Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mashed Potatoes & Gravy – A How To

Lately, things have been pretty interesting around here in Divaliscious Town. And I started to realize I have got to get my questions and answers section up and running. Especially since that is what a lot of my old site was made up of. So what sort of questions may you ask? Well, almost anything. I will do my best to answer them. Though let's just start with food. That's an easy one. Just Ask Me, Ask Divaliscious!

Examples would be – how to you get your fudge not to crystallize, or how to make the perfect pie crust, etc. Those questions that people seek in order to be the best they can be, can be answered. Yes, there are always tricks of the trade, and just maybe I will share with you my grandmother's favorite trick to fluffy mashed potatoes or how to have lump free gravy.

Since it is nearing Turkey Day – or for some of you, Tofurkey Day well I guess I'll let you on this little secret. I have had to do the mashed potatoes and gravy basically at every Thanksgiving Dinner since I seem to be either 1) the only sucker who knows how to peel potatoes quickly or 2) have been told I get them as close to Grandma Nell's as they will every possibly be. So here goes anything and everything.

How to make lump-free fluffy and whipped Mashed Potatoes and incredible lump free Gravy – Grandma Nell Style:

A word to the wise, this is NOT a calorie free side dish, nor a recipe for the delicate at heart. It will contain milk, butter, salt and a whole lot of love, which of course you will too be a little more to love by the end of the meal, so heck go with it!

Do's and Don'ts

  • Need to do this in stages? You can set aside peeled potatoes in water (make sure they are all covered with water) and let it sit aside somewhere in the kitchen or safe place away from your house pets, preferably in the deep pot that they will be cooked in. They can stay in this water until you are ready – just replace with fresh water when ready to boil.
  • Once Potatoes are boiled and cooked correctly (a fork will easily penetrate the potato) do not let them sit in the hot water for long – they will continue to cook and bring you gooey potatoes and of course we know that Divaliscious wouldn't want that for you.
  • Do when straining the water from the boiled potatoes; reserve at least half of the starchy water. This is fantastic to use instead of milk for those who are lactose intolerant, and for thickening up the gravy or the soup you will inevitably make with all the side dishes and leftover turkey. And yes, I am sure you can use this water, I have used it plenty in helping both dishes – this was a Grandma Nell trick.
  • Know you can reheat the mashed potatoes, if you have a small oven, or it's cramped up with the turkey and other side dishes. Place potatoes either in a microwave bowl for reheating or put back in the pot you cooked the boiled potatoes in and about ½ hour before serving, place in the oven on low say 300 degrees while turkey is out resting after her hard time in the oven.
  • I am not a fan of the ricer that some people use to mash the potatoes, stick with the tried and true hand masher.
  • Once you start mashing – do the next few steps quickly, you do not want the potatoes to start to cool. This is where the gooey and sticky mashed potatoes come from.

Equipment needed:

  • One of those potato mashers
  • Mix Master or Kitchen Aid Mixer
  • Pot Holders
  • Strainer
  • Pot deep enough to hold all of your potatoes
  • A second pot for the strainer to sit over when straining the water from the boiled potatoes
  • One working stove and warm oven at 300 degrees
  • Fork
  • Spatula


  • Figure 2 potatoes per person and anywhere from 15-30 minutes of boiling time depending upon the quantity of mashed potatoes you are making.
    (I love the Yukon Gold for their natural buttery flavor, but good old Idaho's are great too!)
  • Butter – A stick – yes a whole stick (8 oz.) for 12-15 potatoes. If you must, use half margarine
  • Whole Milk- two cups

Peel the Potatoes
So where do we start? With the potatoes of course! Peel completely the potatoes. I am not one for dirty looking potatoes, that's for your local greasy-spoon restaurant that has those great ribs, but this is for your family – so make sure every peel is off that potato in your hands – It's easier to do this in the sink versus in some bowl.

Boil the Potatoes
Add enough water and at least two teaspoons of salt and bring to a boil. You may wish to cover the potatoes, but do watch it, once they start boiling, a slow boil is always better than a fast one, since the pot lid will probably pop off with water all over the place on top of your stove with a hard boil. Yuk!

Has Ten Minutes Gone By?
Take your milk – I like to take at least two cups for say 12 potatoes, scald the milk in a separate 2 quart pot and keep warm in the back of the stove top. Keep milk warm, very very very important, hey did I say very enough yet? - -Yes Keeping the milk warm is imperative to making great-tasting and looking mashed potatoes – yes, another one of Grandma Nell's tricks! You never want to add cold milk to the hot potatoes!

In a Rush?
If you are in a rush, say you forget at the last minute to do the potatoes, well slice them up into smaller bits say the size of a large walnut, which will cut the time it takes them to be boiled. While boiling, do stir up the potatoes around in the pot, since the ones on the bottom will cook faster than those on the top. Yes, believe me, they will.

Are Potatoes Fork Tender?
OK so the potatoes are finished being boiled, you can now bring the pot to the sink, using those potholders, using a strainer over yet another large pot, strain the potatoes so that you are able to reserve the water that the potatoes were boiled in. Set aside the "potato water" for use in a bit.

Back to the Stovetop
Take the original pot you boiled the potatoes in and put back the now cooked potatoes into the pot and place over a low flame.

Using your potholders once again, shake vigorously the pot, as if you were making popcorn. This will allow some of the steam and inevitably some of the water to be evaporated. Do this for maybe two or three minutes. You think your arms are tired now?!? Just wait. We haven't even gotten to the gravy whisking!

Now Comes the Fun Part
Invite the kids to mash up the potatoes, keep this task quick, say only five minutes. I prefer the open masher vs. the flat masher. Then get rid of the kids after the mashing is completed. Not all lumps will have been removed, but that's what your mixer is for. Now I have both types of mashers, and I tend to use the flat bottom one for when I am making bruschetta for mashing up the tomatoes - but that's another recipe, another day and another time.

Bring to Mixer
Bring pot to mixer, and though its awkward, put pot under mixer, or if you have to put potatoes into mixer bowl. Add half of the butter and add salt and pepper at this stage. Some people prefer white pepper, who cares, I know its pepper, so what if I see little flakes of pepper in my mashed potatoes, and I know at least its real ingredients!

Start Your Mixer
Add scalded and still warm milk slowly to the whipping potatoes. You can also substitute the potato water you set aside on reserve – but don't use it all up – save some for making the gravy next. You may in fact not use all of the two cups of milk depending upon your preferences of whipped mashed potatoes.

Do Not Be Afraid
Stop mixer on occasion and see how the potatoes taste and feel in a spoon. Do this within five minutes. You can also check for lumps at this stage. In other words, see if they dollop like you want them to, say like when you are whisking up egg whites. How stiff or in this case, soft do you want those taters of yours? Once you think you have added enough milk/liquid, salt, pepper, and butter, you are finished! Serve immediately with a big lump of butter on top and proudly take your potatoes to the table and banquet. Relish in the oohs and ahh's you hear. And know that Divaliscious is winking behind you somewhere out there in cyber land.

Not Ready to Serve?
At this stage, you can either put the potatoes back into the pot you boiled them in and do your best to keep them warm say in the oven on low, keep them covered too!
If they've gotten a bit cold for your taste, yes, you can reheat them in the microwave, but the oven reheating is best, since this will allow them to stay airy and fluffy.

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