During the holidays it’s not sugarplums that dance in my head. I don’t crave those gorgeous sugar cookies with their garish icing and sparkling sprinkles. I can resist any nut roll or yule log. The one holiday dish that sings my name like a band of carolers outside my front door on a cold snowy evening is Crack Potatoes.
I first had Crack Potatoes when I joined my then-boyfriend-now-husband and his family for Thanksgiving. In a Pyrex 9X13 glass casserole dish rested the smooth mashed spuds with an oven-golden roasted top that looked like a cozy blanket. I zoned in on them immediately. I’m sure I elbowed my future brother-in-law in the buffet line around the kitchen’s island just to get closer to them. I spooned three huge heaps of them on my plate. I made my future mother-in-law gasp.
During the non-holiday season my favorite food is potatoes. To say I’m addicted to them is an understatement. I can tell you which restaurants have the best fries, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, potato wedges, home fries, hash browns, boiled potatoes, and roasted potatoes. I buy potatoes from our local farmer every week—in 5 lb increments. I serve potatoes with every meal. When I went on the Atkins diet, the only carb I didn’t give up was potatoes. Needless to say, I am a potato junkie.
My family always served mashed potatoes at holiday meals. I remember my mom peeling pound after pound of Idaho potatoes, their speckled brown skins slipping into the garbage disposal. I remember my step-mom whipping boiled potatoes with her loud droning hand-held beater while gradually pouring a splash of warm milk and melted butter into the mixture. But I had never seen a casserole of baked mashed potatoes before my fateful Turkey Day meal with my future in-laws. Whereas regular mashed potatoes are dry and lumpy, Crack Potatoes are always smooth yet sturdy; they are always moist and creamy. With a slight tang of sour cream and a subtle jab of grated onion, this make-ahead casserole is tasty and foolproof. The recipe is so easy it’s almost impossible to mess it up.
After my third helping of only potatoes, I looked at my future mother-in-law and said, “These potatoes must have crack in them. I can’t stop eating them.” At that moment a common holiday dish that was taken for granted transformed into a most beloved dish.
Every holiday since I have had Crack Potatoes, whether it be at my in-law’s or my family’s. When I made the recipe for the first time for my family, they were grateful to no longer have to deal with the chore of peeling, boiling and mashing potatoes while roasting a turkey, setting the table, preparing a salad, and watching the countless parades on television. Crack Potatoes free up a lot of time in the kitchen.
Even though the recipe would be perfect during any time of the year, I only make and/or eat Crack Potatoes during the holiday season. Much like Green Bean Casserole, I can’t imagine eating Crack Potatoes in the middle of July; it just seems sacrilegious. On the same token, I couldn’t imagine a Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s without Crack Potatoes. What would be the point of putting up a tree, hanging a stocking, setting out the cookies for Santa?
Before saving room for dessert, reconsider having just one more helping of potatoes. If you make Crack Potatoes, I promise you won’t regret it.
There are many versions of Crack Potatoes, but this recipe is the one my mother-in-law made that I feel in love with and always use.
Makes 8-12 servings
12 Russet Potatoes, peeled and cubed
8oz cream cheese, cubed
¼ cup butter
½ cup sour cream
½ cup whole milk
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup onion, grated
1 tsp. salt
dash of white pepper
Boil potatoes until easily pricked with a fork or paring knife. Mash hot potatoes. (I prefer to use a ricer to get the perfectly smooth texture.) Add cream cheese and butter (both at room temperature); beat well with mixer. Mix in sour cream, milk (at room temperature), eggs, onion, salt, and pepper. Beat well. Pour into a greased 9X13 casserole. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and cover. Refrigerate overnight.
Before baking let potatoes come to room temperature. Then bake for 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
Gravy and fresh parsley are optional, but delicious.
Apart from obsessing about food and wine in Connotation Press and on her blog The Everyday Palate, Amanda McGuire also writes book reviews which have appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Literary Magazine Review, and Mid-American Review. Her poems have appeared in Noon: Journal of the Short Poem, The Cream City Review, 27 rue de fleures, So To Speak, and other literary journals. She teaches at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.