What is Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes? You’ve got to have mashed potatoes as part of your spread. But let’s be honest, they’re kind of plain. Something to drown in gravy and butter—hey, nothing wrong with that. But mashed potatoes aren’t the star of the meal.
Well, all that’s about to change. A mashed potato bar transforms the lowly potato from something that just takes up room on the plate into a main attraction! I first had a mashed potato bar at my sister-in-law’s house a few years back. She’s a tremendous cook, and goes all-out for holidays. Not that anything’s she’s ever made has been bad, but the famous mashed potato bar really stands out, and has become an annual Thanksgiving tradition in our house.
I picked up some potatoes from Dragonfly Farm at the Westford Winter Farmer’s Market. If you missed the Farmer’s Market this past Saturday, you can always head over to market vendor Springdell Farm’s farmstand in Littleton—you can pick up all your Thanksgiving vegetables at their stand. I even got a bag full of apples there for my Thanksgiving apple pie!
I like to serve the mashed potatoes for a mashed potato bar in martini glasses. It really stands out that way, and keeps it contained. I’m including a list of potential toppings. Choose your favorites, and add your own ideas, too.
If you’re having a large group, or just really like choices, you could also serve mashed cauliflower. Steam some cauliflower then mash with a little butter and milk. My trick for perfect mashed cauliflower: add a few spoonfuls of mashed potatoes to them. It might offend anyone on a low-carb diet, but I find a few scoops of mashed potatoes gives the mashed cauliflower a perfect consistency.
Really want to go over the top? Offer mashed sweet potatoes as a third choice. That opens up a lot more topping options, like mini marshmallows, maple sugar, brown sugar, crystallized ginger, and candied nuts. You could even use this same set up with baked potatoes!
For the mashed potatoes:
- 3 to 4 pounds potatoes (a very rough estimate of one and a half large potatoes or ½ pound of potatoes per person, which should leave you with some leftovers. Make a little less if you have lots of side dishes or are serving other mashed items at your potato bar. Make a little more if everyone attending loves potatoes!)
- ½ cup milk (approximate—you may need more)
- 4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
- 2 tablespoons cream cheese, cut into pieces
- ¼ cup sour cream
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Salt and pepper to taste (go light on the seasonings and include salt and pepper at the toppings bar)
- Wash, peel, and coarsely dice the potatoes. Place in a large pot and fill with water to about 2 inches above the potatoes.
- Heat the potatoes over high heat until boiling. Reduce the heat to medium high and boil for about 25 minutes, until the potatoes are very soft and easily pierced by a fork.
- Drain the potatoes and transfer to a large bowl. Add the milk, butter, cream cheese, sour cream, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Use a potato masher to mash well until few lumps remain. If the potatoes are too stiff, add more milk, about 2 tablespoons at a time, until the desired creamy consistency is reached.
Ingredients and Directions for Mashed Potato Bar toppings:
Pick and choose which of these toppings you’d like to include in your mashed potato bar. Place in small bowls or other appropriate containers along a bar, side table, or counter to allow everyone to pick and choose their own toppings. Because you’ll be offering a number of choices, you don’t need to make too much of any one topping.
- Herbed butter (I previously shared an , or just add your own favorite herbs to softened butter)
- Crumbled cooked bacon
- Sour Cream
- Snipped fresh chives (leave some whole as they make a beautiful garnish)
- Sauteed mushrooms (dice portabella or other mushrooms and sauté in butter and a pinch of kosher salt until soft)
- Caramelized onions (thinly slice an onion, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon sugar, and sauté in butter until golden brown)
- Sauteed eggplant (dice an Asian, Italian, or other small eggplant—no need to peel it. Sauté in olive oil and sprinkle on some seasonings. My sister-in-law used Zatar, a Middle Eastern seasoning blend. You could also use cumin and coriander, or garlic and parsley, or whatever strikes your fancy!)
- Crumbled bleu cheese
- Shredded cheddar or other cheeses
- Freshly shaved or grated parmesan cheese
- French fried onions (you know, those ones you throw in green bean casserole)
- Steamed broccoli
- Roasted red pepper (out of a jar, drained)
- Little tiny cooked shrimp
- Interesting salts and peppers. I had a lemon pepper blend from Trader Joe’s, Borsari seasoned salt, smoked sea salt (also from Trader Joe’s), in addition to plain salt and pepper.
Here’s a special bonus mashed potato tip: mashed potatoes are best if you prepare them shortly before serving. However, in the mad cooking rush that Thanksgiving can be, sometimes you want to get them done early. If you are preparing them an hour or so ahead of dinner, you can place them in a crock pot set to warm, or in a covered dish in a warm oven. Just dot the top with some butter, and it will be fine. If you’d like to prepare the mashed potatoes a day in advance, prepare as above, then transfer to a dish that can be stored in the refrigerator. Pour a thin layer of milk over the top of the potatoes, then cover the dish and place in the fridge. The next day, mash the milk into the potatoes and rewarm in the microwave.
Second bonus tip: the leftover toppings from the mashed potato bar are perfect for making customized omelets for brunch the day after Thanksgiving. Another genius idea courtesy of my sister-in-law!
The Saturday after Thanksgiving is Small Business Saturday. Come out this Saturday and support local area businesses, such as the vendors at the Westford Winter Farmer’s Market and Eric’s Garden Center!