Simple, Rustic Mashed Potatoes . 50 cents

Mashed potatoes has to be my ultimate comfort food – if I were stranded on a desert island and had a choice of only one thing to eat, potatoes would probably be my first choice. That being said, they’re not the healthiest of foods, especially for someone like me that has to watch carbs and fat.

Mashed Potatoes - made with buttermilk (shown) or broth
Mashed Potatoes – made with buttermilk (shown) or broth

The potato, like many foods, isn’t necessarily bad by itself, but the problem with the potato is the same one that’s plagued those who live on a budget for centuries: Potatoes are cheap, filling and help to keep the navel from touching the spine. It’s easy to serve up huge servings of the cheaper items in the meal.

If you’re serving potatoes, they’re taking up space on your plate and in your diet that could potentially be taken by more nutritious items. Potatoes are fat, sodium and cholesterol free and do bring more potassium than a banana to the table as well as quite a bit of vitamin C, but pale in comparison to some of the other vegetables.

And we can’t forget that potatoes are a perfect foil for almost anything fattening you want to throw at them: butter, cream, sour cream, cream cheese, bacon, cheese, and so on. They’re also a place to sneak in a healthier flavor option, too, perhaps leeks, caramelized onion. shallots or roasted garlic.

The question, then, when serving mashed potatoes comes to “How do I minimize the damage?”

  • Frankly, I seldom eat mashed potatoes, and I watch the portion size. A baked potato, for instance has a self limiting portion size, while it can be easy to get carried away with the mashed.
  • I make a distinction between “everyday” mashed potatoes and “special occasion” mashed potatoes and I watch what I put in them. While I’ll go “all out” on a holiday, I try to keep things leaner for “everyday.”
  • I use smaller potatoes and keep the skins on – most of the nutrients are just below the skin, so if I can maximize the skin, well there are more nutrients.
  • Boiled in their skin (or jacket, as my grandmother used to say) the potato keeps more flavor, minimizing the amount of extra stuff needed to add flavor.

Back in the day when I first started to cook, I learned by trial and error how to make mashed potatoes. No one had a “recipe” and I’m sure most people would have scoffed at such an idea. I was taught “A potato per person and one for the pot,” which isn’t too far from the mark, and leaves a bit left over. A serving of potato is considered to be one medium potato, about 5.3 ounces, which is about 110 calories.

Since I like to NOT have any left over, I try to get as close to the mark as possible. In my family, it seems that no matter how many I make, they’ll get gobbled up, so I try to minimize gluttony by making “just enough.” If you have a kitchen scale, you can weigh your potatoes until you get the idea of what a medium sized potato looks like or you can judge by the bag: check the pounds in the bag, and visualize how many are a pound, then add another to make the 21 ounces (approximately) you’ll need for the recipe. If you do have left over mashed potatoes, think Potato Cakes.

A couple little tricks:

  • Save a pat of butter out for the top of the potatoes. It’s just a teaspoon, but the expectation that the potatoes are rich and buttery seems to trick the mind into believing that they are.
  • Yukon Golds, with their slightly yellow color also seems to “trick” people into believing that there is more butter in the mash than there actually is.

Everyday Mashed Potatoes

  • 4 medium potatoes, left whole, skins on (about 21 ounces)
  • water to cover by about 2 inches
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons butter (divided, 1 pat for the top, three mixed in)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk, milk or chicken broth (homemade is best) for a rough, stiff mash, 3/4 or so for a creamier mash
  • salt and pepper as desired

Bring water to a boil. Add salt and potatoes and cook at a low boil for 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the potato. Cook them until easily pierced with a fork or knife. Drain and return potatoes to pot to keep warm. Mash by hand with potato masher to desired consistency. Add butter and buttermilk or broth and stir until combined. Add salt and pepper if desired. Keep covered to keep warm.

Note: The proportions work well for a rustic, rough mash. For a very smooth mash, more liquid may be needed.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied on the main dish:

  • Potatoes:  I like to store in a loosely closed paper bag. Don’t know what to do with a large bag? Make what recipes you’d like to, then make Freezer Twice Baked Potatoes with the rest. I often pick out the smaller, misshaped potatoes for mashing and save the more regular sized ones for baking or other recipes. I bought 10 lb for $1.99; my cost 25 cents.
  • Butter:  I always buy butter on the deep sales, usually $2.50 a pound or so, generally around holidays, and toss in my freezer. It keeps, literally for months with no deterioration in quality. Cost: 10 cents.
  • Buttermilk: Seldom on sale, except perhaps around a holiday, and then it isn’t usually advertised. Buttermilk, if it doesn’t have a pour spout, can be poured into a clean jar and will last longer. Think of other recipes to make to use it up! It can be frozen in ice cube trays, but make sure you figure out how many ice cubes makes a measurement you can use in cooking! Usually about a cup fills an ice cube tray…doesn’t have to be perfect, but you do need an idea how many you’ll need to thaw for a recipe! Bought at $2.32 for 1/2 gallon, 15 cents. It will be less expensive to use regular milk in the recipe, but the buttermilk adds a tang that makes using less dairy possible.

Left Overs?

In spite of your best efforts, you still have left over mashed potatoes? I don’t know about you, but while we’ll eat them at our house, they taste a bit “off” reheated. One of my favorite recipes for potatoes left over is Traditional Irish Potato Cakes. If I know I want to make them for later in the week, I’ll make extra mashed and save out enough for the recipe.

This “planned” left over strategy can save you a lot of time in putting out great meals. Another great use for left over mashed potatoes is a Shepherd’s Pie, which, by the way, a number of different left overs can be used in.

A small dab of left over mashed potatoes can add body to a soup. I generally cook the potatoes for my Navy Bean and Bacon Soup, but if I happen to have a few left over mashed, I’ll throw them in, instead. I imagine there are other “stealth” ways to use up just a dab.

Put Your own Spin on It:

  • Add any of the add ins mentioned above, if desired
  • For a richer potato, use more butter, up to a tablespoon per person
  • Olive Oil may be used in place of butter; this goes particularly well when garlic is added to the potatoes

7 thoughts on “Simple, Rustic Mashed Potatoes . 50 cents”

  1. Potatoes are a staple of our diet. Moderation is the key, as you mentioned. Sweet potatoes cost more here (Canada) so sometimes I’ll cook them together. It stretches the sweet potato, and I don’t need as much ‘toppings’.
    When we do have baked potatoes, we pile on lots of vegetables as toppings (onions, peppers,tomatoes,mushrooms etc), topped with greek yogurt (instead of sour cream) and cheese.

    1. Hi Kathryn – those are great ideas for toppings! I use yogurt often in a lot of recipes instead of sour cream, but I don’t think I’ve ever used it as a potato topping. I’ll have to try it next time!

      Now I’m thinking I might try yogurt IN my next batch of mashed potatoes.

      Sweet potatoes are generally more expensive than regular potatoes here, too. Standard pricing (not sale pricing) in my area tends to go (at the lowest) Russet, then Red Bliss, then Sweet Potatoes. The baby or smaller versions of any of them cost more, and fingerling potatoes or any of the specialty potatoes (like the blue ones) are really expensive!

      They say there are 4,000 varieties of potatoes, and about 100 varieties are sold in the US, but generally we only find a few in our grocery stores. Makes me wonder sometimes what I’m missing out on!

      1. I also like to use low calorie salad dressings for baked potato toppings..such as ranch, creamy cucumber,honey mustard dijon..anything creamy 🙂
        If I top them with broccoli, a home made cheese sauce goes good too.I used to make the sauce with milk, but the last time I only used water, and I liked it better.

        1. One of my kid’s favorites – baked potatoes topped with left over chili and cheese. They’d get home from school (and of course, they were always “starving”) and they’d microwave a potato so they could make it as a snack. They were the ones that taught ME that there was a special button on my microwave for potatoes! lol!

          Me – I always thought it was an odd combo!

        2. I didn’t mention your comment about making cheese sauce with water right away, but it kept popping into my mind during the last few days. At first, I just wondered about what you said, which frankly (no offense) seemed a bit on the odd side, but I think my mind was working on it subconciously.

          I started thinking about my brownies that I make that taste so incredible. Pure chocolate flavor. I use water to bloom the cocoa and it makes a huge difference in bringing out the pure chocolate flavor.

          Milk dulls the flavor of chocolate; milk chocolate is not as intense as other chocolate.

          I’m betting that you came across the same with your cheese sauce. While we always think of cheese sauce with milk in it, perhaps that milk is what makes things taste less cheesy. You’re probably getting pure cheese flavor when you’re using water! I’m going to think about this next time I make a cheese sauce for something like broccoli, too!

          1. Believe me, it really surprised me too. I was making the sauce and realised I was low on milk, and so gave it a try.My mother always made it with milk, but I cut my milk 50:50 with water, when baking…and over the years, I was cutting it more and more with the cream sauce.
            I had chocolate cake recipe too, that took boiling water with the cocoa. The batter was really runny, but it made the lightest, texture of cake..almost like a cake mix..and very chocolaty.

            1. I’ve made a cake like that before – and you’re right, it had a light, springy texture, but it was moist and beautiful. I think you’re really on to something here! I gave my cake recipe to my mom, to make when she had ladies coming over. It was really easy. For some reason
              (probably because she only had two round cake pans) she made one layer in a springform and it oozed all over the oven because it was so thin. Disaster! Her house was filled with smoke and the oven had to be cleaned.

              I have been trying to cut back more and more on dairy altogether just for health reasons. Here in the US, we always think if a little is good, a lot is better. I shudder a bit to think of how much dairy we used to go through, and of course I instilled that in my kids. While all the nutrition boards always said equivalent of three cups of milk a day which included yogurt, cheese and other milk products, we always had 16 ounce glasses and I thought nothing of the kids filling theirs up more than once, all while serving food with cheese on it, etc., etc.

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