Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mama's Mashed Potatoes

(c) 2012 by Tom King

This is what mashed potatoes should look like.
Though this weblog isn't technically about food, I seem to do a lot of posts about food. There's a reason for that. Food is something we deal with daily. Preparing food is a skill. It is a skill that can be learned and too many kids this day and age have missed most of the classes they were offered.

One of the benefits of learning to cook your favorite meals is that you can eat well at home and you don't need to ship your mother cross-country every time you want that favorite dish. I learned to cook passably well by helping my wife make meals. She learned from her grandmother and mine and developed her own dishes to a level of artistic skill I cannot duplicate. I can get in the neighborhood, but have yet to match her. She on the other hand can cook right up to the grandmothers' level and, in some cases beyond.

Her mashed potatoes are legendary. Here are the basic "secret ingredients". Getting the flavor right is a matter of adding a bit here and a bit there until the taste is right.

WARNING:  These are not diet taters. They are a treat for Sunday or Sabbath dinner and holidays. Eat these too often and you'll find yourself weighing 300 pounds and coping with bad knees.  You have been warned.

Ingredients:

  1. Potatoes (russets work, but red-skinned potatoes are by far the most delicious)
  2. Potato flakes
  3. Small can evaporated milk
  4. Cream Cheese
  5. Salt
  6. Butter or margarine
  7. Garlic powder
  8. Sugar or Splenda
Equipment:
  1. Large pot or boiler (as its apparently called in Louisiana
  2. Mixing bowl
  3. Mixer (preferably an industrial sized Kitchen-aid, but a hand mixer will do)
  4. Assorted spoons
 Instructions:
  1. Boil the potatoes. I cut them up some so they'll cook faster. Depending on your taste, you can leave the skins on, especially with the thin skinned red potatoes. They're more nutritious that way, though the final product isn't the usual pristine white most are used to. Go ahead and peel them if you are concerned about presentation. Avoid the Yukon gold potato variety. They do not mash well, though they make a nice potato salad.
  2. Place potatoes in mixing bowl with 1/2 to 1 cup of the water they boiled in. Mash the potatoes with the mixer. They'll wind up a little soupy, but that's what the potato flakes are for.  
  3. Add butter, cream cheese and a small can of evaporated milk and and mix it all in. I cut up the cream cheese and butter first and let the hot potatoes melt them before adding the milk.The butter is guesswork, I usually start with a big spoonful and add more in the last step if needed.
  4. Add Garlic powder, salt and sugar or Splenda to taste. The wife has been adding artificial sweetener for some time in the interest of lowering calories. That still doesn't make it a diet dish, just so you know. This step is the critical one. Achieving that Southern mashed tater flavor is all about the blend of ingredients.  You don't need much more than a teaspoonful of the garlic and sugar. Add salt to taste. The mixture will still be a little soupy, but you should be able to taste whether you're getting it right. There should be a light hint of garlic and butter. The cream cheese shouldn't stand out. Somewhere between a block and half a regular foil block of cream cheese works nicely depending on how many potatoes you use to give it a creamy texture.
  5. As you run the mixer, gradually sprinkle in dried potato flakes until the potatoes thicken. You'll know it's right when the mixer starts to leave swirl marks behind as the bowl rotates. 
Because potatoes are not all the same size, absolute measurements of ingredients are not really practical. Mashed potatoes are an art form, like dance or story-telling. It takes practice and the only way you know you've got it right is by tasting it till you get all the flavors balanced just so.

My son Matt is back in Texas and misses his Mama's cooking. So, at his requested, I posted this to go with my earlier post on Barbecue Tender-Bits as these two dishes and a good salad with maybe some broccoli and my grandmother's homemade rolls make up his favorite meal. The next food post I'll do is my Honeymama's homemade roll recipe. Till then, here's a passable wheat roll recipe you can make in your bread machine that are pretty good till the real thing comes along.

I also posted this recipe because really good mashed potatoes are so seldom seen anymore. I figure if you're going to get fat, it's way better to do it with this kind of food than on two dollar hamburgers. Hamburgers fill your belly. Mama's Mashed Potatoes fill your soul!

Tom King







Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Install That Never Ends

My computer has been trying to stall the same two Microsoft Netframework updates for about a month now. It's been more of a nuisance than a real problem. It slows down shutdown and takes up memory space.  I finally decided to do something about it, though.

Apparently Microsoft built Net Framework one version on top of the other. You can install a later version the first time you install it on your XP operating system. The problem is, the later versions don't include some elements from the first versions that they need to install updates later. If you didn't install 1.0, then 2.0, then 2.5 Sp1, then 3.0, the 3.5 Sp1, then 4.0 ad infinitum you can't get past the Net Framework 3.5 Sp1 update with the XP updates. Depending on which version you skipped, you could wind up reinstalling up to seven updates that I know of. 

I took out the whole Net Framework manually (a serious pain in the buttocks) and then reinstalled starting with version 2.0.  I managed only to reduce the number of rotating updates from seven to two.

XP claims it's installing the update. It shows the little bar graph thing and even tells you when it's "all finished".

BUT MICROSOFT XP LIES!

As soon as you reboot the computer, there they are. Lying in wait. Begging prettily to be installed.

Like the intensely irritating Lois and Bram kid's tune, "The Song that Never Ends", it just goes on and on my friend.  I discovered that the only thing you can do is remove the enitre Net Framework and reinstall each piece from 1.0 on.

I found two bits of software that help.


The first:, Aaron Stebner's handy Net Framework Cleanup Tool removes all Net Framework versions from your computer. Make sure you get the file from Stebner's site or Softpedia so you get the right one and don't download something nasty.

The second tool is aSoft's .Net Version Detector.  The file unfortunately will be saved on your computer with with the same name as a notorious malware program.  Be sure and get your copy from the aSoft link to make sure it's the good one.

.Net Detector checks to see which version of Net Framework you have and gives you a button beside the list of versions in the version detector window. The buttons take you right to where you need to go to download that version. Simply run the tool and start at the top downloading the files and installing each successive version.

You should stop having trouble with the update after that.

Good luck.  When you get done, give yourself a nice reward for a job well done.  You deserve it. I bought myself a sleek new mouse.

Tom

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Homemade Ketchup

(c) 2012 by Tom King

If you ever wanted to try making your own homemade ketchup (or catsup if you'd druther) without all those alphabetical ingredients in it, here's a recipe that lets you lose the vinegar and the polysorbate idunnowhatnheckizzinhere. 

Best of all there's no cooking involved unless you want to make a really big batch and put it up in Mason Jars for the winter. You can make this with fresh garden tomatoes by peeling, seeding and whizzing up your tomatoes into a sauce and using the fresh sauce seasoned or unseasoned. The ketchup is pretty well seasoned already.

Pour into a mixing bowl the following:
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 2 ½ tsp salt
  • 2 ¼ tsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp cumin
  • ¼ tsp oregano
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ½  tsp soy sauce (to make it healthier use 1 tsp Braggs Liquid Aminos)
  • 3 tbsp pineapple juice
  • 4 tbsp lemon juice
  • 8 tbsp honey

Mix it all up, pour it into jars and store in the refrigerator. You can use the water bath canning process to seal the catchup in Mason Jars if you're making a large batch and want it to last a while. Just make sure to follow directions.  The jars full of ketchup should be boiled without lids for 5 minutes at seal level to 3000 feet, 10 minutes from 3000 to 6000, 15 minutes from 6000 to 8000 and 20 minutes at 800 to 10,000 feet.  Any higher than that and you probably shouldn't be boiling stuff and using up the oxygen.

    Friday, April 13, 2012

    Championship Game Snacks - The Secret to Homemade Corn Dogs

    (c) 2012 by Tom King

    There are all sorts of recipes out there for corn dogs, but most are for a family-sized event and most require far more ingredients than you really want to fool with. Here's the dead easiest way to make enough corn dogs for a Superbowl, World Series or Final Four. A word of warning. You want to position the Fry Daddy where you can see the TV. The guys will keep you busy. I personally can eat 10 or 20 all by myself.


    Here's what you need:

    1. Box of corn dog skewers – keep an eye out for these in the grocery store. They can be hard to find. I special order mine online in boxes of 1000. In a pinch you can have the guys write their names on their skewers and reuse them (just don't let your wife see or she'll throw out the half gallon of oil left in the fryer after you're done).
    2. All the wieners you can eat - this recipe makes even vege-weenies tast great!
    3. 1 box of “complete” (add water only) pancake mix
    4. 1 Box Corn Meal Muffin Mix
    5. Mixing bowl
    6. Wire Whisk
    7. Large Fry Daddy
    8. Gallon bottle of Canola Oil (healthier - you can tell your wife you made them with mono-unsaturated oil.)
    9. Paper towels, lots of paper towels
    10. Metal tongs (do not grab the wooden stick after they cook. It's liable to be surprisingly hot)
    11. Bags of chips
    12. Paper plates
    13. Napkins
    14. Ketchup, may, mustard (my group likes to dip 'em in queso)
    Fill the Fry Daddy about 3/4 full - enough to cover the entire wiener.  Plug it in and let the oil heat up while you make the batter.

    The Batter
    In a big mixing bowl, dump a regular size box of pancake mix and 1 box of corn meal muffin mix. Pour in water and whisk it up till the batter is smooth and not too thick, not too thin.

    Wiener Prep
    Wiener preparation is the secret to delicious homemade hot dogs. You have to thoroughly dry off the wieners. I use paper towels myself. Wet wieners prevent the batter from adhering to the dog long enough to cook.

    Cooking
    Skewer the dried wieners on the corn dog sticks. Dip them into the batter bowl and make sure they are thoroughly coated with batter. Lift them from the batter one at a time, letting the excess batter run off.  Set each dog gently into the Fry Daddy. Put them in one at a time and allow the outside to cook enough so that the next dog you put in won't stick to the first one.  I hold them by the stick for about 10 to 15 seconds to allow the batter to skin over.  I like to put them in from right to left so I know that the one on the right is always the one ready to come out soonest.  Let them cook till they are golden brown.  Don't let them get too dark or they'll taste burnt.


    Serving Corn Dogs
    When the dogs are ready, I just put them out on a big serving plate next to a couple of open bags of chips and a stack of paper plates. I set out bowls to put the ketchup, mayo and mustard in rather than letting the guys dip straight out of the jars. That way, I don't have to throw away half a jar of mayo because my wife says, "I'm throwing that out. Every one of them had their hands in the jar and did you see any of them wash their hands once???" It just costs less to put it out in bowls. That way if someone dips his weenie in the mustard jar, you don't lose the whole jar.

    I'm just sayin'

    Tom King