Magic Mashed Potatoes and Spinach Salad

This is the second installment of our valentines day dinner; our side, and our salad. I typically gravitate towards spinach salad because I love spinach, and it’s just so darn easy. You can quite literally put whatever you want on it. The mashed potatoes were also a sort of experiment. I’ve never made them where I actually LOVED eating them; it’s always been kind of ‘meh.’ But I found some tips to making them well, and that has all changed…

Mashed Potatoes
I compiled some tips from multiple different websites, and got some pretty fantastic results. Read the directions carefully before you start, just to make sure you get everything in order. It may seem tedious, but once you get the concept, it all makes sense.  
First, boil the potatoes while still in their skins. The skins help keep the potatoes from absorbing too much of the water, and without skins, the potatoes become very waterlogged which results in runny mashed potatoes. Also, the skin of a potato helps it hold onto that hearty potato flavor, and it will also retain a lot more protein.
Secondly, the type of dairy used makes a difference. Milk is not quite rich enough, and waters down your potatoes. To get a perfect creamy consistency, use half and half or cream.
Also, the order in which you add ingredients actually matters. If you add cream or half and half first, you will end up with very sticky, heavy potatoes, but if it is added after the butter your potatoes will be much creamier. Half and half has water in it. When water interacts with the starch of the potatoes, it becomes like glue. But if you coat the starch with butter first, it protects it from the water, and your half and half will work much better to make a creamy mix.
Ingredients:
– about 20-24 small to medium sized garlic cloves (about 2/3 cup) still in their skins. 
– 4-5 whole large russet potatoes, still in their skins
– 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
– 3/4 to 1 cup half and half or cream 
– 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
– Ground black pepper, to taste

– Toast the garlic. Place garlic cloves (still in their skins) in a covered skillet (no oil) over lowest heat setting. Turn the cloves frequently by giving the skillet a shake. Toast until all cloves have dark brown spots all around and are slightly soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, still covered, until fully softened (about 20 minutes). Meanwhile:

Boil potatoes. Scrub the potatoes but leave them in their skins. Place them in a large boiling pot, and cover with water an inch over them. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Let cook about twenty to 30 minutes, until tender. They are done when you can easily stick a fork into their centers. Drain.
– Peel. The garlic and potato skins should come off fairly easily, using a knife or the back of a knife. Cut the potatoes into chunks and return them to the (now dry) large boiling pot, along with garlic cloves.
– Mash the potatoes and garlic with a potato masher or a fork. This will produce somewhat chunky mashed potatoes, but you still want them mashed well enough that you’ll be able to stir them with a wire whisk later. Alternately, for smoother, silkier mashed potatoes, you can run the potatoes and garlic through a food mill or potato ricer.
– Melt the butter and warm the half and half or cream. This step is important for consistency. (Remember that you need 3/4 cup half and half or cream if you have made chunky mashed potatoes, but 1 full cup of half and half or cream for smooth mashed potatoes that have been run through a mill or ricer.)
– Drizzle the melted butter over the potatoes and thoroughly mix it in. You want it to coat all of the potatoes so that the half and half will not react with the starch and become sticky and glue-like.
– Using a wire whisk or a whisk attachment on a mixer, mix in the warmed half and half, coating the potatoes thoroughly and bringing them to a creamy consistency. Add salt and ground black pepper to taste, mixing well.
– Serve immediately.

Spinach Salad

There is something to be said for eating meals in courses. It makes you slow down, eat bite by bite, and gives you space to spend quality time with the people you are eating with. 

Our valentines dinner started with rosemary olive oil bread from Wegman’s and a Parmesan cheese/olive oil/chili flake/garlic dip (sorry, no picture), and a fresh spinach salad.

– Baby spinach
– Your favorite/homemade balsamic salad dressing
– Blanched almond slivers
– Dried cranberries
– Crumbled fresh goat cheese
– Sunflower seeds

Toast the almond slivers in a pan on medium heat till lightly browned and fragrant. Mix together with cranberries and sunflower seeds. In a large mixing bowl, use tongs to mix spinach with salad dressing. Place in bowls or plates and sprinkle toppings and goat cheese on top.

Enjoy!

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