My method for making mashed potatoes is so basic that I’ve never bothered with a recipe. I make them like my mom taught me: boiled, peeled potatoes whipped into creamy nirvana with a hand-held mixer (though ever since my mixer died I’ve been using either a ricer or a hand-held masher thingy) and then doused with hot milk, a generous blob of melted butter, and plenty of salt.
But then I read in Bon Appetit (yes, while at my children’s allergy appointment — where do YOU do your Bon Appetit reading?) about the formula for perfect mashed potatoes: four pounds potatoes, two cups milk/cream, and two sticks butter. Which made me shake my head in disbelief: Two sticks of butter? That was insane!
But then Ree posted a video of her favorite mashed potatoes — four pounds of potatoes, two sticks of butter (plus more for garnish), ½ cup each of heavy cream and half-and-half, and a half pound of cream cheese — and I threw up my hands in surrender. Alright already! I’LL TRY IT.
I made the ludicrous mashed potatoes — for that is what I’ve taken to calling them — for our Thanksgiving Leftover Remix, bravely plopping the two sticks of butter and the block of cream cheese into the mashed potatoes and then baptizing the whole sinful mess with cream (though I used less than Ree did, self-righteous sniff). Despite all the chilly add-ins, the potatoes were surprisingly warm, but I transferred them into a baking pan and put them in a hot oven for about 15 minutes anyway, just to make sure they were good and hot.
And the potatoes were utterly delicious. The cream cheese added a rich tang that everyone noticed but couldn’t identify — in other words, while the potatoes were satisfying on their own, they weren’t detractors from the rest of the meal — and everyone raved.
And you know, in retrospect the whole butter/fat thing doesn’t seem that horrible. We ate less than half of the potatoes for dinner, and then the leftovers lasted another couple meals. When I consider how much butter we go through — at least a stick — when I serve baked potatoes, or all the fat I use to fry up hash browns, the fat-to-potato ratio seems downright reasonable.
But when I explained my rational for pimping out my mashed potatoes to my mom, she didn’t buy it. “Everything can’t be rich, Jennifer,” she scolded. “You need some plain foods to counterbalance all the other food.”
Well, sure, Mom. I’m all for ordinary, day-in-and-day-out beans and rice, granola, and green smoothies, but since when did we decide it was acceptable to serve baked potatoes with butter (and cheese and sour cream) but that mashed potatoes — their beaten and abused counterparts — must remain straightlaced and austere? It seems a bit arbitrary to me. Or maybe discriminatory.
But I don’t know: Maybe Mom is right and we’d all be happier, healthier eaters if we mashed our potatoes with watery, two-percent milk and a moderate blob of butter? Maybe piling on all the dairy products is entirely uncalled for?
But holding mashed potatoes back from realizing their full-potential hardly seems fair. And they taste so good! Besides, you’ll probably end up eating less in the long-run: with all the butter and cream cheese, they’re more satisfying and filling (each bite is deeply, purely, wholly mashed potato, not the shadow of a mashed potato longed for), so there’s less temptation to pig out.
So tell me, who do you agree with: the puritanical mother or her mashed potato floozie of a daughter?
Ludicrous Mashed Potatoes
Adapted from the November 2017 issue of Bon Appetit and The Pioneer Woman.
4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 sticks butter, plus extra for garnish, if desired
8 ounces cream cheese
¼ cup each heavy whipping cream and half-and-half
4 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
Cover the potatoes with water and boil. Reduce the heat slightly and cook until fork tender. Drain well. Return to the cooking kettle and immediately mash with a handheld masher to release the steam.
Add two sticks of butter, the cream cheese, the heavy cream, the half-and-half, and the salt. Continue mashing until all the ingredients are combined and the potatoes are creamy. Season to taste.
Pour the potatoes into a greased 9 x 13 pan. If desired, dot with chunks of butter. (At this point the potatoes can be covered and refrigerated until later.) Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes until the potatoes are heated through and bubbling around the edges.
This same time, years previous: the quotidian (12.19.16), brightening the dark, mini dramas, supper reading, the quotidian (12.16.13), how to have a dunging out date, toasty oatmeal muffins, the quotidian (12.19.11), chocolate-dipped candied orange rinds.
I will make these for sure and I will have to side with the mashed potato floozie!
Amazing mashed potatoes for sure! We usually have very good mashed potatoes as it is. But who’s!these were exceptional. The cream cheese, though not a lot of it, makes a big impact.
Mmmmmm, sounds wonderful. My version for years is about half way between plain and ludicrous mashed potatoes. I peel two garlic cloves and toss them into the pot at the beginning of cooking, so they're very soft and just mash up with the potatoes. Then at the end, I mash them all up with about a half cup of cottage cheese to 2 cups of potatoes. The lumps in the cheese melt some and blend in nicely for a rich taste. A little healthier, but really good. I also mash by hand so the end result has a lot of lumps. We like the texture. If I have them on hand, I sprinkle a small handful of slivered almonds on top too.
Also parsnips. Cook um good and soft though. They add a grounded sweetness to the rich decadence.
Amy in Oregon
What a wonderful post!!! Post like these are why I keep reading your blog, and have for a couple years!! I am totally in the floozie camp and proud of it, because everyone always raves about my spuds! I like to throw in some chopped garlic when the taters boil. I use heavy cream and sour cream, and lots of butter!! A nice sprinkle of salt and a generous dusting of pepper equals mashed tater nirvana!!
To quote Professor Harold Hill in THE MUSIC MAN, “I hope and pray for Hester to get one more A.”
I'm solidly in the floozie camp–although I've never done it with the cream cheese, how decadent! The last time I made my completely indecent mashed potatoes, I compounded the sin by having the pastor & family over for dinner… 😉
If you're gonna make mashed potatoes (which I rarely do, but for holidays), go all-out and make them the very best you absolutely can. I'm never sorry I made the best version of a recipe, and I've never met anyone who is! 🙂 Thanks for this – it's on my recipe list for Christmas!
Maybe your puritanical mother just loves potatoes too much. Maybe she's wishing she would've gotten a bowlful like in the pictures. The bowlful you gave her–leftovers!–didn't have those wonderful puddles on top.
Once I tried sour cream and it curdled, so now I'm scared to use it.
I make a version of ludicrous mashed potatoes occasionally when they “stand alone” in a meal. But if I have meat with gravy, I go with the plain Jane version.
I'm with the "floozie " of a daughter. Why do we have to wait for holidays or company to have the good stuff?
Sandy in California.
We have never met a mashed potato that we did not like here but it also depends on the kind of potato. Red skinned with the skins are our favorite and I do make them like your Mom and we love them. Before Thanksgiving I read on a blog that the blogger planned to make instant potatoes for her family to save the extra work and I was appalled. Thanksgiving dinner ruined for sure! I am curious now about what Paula Deen, the queen of heavy cream, says about mashed potatoes. Going to go look up her recipe now.
Sooo….Paula makes her mashed potatoes with buttermilk! That I am definitely going to try.
I think each type of mashed potatoes has its place – if all the other components of a meal are rich, then a dish of lightweight mashed potatoes is great; I've been known to make them with the potato water, even, not milk! If the rest of the meal isn't a brick, though, then the spectacular stuff is, well, spectacular.
But I wouldn't be excited about the super-rich mashed potatoes if paired with 100% fat-heavy foods (bacon-topped pot roast and green bean casserole and rich corn pudding, for instance? Or basically anything that comes with a cheese sauce?). There are times when a salad, a plain starch, *anything* that is not heavy, comes as a relief, and that would definitely be the place for lightweight mashed potatoes. I'm also somewhat in favor of "ordinary food" not being feast-weight most of the time, although somewhat wobbly on that. But if we indulge all the time, we 1. don't really enjoy it as much as when it's a treat, and 2. don't have anything to indulge with when it *is* a festal occasion. I'm not talking about eating stale bread and water all the time, but there is some room for cyclical enjoyment of plainer fare and then richer fare?
I agree! Like Becky said at the top: "…everything in moderation, including moderation."
make the rich ones on holidays.
Generally, we only eat mashed potatoes for more special meals — I rarely make them (no more than a dozen times a year). I probably should've clarified this in the post…
I don't cook so I can't comment on the mashed potato argument…I'm just here to say – have you ever added roasted garlic to the mixture? My husband does that and it is DIVINE.
I don't think I've done it myself, but I've had it in restaurants and it's really good. The Bon Appetit recipe called for garlic and rosemary. Perhaps I'll have to give it a go soon—Maybe to go with our Christmas steaks?
For Christmas dinner: these potatoes with roasted garlic and extra butter on top…and grilled steaks and roasted broccoli. SO GOOD!
I'd go with the "regular" mashed potatoes for regular meals, but the ludicrous ones for holiday meals. Speaking of which, we're having mashed potatoes for Christmas dinner and I'm totally making your recipe now.
I'm with both of you. When I make things like mashed potatoes, they get lots of butter and cream and cream cheese and sour cream because it's just better that way. But I'll probably serve them with roasted brussels sprouts as a healthy counter balance, because every thing in moderation, including moderation.