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Mashed Potatoes

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After the divorce, my parents worked really hard to keep our lives as normal as possible.  My mom, for instance, still makes a completely homemade dinner every night that one of us is home.  However, one day in the late 90’s, she took some bad advice from a friend and tried to pass boxed mashed potatoes off as real mashed potatoes.

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Now, before you write me off as a potato elitist, hear me out.  My parents, each of them, make fantastic mashed potatoes.  They’re creamy, fluffy, and melt in your mouth delicious.  The reason that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday is completely wrapped up in that one dish… mmmmm mmmm potatoey goodness.

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Boxed mashed potatoes are okay.  In a bind, I can see where they are useful.  But after years and years of for no reason weeknight scratch mashed potatoes, those boxed potatoes didn’t get one bite past my brothers and I.  And, in good fun, we haven’t let my mother live it down yet.  That and the time she tried to pass ostrich burgers off as turkey burgers… we know better.

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Mashed potatoes can be made with cream, sour cream, milk, butter, eggs, cheese, etc.  Really, the creamy mixer of your choice.  Personally, I was brought up mixing mayonnaise and butter into my potatoes.  Now, if you recoiled at the word mayonnaise, well, you’re definitely not southern.  My father, before his doctor started in on him about his cholesterol and high blood pressure, would eat mayonnaise with a spoon.  It’s an integral ingredient in so many dishes, from tomato sandwiches to cole slaw.

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Personally, I don’t like my potatoes chunky, which is why I use a mixer.  You have to be careful with the mixer though, because potatoes can become gummy if they’re over-mixed.  An alternative is a potato masher, which blends, but doesn’t eliminate the bigger pieces.  If that’s what you’re into.  No matter what the texture, these potatoes are the essence of what my college cafeteria called “comfort food.”

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Mashed Potatoes

2 white potatoes

3/4 cup mayonnaise (plus more to taste)

3/4 stick butter

Salt & pepper to taste

Peel, rinse, and slice your potatoes into large chunks.  Submerge potato slices into water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for fifteen minutes, or until chunks are soft.  Strain, and dump into a large mixing bowl.  Slice a half stick of butter into 1/4 inch chunks and mix into the potatoes, stirring with a wooden spoon.  Once the butter is melted, it’s time to bring in the mixer.  Mix until the potatoes are semi-smooth, with medium size chunks.  Now it’s time to mix in the mayo.  Now, I can’t tell you how to flavor your potatoes, so I recommend mixing the mayonnaise in a quarter cup at a time.  This is also the time to mix in the rest of the butter and salt and pepper.  Turn the mixer back on and blend until totally smooth.  After this, all of your mixing/incorporating should be done with the wooden smooth, so your potatoes don’t get too gummy.  Add mayonnaise and seasoning to taste, and serve.

Makes 3 to 6 servings.

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Sweet Tea

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When he was in high school, my brother Reid had a band called Sweet Tea and the Carolina Soul.  The name of the band is so fitting, you see, because the two are so intertwined.  As a southerner, few things are more important or more staple in our lives than sweet tea.  You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.  It breaks my heart every time I go to a restaurant in the north and see “iced tea” on the menu.

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Sweet tea is traditionally made with black tea, and is sweetened during or right after the water has boiled.  I recommend Luizanne brand tea bags, but any other will do.  If you’re looking to flavor your sweet tea, it works nicely to add a flavored bag along with the the regular black tea bags.  It’s important to steep the tea while it’s boiling, not only does it cut time a little, it makes sure the tea is nice and strong.

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Personally I prefer my sweet tea with lemon.  Some people don’t, but I find that it cuts the sugar taste nicely so you don’t feel overwhelmed.  Sweet tea is made with ice, which helps cool and dilute it.  I make an amount of tea to fit the pitcher I’m using, so I fill my pitcher up 3/4 of the way with water to boil.  Then, when it comes time to measure out the ice, I fill my pitcher a little less than half full with ice.  I go ahead and add the lemon to the ice, so that the hot tea has to pour through the lemon skin, enhancing the flavor.

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Sweet Tea

5 cups of water

3 family size bags of black tea

1 cup of granulated sugar

3 cups of ice

1 lemon

Bring water to boil, with tea bags steeping (Be careful how you hang the tea bag strings, I’ve had experiences where the paper tag got too close to the burner (gas or electric) and caught on fire).  Once the water has boiled, turn off the heat and let steep for five minutes.  Fill your pitcher a little less than halfway through with ice.  Squeeze lemon juice onto ice, and leave the lemon in the pitcher.  Slowly stir sugar into hot tea, until fully dissolved.  Pour tea over ice, and refrigerate.

Serve cool, with more ice and a wedge of lemon.

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Rosemary Biscuits

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I really like Maryland, I do.  At first I hated it.  For starters, it’s very cold in the winter.  Never the less, over the past four and a half years, it’s really grown on me.  But the first thing I do everytime I go home is go to Bojangles (which has the best slogan ever- “Born and Breaded in the Carolinas”).  Now, I’m aware that there are a handful of Bojangles north of Richmond.  But I don’t trust them.  In high school I went to one, and they didn’t serve sweet tea.  And that’s just not natural.  What draws me back to Bo’s again and again, is their chicken biscuit.  It’s a spicy chicken filet on a buttery, flaky, divine biscuit.

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Now, at home I prefer my biscuits with a fried egg, cheese, and a little bacon.  But the actual biscuit itself, well that needs to uphold the standard of delicious biscuits… flaky, buttery, melt in your mouth goodness.  And this recipe certainly does that.  It produces perfect biscuits time and again, and you don’t have to worry about sticking to the recipe exactly, it fudges pretty easily.

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So let’s talk about this recipe.  The measurements I’m going to give you make about ten biscuits.  Now, since I can never seem to find the ability to eat ten biscuits before they go stale, I make a mix, and measure out of that as needed.  In my opinion, the key ingredients here are the pastry flour and the heavy cream.  I also add in fresh rosemary, which is totally optional.  I think rosemary is one of the most heavenly herbs.  It brings a really succulent flavor to the biscuit, which works harmoniously with the flavors in the eggs and bacon, but probably wouldn’t be so complimentary to other things.  So feel free to substitute the rosemary with other herbs or spices, or to leave it out completely.

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One last note about the tools… Since I recently made hand pies, I purchased biscuit cutters.  Prior to that, I was using a glass cup, which frankly worked almost as well.  Really, even patting the dough into a round shape will produce a biscuit, which is always what I do with the dough scraps.  The only downside to that is that the biscuit tends not to be committed to being one biscuit, so it’s no good for cutting in half and loading with other foods.  Like I said, this recipe is nothing to be afraid of.  Frankly, it lets you fudge it here and there, and unlike other biscuit recipes, it actually takes effort to mess it up.

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Rosemary Biscuits

1 1/4 cups self rising flour

3/4 cup pastry flour (or cake flour)

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbsp sugar

4 tbsp cold butter

2 tbsp melted butter (for glazing)

1 1/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup all purpose flour (for shaping the biscuits, not to go into the mix)

2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 475(f).  Whisk together the dry ingredients and the rosemary.  Use fingers to incorporate cold butter.  With the butter, you really just have to knead it with your fingers until the mixture has a course texture, like corn meal.  Pour in cream.  Stir (preferably with a wooden spoon) until dough forms.  It’s okay if the dough is a little sticky, you’ll work it out on the countertop.

Sprinkle the all purpose flour onto the countertop and scoop your dough onto it.  Use your hands to flatten it out.  I like to flatten it a little, flip it, and flatten it some more.  This method ensures that one side doesn’t get over worked, which is important.  If your dough (and this goes for any dough, really) ever gets too sticky and unmanageable, pop it into the fridge for twenty minutes or so.  The stickiness is really coming from the butter getting too warm, so cooling it off will allow it to firm up a bit.  Using a biscuit cutter (or whatever you have laying around), cut the dough into circular shapes.  Place on ungreased baking pan.

Now, I put aside the measuring cup that I used to hold the heavy cream and melt the butter for glazing in that.  It just gives it an extra creaminess.  Using a baking brush (I use a silicon one, but anything will do), brush melted butter on top of the biscuits.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.

One word of advice if you are going to slice these biscuits in half and stuff them with things.  Give them five minutes to cool off before you cut into them.  Otherwise they’ll crumble and you’ll have a hard time eating anything sandwich style on them.

Makes 6 biscuits.

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