I am, shall we say, a little distracted these days. I'm leaving for Germany in a little less than three days. And I'm not coming back until the first days of January. That's the longest vacation I've taken in a good bit and I'm sort of agog at the prospect of so much (badly-needed) time off. Time to see old friends, show more bits and pieces of Berlin to Ben, figure out where and when we're getting married, have my mom cook me dinner, spend time with my family, literal and figurative, and simply be in my hometown. I've missed it so much this year that Heimweh turned into a perpetual ache in my chest. I'm ready to be rid of that.
And though I'm not sure if this is entirely related to my distraction, my luck in the kitchen lately has been abysmal. Almost funnily so, though if you'd seen me yesterday, attacking an innocent pizza that had soldered itself to the baking stone in less than 25 minutes and was thus burned to an absolute crisp, rendering our casual late-afternoon lunch a blackened, unpleasant mess, you might have handed me a towel to mop my brow and commanded me to go take a walk around the block. Happy to oblige, thanks!
Not to be outdone, there was also a lackluster savory rice pie that I loved when my stepmother made, but that ended up a bland, insipid, tragic waste of Carnaroli rice when attempted in my own kitchen, and the unforgettable pickled endives that had such promise, but were a deeply unpleasant combination of sweetness, bitterness and spice that was not meant to be eaten by anyone, at least not anyone in my home.
Kitchen disasters, please be gone, would you?
But Christmas comes early this year: a holiday dinner tonight with friends, a liquid dinner of cocktails tomorrow, one meal airborne over the Atlantic and then - boom - I'm absolved of the rest of the year's meals. Strangely enough, I'm sort of pleased. I think my kitchen and I need a break. (Oh, except there's this one amazing soup I have to tell you about before I leave...).
I'm bringing my camera cable with me to Europe, since I'm going to be (finally!) documenting the annual Springerle bake-off with my friends Joan and Ann, and Ben's first encounter with a Currywurst (it might not happen, but I'll try - and in any case, after years of loyalty to the stand at Wittenbergplatz, it's time for me to branch out and try Konnopke's. Are there any Berliners out there who want to weigh in?). Then, best of all for you hungry folks, I'll be in Brussels for the last week of my holidays with my family who never fail to introduce me to some kind of stellar food. Last year, I brought back the focaccia di patate; this year, who knows? It will be delicious and I will share it: that is my solemn holiday promise to you.
Oh! And these potatoes! Well, for those of you for whom Christmas is not Christmas without mashed potatoes, and for those of you who find leftover mashed potatoes - formed into patties and fried, for example, or eaten cold from the fridge - to be your own personal nirvana, this is the recipe you must make this year. It is, in a word, insane.
After all, not only is there browned butter and fried sage (dreamy!) but there is Greek yogurt, too. Luscious, I tell you, and pleasingly different without being weird. Also, it makes mountains of mashed potatoes. Mountains! That is not an exaggeration. You will be inundated with thick, creamy, tangy, herby mashed potatoes. The good thing is they're so easy to keep eating, day after day. Croquettes, potato soup, shepherd's pie - is there anything that cannot be done with these leftovers? I have yet to find out.
Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes with Sage
Serves 6 to 8 with leftovers
3 pounds baking potatoes, scrubbed, skin on, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
24 fresh sage leaves
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Put the potatoes in a large pot or Dutch oven and cover with cold water by at least half an inch. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes.
2. While the potatoes are cooking, heat the butter over medium-high heat in a medium skillet. When it begins to foam, add the sage leaves and gently fry until crisp, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, place on a paper towel and reserve. Continue to cook the butter until it's golden brown and nutty, watching so that it doesn't burn, an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve.
3. In a small saucepan, heat the milk over medium-high heat just until hot, careful that the milk does not boil. Remove from heat and reserve in a warm place.
4. Drain the potatoes and place them into a large bowl. Using a masher, mash the potatoes to the desired consistency. Stir in the hot milk, yogurt, salt and pepper and browned butter, making sure to get all the dark butter solids. (Recipe can be prepared to this point a day in advance; refrigerate the potatoes tightly sealed and keep the sage in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.)
5. Garnish with the fried sage and serve. (If you have refrigerated the potatoes, gently reheat the mashed potatoes before serving, thinning if needed with additional milk. Garnish and serve.)