Mashed potatoes a highlight of Thanksgiving dinner

November 13, 2020

Earlier this week, I ordered our Thanksgiving dinner. It will be cooked and ready for us to collect on Turkey-Thursday morning. This is a major shift for us.

Typically we spend the entire week before Thanksgiving preparing the various side dishes, brining the turkey and trying not to eat the desserts in advance of the big dinner. We’re accustomed to sharing the day with family, but since no one is traveling, we’ll be on our own.

This also feels like a bit of a gamble, as the only other time we had a Thanksgiving meal prepared somewhere else and brought home to eat was several years ago. Jack’s sister made all the arrangements and invited us to their mom’s home for a mid-afternoon dinner. She’d pre-ordered the entire menu from a local grocery store and stopped to pick it up on her way over, where we were all waiting to enjoy a festive meal.

Our first clue to the impending disaster was the lack of any enticing aromas emanating from the packages. In fact, they were ice cold. Apparently, she hadn’t realized that although the side dishes were cooked, they had to be reheated. And, another unpleasant surprise awaited us - the turkey was still raw. 

There was a mad dash for enough saucepans and space on the stovetop to heat potatoes, stuffing and gravy. Roasting the turkey would have taken hours, so we hacked the bird into parts and cooked it in the tiny microwave piece by piece. By the time we sat down, we’d lost our appetite and just picked at our plates. As I recall, instead of leftover turkey sandwiches, later in the day we ordered pizza.

For those of you planning to cook for the big day, the ingredients have been helpfully stocked at all our local markets - from turkeys and hams to pumpkin, apple and pecan pies. You’ll find bags of fresh cranberry and cans of jelly, potatoes of every stripe, from baby red-skinned to sturdy russets to the yams labeled as sweet potatoes.

One of the highlights of Thanksgiving dinner has always been mashed potatoes drowned in butter (see photo). So many people smother their mashed potatoes in gravy, which may give the cook little reason to bother making the potatoes tasty enough to stand on their own, but it’s definitely worth it. Always use russet potatoes for the fluffiest result and make sure all the water is drained.

For the simplest version of mashed potatoes, all you need to add is melted butter and cream (or half and half). For the potatoes in the photo, we sprinkled snipped chives for some color. But, to give your potatoes a little extra interest, there are a few ideas you might consider for mix-ins. Among the easiest options are green onions, which add a bit of color and subtle bite. Caramelized onions are a similar way to add texture and complex flavor.

Another approach to upgrading mashed potatoes is to add grated cheese. Smoked cheddar adds depth that can be enhanced with some grainy mustard. Crumbled blue cheese will give your potatoes a rich flavor. If you want some color, stir in some bright red paprika instead of the traditional white pepper. No matter how you serve your mashed potatoes, just make sure they’re piping hot.

Basic Mashed Potatoes

2 lbs russet potatoes
1/2 C butter, melted
3 thinly sliced green onions (optional)
1 C warm half & half
1 t salt
1/2 t white pepper

Peel the potatoes and cut into 1-inch chunks. Place them in a large saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium; simmer until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain potatoes in a colander and return them to the pan. Place over very low heat until all moisture has evaporated, about two minutes. Add butter and mash with a potato masher. Stir green onions into the half and half. Pour into potatoes and stir just until combined. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Yield: 4 servings. 

Cheddar Mustard Potatoes

mashed potatoes
2 T grainy mustard
1 C smoked cheddar, grated

Prepare mashed potatoes according to basic recipe, omitting green onions. After mashing, add mustard and cheese along with half and half, stirring just until combined. Yield: 4 servings.

Blue Cheese Mashed Potatoes

mashed potatoes
4 oz crumbled blue cheese

Prepare mashed potatoes according to basic recipe, omitting green onions. After mashing, add blue cheese, stirring just until combined. Yield: 4 servings.

Mashed Potatoes & Caramelized Onions

mashed potatoes
3 yellow onions
2 t butter
1 t olive oil
pinch salt
1/2 t brown sugar
1/3 C port

Slice onions into 1/4-inch thick rings; set aside. Melt butter with oil in a large skillet over high. After foaming subsides, stir in salt and sugar. Scatter onions in an even layer and cook until softened, about five minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often until deeply browned, about 30 minutes. Stir in port and cook until reduced, about 5 minutes. While onions are cooking, prepare mashed potatoes (omitting green onions). Stir caramelized onions into mashed potatoes, just until combined. Yield: 4 servings.

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