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book review, recipe

This Is How It Always Is + Simple Orange Salmon

Often, I read a book that has been the talk of the town (so to speak), a book that everyone loves, a must-read, and I’m so excited to dig into it, convinced I will feel the same way, and then I’m disappointed. I’m sure I’ve written in the past about tempering my own expectations, though I know I’m guilty of it too – if I love a book, I can’t recommend it enough. I’ll talk about it constantly and push it on unsuspecting friends. I don’t think Laurie Frankel’s novel This Is How It Always Is falls into the disappointing category, but I think I might have liked it more had I stumbled upon it on my own – and not read it so closely behind the real life saga of a similar family in Becoming Nicole.

That being said, it’s an important novel – tackling controversial issues head on, causing you to examine how you feel and why you feel that way, but doing so in a relatable, enjoyable story – and I liked it for those reasons. The story centers around Claude, the youngest brother in an accepting, open-minded family of five boys. He wants to be a girl when he grows up – inside he feels more like Poppy than like Claude. Though Poppy’s family is fully supportive, the sacrifices they must make to keep this secret affects each of them in unique ways.

After four boys, Poppy’s mom desperately wanted a girl. On the day Claude was conceived, Rosie went through a complicated ritual concocted of random wives’ tales and legends, doing everything in her power to have a baby girl. Claude was born. I’m not entirely sure the result was what she had in mind, but ultimately, Poppy was also born, and their family was complete.

As part of her ritual, Rosie made salmon for her and her husband’s lunch, served alongside chocolate chip cookies. I decided to make the salmon as well, though without the cookies for dessert, and in honor of the orange peel on the cover, incorporate the fruit into the recipe as well.

To start, I patted my two salmon fillets dry on both sides and seasoned them with fresh ground black pepper and salt.

I heated some olive oil in a medium skillet and laid the fillets skin side down to begin cooking. After about 5-7 minutes, I flipped the fillets and added half an orange to the pan to grill alongside the fish.

The salmon cooked for another 4 or so minutes, until it was opaque throughout. I plated it with some sautéed zucchini and a wedge (or two) of orange. We squeezed the orange over the salmon just before eating.

Simple Orange Salmon

  • Servings: 2
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Ingredients

– 2 salmon fillets with skin, 4 to 6 oz each – 1 orange, halved – salt and freshly ground black pepper – olive oil

Directions

  1. Pat salmon fillets dry with a paper towel. Season each side generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  2. Add 2-3 turns of olive oil to a medium or large skillet (depending on size of salmon fillets) and allow to heat through. Add salmon, skin side down. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until skin is a nice golden brown.
  3. Flip fillets and add orange half to skillet. Allow salmon to cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, until fish is opaque throughout. Watch orange and remove when it begins to char.
  4. Serve salmon immediately with orange wedges. Squeeze orange over fish before eating.

 

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book review, recipe

Lilac Girls + Poppy Seed Cake

No matter how many WWII novels I read or stories I hear, I’m still astonished at the atrocities that took place and how many people were able to overcome and survive such horrifying ordeals. Though I usually devour these books, which are often natural page-turners, I find them hard to get through mentally. Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls was no exception.

Inspired by the real Caroline Farriday and a group of Polish prisoners called “the Rabbits,” this novel tells the story of three women whose lives intersect at the Ravensbruck, the only Nazi concentration camp for women. In alternating chapters, we follow Kasia, a Polish teenager who becomes one of the Rabbits; Herta Oberhauser, a German doctor stationed at Ravensbruck; and Caroline, a New York City socialite, who does her best to assist in the war effort from abroad.

Though I’d be interested in finding out more about the real Caroline, I found her chapters to be the least compelling. Honestly, her storyline was the reason I couldn’t give this book a full 4 stars on Goodreads. (I would’ve given it 3.5 if Goodreads allowed it, but they don’t – one of my pet peeves.) Kasia’s and Herta’s chapters, on the other hand, had me turning the page constantly. I liked that Kelly told the story from such different points of view.

In one of the bright spots at Ravensbruck, Kasia and her sister receive a package from their father and unwrapped it to find not only chocolate and a sign of hope, but some poppy-seed cake as well. As she put it, “Polish cake would be good medicine.” I hadn’t heard of poppy seed cake before, but I knew it was the recipe to make this time around. I found one from Jenny Can Cook and set to work.

Upon starting the recipe, I realized I only had half as many poppy seeds as I needed. I’d bought one 2.6 oz bottle of poppy seeds at the grocery store, because the pickings were slim. If you find yourself in the same situation, you may want to pick up two containers, or if you’re trying this for the first time, you may want to make a smaller loaf instead, like I did. When I made it, I adjusted the recipe and made a half-sized loaf instead of the full recipe (I included the full recipe below).

First, I ground the poppy seeds 2 Tablespoons at a time, until they were moist and looked a lot like wet coffee grounds. I added boiling water to a small bowl and stirred in the poppy seeds until they were all moistened, letting them stand uncovered. Then, using the same grinder, I ground up my toasted almonds.

In a large bowl, I combined the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. To that I added, the warmed milk (slightly less than 120 degrees F since I was using active dry yeast), followed by the oil and the egg. Using an electric mixer, I beat it on high for about 2 minutes, and then added in the extra flour, beating it until it formed a mass. Mine was slightly sticky when I transferred it to the board, so I ended up adding about a Tablespoon more of flour (to my halved recipe). I should’ve taken a picture of my messy dough fingers, but it wouldn’t have been safe to grab my phone to do so. Dough everywhere!

I kneaded it and let it rest for 10 minutes while I combined the filling. To the poppy seeds, I added the ground almonds, lemon and orange zests, sugar and vanilla extract.

I rolled the dough out to about 5” x 6” (again with the halved recipe) and spread the filling on the top, almost to the edges.

Then, I carefully rolled it, placed it seam-side down, and tucked the ends under, placing it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I covered it with a cloth and left it untouched in a warm place (aka my upstairs on an 80-degree July day) for about an hour and a half.

I opted to top it with an egg wash and poppy seeds before baking, thinking the glaze might make it too sweet. It also didn’t seem like Papa’s bread for his girls would’ve included a glaze, but I could be wrong. If you prefer a glaze, see the recipe notes.

I baked it for slightly less than the recipe called for due to size, but even with halving the recipe, I think it could’ve used maybe 5 minutes longer (or 30 minutes total) in the oven. It was hard to let it cool for a long time once it came out of the oven, but trust me, it’s much better when it’s fully cooled. I also personally like the outside thirds of the bread better than the middle third.

I hope you enjoy! Have you read the Lilac Girls? What did you think?

Poppy Seed Cake

  • Servings: 1 loaf
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Dough Ingredients

  • 1½ cups bread (or all purpose) flour
  • 1 packet (2 tsp/7 gms/1/4 oz) yeast – instant or active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅔ cup 1% milk heated to 120-130° F for instant yeast (or 110-120°F for active dry)
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 1 egg
  • about ¾ cup extra flour

Filling Ingredients

  • 1 cup poppy seeds
  • ⅓ cup boiling water
  • ¼ cup ground toasted almonds (20 count)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • zest of ½ a lemon and ½ an orange

Directions

  1. Grind poppy seeds (see note below). Place in a small bowl, stir in boiling water & let stand uncovered.
  2. Grind almonds and set aside.
  3. Place flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in large mixing bowl.
  4. Stir in milk followed by oil and egg.
  5. Beat on high for 2 minutes. Stir in extra flour until dough forms a mass.
  6. Place dough on floured board and knead 100 turns (about 2 minutes). Cover and let rest 10 minutes.
  7. Meantime, add ground almonds, sugar, vanilla and zests to poppy seeds.
  8. Roll dough into a 10 x 12 shape. Spread filling almost to edges, roll starting at 10-inch end and place on parchment-lined baking sheet, seam side down. Pinch and tuck ends under.
  9. Cover with a towel and rise in a warm spot for 1½ hours or until double in size.
  10. Before making, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with additional poppy seeds.
  11. Preheat oven to 350° F and bake for 35 minutes. Allow to cool fully before slicing and serving.

From: Jenny Can Cook

Instead of coating the top with poppy seeds, if you prefer a sweeter bread you can add a glaze. Allow baked cake to cool for 10 minutes and drizzle with glaze, made using 1 cup powdered sugar and about 2 Tablespoons milk, added slowly.

If using a spice grinder, grind seeds slowly, about 2 Tablespoons at a time, until they feel moist – about 10 seconds per each portion. Scoop out any that stick to the bottom of the grinder as you go. Once they are all ground, use the same grinder to grind the almonds.


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book review, recipe

Small Great Things + Bite-Size Appetizer Trio

When I sat down with Jodi Picoult’s latest novel Small Great Things, I admit I hadn’t read a description. One of my clients had recommended it to me last last year, so I requested it from the library and sort of forgot about it. It came in a couple of weeks ago and I dove right in without expectation.

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Right off the bat, this quote hit me. It felt so on-the-nose about the world we’re currently living in; I knew the right book had found me again.

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The narrative began, and I was immediately engrossed. I was also often uncomfortable. Three points of view bring this story to life – a black nurse, a white supremacist man, and a white lawyer who “doesn’t see color.” It isn’t shy about race or racism. The topic is the crux of the novel, the reason the story is being told. (Make sure to read the Author’s Note at the end.)

Ruth Jefferson doesn’t realize when she walks into the hospital room of proud new parents that she’s walking into a room of white supremacists. Despite her 20 years of experience, she is prohibited from having contact with them or their baby because of the color of her skin. The next day, when another nurse has no choice but to leave Ruth alone with the baby, he goes into cardiac arrest. She is forced to choose between obeying orders and her duty as a nurse, and ultimately, she is blamed for the baby’s death.

During the course of Ruth’s trial, each character examines their lives, their beliefs and the world around them. It’s intense and it will make you examine yourself and our world as well. Like any story told about race – real or imagined – it made me think, and I still can’t stop recommending this book to everyone I encounter.

To go along with Small Great Things, I opted to make a trio of bite-size appetizers. I wanted to make a “well-balanced” variety, so I opted for meatballs, spinach artichoke dip bites, and mini crab-stuffed mushrooms. All of them were easy and could, for the most part, be prepped ahead of time. Of course, they were delicious too.

I started with making the filling for the spinach artichoke dip bites. I combined my spinach (make sure it’s thawed and thoroughly drained), chopped artichoke hearts, garlic, garlic powder, salt and parmesan cheese.

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Then, I added the softened cream cheese and half of the shredded cheese, ground some black pepper over the bowl and mixed it all together. I set the filling aside while I cut the crescent roll dough into squares. I sprayed the mini muffin tin with cooking spray and popped one square in each opening, before filling it with the spinach artichoke mixture. I didn’t stress out about it too much – just made sure each one was amply filled and had a good sprinkle of shredded cheese on top.

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These should bake in a 375 degree oven for 15-17 minutes. After they’re finished, allow them to cool for 5-10 minutes before removing from the muffin tin.

Then, I moved on to the mushrooms. First, I cleaned my little army of mini bella mushrooms. (These are my favorite kind of mushroom because they have great flavor, but feel free to use white button mushrooms if you prefer.)

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The original recipe recommended that you toss the mushrooms in melted butter until they’re well-coated. I did that, but I took out of my recipe below. They were a little too moist, in my opinion. If you’d like to lightly brush the tops only with olive oil (or melted butter) that is probably sufficient.

I lined them all up on a foil-covered sheet pan while I made the filling. To make the the crab stuffing, take a medium bowl and combine the lump crab meat, cream cheese, shredded cheese, Worcestershire sauce and green onions.

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Then, I stuffed each mushroom with as much filling as would fit. It’s okay to be generous here – I had them all a little over-filled because the filling cooks down as it bakes. Top each mushroom with the parmesan cheese.

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The mushrooms should bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. After they are heated through and the cheese is melted, turn on the broiler for between 2-5 minutes, watching closely so they don’t burn. The goal is to get the tops to be a nice lightly golden brown.

While everything else was baking, I began on the meatballs. I combined all of the ingredients for the sauce – peach preserves, finely diced chipotle peppers, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a high-sided skillet.

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It turned it up to medium so that it could come up to a simmer and allowed it to cook at that temperature for about 5 minutes. Then, I added the meatballs and covered the pan.

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The meatballs cooked for another 25 minutes. I stirred them a few times, making sure they were well-coated and cooking evenly. Serve warm.

Spinach Artichoke Dip Bites

  • Servings: 24 pieces
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Ingredients

  • 1 9-oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 6-oz jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • ½ tsp minced garlic
  • 2 TBS shredded parmesan cheese
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • pepper to taste (freshly ground)
  • 1 can seamless crescent roll dough

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a bowl, combine spinach, artichoke hearts, garlic, garlic powder, salt and parmesan cheese. Blend in cream cheese and half of your shredded cheese. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  3. Using a rolling pin, lay out dough on a cutting board and lightly stretch to 8×12. (It should already be close to this straight out of the package.) Cut down into 2-inch squares, so you have 24 squares total.
  4. Lightly grease a mini muffin tin and place a square in each slot, gently pushing down to create an indent. (You do not need to mold it to the cup.) In most cases, the dough should naturally fall into the cups.
  5. Scoop about 1 Tablespoon of your spinach mixture on top of each square and gently push in. (Bites will mold to the tin while baking.) If there is any remaining mixture, add to cups that look less full than others.
  6. Sprinkle the remaining Monterey Jack cheese over the tops of each bite.
  7. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before removing from the muffin tin.

Adapted from: Lil’ Luna

Don’t worry about making sure your squares are perfectly uniform. I had a whole variety of some that looked more rectangle-y, some that were small and some that were larger. They all tasted delicious.


Mini Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

  • Servings: 80-100 mushrooms
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Ingredients

  • 80-100 mini Bella mushrooms (5-6 containers)
  • 8 ounces lump crab meat, drained
  • 8 ounces whipped cream cheese
  • 12 ounces (1½ cups) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 bunches chopped green onions
  • 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce
  • 4-6 TBS shredded parmesan cheese
  • olive oil or melted butter, as desired

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Wash mushrooms and remove the stems. If desired, lightly brush the tops only with olive oil or melted butter. Set aside.
  3. Mix remaining all ingredients except the parmesan cheese.
  4. Stuff mushrooms with the crab-cheese mixture. Top with the parmesan cheese.
  5. Bake mushrooms at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Broil for 2-5 minutes, watching to ensure they don’t burn. Mushrooms should be slightly golden brown on top.

Adapted from: Crazy Jamie

Bonus Recipe: If you have any of the filling leftover (as I did when I made these following the original recipe), it makes great crab quesadillas. Just warm tortilla(s) in a lightly greased skillet over medium heat. Add filling to one half of the quesadilla and fold over. Once the bottom is lightly golden, flip. Wait for that side to become lightly browned as well and ensure the filling is heated through. Serve with hot sauce, salsa, guacamole, or whatever toppings you prefer!


Chipotle Peach Meatballs

  • Servings: 60 meatballs
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Ingredients

  • 18 oz peach preserves
  • 3-4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely diced
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ½ TBS Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 32 oz, or about 60 frozen cocktail meatballs (see notes)

Directions

  1. Add peach preserves, diced chipotle peppers, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, salt and pepper into a medium to large high-sided skillet. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Cooking in two batches, add half (about 30) of the meatballs and cover. Let simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for an additional 25 minutes, or until meatballs are thawed.
  3. Using tongs so the majority of the sauce stays in the skillet, transfer the meatballs to your serving container and keep warm. Repeat step 2.
  4. Add second batch of meatballs and sauce to serving bowl. Serve warm.

Adapted from: The Culinary Compass

If you have multiple meatball options in your grocery store, opt for Homestyle as they’ll have less seasoning than Italian (which were the two options at mine).

If you prefer your meatballs saucier, you can use 18 oz (approximately 32) meatballs instead and cook in one batch only.


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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.

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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.

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