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  1. Life & Culture

Potatoes star in these homey Thanksgiving recipes

The Thanksgiving feast requires certain elements to make everyone happy: turkey, of course, and stuffing — dressing if you're from the South — plus cranberry, something green to assuage our gluttonous guilt, possibly a colorful Jell-O salad and then pumpkin pie. • Oh, and potatoes, mostly likely two kinds — mashed and a sweet potato melange oozing with butter, brown sugar and bubbly marshmallows. It's a meal of tradition for sure, but for some of us, tradition means changing things up.

This year, whether you're making the entire meal yourself or bringing a dish to a potluck gathering, consider something new. We've found 10 recipes worthy of the holiday meal, some simple and others more challenging. It's not a bad idea to give a new recipe a trial run before Thursday.

Traditionally, spicy foods don't make an appearance at Thanksgiving, but with the increased popularity of the flavor-injected, deep-fried turkey, we think that Chili-Glazed Sweet Potatoes would be a worthy accompaniment. The heat comes from jalapeno jelly. Sweet Potato Gratin With Chili-Spiced Pecans, powered by chipotle powder, is another that would belly up to a deep-fried turkey quite well.

For potlucks, we like Artichoke, Leek and Russet Potato Casserole or Potato, Fennel and Parsnip Gratin. These casserolelike potato dishes travel well and can easily be reheated. Mashed potatoes, of course, are always well-received and expected. There are many ways to dress them up if butter and milk aren't enough for you. Goat cheese, garlic, horseradish and cheese are just a few ways to gild the lily. If you're feeling especially frisky, stir in a 4-ounce container of mascarpone, the thick Italian cream cheese. It's a secret ingredient that makes the mashed potatoes especially silky and rich.

Perfectly mashed

Since we're on the subject of mashed potatoes, it's a good time to admit that while making them is not difficult, there are some tricks to ensure they don't become a pot of glue. That unfortunate outcome can result from selecting high-starch potatoes and then beating or processing them too long, which releases even more starch.

So here's your first tip: Do not prepare mashed potatoes in a food processor. The sharp blades rip the structure of the potato and unleash starch. Because the blades move so quickly, potatoes turn to paste before you know it. (Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are fine in a processor.) Also, use a hand-beater sparingly and only after you've mashed the potatoes or put them through a ricer or food mill.

In general, a medium-starch Yukon Gold is probably the best for mashed potatoes but all-purpose russets work well as long as you don't beat them too much. Both make for light, fluffy and creamy mashed potatoes. Yukons even taste buttery. Large red potatoes also make delicious mashed potatoes, but tend to be smaller so you'll be peeling longer.

Peel and cut potatoes in uniform sizes before boiling. If the sizes are uneven, they will cook at different rates and you will be fishing some pieces out of the water before others.

Start potatoes in cold water so that they cook evenly. Let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Drain immediately when done. If potatoes sit in water, they will be waterlogged and turn to paste when mashed.

Overcooked potatoes won't absorb as much liquid. Return drained, cooked potatoes to the hot pot and momentarily let the steam escape. Dry potatoes will better absorb liquid.

Suggested liquid amounts: For 4 cups (2 ½ pounds) of cooked potatoes, use ½ cup of milk. For 8 cups (or 5 pounds), use 1 cup. Beat well to incorporate. (Five pounds of potatoes feeds 12 to 16 people.) For the butter, about 4 tablespoons for 4 cups cooked potatoes and 8 tablespoons for 8 cups.

Use coarse kosher salt to season. It is easy to overdo it with fine table salt. Salt as you cook so that the seasoning works its way into the food, otherwise you may oversalt at the end.

Heat butter and milk before adding to cooked potatoes. Add warmed milk (or half-and-half or heavy cream) first. Mixing in the butter first coats potatoes and prevents them from absorbing milk.

Make the mashed potatoes and store in the refrigerator. They'll reheat wonderfully right before the meal. If they appear dry, add more warmed milk.

Leftover heated milk and butter for mashed potatoes can be frozen for future use. Let it cool completely first.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8586. Follow her on twitter at @roadeats.

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