About Monica Kass Rogers

The "Lost Recipes Found" lady

Marvelous Mashed Potatoes

Of all the beloved dishes on the holiday table, mashed potatoes are beloved-est. Fluffy billows of creamy white, crowned with butter or gravy, they fill the biggest bowlfuls on the sideboard, and sidle up so well to the mains at any classic American feast, vegetarian or meaty.

But strive as we might toward potato perfection, who hasn’t messed up the mashed on at least one occasion? Too wet, too dry, gluey or pasty, mashed potato fails are a holiday heartbreaker. To help you avoid mashed mishaps this year, we reached out to two top Chicago chefs for favorite methods and how-tos toward potato perfection.

Chicago Chefs Matthias Merges, owner of four restaurants and former director of operations for Charlie Trotter’s various ventures, and Michael Sheerin, executive chef at Embeya and, the soon-to-come Packed dumpling house, had these combined tips to offer. The good news? Perfection is possible. The challenging news? Don’t wait til the last minute! Achieving superlatives like “best” does take time. You’ll need to start your potato process in the morning on feast day for marvelous mashed results.

The main keys: Start potatoes in cold water, and don’t boil it! Both chefs say to slowly bring the temperature of the water only to 200 to 205 degrees, just below a boil. “Never let the water boil,” says Merges. “This causes the cells in the potato to burst and become watery.” Also, leaving the skin on, says Merges, helps protect the potato “meat” from getting soggy and promotes more even cooking. Once cooked, placing the cooked potatoes in a warm oven to dry out the skins before peeling and mashing ensures perfect consistency. Also crucial: Be sure to warm the cream/butter/olive oil you are going to stir in before adding to the hot mashed potatoes.

In sum? “Cook them slow, mash them hot and warm the cream/butter before mixing in,” says Sheerin.

Once you’ve got the basics down, turn your creativity to mashed potato recipes with mix-ins like Chef Alec Sherman’s rustic, skin-on Smashed Potatoes with Sunchokes Roasted Garlic and Baby Spinach. The earthy flavor of roast garlic and sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes), and the bright green shock of the spinach makes this flavorful variation a pretty addition to holiday tables.

And don’t forget the gravy! For gravy like liquid gold, think about roasting a small turkey a few days before Thanksgiving, saving the meat from the carcass for after-holiday sandwiches, pot pies and casseroles, and using the bones to make Mike Sheerin’s favorite gravy. Enhanced with onion, garlic, white wine, thyme, and loads of mushrooms, this gravy is truly the crowning glory worthy of topping your marvelous mashed.

Smashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic, Sunchokes & Spinach

Alec Sherman, chef de cuisine at Chicago’s Southport & Irving restaurant, grew up in the Midwest and has long loved the simple rusticity of skin-on mashed potatoes. “I enjoy the texture, and it reminds me of home,” says Sherman. “The four ingredients my family has always used include heavy cream, butter, salt and fresh cracked pepper. But we recently elevated this with one of my favorite ingredients: sunchokes!” Sherman says smashing roasted sunchokes into the hot potatoes with roasted garlic and pureed baby spinach “ has completely changed our mashed potato game: The additions give the finished dish great flavor and a beautifully vibrant green color.” We’ve adapted Sherman’s recipe for home cooks. We love the earthiness of the sunchoke/roasted garlic combo. Add it to your holiday table with roasts—vegetarian and meaty. It’s also nice with almost any grilled meat (Sherman serves it at Southport & Irving with a chimichurri-marinated hangar steak and crispy sweetbreads.) This would also taste good with some of Chef Mike Sheerin’s Liquid Gold Gravy. And since I am a sunchoke fanatic–try our sunchoke soup–sooooo good!

Liquid Gold Gravy

Mike Sheerin, executive chef of Chicago’s Embeya restaurant, and the soon-to-come Packed dumpling house, has been making the mashed potatoes at his family’s Thanksgiving gatherings since he was six years old. “I had the unfortunate timing of catching my mother on the phone with one of her sisters in California,” Sheerin laughs, recounting that first mashed moment. “She was trying to mash the potatoes and talk on the phone at the same time—and this was before cordless phones.” Giving up on the effort, Mike’s mom handed him a towel, poured milk and butter in the hot potatoes, “And I went to town mashing them,” says Sheerin. “I kept pushing down the masher and lifting just enough to catch a little air to lighten them. I wasn’t even thinking about what I was doing at the time, but somehow, they were pretty amazing.”

In the decades since, Sheerin personally perfected methods for marvelous mashed potatoes still include an old-fashioned masher–but also finish with this liquid gold gravy. Made with roasted bones from a turkey carcass, onion, garlic, white wine, thyme and lots of mushrooms, Sheerin’s rich gravy is worth the effort. I roast a small turkey days before Thanksgiving, save the meat for after-holiday casseroles and sandwiches, and use the carcass specifically to make this gravy. It means a lot less last-minute scrambling the day of the event. Bonus: View our marvelous mashed potatoes recipe using best-of methods from Mike and Chicago Chef Matthias Merges.

Spiced Butternut Squash Pie

Q: What’s the difference between pies made with pumpkin, butternut squash, garnet yam, and sweet potato? A: Not much. You can make a stellar pie using the whipped soft flesh from any of these ingredients. Tucked into a home-made crust and topped with whipped cream….perfection. In our comparison tests, yam had the best color & texture–very orange and smooth & creamy. But butternut squash had the best flavor–more mild than pumpkin. Squash was also less-sticky with a smoother top than the sweet potato pies (those cracked on top.) But really, all of the fillings worked well using some variation of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg with brown sugar, corn syrup, evaporated milk and eggs. This recipe is based on my mom’s Old-Southern pumpkin pie. Her inclusion of a little orange juice adds brightness to the traditional spice trio of ginger, cinnamon and fresh-grated nutmeg. We’ve also lightened this pie by using fat-free, instead of regular evaporated milk, but you can use the fuller-fat version, if you like.

Savory Sage & Sausage Stuffing

Filled with nubbins of onion and celery and plenty of sage, savory sausage stuffing will ever be the stuff of my poultry-pairing dreams. You just can’t top it. My mom used to include plumped raisins and giblets in the mix, but I like it without. And rather than buy prepackaged stuffing mix, try toasting the bread cubes yourself. It’s cheap and easy and the aroma is heavenly.

Senator Russell’s Sweet Potatoes (Version 1 & 2)

Calling down to Georgia’s  State Capitol offices and the Culinary History Society of Georgia, nobody could comment on the gustatorial habits of Richard B. Russell, Jr. (1897 – 1971) the famous politician this dish is named for. But judging from its ingredients, one thing is sure: Richard Russell had a sweet tooth. Depending on the version you source, this sweet potato casserole—a mainstay going back for generations on Southern holiday tables, includes from two to three cups of sugar. That, plus plenty of butter and pecans, makes this more of a dessert than a side dish, in my opinion.  But sidedish, or dessert, there’s no denying that the butter-crunchy pecan crust and smooth, whipped sweets beneath taste delicious.

SweetPotatoprep5.5 x 3.7

I’m including two versions of the dish. The first, which may be the original, comes from Nicolette Bruner, who got it from her husband’s grandmother, Stella Roberts Russell, one of Senator Russell’s cousins. It has about half the butter, a quarter of the milk and a third of the sugar used in the second version.

The second version comes to us from Victoria Osteen, who, with her husband Joel, pastors Lakewood Church, of Houston, TX, one of the largest congregations in the country. Victoria’s mom’s family comes from Georgia and says the dish goes way back on their traditional holiday menu.


Sherry Baby (Sherried Baby Portobello & Walnut Loaf)

When I was in my early 20s, living in a big, green, ramshackle  co-op house in South Evanston, vegetarian was really how you cooked, if you cooked at all (raw food was already how we ate most of the time), and the best meals were communal. One recipe I loved back then was for a mushroom-walnut loaf that had great texture and flavor. Long since lost, I felt the recipe needed revisiting, so I’ve done so! A mix of baby portobello (crimini) mushrooms, onions, sherry and walnuts baked into a loaf with sage and parsley, this is a moist and meaty meal. It’s really good topped with a mushroom gravy made with more criminis, onion, sherry and stock, and served with some mashed potatoes and garlic spinach on the side. I have served this at Thanksgiving several times now for the non-turkey eaters.

Melting-Apple Cake with Maple Frosting

Baking recipes usually frown on softer apples, and you can only eat so much fresh-made apple sauce….So we think you’ll be pleased to meet our Melting Apple Cake. (Melting, as in, the soft apples partially “melt’ into the cake as it bakes.)

Made with McIntosh, or whatever other soft-textured apples you have on hand, this is a very tall, rustic-looking, little-lopsided, fabulously-flavored and pleasingly-textured creation. We’ve paired it with maple-brown sugar frosting which has a caramel flavor that goes supremely well with the apples and spice in the cake. You can serve each layer on its own as three, one-layer, maple-frosted cakes, or, do as we’ve done and stack them into one, towering apple amazement. Either way, be forewarned: The cake doesn’t slice perfectly, due to all the apples, and there is one fussy bit: You’ll have to line the cake-pans with well-greased parchment—sides AND bottoms—as you would when making a fruitcake, to get the cakes to release from the pans properly.

Simple Apple Cake (Gina DePalma’s Mom’s Hubba Hubba Apple Cake)

Gina DePalma thinks her mom got the recipe for this gorgeous, not-too-sweet apple cake from a ’50s women’s magazine. When Gina was little, her mom made it Saturdays, for Sunday supper. These days, Gina makes it year round and affectionately calls it her Hubba Hubba Apple Cake.


For me, it brings back memories of a church-basement childhood, when the coffee urns were perking, Ladies Aid members were dishing, and there were countless cakes lined up on the buffet.


It’s basically a dump cake–just whisk and stir liquid ingredients with the dry ones, layer with cinnamon-sugared apples, bake it off and presto: you’ve got an impressively tall and gorgeous cake.  Orange juice in the batter makes the crumb tender; sugared apples in the middle and on top add flavor and texture.


At Gina’s request, we have not adapted the recipe at all from the tattered recipe card she still has from her mom. Gina stresses that you must use a 10-inch tube-cake pan–not a bundt cake pan, to bake this. The batter rises nearly to the top of the pan.


Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls

In a typical day, Shelby McCreedy might deal with, oh, money laundering, public indecency, intoxication, and some kind of theft. A special agent for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation,  McCreedy “deals with bad guys all day.” But at home? “I’m like Betty Crocker—with a gun,” she jokes.

Shelby is a cop who cooks. She cooks to decompress. She cooks to re-create for her family the culture of grown-at-home, scratch-made cooking she grew up with spending summers on her grandparents Iowa farm. And she cooks to win, as these Caramel Pecan Cinnamon Rolls prove. Enormous but feathery-textured, buttery, and crammed with toasted pecans, caramel, and cinnamon, McCreedy’s sticky buns won the top prize in the  Best Cinnamon Roll Contest at the Iowa State Fair. It took her three tries to win the contest, and a lot of years collaborating with cooking  mentor and neighbor Shari before that. “We call Shari’s kitchen the laboratory,” says Shelby.

She also credits her grandmother “who always tried to get me to come in to the kitchen to learn how to cook when I was a kid. Back then, I always preferred baling hay or tending the livestock with grandpa, but now, I’ve returned to the things grandma taught me and am teaching my own children.”