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Potato Ricer: A Thanksgiving Must-Have

Potato Ricer: A Thanksgiving Must-Have

I’m not quite sure how I ever made it through to dessert all those years that I mashed potatoes with a – uh, masher. Oh sure, there was always a brother who made a mean mash with just the right amount of chunks left it. But in my family, the men (technically, THE MAN) were supposed to do the carving. That or keep the mimosas cold. The real magic, I think, behind having a potato ricer is that kids of all ages want to get involved. It’s like a giant garlic press and the potatoes come out all wormy and stuff. What’s not to love? And kids actually volunteering for food prep is win-win. Thank you, Ali Price!

I can’t tell you the exact date that I started my ricer love affair, but I remember the moment like it was yesterday. It was in the early years of New World Grill and I had a rare evening off and chose to dine at the James Beard house. I couldn’t tell you who was in the kitchen, but I remember clearly being seated with Nicole Routhier, author of beautiful books on Vietnamese food, and Florence Fabricant of the NY Times. There was breaking news and Florence arrived a bit late. As she settled in, Florence talked about an upcoming dinner that she and Frank Prial, NY Times’ wine writer, were hosting to benefit the NY Public Library. For a good number of years, the Times offered these magical dinners – which today would be auctioned online and raise a ton of money in minutes – for a flat ticket price, all proceeds to support NYPL. Florence and Frank always offered FOOD & WINE, Times style. There were other dinners, hosted by famous people, all over town at the exact same time. I was most intrigued by Calvin Trillin’s. He invited the guests into his home and served take-out – or to be more precise, the best Chinese take-out NY had to offer. He had stationed minions all over Chinatown, striking with military precision to bring each dish, the most iconic offering from each restaurant, one by one, on a carefully calculated timetable (“…..like the Entebbe raid”………according to the Times) to be served at the precise moment of each dish’s peak.

Thyme and Goat Cheese

I asked who was cooking for Florence and Frank’s party and she said she was – of course. I offered to do the event-time cooking to finish off her prep, so she could be with the guests. To say she was skeptical would be an understatement.   She did know who I was and had already written about New World Grill, but I was a newbie. Nicole insisted she take me up on the offer.   I left knowing the date and time but little else. I doubt I even thought to panic until the week before. Then, total anxiety set in. Especially when I found out she was making Terence Brennan’s short ribs and mashed potatoes for the main, or more accurately she was making Terence Brennan’s short ribs and I was making mashed potatoes. Sure sure sure – it seems simple, but the simplest food is always an acid test of one’s cooking ability. Did you see The 100-Foot Journey? Helen Mirren had her acid test dish to confirm Chef’s talent – and it was seemingly simple. Same deal for Florence’s potatoes – under-season the water, turn the mash to glue, too wet, too dry, too bland – the stakes were incredibly high. To make matters worse – or as it turns out better – she had forgotten her ricer, “whatever that was”, I thought. She called her husband to bring it over and then handed it off to me. Luckily it didn’t come with –nor need – an owner’s manual.  I had this.   Salted water to cook, white pepper and a lot of butter to finish. Thankfully my performance was worthy of an invitation to greet the guests and a hug from Florence, neither of which were expected. Johnny Carson himself might as well have invited me to the couch. Thank you, ricer.

Incidentally, Florence also introduced me that night to Indiana’s goat cheese producer – Judy Schad of Capriole Farms. After the short rib course, there was a salad with fuyu persimmon and Wabash Cannonball cheese from Capriole Farms. Seriously – I need to get out more.

Potato Ricer

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are an excellent blank slate for seasoning as you like. A few posts ago, I used the pistachio pesto recipe to flavor the riced potatoes. Today I am adding fresh goat cheese and thyme.   But while using a ricer is simple and flawless, potatoes cooked like this are best mashed to order, so dedicating the burner and the last minute attention may be more than you can swing at a stove-intensive holiday like Thanksgiving.

Fear not – there is a great make-ahead mashed potato recipe in Rick Rodger’s Big Book of Sides (I get credit for the recipe, but truth is I stole it from my sister-in-law.) Rick’s books (including The Turkey Cookbook: 138 New Ways to Cook America’s Favorite Bird and Thanksgiving 101) are right up there with ricers in the Thanksgiving must-haves.
Pot o Spuds


  • 4 Russet potatoes, about 3 pounds, peeled, quartered, and covered in water
  • ½ cup milk, half and half or cream, warmed (microwave is fine)
  • 4 ounces fresh goat cheese, cut in chunks
  • 3 Tablespoons butter, cut in chunks
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Put the potatoes in a large pot, season with 2 Tablespoons salt and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes release easily when pricked with a fork, about 15-20 minutes. Drain well.

Press the potatoes through a Potato Ricer into a bowl.

Add about half the milk, as well as the goat cheese and butter. Stir until mixed, adding more milk, as needed to desired texture.

Add the fresh thyme and season with salt and pepper.

Garnish with pats of butter and sprigs of thyme.

Serves 4-6 – depending on how serious (About Mashed Potatoes!!) you are.

Goat Cheese and Thyme Mashed Potatoes with Roast Pork and Brussel Sprouts

© Copyright: KatyKeck.com 2015. All rights reserved.

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Grown-Up (Boozy) Pumpkin Cheesecake

Grown-Up (Boozy) Pumpkin Cheesecake

So before the pumpkin cheesecake,  I have a little story – we’ve had a teency tech glitch (I was no where near that) that apparently has kept about half of you from receiving these posts for the last month or so. No wonder you’re freaking. (Wink. Smile.)   However, I have a not-so-secret vault where you can find all the fabulous fabrications you’ve missed – it’s safe and sound, right where I left them on my website – katykeck.com/blog. Whew!  And thank you for sticking with me, even though I appear to be the laziest blogger EVER, seemingly not posting for weeks.  And now back to the pumpkin patch…………

A recent trip “up north”, as the Michiganders call it, involved some massive pumpkin finds. A couple were the size of Volvos and claimed to weigh more than 1400 pounds. Is there a scale for that? My sister said they looked like Jabba the Hutt – I think she’s right.  That extreme brush with fall produce reminded me of this Pumpkin Ginger Cheesecake that I hadn’t made in years. It’s a carefully (not really) guarded secret recipe from the early days of New World Grill. When we first opened, with a kitchen only slightly larger than the one I had shared in Paris, there were way too many kinks to work out in the work flow to do desserts. So they were primarily outsourced. In house, we had a signature grilled fruit (genius – so far ahead of its time that the Zagat guide said “some things shouldn’t be grilled”. Duh. Really?), but the rest came from elsewhere. There was no reason on earth not to buy Ciao Bella gelato – they had every flavor imaginable and they custom produced whatever you needed. The chocolate ganache cake, while not the stuff of legends, was very good and had the shiniest sheen on top. A weency bit too shiny??  Perhaps.  Because Eric Asamov, CSI-slash-Restaurant Critic at the NY Times, received a slice with a thumb print on it. Total oops, but did he have to include that in his otherwise glowing review?  I did what I had to – made a million copies of the review (the NY Times, people!!!!) and got busy with an ink pad, covering every press kit with inky thumbprints.

Fall in Northern Michigan

Our first fall at New World, the good folks at Jack Daniels offered the James Beard Foundation a $10,000 gift if 200 chefs featured their product on our menus throughout November. I created this recipe using Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey, a twice-filtered premium bottling. The Gentleman Jack Pumpkin Cheesecake was such a hit and so clearly made in-house that we were no longer able to get away with any commercially produced desserts (other than Ciao Bella). I got to add pastry chef to my ever-growing job description.   While I feel a special loyalty to the Gentleman, you can also try Jack Daniels or play around with bourbons (pecans in the crust) or dark rum (ginger in the filling), if the mood strikes. Dark rum would be a nice Island Twist with the ginger.

Now that I was officially a pastry chef (in between being a hostess, plumber, and expediter), I learned an awful lot about making cheesecake. We were a boutique (read: frickin small) venue, but I still cranked out 500 or more cheesecakes a year. I developed about a dozen different flavors which for me was the easy part. The part that took me a while to master was the equipment and techniques. Cracks and sinkholes were Public Enemy Number One. If you want to be serious about this you need a heavy duty, coated springform pan. Flimsy ones leak. Springs break. And aluminum might react with your filling flavor. Any good cooking supply store will carry them – and they are closer to $20 than $6, but they should last a very long time, especially if you don’t make 500 cheesecakes a year. Analon, Calphalon, and Kaiser make sturdy pans. The highest priority of a springform is being leak-proof.

Pumpkin, Eggs, Sugar and Jack Daniels

Cheesecakes are best baked in a water bath, or bain marie. French for Mary’s Bath, the bain marie’s original namesake is likely an ancient alchemist named Mary, though some sources credit the Virgin Mary who was also extremely well-known for her cheesecakes. (Never.) Cheesecakes, like alchemy, benefit from gradual temperature changes. Try to rush this recipe and you will definitely get cracks.  While the prep time is minimal, it takes about 5 hours of planning and tempering the ingredients and cake. Your best results will come with room-temperature cream cheese and then slowly heating the cake in the oven in a water bath, followed by slow cooling – first in the bath in the turned off oven, then out of the bath on the counter. Because I was doing this professionally, I rued cracks in the cake, but fear not – I have topped this with a sour cream layer which will cover all cracks.  You’re welcome.

Another culprit of cheesecake deformity – which in case you have forgotten DOES NOT AFFECT HOW DELICIOUS THIS IS – is sinking. The evildoer behind the dreaded sink is air – first a pretty little puff, then a giant cave in. My tip for avoiding sinking middles is to incorporate as little air as possible – hence the use of a food processor, not a standmixer. And you will note that I only pulse in the eggs at the very end with just a few pulses. (Eggs are another culprit that might fluff up the cake – don’t let them.)  And lastly, there is the pan tapping at the end – getting rid of any excess air.

The recipe below is sure to boost your hostess cred and – bonus – you now have a template for cheesecake production. I will share more flavors in the months to come.  But for now…….

Gobble Gobble.

Gentleman Jack Pumpkin Cheesecake

Gentleman Jack Pumpkin Ginger Cheesecake


  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  •  1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  •  1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
  •  1/4 cup melted butter


  • 15 ounce can pumpkin puree
  • 24 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  •  5 ounces Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey
  •  1 cup sugar
  •  1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
  •  1 Tablespoon ground ginger
  •  1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  •  1 teaspoon ground clove
  •  1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  •  6 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten


  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 Tablespoons Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey
  • 2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Combine flour, brown sugar, pecans, and melted butter and mix until crumbs adhere. Press into a 9 or 10″ sturdy nonstick springform pan and bake for 10 – 12 minutes. Remove and cool. Wrap pan in heavy duty foil. Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.
  2. In food processor, puree pumpkin until smooth. Add cream cheese and puree until smooth. Add Gentleman Jack, sugar, vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg and pulse until mixed. Add eggs and pulse 2 – 3 times only until just combined. Do not overprocess.
  3. Pour filling into cooled crust and tap pan lightly. Place in a roasting pan and fill with hot water, halfway up the side of the springform. Bake for 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 hours or until set. It may still be a bit wobbly in the center but it will firm up as it cools.
  4. Turn oven off and leave cheesecake in water bath in oven for 30 minutes more. Remove roasting pan from oven, and carefully remove springform from water.  Remove foil and cool on wire rack until room temperature. Refrigerate until fully chilled.
  5. Combine sour cream, Gentleman Jack, and powdered sugar and spread on top of cheesecake. Refrigerate until set.
  6. Gently run a knife or thin metal spatula around inside edge of pan. When cheesecake has released, open outer pan ring and remove.

Serves 12.

Pumpkin ginger cheesecake© Copyright: KatyKeck.com 2015. All rights reserved.

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