Thursday, May 31, 2012

The comfort of small things...

Food. It can be our best friend. Our worst enemy. Sometimes both. I've traveled to both ends of that spectrum. Times when you can't get off the couch. When you sit staring at mindless television for days on end. Days that you spend asking yourself how everything you've ever done in your life put you HERE. What you could have done differently to alter the outcome. Days that you couldn't even think about eating a single BITE of food. When you lose 10 pounds in a week. When choking down a couple of glasses of water is barely even manageable. I've been there. I've been there most recently. And, I've been there, what seems like a lifetime ago now. 

Yet again, food can softly fill the voids left inside. It can give small pleasures, seemingly insignificant comforts when there seem none left to be had. Family recipes that bring back fond memories. Building new family traditions, spending time in the kitchen with your children. Showing them how your father taught you to knead the dough. Sharing with them, your grandmother's tips for the perfect meatball. And, after the timer sounds on the stove... sitting around the kitchen table, sharing your day's happenings with your family. 

Food can be your best friend. Food is part of our history. Our past, our present, our future. Some of my fondest memories as a child were spent in the kitchen with my mother, Nana, grandmother, father. It's something that I hope, someday, my children look back on fondly to remember me. You see, I have goals. Aspirations. Those seem to have gotten lost somewhere amidst the chaotic shuffle of the last two years of my life. And, then someone saved me from that. Rather, helped me save myself. We have to love ourselves before we can love anyone else. That's easy to forget. But, I need this. My kitchen. My pots and pans. My cooking. This blog. I need it because it's what makes me, ME. It's my release. My time make myself happy. So, I'm going to get back to that. Starting... now. 

 Comfort foods. Mashed potatoes always seem to be the ultimate answer for that. They are as American as apple pie. Literally. Potatoes are a crop native to the Americas. And, as it is told, a Frenchman, Antoine Parmentier, once ran a competition for recipes with potatoes as the focus. To nobody's surprise, he went on to win the competition with his timeless classic: mashed potatoes. The combination of starchy, boiled potatoes, mashed with butter, creams of sorts, a dash of salt and pepper... 

But, THESE mashed potatoes take your tastebuds on a new ride. They are a tad time-intensive. They require love. They will probably take more effort than any other component of your meal. Perhaps, they could even be a meal of their own. But, everything you put into them, you will get back ten-fold. At least, your stomach will. 

  The Ultimate Mash

2 lbs. Yukon Gold OR Russet Potatoes 
3 heads garlic, roasted 
6 shallots, caramelized 
Extra virgin olive oil 
2 Tbs. brown sugar 
4-5 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled (or 1 sm. package of real bacon bits) 
1 C. Gruyere cheese, shredded 
2 Tbs. horseradish 
1 stick butter, plus 2 Tbs., softened 
1 C. half-and-half 
Kosher salt, to taste 
Freshly ground pepper, to taste 

First, you'll want to roast the garlic. Slice of the tops of 3 heads of garlic. Lay each head of garlic on a small, separate piece of foil. Drizzle with olive oil. 

Foil the foil up to make a pouch around each head of garlic. Roast in a 400* oven for an hour. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool.

Once cool, squeeze each clove of garlic into a bowl. Use a fork to mash the garlic; set aside.

Here's where the time-consuming part. Caramelizing the shallots. Don't rush this part. To caramelize properly, they need about an hour to cook. And, trust me... it's worth the extra care. Plus, you can go about preparing the rest of your meal while these guys cook away. Cut each shallot into thin slices.

Coat the bottom of a pan with a thin layer of extra-virgin olive oil. Add 2 Tbs. of butter, and allow butter to melt. Once melted, add the brown sugar; stir well. Add shallots to the pan. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for an hour. Your shallots will slowly become translucent and deliciously caramelized. Once done cooking, allow shallots to drain before adding them to the potatoes.

Meanwhile, cube your potatoes. Put in a large cooking pot, and fill pot with water until potatoes are completely covered. Bring to a boil, and boil the potatoes, pot uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Drain potatoes, and return to pot. Mash them until just combined. Add the butter and half-and-half to the potatoes, allowing the butter to melt.

To the bowl of mashed garlic, add shredded Gruyere, horseradish, bacon, salt, pepper. Add some of the caramelized shallots (leaving some set aside to top the potatoes with before serving). Use a fork to gently mix these ingredients together until just combined.

Use a spatula to fold in the now-melted butter and half-and-half into the potatoes. Then fold in the cheese mixture. Mix until just combined. 

*Tip: Mashing potatoes too much can actually begin to break down the starches. And, rather than having a soft, fluffy bowl of potatoes... you end up with a sticky, gluey mess. So, that's why we gingerly mash the potatoes BEFORE gently folding in the remaining ingredients. 

Spoon potatoes onto serving plate, and top with caramelized shallots...

Like I said... I have goals. I have an ultimate one in mind. It all seems a little presumptious at the time, though. So, we're going to take this slow. The blog, that is. It's getting a major overhaul. It's a process. But, my goals and dreams for this will all be revealed in time. Food has always been my passion. For many years now. I still love crafting. It will still make a guest appearance from time to time. But, this will mainly be taking a turn to a food blog... with a slice of crafting, if you will. So, please be patient with me. And, just stick with me, if you will. In the meantime... it's good to be back, and I look forward to this new chapter in my life! Thank you for turning the page with me!