Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, makes me feel, well, inadequate.
She feeds a houseful of people 3 meals a day every day, does the mom job for 4 kids, deals with animals and accidents and men, looks gorgeous doing it, and somehow she still finds time to take gorgeous pictures and write funny stories about it all that she posts on her blog pretty much daily. Oh, and she even made time to write a cookbook, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl, where she did all of the photography of all of the steps for all of her recipes. Just writing that made me tired.
Her cookbook is beautiful on so many levels. Her photos of life on the ranch capture near-perfect moments of the people who live there with her. She’s perfected the art of being able to take pictures of her children without them being staged or even seeming to be aware that she’s there. Her stories are funny and heart-warming, and you come away from the book feeling like you know her family, like you could sit down at a table with them and be perfectly at home.
But this about the food. The first thing I will say is that there is no way possible she could eat the beautiful comfort food in that book on a daily basis and still keep a gorgeous figure. Either that or she has incredible metabolism, and I hate/love her just that much more.
Yes, her book came out a year ago. But she’s got another book, The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels–A Love Story, coming out that isn’t about food, but promises to be just as great. Oh, and if you saw her Thanksgiving Throw-Down with Bobby Flay on Food Network, she kicked butt, and you saw some of her beautiful food. In fact, one the dishes that really put her over the top was her mashed potatoes. Luckily for us all, that’s one of the recipes in her beautiful book.
Mashed potatoes may seem like one of those things to take for granted. I mean, you boil some potatoes, you squish them up, you make them taste good, you put gravy over them, and they’re just fine. But these mashed potatoes… These aren’t just any mashed potatoes.
There’s something to be said for taking an everyday food and elevating it into something special without going to that much more effort. That’s what Ree does with her potatoes. The secret, according to her, is cream cheese and forcing yourself to throw out that pesky guilt. That lack of guilt will make all of the yummy butter and cream an okay thing. That being said, I’m back to the whole there’s no way she can eat like this all the time theory.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with making these for special occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Easter, or, oh, Saturday. And this makes a big batch of potatoes, so there’s no shame in having leftovers. Just don’t count on them surviving until morning if you have a sixteen-year-old bottomless pit in your house.
How do I know this? I know this because these mashed potatoes went to Thanksgiving dinner with us. After making them the night before and fighting the temptation to tell everyone that they didn’t work out, or that they fell off the stove and were devoured by cats and/or dogs, or that our house was burglarized (maybe by ninjas) and the mashed potatoes were the only thing they took, Paul and I, after judicious quality testing, actually put them in a pot in the trunk of our car and didn’t just make a run for the border with them. These potatoes really are that good. And those leftovers? They won’t last long at all.
You need to buy this book. While the recipe is delicious, you're really missing out on all of the humor Ree adds to the process. And yes, her method flies in the face of everything Paul and I were ever taught about cooking potatoes. We were worried. We were skeptical. It worked anyway.
Ree adds 1/2 teaspoon of seasoned salt to her potatoes along with the salt and pepper. It would probably be good, but I didn't have any and they turned out great without it. She also uses half-and-half instead of whole cream, but my thought is that with all that butter and cream cheese, well, why not just go all out? The baking time in the oven adds a nice crust to the top of the potatoes. I happen to have nice Lodge cast iron bowls that I'm thinking I should heat and butter before filling them with potatoes to bake so that I can get that crust all around. I also can't imagine leaving the skins on would be a problem. They might not come out as smooth, but if you're like me, you like the extra flavor the skins add. I've just always found that I need a little more salt when the skins are in there, but that may just be me. Throwing some cheddar in there probably wouldn't hurt anything except your arteries.
And what to do with leftovers besides eating them cold crouched in a huddle of shame lit only by the light of your open refrigerator door? These make great potato cakes. They're hearty enough to hold together without adding egg or flour. Just shape them into 3-inch patties while they're cold. If you want them extra-crispy, roll them in bread crumbs, too. Melt some butter in a skillet and fry them for 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until they're golden brown. Try not to eat them straight out off the turner.
- 5 pounds Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes
- 2 sticks butter, divided
- 1 8-ounce package cream cheese
- 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- salt and pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot of water to a slow boil over medium-high.
- Peel the potatoes and rinse them in cold water. Cut them in halves or fourths so that they will cook more quickly and evenly.
- Add the potatoes to the pot, increase the heat to high, and bring to a full boil. Cook the potatoes for 20 to 30 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.
- Drain the potatoes in a large colander.
- Return the potatoes to the pot and place them over a burner on low heat.
- Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes for 2 minutes or until no lumps remain. Turn off the heat.
- Add 1 1/2 sticks of butter, working into the potatoes with the potato masher.
- Add the cream cheese and work until combined.
- Add the cream and stir.
- Add the seasonings.
- Spread the potatoes into a 2-quart baking dish. Smooth the top.
- Dot the top with the remaining 1/2-stick of butter. (At this point the potatoes can be covered tightly and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before continuing.)
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Cover the potatoes with foil or a lid and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until warmed through.