Monthly Archives

March 2017

book review, recipe

Dark Matter + Spanish Bean Stew with Chorizo

Usually when I finish a novel that I really enjoyed and think Scott would like it, I recommend he read it too. He tends to be more of a non-fiction reader, so I choose pretty carefully. Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter is one of those rare novels that Scott read first and then recommended to me.

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I love science fiction that grabs you from the start and has you rooting for something bigger (and usually stranger) than you ever imagined. This novel certainly fits the bill, and it’s one that everyone can relate to because, at its heart, it’s all about going home. After Jason Dessen is abducted, he finds himself in a situation he never would’ve imagined – one that calls into question all of the choices he has ever made.  

Since it’s a book that’s all about the plot, it’s hard to say too much without giving it away, so I won’t. It starts out simple but quickly gets complicated, pulling Jason into a twisty universe that will have you anxious to get to the end. If you loved The Martian (and I absolutely did!), you’ll love this.

Throughout Dark Matter, Jason is a bit untethered, guided only by his desperation to reunite with his family. His wife, Daniela, makes him a traditional Spanish dish once or twice a year that serves as a reminder of everything he’s missing. I didn’t have much to go on outside of “a bean stew made with an assortment of native legumes and meats. Chorizo, pancetta, black sausage.” So, I did some googling and found this recipe for a Hearty Spanish Bean Stew with Chorizo.

With some minor tweaks (but still no black/blood sausage, thank you very much), Scott and I were ready to enjoy some of Daniela’s stew. First, I heated some olive oil in a medium pot and add the chopped pancetta, cooking until just crisp. Then I added the onion and minced garlic, cooking for a few more minutes until lightly browned.

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I stirred in the spices before adding the browned andouille chunks, white beans with their liquid and chicken broth. The whole stew got a few generous stirs and then I let it come up to a simmer.

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Once it simmered for about 25 minutes, I added the browned (slightly crispy) chorizo and cooked the stew for another 5 minutes or so. I didn’t need any additional salt and pepper, but check here and season as needed. I served it as The Dessens prefer it, with grated cheddar, chopped cilantro and a generous dollop of sour cream. A nice glass of Spanish red wine completed the meal.

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Hearty Spanish Bean Stew with Chorizo

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Print


Adapted From: Whole Foods

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ pound pancetta, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon paprika, preferably Spanish
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1½ andouille sausage links, cut into chunks and then browned
  • 3 16-oz cans white beans, with their liquid
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4-5 oz. ground chorizo, cooked through until browned
  • Grated sharp cheddar, sour cream, cilantro (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat oil and pancetta in a medium pot over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until pancetta is just crisp. Add garlic and onions and cook until lightly browned.
  2. Stir in paprika, thyme, salt and pepper, then add andouille, beans/liquid and chicken broth. Simmer gently for 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. Add chorizo and cook for 5 minutes more.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and serve with desired toppings. Grated cheddar cheese, sour cream and cilantro recommended.

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

1984 + Artisan Dinner Rolls

I never read George Orwell’s 1984 in high school. I also never read Animal Farm until my boss recommended it to me as an adult, and while it was fine, I wasn’t particularly moved to seek out other Orwellian novels. But, like many Americans, once Trump was elected and “alternative facts” became a thing, I got interested. Suddenly, it was selling out everywhere – even Amazon – and I had to backorder my copy.

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For those of you who don’t know, 1984 is a dystopian novel that imagines a world where Big Brother watches over your every move, the Thought Police have jurisdiction and the news is altered on a regular basis to better correspond to reality and/or change the past. It was written 35 years prior to 1984, and now, another almost 35 years later, it is more relevant than ever.

In the bleak world Orwell paints, the main character Winston Smith is a member of the Outer Party, and since he actively participates in spreading propaganda and revising history, he lives a decently comfortable life – even if it’s under constant scrutiny. While we primarily follow his journey for the truth, I found the “Proles” to be the most interesting, and Winston too, thinks of them as the best chance to overthrow the ruling Inner Party. Though they are roughly 85% of the population, they exist only to supply labor and grow the population.

I’m not sure I would’ve fully understood this book, let alone appreciated it had I read it in high school. It’s not a book that I like even now, as alarming as it was, but it certainly respect its message. I think everyone should read it once, and it was certainly worth it for me.

I could’ve made something decadent to represent the Inner Party, who always seem to be enjoying chocolate and wine while the rest of the country is told there’s a shortage, but I felt like a rustic bread was more representative of those who struggle beneath them – the Outer Party and the Proles. Outside of culinary school, I haven’t attempted bread, so I found a recipe for Unbelievably Easy Artisan Rolls and set to work.

As promised, the rolls were unbelievably easy to make. Just before going to bed one night, I whisked together the flour, salt and yeast before adding 2 cups of room temperature water. I mixed it all together with a rubber spatula, covered it with plastic wrap and set the bowl on the stove to hang out while I slept.

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In the morning, I removed the plastic wrap to see how much the dough had risen. It wasn’t a crazy amount, but it definitely had expanded and there were bubbles on top.

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With the oven coming up to 425-degrees F, I began coating the large ball of dough with flour and then used a bench scraper to divide it into a dozen smaller pieces. With each well-coated with more flour, I formed them into balls and placed them on the parchment paper with the pinched side down (to make a smooth top). They rested for another 20 minutes before going in the oven.

I baked them for 15 minutes, rotated the pan, and baked for an additional 5 minutes. Mine probably could’ve spent another few minutes in the oven to get some more color, but I pulled them and allowed them to cool at that point – mostly because I’m impatient and they looked done enough to me.

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More importantly, they tasted delicious! They were great alongside soup, salad and pasta – all of our meals for the rest of the week. With rolls this easy, I probably don’t have any excuse for not making my own ever again.

Artisan Rolls

  • Servings: 10-16
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Ingredients

  • 4 cups bread flour, plus extra for shaping [I used all-purpose flour because it’s what I had at home and the rolls still tasted delightful.]
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dry yeast
  • 2 cups room temperature tap water

Directions

  1. In a medium-large bowl, whisk together the bread flour, salt, and yeast. Make a well in the center and add the water. Mix with a sturdy rubber spatula until all flour is incorporated. Don’t worry, the dough will be wet and sticky, that’s how it should be. Cover bowl with a plastic wrap and leave to rise at room temperature overnight or for up to 12 hours.
  2. The following morning (or after 8-12 hours), the dough will have risen, but it may still look shaggy and it’s surface will be covered with bubbles.
  3. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper*. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
  4. Spread a generous ¼ cup of flour on a work surface. Dump the dough out onto the floured surface and turn it several times to coat with flour. I like to use a bench scraper for this.
  5. Divide the dough into 12-16 equal portions, turning each piece in the flour to coat. (The bench scraper is also great for cutting the dough). Shape each piece into a ball, pulling edges under and pinching together to make a smooth top. Invert balls and place on prepared pan, pinched side up. This will give you craggy, rustic textured rolls. If the dough is sticky as you’re shaping, just roll the piece in more of the flour. Let shaped rolls rise for 20 minutes.
  6. Transfer pan to the oven. Bake 15 minutes. Rotate pan. Bake 5 minutes more or until nicely golden. Transfer rolls to cooling rack to cool completely.
  7. If making in advance, remove from oven when pale golden brown (about 3-4 minutes less). Cool completely, then freeze on a baking sheet. Once frozen, transfer rolls to a large zip lock bag and store in the freezer. To serve, allow rolls to thaw, then heat for 8-10 minutes at 350˚F.

of interest

Literature + Clickbait

I don’t know about everybody else, but March Madness has really been limiting my read-time these last few days. And when I wasn’t watching the games at work (I kid! …a little bit), my lovely coworker Sam shared this article with me, which is relevant not only to my blog but to our jobs as well. 

Traditionally, clickbait is just that – a catchy and/or sensationalist headline meant to bait readers into clicking on them, usually to generate revenue. Something everyone should be wary of these days, but in some cases, such as with this campaign, it’s something I think we can all get behind. Dallas bookstore The Wild Detectives launched Litbait last year on National Read a Book Day (which I’ll have to remember when it rolls around this year!), using witty headlines to direct people to blog posts that included the texts of entire books.

A very clever campaign that I love! Definitely worthy of all the clicks. Check out the full story with examples here.

I definitely would’ve clicked on “British guy dies after selfie gone wrong.” Which link are you not too ashamed to admit you would’ve tried?

 

book review, recipe

Housekeeping + Poached Eggs on Mushroom Arugula Toast

Marilynne Robinson is perhaps best known for her Gilead series, of which the first novel was published to much acclaim about 25 years after the book I’m here to share today, Housekeeping. This novel is understated, following sisters Ruth and Lucille, as they are left in the quiet, flood-prone town of Fingerbone to live in their grandmother’s house.

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After their grandmother dies, the house is passed on to two great aunts who move in to take care of Ruth and Lucille, though they seem to doubt their abilities to do so. Late one evening, the girls’ Aunt Sylvie appears, seemingly unaware of her mother’s passing. She is greeted with surprise and a quick meal of poached eggs.  

Eventually, Sylvie becomes the girls’ caretaker, though she isn’t much for mothering, cooking or housekeeping, instead piling up cans and newspapers in the living room, preferring to eat her food cold and allowing the girls to skip school. Her transient ways leave her restless in the house. In response, Lucille seeks out a more normal childhood; Ruth can’t help but be drawn in, with implications that last their whole lives.

Shortly after Sylvie takes up permanent residence, a flood seeps into Fingerbone, covering the town with water and dampening everything, including her spirits. So, I thought some local mushrooms, which require a damp environment to grow well, would pair nicely with the poached eggs Sylvie ate upon her arrival. This weekend’s brunch was Poached Eggs on Mushroom Arugula Toast.

First, I roughly chopped my mushrooms (so nicely picked up by Scott at Eastern Market on Saturday morning) and my flat leaf parsley.

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I set a high-sided skillet mostly filled with water onto the stove to begin coming to a boil for the poached eggs. In another medium skillet, I heated through a tablespoon or so of olive oil and added the mushrooms. After a few minutes, when they were lightly browned and softened, I added the minced garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes.

About a minute later, I added the goat cheese and milk and stirred until combined. I seasoned with salt and black pepper before adding the butter. At this point, I turned off the heat because my poaching water was ready to go. I also slipped my bread into the toaster.

I poured approximately 2 tablespoons of vinegar into my softly boiling water (vinegar will vary based on the amount of water, but for about 3 inches of water in a 10” pan, 2 tablespoons worked perfectly). I started with 2 eggs and cracked each into its own small bowl, lowering them one at a time into the water so that a bit of the water could seep in and help to start setting the egg white. I slowly poured the egg into the boiling water and used a wooden spoon to “collect” the egg whites around the yolk. I repeated with the second egg and set a time for 3 minutes.

I reignited the heat under the mushrooms and added the parsley and arugula so it could begin to wilt while the eggs finished poaching. I placed the finished toast on a plate, topped with the mushroom mixture and, once the eggs were done (fish them carefully out of the water with a slotted spoon), I added them to the top of the toasts.

Poached Eggs on Mushroom Arugula Toast

  • Servings: 2
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Slightly Adapted From: Shutterbean (whose pictures are much nicer than mine)

Ingredients

  • 2 slices hearty bread, toasted
  • a glug olive oil
  • 6 oz. mixed mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 oz. goat cheese
  • a pad of butter
  • kosher salt & fresh ground pepper
  • a pinch red pepper flakes
  • ⅓ cup chopped Italian parsley
  • a handful of arugula
  • 4 eggs, poached in two batches

Directions

  1. Begin by heating a deep-sided skillet or wide pot filled with about 2-3 inches of water over medium-high heat. This should be brought to a soft boil while you cook the mushroom topping.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat with a glug of olive oil. Add in mushrooms and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for another minute.
  3. Add in the milk, and goat cheese, stirring until well combined. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in butter. Turn off the heat while you make the poached eggs.
  4. Add about 2 tablespoons of vinegar to the softly boiling water. (If it boils to aggressively it will cause the whites of the eggs to fall apart.)
  5. Put each egg in a small bowl (a measuring cup works well too). Carefully tip the bowl into the pot so that a bit of the hot water helps to start setting the egg and then pour the egg slowly into the pot. Using a wooden spoon or similarly blunt cooking utensil, gently push the egg whites over/around the yolk. Repeat with the second egg. Allow eggs to cook for approximately 3 minutes.
  6. While the eggs cook, put your toast in the toaster.
  7. Turn the heat back on under the mushrooms and add the parsley and arugula. When arugula has wilted, take mushrooms off the heat and transfer them to the top of the toasts. Place a poached egg (or two) on the top of each mound of mushrooms. Season with salt & pepper and serve immediately.

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

Welcome to Braggsville + Belgian Waffles

A story about a small town in Georgia starts at UC Berkeley with a group of four unlikely friends. In an alternate history class, the “4 Little Indians” hatch a plan that has D’Aron bringing them all back to his hometown for a reenactment of the Civil War. Their demonstration is expected to raise eyebrows and challenge the local mindset, but it ends up changing more than just opinions.

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Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson was chosen as the inaugural book for my office’s new Diversity Council Book Club. It certainly spawned some interesting conversation around race, class and unconscious bias and challenged the thinking of everyone in the room.

While I struggled with the writing style, which made it hard to tell who was speaking, if anyone was speaking at all and sometimes what the heck was actually going on, I realized (after some discussion with the group) that that might have been the point. Throughout the book, there is some confusion as to what events actually unfold and how, but one scene that is a very clear turning point in the story happens at a waffle house, while the foursome eats breakfast.

After finding a waffle recipe to accompany this novel, I borrowed a waffle maker from a generous coworker and set to work. With quite a few steps (and dishes), this recipe certainly isn’t as easy as some of the ones out there, but it was definitely delicious. If you have the time on a weekend morning, I suggest giving it a try.

With my oven at 200 degrees F, I combined the dry ingredients – flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With that set aside, I also combined most of the wet ingredients – buttermilk, milk (I used 2%), vegetable oil, vanilla extract and egg yolks.

In yet another bowl, I used a hand mixer to whip up my egg whites. Once they formed soft peaks, I added 3 tablespoons of sugar and continued whipping to form stiff, glossy peaks.

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At this point, I turned on my waffle maker to preheat. (It didn’t take very long to get up to temperature.)

While whisking, I poured the wet ingredients into a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and mixed until they were just combined. Finally, I folded in the egg white mixture. With the batter all ready to go, I began making the waffles.

I had to use about 1 cup of the mixture per waffle, but be sure to follow the directions on your waffle maker. Since I could only make one at a time, I followed the suggestion of Jaclyn at Cooking Classy and used the warm oven to keep them from getting cold while I finished up.

Though there are plenty of ways to “fancy up” the waffles, we went the classic route and topped them with a bit of butter and some maple syrup. I hope you enjoy as much as we did!

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Buttermilk Belgian Waffles

  • Servings: about 6
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Ingredients

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cups buttermilk
  • ½ cup milk
  • 6 Tbsp vegetable oil or canola oil
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • 3 TBS granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Preheat a Belgian waffle iron (if you don’t have a Belgian waffle maker a regular waffle maker would work fine). In a mixing bowl whisk together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt for 20 seconds, make a well in center of mixture and set aside.
  2. In a separate mixing bowl whisk together buttermilk, milk, vegetable oil, vanilla extract and egg yolks until combined.
  3. In a separate bowl, using an electric hand mixer set on high speed, whip egg whites (make sure there isn’t a drop of yolk or they’ll never fluff up) until soft peaks form. Add sugar and whip until stiff glossy peaks form.
  4. While whisking, pour buttermilk mixture into well in flour mixture and mix just until combined (batter should be slightly lumpy). Fold in egg white mixture.
  5. Cook batter in waffle iron according to manufacturer’s directions. Once each waffle is done, transfer to warm oven and allow to rest until crisp. Serve warm with butter and maple syrup.

Variations: Serve with sweetened whipped cream, fresh berries and raspberry/blueberry or strawberry syrup. For churro waffles, brush top of waffle with melted butter (be sure to get in each square) then pour a generous amount of cinnamon sugar into a 9-inch pie dish and dunk butter coated side in cinnamon sugar mixture.

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

Commonwealth + Orange Drop Cocktail

I have never read Ann Patchett before, even though Bel Canto has long been on my to-read list. I had requested her latest novel Commonwealth from my library shortly after it was published last summer and it only just arrived. From the first chapter, I found it slowly engrossing. That is to say, it’s not an action-packed page turner, but I became so absorbed in the characters that I happily followed their stories over the decades the novel covers.

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The story of two families – four parents, six children – begins at Franny’s christening celebration, which is transformed by an unsuitable gift of liquor and a backyard full of orange trees. So, too, are their lives forever changed. We follow both families, which is a muddled mix of estranged spouses, sort of step-siblings and a black sheep or two, through the next 50 years of their lives.

A lot of the drama seems to happen in memories or flashbacks, but as with all families, nothing can be buried too deep and has lasting effects on each of them, even if they deal with it in their own ways. Once grown up, Franny becomes an avid reader and a cocktail waitress, giving her the unique opportunity to end up dating a successful novelist. This, too, has an effect on the family – one I’ll admit I didn’t expect.

It’s hard to say too much without spoiling Commonwealth’s bigger plot points, so I’ll get right to the recipe – this time, a cocktail. I didn’t use gin, which even those at Franny’s party thought an odd pairing with orange juice, but instead went with a more traditional vodka-based drink, the Orange Drop.

First, I made a simple syrup – equal parts granulated sugar and water – and allowed it to fully cool before mixing the rest of the drink.

Then, I measured it out before adding a citrus-flavored vodka and orange juice. With a quick stir, I poured the cocktail into two rocks glasses, more akin with the glasses used spur-of-the-moment at the party. Again, not to be too fussy, I garnished them simply with half an orange slice each, and served with ice.

Orange Drop

  • Servings: 1 drink
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Adapted from: Vanilla and Bean

Ingredients

  • 2 oz citrus-flavored vodka
  • 2 ½ oz pulp-free orange juice
  • ¼ oz simple syrup
  • 1 orange, cut into half slices
  • ice

Directions

  1. If you need to make simple syrup, add equal parts granulated sugar and water to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Cool completely before using in drink mixture.
  2. In a measuring container with a spout, add the vodka, orange juice and simple syrup. Stir with a spoon. Pour into glass of your choice.
  3. Add ice according to preference. Garnish with an orange slice, if desired. (Add an additional splash of orange juice, if you prefer a slightly less stronger drink.)

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

book review, recipe

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things + Mashed Potatoes

The title of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things really got it right. Bryn Greenwood’s novel is about a little girl, Wavy, whose father is a meth dealer. While the subject matter was ugly, I thought the writing in this novel was beautiful. I was captivated even though I often wanted to put it down for a bit of a mental break.

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Wavy’s life is hard for many reasons, not the least of which is that, at eight years old, she is essentially the caregiver for her little brother. And, because of the life she was born into, she spends most of the novel seeking out the love and safety most children take for granted. The central bright spot in the novel is Wavy’s relationship with one of her father’s gentle but tattooed employees, Kellen. Not without its own problems, it still gives her the protection she craves.

Wavy struggles to eat in front of people, and while she might not partake, she takes it upon herself to ensure there is good food on the table at home. Kellen brings her the ingredients she requests. One of her favorite things about his grocery shopping is that he doesn’t forget any items and he always brings real butter for the mashed potatoes.

In one of her letters to Kellen, Wavy devotes an entire paragraph to mashed potatoes, and so that’s what decided to make to complement her story. I found a recipe online for Creamy Mashed Potatoes, with lots of real butter, of course.

Since it was just the two of us, I cut the recipe in half. I peeled half of the potatoes in a 5-lb bag (about 6) and added them to a large pot of water. Once it came to a boil, I partially covered the pot with a lid and let it continue to boil for about 20 minutes. (Timing will vary.)

I drained the potatoes and put them into my stand mixer bowl, using the whisk attachment to break them up by hand.

Then, I put the bowl in place and attached the whisk, setting it on low speed. After 30 seconds, I switched it up to medium speed and began to add the hot milk. Next, I added the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the potatoes were smooth and fluffy.  Finally, I poured in the salt, plus a little black pepper to taste.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes

  • Servings: 6-8, as a side
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Ingredients

  • 4 lbs (12 medium) russet potatoes, peeled
  • 1 ¼ cups hot milk
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature (not melted)
  • 1 ½ tsp salt, or to taste
  • 1 TBS fresh parsley or chives, finely chopped for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. Peel potatoes (cut potatoes in half if very large). If you want the potatoes to be the smoothest possible, you can take the time to remove the little knots from the potatoes with a small spoon or the tip of a potatoes peeler. Place potatoes in a large pot (5 Qt+) and add enough cold water to cover potatoes. Bring to a boil and cook partially covered until easily pierced with a knife (boil 20-25 minutes depending on the size of your potatoes; mine took 22 min).
  2. Drain well and transfer to the bowl of your stand mixer. Grab the whisk attachment and mash potatoes lightly by hand to break them up. Fit mixer with whisk attachment and start mixer on low speed 30 seconds then increase to medium and slowly drizzle in HOT milk.
  3. With mixer on, add softened butter 1 Tbsp at a time, waiting a few seconds between each addition. Potatoes should be whipped and fluffy. Finally add 1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste.


To keep mashed potatoes warm until serving: cover potatoes and place into a warm oven or transfer to a slow cooker on the low setting to keep potatoes warm until ready to serve.

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.