again resisted my lazy urge to just make mashed potatoes and call it a day. Instead I adapted a recipe by Martha Stewart and made pierogi.

Making pierogi – making pierogi dough – was a natural progression in my breaducation. And really, how can you go wrong with stuffed dough? I love all filled dumplings – ravioli, tortellini, hand pies, won tons.

Stuff you like, wrapped in dough, then baked, boiled, steamed, or fried. Everybody wins.

Using just two parsnips along with the potatoes and leeks in the filling gave the adorable starch pillows the tiniest hint of earthy sweetness. And Martha’s pierogi dough is tender and silky. This one’s a keeper. I have a feeling I’ll be making a lot of pierogi this winter.

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Apple Cranberry Crostata with Mascarpone

Hey, y’know what’s great about the crostata recipe I posted last week? It makes two crusts!

Last month, the Fare for All groceries I share with Mom included three golden delicious apples. You can tell just from the name – golden delicious – that these apple suck. It’s like people who tell you that they’re funny. If you were actually funny, you wouldn’t need to tell me.

These apples are so happy to not be golden delicious.

The craptastic texture of golden delicious mushballs made them excellent candidates to fill that second crostata crust in my freezer.

This recipe is adapted only slightly from Yankee Magazine, and it’s ridiculously good. The mascarpone melts into the apple juices, and makes a tangy, gooey sauce. The sugar hardens on the crust, creating a satisfying crunch. And the tart cranberries and lemon juice keep it fresh and light.

Professor Meowington says: Don't forget the lemon juice!

The only thing I didn’t love about this crostata was the sugar cinnamon mixture. It didn’t completely incorporate into the apple and cranberry filling. Next time I’ll toss the apples in the sugar and spices, rather than sprinkling the mixture on top.

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cremini mushroom, goat cheese, and leek crostata with fresh thyme

This year for Halloween I created a monster. Behold, THE FRANKENCRUST!

Oogity Boogity!

This was my very first attempt at making a pie crust from scratch, and while it was not actually a horror show, it’s certainly not going to win any beauty contests. I think I made the right choice, starting with a rustic crostata, rather than a perfect lattice-top pie.

The crust recipe is from a summer fruit crostata by Ina Garten. The only change I made was to eliminate the sugar. I want to tell you that I did everything just right, but I honestly don’t remember – it all happened so fast.

Everything I’d heard about making pastry crust emphasized working the dough very little, and keeping the butter super cold. So, I made the crust as fast as humanly possible to keep everything cold and tender, stopping only to snap a couple photos.

I filled the crust with sautéed cremini mushrooms and leeks, blobs of herbed goat cheese, and fresh thyme leaves.

But I had this silly idea that having too much filling would make the bottom of the crust soggy, and, as Julia Child once said, “Nobody likes a soggy bottom.” So the filling was a little scant. The crust was crisp and delicate and buttery, but there was too much of it for the amount of filling. Next time I make this crostata, I’ll double the mushrooms, goat cheese, and thyme.

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