Attending potlucks and having guests was a difficulty for me when I was single and for a long time thereafter (probably former guests and potluck attendees would say it still is). As a youth, I had no idea what to make or bring to gatherings. I think once, here in Maquoketa, I actually pulled the college-student thing with pretzels or chips. Sigh. The situation was even worse if anyone came to visit me: we ate out, or maybe I would concoct homemade pizzas (which were generally quite good — still are).
For parties, I might buy potato salad at the grocery store and put it into my own container (before I discovered how infamous this particular deception was). And I think I actually tried making some stuff from actual recipes that I could barely follow before I began to contrive my own things-to-bring.
Later on, I invented my personal version of refried bean dip, actually a couple different versions, which I used to take, with chips (still there!) to any event requiring me to present food. It was pretty simple — just lots of refried beans, lots of hot sauce, taco sauce (worked better than most salsa) and cheese (also successful and tasty without cheese), heated on the stove and brought to the gathering as warm as possible (although crockpots had been invented by my young adult days, I hadnʼt figured out their utility). Notice all I needed to do was to dump a big can (or several smaller cans) of Old El Paso refried beans in a dish and add other stuff from containers — taco sauce, cheese. I have refined and played with the fundamental ingredients over the decades, but the last time I made it, a couple of years ago, I went back to basics. Someday Iʼll refry my own beans to start. (On that infamous other hand, I avoid making the treat almost altogether any more because itʼs really not a healthy snack, although neither are the nachos I have also learned to make with the stuff, or just plain refried beans, and Iʼve had a hankering for nachos recently…).
And then one day, after I got married, I think, but the first fruits of invention may have occurred just prior to that momentous time in 1982, I invented my own mashed and baked potatoes. I believe I started trying to recreate storebought frozen twice-baked potatoes, and realized after an attempt or four that there was no need to try restuffing the potato skins that I could never maintain in the perfect bowl-like condition the frozen things possessed. Instead, I could mash up as many potatoes as I wished (sometimes — in the past, believe me — more than five pounds) with my ingredients and bake the concoction in a casserole dish. It worked like a charm, and for a while, maybe a decade, those potatoes were in big demand at parties (even copied by others).
They would still be popular (I brought them to a community theater annual gathering last fall or maybe two years ago, and they all vanished from the nearly scraped-clean bowl), but Janet likes to make other more imaginative dishes these days — also more than just popular.
The Lovely One asked me to make these super-mashed potatoes on the evening Dawn and Kevin arrived for their visit over Labor Day weekend, to complement a beef bourguignon dish she had found online. (Note the peasant food theme going there.)
The recipe for Johnʼs Super-Duper Mashed Potatoes from the Oven is simplicity itself. To begin you need:
- Potatoes (any number, but adjust the other ingredients accordingly; I often use eight, ten or a dozen medium potatoes)
- Onion (diced — more than one medium required with more potatoes)
- Garlic (diced)
- Sour cream (one medium or large container — we use the nonfat or reduced fat stuff)
- Milk (or, as we just did for Labor Day — yogurt)
- Shredded Cheddar cheese (one large bag, at least)
- Other spices and herbs (I have taken to using basil, rosemary, sage… — the basic Italian ones — pepper, garlic powder/salt, onion powder, paprika, hot sauce, red pepper)
I cut the potatoes into quarters or eighths. I put some spices and herbs in the big pan in which I am going to boil the potatoes and add the cut-up potatoes. Cover with water. Boil until the potatoes are tender. Drain the water. Mash the potatoes, adding sour cream and milk/yogurt — the regular mashing procedure. We have a nice old potato masher (and a new one that we just donʼt use) with which I mash the potatoes about thirty times before switching to a spoon to mix everything together. (I read somewhere once that itʼs bad to overmash the potatoes, so I donʼt, although ours lately have noticeable chunkage of actual potato in them.) While mashing and mixing, add garlic and diced onion (I use a lot of garlic in the form of that diced stuff in jars that you can find in the grocery store and a whole medium onion) and more spices to taste. I crank the pepper mill about forty times for an average batch. Mix in the shredded cheddar (we use some lowfat or nonfat and some regular), also to taste (we use a lot, generally the equivalent of whole bag of shredded cheese). Put the mixture into a greased casserole dish (our two-plus-quart one holds what I usually create) and cover with remaining cheese. Bake in a 350° oven for half an hour or an hour (we bake with the casserole cover on for most of the time and remove it to crisp up the cover of cheese for the last third of the time). Serve.
I like mashing my potatoes with the skins on (an especially delicious and nutritious part), but that is definitely not necessary — just campesino-like.
Itʼs great, although like everything I enjoy, pretty much in the peasant food line (no surprise that I come from a long line of farmers). As I said already, people seem to like it a lot. There wasnʼt much left over for The Lovely One and me to finish for supper on Labor Day.