Archive for the ‘science’ Category

So as you’ll recall from my last post, I mashed sweet potatoes to make risotto. The question arose: what’s the best way? Two possibilities occurred: my dowdy, old-fashioned, hand-held potato masher:

potato masher

Or my new hotness food processor, the Cuisinart KFP-7TM.

I pulled out the machine’s manual (yes: miracle I could still locate it) and to see what I could find on the subject. There was a warning against mashing (white) potatoes (they get “gluey” — likely from the lysis of the starch cells by the blades) — but what about sweet potatoes? Toooootally unrelated species, right?

Well, I’m a scientist. Why not do an experiment? After cooking the sweet potatoes as peeled, cubed chunks per instructions, I threw them in the food processor and hit go. In no time flat, they were mashed sweet potato smithereens, but instead of the homogenous, fluffy cloud I’d been hoping for, they were more like gooey, mini-sweet potato shards.

processed sweet potatoes

Oh, what the heck, I thought. Cooked butternut squash cubes dissolve in risotto. Why not sweet potato shards? So, I packed them in the measuring cup and dumped them in. In the end, my hypothesis was incorrect: the shards didn’t dissolve entirely, though they did so well enough to color my risotto a lovely shade of yellow. And the risotto still tasted great!  In the mean time, I whipped out my hand-held potato masher and went to town. That helped some:

mashed sweet potatoes

I scooped some out for part of my lunch today, mixed in a little salt and pepper and dusted it with cinnamon. But still: potato shards.

sweet potato lunch

America’s Test Kitchens advises using a food mill — an old fashioned apparatus with a hand-crank on top — to mash sweet potatoes. I used one of these with my Grandma when I was a little girl and to help her process her home-grown tomatoes and applesauce for canning. I don’t own one now, but I think next time I’ll try starting with the potato masher and see if that corrects the problem.

But there’s another lesson here: Don’t be afraid to experiment. Mistakes are OK! Even failures make good lessons (I wouldn’t be writing this blog today if I hadn’t learned from countless ones I made), and 9 times out of 10, the finished product still tastes great. Even Julia Child once said something like if you screw up in the kitchen, just keep going and serve it. Most times, your company won’t even know the difference. Don’t miss this blog by Mark Bittman at “Bitten” on this very subject.

The home cook, especially the aspiring home cook, needs encouragement — not befuddlement. Show people what actually happens in the kitchen, show people that mistakes are made (”The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes” — Julia Child), show people that, just as you need not be Rafael Nadal to play tennis, you need not be Gordon Ramsay to cook a decent meal.


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