Many folks commented and supported my cooking efforts on my last post. Thank you! But Meander was the one who prompted this post when she said "I would love to hear the mashed potato story". So without further delay...
The disastrous mashed potato dish which Daughter13 has burned into her memory needs a bit of history so you'll understand my relationship to the mashed potato.
When my wife and I were just dating, we got together to share a meal. We were going to work together to prepare it...and then settle in to enjoy it. And one of the items we planned to eat was mashed potatoes. At some point in the preparation for the meal, she began peeling potatoes.
Now, I should insert here that I did eat food as a child. I grew up eating a variety of foods - including mashed potatoes. My mom cooked dinner every night. If it came in a can or a box, she cooked it. Excessively. Excruciatingly. Until all flavor and nutritional value had successfully been removed. So I knew a thing or two about food.
So I asked, with real curiosity, "What are you gonna do with those?"
To which my wife casually replied, "These are for the mashed potatoes."
Now, when you are in a new relationship, a guy is hesitant to point out to his girlfriend that she has lost her mind. But I couldn't just overlook this insanity. So I gently commented, "But honey, those are for baked potatoes, not mashed potatoes."
She paused in her potato peeling and looked at me with an astonished expression - as if I had just grown a third eye on my forehead. And she asked the million dollar question, "Well where do you think mashed potatoes come from?"
"From a box."
Some time later, after recovering from the uncontrollable laughter and changing into dry pants, she returned to peeling her potatoes and continued the conversation.
"So you think mashed potatoes come from a box?"
In what later proved to be an amazing exercise in naiveté, I pushed forward, "Yes. You must have seen then at the store. These boxes have these little potato-flavored flakes in them and you just boil some water and pour them in. You add some milk. And that is how you get mashed potatoes."
This produced another round of laughter and some gasping comments such as "Stop it. You're killing me!"
After gaining some measure of control and completing an additional change of pants, my soon-to-be wife patiently explained the amazing story of How A Potato Becomes Mashed Potatoes.
This was culinary magic! I had no idea. I honestly thought that mashed potatoes were sort of a fake food product that you only got from a box.
My wife not only revealed this secret of potatoes to me, but during our first years of marriage she also taught me how to make mashed potatoes using actual, real potatoes. Don't get me wrong, our cupboard usually has some potato flakes in it for emergencies. But we also have whole potatoes for actual cooking and eating.
And all this brings us to The Mashed Potato Story. A few years ago my wife was out of town for some reason, and I was left to feed and provide a relatively safe home environment for our three children. And one night I decided to make mashed potatoes to go along with whatever else we were having. So I did exactly like I had been taught. I peeled the potatoes. I diligently diced them into cubes and put them in boiling water. I tested them often for just the right degree of tenderness. I drained them at just the right moment. And then I mashed them...adding milk, butter, and salt for just the right taste and texture.
I got one out of two. The taste was just fine. But I made a serious error in judgment when adding milk. Way too much! I did not have mashed potatoes in the pot. I had something that looked more like potato broth.
The rest of dinner was ready. Three children looked at me with hungry, expectant faces. What do you do when your potatoes are too thin? My wife had not taught me that!
But I'm an adult. I can problem-solve. What would be the logical strategy for saving this dish?
Yes! Add those potatoes from the box!! If those are flakes where you just add water...well then they'll work just fine adding them to my potato broth. They'll soak up some of the moisture, creating just the right consistency. And they'll just add more potato-flavored goodness.
So I added a bunch of flakes. Stirred them in. Oops. Too many flakes. Now I had potato cement. No problem, just a bit more milk. Damn! Too much milk! This whole cooking thing was turning out not to be as easy as Julia Child made it seem! But I persevered.
And eventually ended up serving something vaguely resembling a potato bisque. That tasted like crap.
And while the rest of the meals I've cooked for my kids have usually come out fine. And while I've made mashed potatoes (from real potatoes, which is still just really cool!) many times without incident. That one disaster has settled into the brains of my children. And I never cook without being asked, in a hesitant and frightened voice, "You aren't making mashed potatoes, are you?"