By my own admission, I am that food person. You know the one. The food magazine reading, reality food competition watching, restaurant obsessed, cooking gadget collector, straight up food nerd. I think I was born into the role.
Cooking and eating in the house I grew up in was a way to learn new things, express creativity and share love and gratitude. My mom was the 1970’s lady who baked her own bread, sewed our groovy outfits and gave all of us haircuts. No, we didn’t live on a religious commune nor was she trying to be hip. We were just a big family who needed those things and my mom was endlessly crafty. Thus one or more of us was put to work in the kitchen as soon we got old enough. And the tasks I remember the most revolved around potatoes. Peeling, chopping, boiling or baking- you could count on at least one of us Mahoney kids pitching in and doing our namesake proud. In fact, some of my favorite food memories– summer steak dinners, meatloaf night, Easter brunch– have little to do with the main course, if I’m honest and more to do with whatever potato was being served. I mean, who could remember anything about the nondescript ham someone brought over when there was my mom’s cheesy potatoes on the same table? Forty some odd years later, the potato obsession is alive and well.
Love makes you do crazy things and my love for potatoes is no different. I will confess that when I invite you to brunch because I miss you that’s only partially true. While your company is cherished, brunch for me, especially since Bloody Marys and mimosas are thankfully out of the picture, is actually about breakfast potatoes. The same can be said for the burger place I might casually suggest. Don’t be fooled. I have a hidden agenda. I’m suggesting this place most likely because I read somewhere about their fries. I recently started a heated Twitter thread by proclaiming my new-found love for potatoes on pizza, which I discovered in Portland. It’s delicious and I will hear nothing to the contrary. There are even places whose names escape me but you better believe I remember what sort of potatoes I ate there.
Since I don’t eat out 7 nights a week, this love spills over to my own diningroom table. Not to toot my own horn but I can cook. And I can really cook potatoes. To paraphrase 90’s R&B sensation Ashanti, “I’m not always there when you call, but I’ll always bring potatoes.” Potato salad? I’m your boo. Mashed potatoes? Um, yes. Three Thanksgivings ago, I was entrusted with making mashed potatoes for 30 people and it was a job I took very seriously. So yeah, I got this. Baked, fried, croquettes? Check, check and check. But the best potatoes I make are ones that aren’t even mine.
If you ask my husband which potato dish I rock the most, he’ll say roasted potatoes. And he isn’t wrong. They’re freaking delicious but like most fantastic ideas, they came from someone else. Ina Garten to me is like the unsung Obi Wan Kenobi of vegetable roasting in this country. Miss Ina was roasting vegetables and spreading the gospel of their deliciousness since the 1990s. While people in 2017 are just discovering roasting and doing their cute little sheetpan meals, Ina’s been killing it for years. Thus my award-worthy roasted potatoes are her’s and her’s alone. Simple, perfect and applause worthy at brunch or dinner or whatever, the potatoes in question go like this:
3 pounds small red or white potatoes
1/4 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced garlic (6 cloves)
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the potatoes in half or quarters and place in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic; toss until the potatoes are well coated. Transfer the potatoes to a sheet pan and spread out into 1 layer. Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until browned and crisp. Flip twice with a spatula during cooking in order to ensure even browning.
Remove the potatoes from the oven, toss with parsley, season to taste, and serve hot.
There’s something artful about simplicity that my more-more-more addict brain finds soothing about this recipe and all of Ina’s giant white Hamptons kitchen existence. People like her and Mark Bittman were sort of the cornerstones for me as a cook and a student in cooking. They have this very relaxed but chic and smart approach that makes me think, “Okay, I can do that.” Unlike Martha Stewart, whom I also love but I watch her when I want to feel shamed and like I’m living a shabby life by not using enough parchment paper. It’s more of an abusive relationship and best in small doses. Plus, her recipes are really difficult and even the ingredients seem to be judging you. Yet sometimes I can’t resist watching Martha Bakes wherein she has pastry chef guests whom she bosses around and makes sweat profusely. It’s oddly uncomfortable and the post-prision, post-daytime show depressing production value of it makes it a must-see.
All of this leads back to potatoes, as it usually does. This morning, I was making breakfast for myself. Cooking for myself is something I also do well. Like a good recovering Catholic, I can make ingredients last forever or develop guilt about not using them. I chose the former and I decided to make breakfast tacos using some potatoes that I needed to cook. Throw in some eggs, salsa verde and cheese, serve on warm corn tortillas and you’ve got a breakfast party for your mouth. This little ceremony is insignificant in the sense that people everywhere eat breakfast all day long. But for a guy who didn’t really eat breakfast when he was drinking, it’s kind of important. The act of cooking, which I find meditative, and the art of cooking something perfectly is cause for satisfication. It feels like I’m being nice to myself. Treating food and cooking like gifts also helps me keep my relationship with it in tact which as an addict is key.
This morning as I made the homefries pictured in the glistening skillet above, my thought was at least there’s potatoes. I’ve been battling the blues a little bit. Maybe not the full-blown blues or a big depression. Perhaps just “Lite Blues.”Half the calories and despair as Original Recipe Blues. I try to shift my brain into gratitude when I go there. So my thought was at least there’s potatoes. At least there’s small joys sprinkled all throughout my day. At least there are gifts everywhere that are accessible when I look for them. And at least when those gifts are potatoes they’re also delicious.