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.
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.
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