What could be more comforting than a discussion about comfort foods? Well, the Practical Cook has learned the hard way, one person’s comfort food is another person’s yak-fest. One time, when asking Mr. Practical Cook about his preferences, he said, “Comfort food, you mean like sushi or Mexican?” Um, no, not so much.
The food required for comfort is both situational and highly personal. The Practical Cook is here to provide some guidelines, though. For sadness, chocolate is always a good bet. For a scrape on anyone under a certain age (that bar is up to your discretion, gentle readers), ice cream. For intense and extreme nausea, the answer is cheap frozen pizza.
Okay, fine, perhaps that is the Practical Cook’s own little comfort. It’s true, I’ve horrified ER docs post a bout with stomach flu with that little tidbit.
For those who don’t crave spicy eel rolls or Totino’s at such a time, the most universal answer is mashed potatoes. Here’s one recipe.
The Practical Cook’s Mashed Potatoes
This recipe is a hybrid of the creamed potatoes recipe from Cheap. Fast. Good! and experimentation.
4 or 5 cups of potato cubes (derived from russet or white potatoes that have been peeled and chopped)
butter to taste (I’m not your doctor)
~1/4 cup sour cream
potato water, reserved from cooking
Put the potatoes in a pot large enough to hold them covered by an inch of water with some room to spare at the top. (People, this is comfort food, and I’m not Cook’s Illustrated. Work with me here.) Bring them to boil over high heat, then reduce to medium-high and partially cover the pot. Cook until they’re tender, 12-15 minutes.
Drain the potatoes, but reserve a couple of cups of the cooking water (I dip this out with a glass measuring cup, beware of burns). If your pot is not non-stick, you can use it for the next step. Otherwise, transfer potatoes to a mixing bowl. Add the butter first to coat the potatoes. (Fine, I did pick that up from Cook’s Illustrated. Coats the molecules, prevents the gummies.) Then add sour cream and some potato cooking water. Using a stand- or hand-mixer, or a strong wire whisk, whip those potatoes into shape! If they’re too stiff, add some more cooking water. When they’re smooth, beat for one more minute, like you would to aerate a cake frosting or egg whites. Season with salt and pepper, fresh scallions or minced herbs, etc.
I’m a fan of these because I’m Southern and grew up on the lighter side of mashed potatoes, the creamed or whipped potato. If you have the opportunity to try this recipe with very fresh white potatoes from your garden, the Farmer’s Market, or your CSA, don’t miss it. The taste difference is marked and bears no resemblance to the whipped potatoes you’ll find at KFC.
One last bit of irony—though mashed potatoes should be the safe haven of picky eaters everywhere, my kids won’t eat them. Gnocchi, yes. Baked potatoes, yes. Pierogies, bring ’em on. Hash browns, certainly. Sauteed spinach, no problem. Liver, sure. Homemade mashed potatoes made with loving care from potatoes that they actually plant, grow, and harvest care of their grandparents every year. No. *Sigh*
This year I’m adding bacon and cheese to the mix. Bring it on Practical Cooks Junior, bring it on.
Coming up tomorrow, a very practical and timely topic here in the state of North Carolina: How to Cook Without Power.
What are your comfort foods? Email the Practical Cook at practical cook at gmail dot com.