How to Make Great Mashed Potatoes

In years past, I never gave potato mashing the attention it deserved. I just threw in a little butter and milk, mashed roughly with a hand masher and took them to the table. This year, I put a little time into experimenting and investigating and found some tricks that easily elevated the mashed potato into a something quite special.

Cooking technique was probably the most important discovery. Typically, potatoes are boiled in salted water for mashed potatoes, which is fine if you don’t use too much water, which tends to “leach out” the flavor. Being moderate with the water, however, makes it easy to burn the potatoes because the water quickly evaporates or gets soaked up by the potatoes–and there is no worse smell, taste or mess than burned potatoes.

Steaming retains the flavor, but it’s also difficult to get the potatoes uniformly soft, especially without scorching the pot.

This recipe uses a slow cooker to avoid these difficulties. The potatoes get soft enough and stay moist enough to make great mashed potatoes, without losing any flavor or running the risk of burning. Plus, you can keep them perfectly warm until just when you’re ready to mash.

The technique is simple: Scrub potatoes and either dry with a clean dish towel or allow to air dry. Place in a 3.5 or 4 qt. oval slow cooker. Cover cooker and cook on high heat, 5-7 hours, until potatoes are very tender (clear to the middle) when stuck with a fork.

When potatoes are done, remove from slow cooker using a large turning fork. Wipe inside of slow cooker with a clean, damp rag, then butter liner. Use a paring knife to cut potatoes into 1-2” cubes and return to slow cooker, then mash as directed in recipe.

What if you forget to put the potatoes on in the morning? The following recipe shares a microwave alternative that is just as good, but a little more time consuming.

P.S. Also note that there’s nothing unhealthy about these mashed potatoes.  The humble potato often gets a bad rap, but that’s usually because it’s combined with silly amounts of butter and cream.  Here, we’re using olive oil in a moderate amount (some is used just for roasting the garlic), we using milk instead of cream and we’re leaving the skins on, where a good portion of the vitamins and minerals reside.  Just don’t eat the whole batch yourself!

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

  • 1 head garlic, roasted (to make about 2 Tbsp. roasted garlic paste, more or less to taste)
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1/3 to ½ cup milk or plain soy milk

The night or morning before: Preheat the oven to 350 (F). Rub a head of garlic with about ½ Tbsp. of olive oil. Place inside a garlic roaster or small glass baking dish with a lid. Cover and bake about 45-60 minutes, until garlic head is soft when squeezed from the sides.

To remove the pulp: Once garlic has cooled slightly slice off root end of garlic head with a serrated knife, being sure to slice across every clove. Squeeze garlic from skins. Alternatively, if garlic has cooled completely, the roasted cloves might just pop out whole once the root end of the head is sliced off. Place roasted garlic in cup of immersion blender.

Add remaining olive oil and 1/3 cup milk to garlic and puree with blender. Reserve.

  • 2 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes (about 6 medium potatoes)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Cut unpeeled potatoes into roughly 1-2” cubes, place in casserole dish, drizzle with about 1 Tbsp. olive oil and toss with hands to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover dish and microwave in 4-5 minute intervals, stirring after each interval, until potatoes are uniformly tender. It may take as long as 20-30 minutes, depending on your microwave’s power level.

Once potatoes are cooked, transfer to a deep, medium-sized bowl. Mash with a potato masher until fairly smooth. Pour in milk mixture, sprinkle in salt and pepper and mash another minute or so to combine thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings, if desired. Add a little more milk if potatoes are too thick.

If potatoes are too lumpy, smooth with an immersion blender (but never a food processor), being careful to use it very briefly so potatoes don’t become gluey. Just go up and down once, through each section of potatoes.

For best results, serve immediately. Enjoy!

Wheat-Free and Gluten-Free Living—Beyond Recipes and Cookbooks

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“Do you have any wheat-free recipes?” As a kitchen and healthy eating coach, that’s usually the first thing I’m asked by people who have been prescribed a gluten or wheat-free diet.  It’s a completely understandable inquiry. We think “recipes” when someone tells us we need to eat differently, whether it’s to benefit the heart, to ease arthritis or work around food allergies.

Don’t get me wrong, cookbooks and recipes aren’t a bad starting point. But they are only part—and a relatively small part of the solution. What’s more, they’re the easy part.

The fact is, there are TONS of wheat-free recipes. They’re all over the place, including under your nose (and on your cookbook shelf): think of all the stir-fry recipes, chicken recipes, meat dishes, vegetable recipes, bean recipes, fruit salsas, stews and soups and rice dishes, to name just a few. A vast majority contain no wheat or gluten products. I have lived wheat free for 20 years and am far from starving—in fact I’m better fed now than ever.

The problem, of course, is that when we are newly diagnosed with a wheat or gluten allergy, we filter the news from our current eating perspective. Likely as not, that eating perspective revolves around A LOT of wheat products: pizza, pasta, tortillas, pancakes, toast, sandwiches, flour-thickened sauces, muffins, cakes, and so on and so forth. Only when you are given wheat or gluten diagnosis do you realize how wheat-centric our diet is.

To begin with, I certainly viewed our wheat (and dairy) diagnoses as tremendous burdens, but it didn’t take long to see what a hidden blessing they were. Being forced to think creatively about food, we had our eyes, minds and taste buds treated to a Technicolor world of wildly different and delicious new foods. Thank goodness we haven’t been saddled with a myopically monochromatic diet for the last 20 years!

Making the shift from tremendous burden to tantalizing blessing, I discovered, was attributable to a whole range of things. Yes, I found a few new recipes to help, but as important were things like:

–being organized enough to find those recipes when mealtime rolled around

–having the right ingredients in the frig

–being open to new tastes

–learning a few basic cooking skills to make decent meals

–knowing where to find gluten-free products at the grocery store

–being willing to invest time in setting up the kitchen for gluten-free cooking

–being willing to give meal making the attention and consideration it deserves, and

–being willing to exercise the parental vigor necessary to prevent a picky eaters from taking root in our house.

This last point is vitally important when kids are involved. If a child is raised from Day 1 with a broad range of tastes, then you will have no problem feeding him well on a gluten-free diet. But if, as so many children, he is allowed to dictate the food agenda and constrict his tastes to a narrow range, he will be consigned to a life of fighting his food limitations instead of reveling in the joy of all the delicious foods still available.

So that is why I encourage anyone newly diagnosed to inquire beyond recipes and cookbooks and examine the approaches and attitudes you bring to the table, so to speak.

Check out my tips on preventing picky eaters (email for a copy), look at how well your kitchen is organized for gluten-free cooking. My book, Take Control of Your Kitchen, can be a big help here. Notice if you have good mealtime habits, like planning ahead for meals, always having gluten-free snack bags for car trips, a lineup of school lunch options, etc. MOST IMPORTANTLY, develop a firm sense of purpose, i.e., that the time and effort you put into feeding you and/or your child is indeed a valuable and worthwhile use of your time.

For families, remember that taising a gluten-free child will be most successful and cause the least amount of stress if it is a family affair—and mom and dad will gain all the health benefits of the child’s good diet. Many parents worry about getting their child into the right schools, pushing them to excel in reading and math, preventing their brains from being corrupted by X-rated movies, monitoring their friends, and so. Yet we think nothing of racing through a fast food outlet and poisoning our children’s bodies with factory created food will few, if any, of the nutrients a growing body and mind needs. As parents, we must dare to be different and take the time to nourish ourselves and our children—body, brain and spirit—with wholesome food. Do not doubt that this is a valuable use of our time—despite what the fast food ads blare out.

I hope these insights will be of help if you face a wheat or gluten-free diagnosis. If you could benefit from some one-on-one coaching and assistance, I specialize in implementing wheat and diary free diets and we can work over the phone and Internet as well as in-person.

Fox 31 Holiday Cooking Series: Light Orange Waldorf Spinach Salad

Calories and fat add up over a holiday meal at an alarming rate, not unlike the cash register when you’re buying Christmas gifts:  cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching. In fact, just a couple weeks ago, Fox 31’s nutrition sleuth did some investigating and discovered that the typical Thanksgiving meal rings in at 5000 calories! Talk about adding up—that’s twice or more what an average person needs to eat all day.

With all their sugar, butter, oil and white fluffy flour, holiday foods are bound to taste great going down. But things may not feel so great after the party—and then there’s all those calories to burn off before they lodge permanently on the hips or some other favorite spot.

That’s why it pays to plan a little calorie relief into your holiday meals. This recipe is great because:

  • It uses orange juice concentrate for part of the mayonnaise in the Waldorf mixture
  • The orange juice provides so much flavor that the salad is still creamy and delicious, even with less than half the fat
  • Serving it on a bed of spinach lightens up the dish even more, and
  • With the spinach, a serving takes up a good portion of your plate so there’s less room for things that deserve smaller portions, like that cheesy potato au gratin, well-marbled prime rib, buttery bread and so on

So here’s to holiday enjoyment:

Light Orange Waldorf Spinach Salad

  • ½ cup walnut pieces

Warm a heavy bottomed saute pan over medium-low heat.  When warm, place walnuts in pan to toast, stirring and turning every couple minutes until they are lightly browned and smell nicely toasted.   Remove and chop roughly into ¼” pieces.

  • 4-5 stalks celery diced to about ¼”
  • 1 lrg. apple diced to about ½”
  • 2 Asian pears diced to about ½”

While walnuts toast, toss celery, apple and pear together in a glass or metal bowl.  Stir in walnuts once they are toasted. Now make dressing:

  • 2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 4 Tbsp. orange juice concentrate
  • 1-2 Tbsp. minced fresh tarragon, thyme or half and half (to taste)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Using a fork, whisk dressing ingredients together in a small jar or bowl.  Pour ½ to ¾ of dressing over fruit mixture (to taste) and stir gently to combine well.

  • 1 lrg. bunch spinach, large stems removed, torn roughly into 2” squares, or a 6-8 oz. bag pre-washed spinach (baby spinach is best)

Arrange spinach around the outside of a salad platter or large, low-sided bowl, leaving a hole in the middle where fruit mixture can be mounded. Serve with remaining salad dressing on the side.

Note: Since there are no standard sizes when it comes to produce, aim for
roughly equal amounts of celery, apples and pears, but of course don’t worry if your amounts don’t come out perfectly.

New Year’s Resolutions: Don’t Underestimate the Power of Good Intention

Passing out invites to our annual Thanksgiving Coffee last week, I stopped by Sue and Scott’s house.  Scott has been losing weight recently and we were chatting about his successes when Susan burst into the room waving a couple cards in front of my face.  “We’re doing it!  We’re doing it!” she babbled and bubbled.  (Sidenote:  Susan is a delightfully excitable person!)

It took a couple minutes to figure out what she was talking about:  Turns out those “cards” were the Commit Cards and Simple Prescription for Good Eating Cards that I had given them at a class–three years ago!  But instead of just pitching them, Susan had put them to use:  On her Commit Card she wrote down her deepest eating desire:  “To do everyday good eating, with Scott.”  Then she mounted the Commit Card on the refrigerator, next to the Simple Prescription for Good Eating Card, which defined “everyday good eating” by way of four simple guidelines.

There those cards stayed, posted on Susan’s refrigerator for three years.  The ones she waved in front of my face were yellowed and faded from kitchen steam, splattered with food and tattered, but they did their job:  Sue and Scott have been successfully following the South Beach Diet for three months.

More importantly, they aren’t just slugging and sacrificing their way through a pain-in-the-neck-diet for a few weeks.  They have made the lifestyle transformations and mind shifts that will make healthier eating a routine and continuing part of their lives.

And better yet, Sue is looking ahead to life after South Beach.Because she doesn’t want to return to her old ways, she is asking me the right questions now, about how to get set up for making good meals without the structure of the diet to rely on.  She’s wondering what to stock in her pantry and how to organize it for easy access.  She knows that planning ahead is critical and wants to begin getting into the habit.  She knows that she and Scott will want a little more variety at the dinner table, which means new recipes that still meet the South Beach guidelines.

Celebrating all the good news, Sue and I had to stop and marvel at the amazing way good intentions work.  Sue and Scott have sputtered, started and stopped over the years, and to be honest, I wondered whether they could really pull this together.

What I didn’t know was how Susan had kept those cards pasted to the frig.  How she had kindled her good eating intentions and kept them strong.  How she had just kept putting one foot in front of the other, steadfastedly making small changes that were all but invisible to the outside eye.

And that’s how big changes are made:  For what seems like forever, you stumble along in the twilight with just the small flame of good intention to guide you.  Then, all of a sudden, it begins getting lighter and you realize that the little flame and all the little steps have taken you halfway up the mountain.  From that point you can look back to see just how much progress you’ve made.

That’s when you realize that the hardest part of the journey–the getting started part–is behind you.  You’re far enough along that there’s no danger of slipping back, and even though the way ahead is long, it’s manageable and the benefits of going forward are clear.

Thanks Sue and Scott for the lesson on never doubting the power of good intention and putting one foot in front of the other.  Oh ye of little faith!

Want copies of the Commit Card and Simple Prescription for Good Eating that helped Sue and Scott?  Cut and paste this paragraph into an email to me.  I’ll be happy to pass them along, just in time for New Year’s Resolutions.

Food Combining–Don’t the French Get It?!

Eating a Salad Nicoise for lunch today I was struck by an odd thing: This classic French salad features both tuna and potatoes—a protein and a carb. Don’t the French know about food combining—the eating approach that says proteins and carbs are never to be seen together on the same plate? Oh and by the way, my Nicoise, came with a hard-boiled egg, too!

I’m sure this isn’t the only nutritional faux pas the French have committed. Surely you’ve read about all the fat in their diets. And all that wine they drink. And the desserts—ooh lah lah. Calories, calories and more calories.

Despite these flagrant violations of the Laws of Good Nutrition, the fact remains that the French don’t have an obesity problem. So what gives?

A couple things come to mind: First, this salad (and French food in general) is made with real food: lettuce, olives, tomatoes, egg, tuna and potatoes. No factory formed foods to add cheap bulk, no chemical preservatives to keep the potatoes white, no artificial flavorings sprinkled over the top to titillate our taste buds—just foods straight from the earth.

What also comes to mind is the book, French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano. Although Ms. Guiliano is a high-powered businesswoman in the wine industry, she has taken it on herself to share the simple secrets followed by French women to maintain a healthy weight. Striking about the secrets is how down to earth and practical they are. There’s no fancy weighing of food portions, no calculating grams of protein, no body fat assessments, no obsession over vitamin counts, no reading food labels, and so on.

There’s simply eating—really high quality food (that is automatically rich in all the nutrients we need) eaten in small amounts (which automatically regulates calories) and that is enjoyed supremely (the coup de grace that allows French women to eat practically anything.)

No doubt this kind of talk sounds like heresy to American women (and men) who are steeped in nutrion-ese. How can we possibly just eat?

I joke about how ours is probably the first and only culture over the history of humans and the face of the earth that has to re-learn how to just eat:

  • foods that come straight from the earth—or as close as possible thereto,
  • without anxiety over fat content, sodium milligrams and so on,
  • without worrying about daily protein requirements, food combining, and so on,
  • with spectacular relish and gusto and enjoyment, and then
  • not eating when we are full and waiting until we are hungry to eat again.

Can you imagine engaging in such outrageously sacrilegious behavior? Flies smack dab in the face of the “Religion of Nutrition.” That’s what Michael Pollen (Omnivore’s Dilemma) calls the fervor that has corrupted the daily act of eating.

So here’s a thought:  Consider being a revolutionary. Eating real and simple is a mild form of revolution that could be pretty enjoyable to engage in!

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