"50 Best Mashed Potatoes," Sarah Reynolds

Pros: Simple, clear, easy recipes
Cons: Average results
Rating: 3 out of 5

First published 11/21/2002

One of the dishes we always have to make for our Turkey Day feast is a relatively “normal” mashed potato-based recipe. (“Normal” means that it doesn’t have anything weird in it, and certainly doesn’t have any pepper in it. It gets requested by a friend of ours who is allergic to peppers and prefers her mashed potatoes to be simple and straightforward.) Because of this, we’ve had plenty of occasion to make recipes out of Sarah Reynolds’ “50 Best Mashed Potatoes.” Unfortunately it isn’t as good as Rick Rodgers’ “50 Best Stuffings and Dressings,” a companion cookbook.

These are simple recipes expressed in simple terms. This, in many ways, makes them perfect for holiday cooking. When you’re cooking up a storm, simple is almost always better! Most recipes take up just one small page, although a few are slightly longer. Lists of ingredients are clear. Steps are easy, numbered, and short. The lists of ingredients are similarly short and simple. You might occasionally find one or two not-too-common ingredients (like “soft garlic-herb cheese (Boursin)”), but nothing outrageous.

Mashed Potatoes Better than Mom’s: These are the basic mashed potato recipes, including variations with hot milk and butter, heavy cream and butter, nonfat yogurt, buttermilk, Yukon Golds and butter, sour cream and chives, and so on.

Say Cheese When You Mash: I admit, I do so love mashed potatoes with cheese! Here you’ll find variations with three cheeses, cream cheese, ricotta, cheddar and corn, parmesan, goat cheese and olives, and more.

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes: This chapter is particularly useful for holiday cooking, since all of the recipes can be made ahead of time and then trotted out at the last minute. Here you’ll find everything from baked stuffed mashed potatoes to savory mashed potato casserole, big baked potato cake, baked potato and broccoli croquettes, and more.

The Best-Dressed Mashed Potatoes: These are meant to be “out of the ordinary” variations on the mashed potato theme. Roasted tomato mashed potatoes, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, pesto mashed potatoes, chipotle mashed potatoes with cilantro butter, and so on.

Mashed Potatoes and…: This chapter combines mashed potatoes with other vegetables. Smashed potatoes and carrots, winter root vegetable puree, mashed potatoes with broccoli and hot pepper butter, confetti mashed potatoes, etc.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes: Bourbon-spiked sweet potato and pear puree, roast sweet potato mash with apples and maple syrup, and a couple of other such recipes occupy this chapter.

In addition to the recipes, there’s a handy little introduction. There’s a brief primer on different types of potatoes and what they’re good for. There are a few notes on how to store potatoes,* as well as how to cook and mash them. There are a few words on what to add to mashed potatoes, a brief paragraph on reheating them, and some great potato facts (potato cooking water is great in breads, for example, and leftover mashed potatoes make a great thickener for soups).

*Mind you, I don’t entirely agree with her instructions on storing potatoes. She says to not put them in the refrigerator, as it’ll make them sweet and mushy. There’s actually a recipe by food scientist Shirley O. Corriher in Cookwise that specifically directs you to put the potatoes in the fridge because of that sweetness – to very good effect!

So Why the Three Out of Five?

I have a pet peeve in cookbook reviews: reviewers who never mention whether or not they’ve ever made some recipes from the book, and if so, how those recipes came out. A number of people have expressed confusion as to why I take this particular tidbit so seriously. After all, a professionally-produced cookbook is going to have at least reasonably good recipes, right? So how the recipes come out really isn’t all that important.

Or so you’d think.

There is no guarantee whatsoever that a professionally-produced cookbook will have good recipes in it. I’ve bought expensive, beautiful cookbooks by famous well-known chefs that were clearly not kitchen-tested, and had mistakes throughout the recipes. I’ve bought cookbooks where the recipes were simple and nice, but the results didn’t taste that great. All that great information and the wonderful simple recipes mean nothing if the food doesn’t come out well, and there’s no way to find out any of this other than to make some of the recipes. So a cookbook review that doesn’t say how well the recipes come out just isn’t giving you enough information to judge the cookbook on – it’s that simple.

And the quality of the food is most of the reason why this cookbook is getting three stars. Because while the recipes are simple and look good, the results are just average. We have a rating scheme, you see. Essentially, we give recipes one to three asterisks if they’re good, and a big ol’ star if they’re amazing. At two asterisks, a recipe is something we’d be willing to make again if we had a particular reason to want that specific sort of recipe, but we’d be more likely to make something else. (Why settle for “average,” after all, when you know that other cookbooks can give you “wonderful”?) And most of the recipes in this cookbook ended up with two asterisks. They’re okay. A couple of them are even good. But not a single one was worthy of that big star.

In this sort of cookbook (particularly one that has the word “best” in the title), that’s pretty surprising. Mashed potatoes don’t need a lot of help to be great, and almost every cookbook can yield at least one “wow, that was really good!” recipe. So on the whole, I’m giving an average cookbook an average rating.

A Few Final Notes

This cookbook has 50 recipes (probably obvious from the title), is fairly small, and has no photos (but then, we can imagine what mashed potatoes will look like!).

We have a lot of experience with cooking in our household, and I readily admit that we have high expectations for our cookbooks and their recipes. If you aren’t as picky as we are, then you might get a lot more out of this cookbook than we do. Certainly it isn’t a bad cookbook and I wouldn’t throw it out as useless. Perhaps you could get a copy from the library, try a recipe or two, and see whether you enjoy them before buying a copy.

Posted in Cooking, Reviews

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