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franklin county times

Cooking mashed potatoes with my wife

By By Robert St. John / food columnist
Jan. 8, 2003
Robert St. John is the executive chef/owner of New South Restaurant Group www.nsrg.com. His weekly food column appears in newspapers throughout Mississippi and Louisiana. If you have any questions or comments he can be reached at robert@nsrg.com or (601) 264-0672.
My wife cooks excellent pancakes.
On the 1960s cornball sitcom "Green Acres," the running joke was that Lisa Douglas, played by Eva Gabor, couldn't cook.
All she ever cooked was pancakes; she couldn't prepare anything else. Whenever she tried, it was a complete disaster and an excellent opportunity for comic relief.
My wife doesn't have a Hungarian accent. She is much more beautiful than Eva Gabor. And my wife is, without question, more intelligent than the TV character Lisa Douglas.
My wife is one of the brightest people I know. However, she reaches the pinnacle of her culinary abilities while cooking pancakes.
My wife is a charter member of the Culinarily Challenged Housewives of America and is the newly elected president of the Hattiesburg chapter.
Just last year she was appointed to the National Board of Regents of the Cooking Impaired and in 2004 she will be the U.S. representative to the worldwide summit for the ICCC (International Council of the Culinarily Challenged pronounced: "iick!" it's sort of like the U.N. but no one needs an interpreter and the food is worse).
Regular readers of this column know about my wife's cooking. Her scrambled eggs are hard rubbery pellets, her gravy can be cut with a knife and any recipe that calls for cheese will receive 10 times the amount of cheese required.
At our house, we don't say the blessing before dinner, we pray after we eat. She accepts this. I accept this. We love each other and we get on with life.
This brings me to her mashed potatoes, which usually taste quite good. However, it is not the dish's flavor that I want to talk about. It is the procedure with which she cooks the potatoes.
Normally, my wife won't let me within 200 yards of the kitchen while she's cooking (it's sort of like a gastronomic restraining order for restaurateurs, but the consequences are more severe and the food is worse).
However, I walked into our kitchen last week and witnessed one of the most amazing displays of culinary slapstick since Lisa Douglas hit Eb in the face with a hotcake. My wife was standing at the sink with a pairing knife and a steaming hot potato.
The potato was cooked but unpeeled. She was juggling the scalding potato with one hand while trying to peel the spud with the other. I was actually impressed with her one-handed potato juggling prowess, but the pairing knife was all over the place (judges score: 9.8 for potato juggling, 4.3 for knife skills and 1.0 for kitchen safety).
Folks, I never went to culinary school, but I would bet my next paycheck that they, almost always, teach that swinging a sharp knife while juggling and trying to peel a hot potato is not a safe and sound kitchen practice.
Typically, when one cooks mashed potatoes, they are peeled, then cubed, boiled and mashed. Not at my house. My wife boils the whole potatoes, unpeeled and then tries to peel them while they are hot. She claims it is easier this way. If you have never seen anyone do this, you should come to my house on mashed potato night. It is a sight to behold.
Whoever came up with the game hot potato has seen my wife in the kitchen. One would think, after hundreds of years of proven mashed-potato-preparation success that the time-proven methods of basic mashed potato preparation couldn't be improved upon.
Not so at the St. John house. I tried to tell her that centuries of soldiers pulling KP duty have spent millions of hours peeling potatoes, all before they have been boiled. It is a time-proven process. She ignored me.
Being a qualified, experienced-yet-humble food-service professional, I offered to show her how to make mashed potatoes without getting third-degree burns on the palms of her hands.
As usual, I was banished from the kitchen.
On the way out, I offered to give her some oven mitts to help her hold the scorching potatoes while she attempted to peel them. After that offer was rebuffed, I headed to the bathroom to get the medicated burn cream.
Wasabi-Basil Smashed Potatoes from the Purple Parrot Caf
5 Idaho potatoes, large, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes
1/4 pound unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup wasabi powder
1/4 cup water, cold
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon Salt
3/4 cup heavy cream, heated
3 tablespoons basil pesto
1/4 cup parsley, fresh, chopped
Place potatoes in a pot filled with enough water to cover. Add 2 tablespoons salt. Cook over medium heat until just done. Do not overcook.
Drain water and allow potatoes to sit in the dry warm pot for 2 minutes (this will help excess water evaporate). Place potatoes in a mixing bowl. Using whip attachment, mix potatoes at medium speed.
Add butter a few cubes at a time. Turn mixer to low. Mix wasabi powder and water to make a paste. Add the wasabi paste, sour cream and salt. Slowly add heated cream. Fold in pesto and parsley just before serving.
Yield: 6n8 servings.