You say potato, I say potahto…

Olive Oil Smashed Potatoes






Let’s make both

By Laura Pensiero, RD

The arrival of the holiday season first brings to mind the harvest Thanksgiving table. While later holiday feasts definitely delight–and, unfortunately, fatten us up for the long winter ahead–Thanksgiving is mostly about celebrating the harvest, breaking bread with those you love (even if you don’t like them).

Aside from the normal family tensions, heated political and sports debates, burned rolls left in the even, and general misbehavior, I find one food item can always get conversations started. The mashed potatoes. Everyone has an opinion, and no one is right. It starts with consistency: smashed, mashed, pureed, whipped. (I’m going to lump, so to speak, mashed, pureed, and whipped together going forward here, since they are often considered interchangeably.) So let’s discuss smashed versus mashed.

Classic mashed, along with the often fluffier whipped potatoes, are typically considered to be the more refined and traditional version. Smashed? What lazy clod would boil a few potatoes then simply smash, season, and send it to the table? Actually, many of us, and they’re good.

For this chunkier version, a masher and a little arm strength are the essentials. After draining the tender potatoes, choose whether or not to remove the skins (not necessary, especially with red, new, or smaller waxy potatoes, or even Yukon Gold).

There are many approaches to creating the classic creamy and fluffy mashed potatoes. For this style I’d stick with a starchier potato like Russet or Yukon Gold. As for equipment, I’m a fan of the potato ricer. This device is inexpensive and results in drier rice-like pieces of potato that can then be the base to which butter, warmed milk and/or cream and seasonings can be folded into. The traditional mixer (standing or hand held) works, but you run the risk of over-mixing and getting a gluey sticky mess. Unlike smashed potatoes, which can be enjoyed skin on or off, mashed potatoes should be peeled before cooking. Alternately they can be peeled when still warm after. I find the easiest and fastest course is to peel and cube them before cooking in salted water. Drain them and then pull out your ricer or mixer.

Just to get the dialogue a little spicier, how about all of the potential  additions to either smashed or mashed potatoes… garlic, herbs, mushrooms, sautéed onions, cheese, sour cream, peas, etc. Mix some mashed turnip or rutabaga into your Thanksgiving potatoes. You’ll love it–even as you hear every kid in the room scream, “Why’d you go and ruin the mashed potatoes!”

Some tips to get the potatoes just right:

  • Always cook in salted water.
  • Pick the right potato for the right preparation (waxy for smashed, starchy for mashed).
  • Always heat the milk and/or cream and butter before adding to mashed or smashed potatoes.
  • Don’t over mix, mash, or fold.
  • More butter (or oil) isn’t always better.

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck, and a catering business. She currently offers a Thanksgiving menu order for pickup or delivery service accessible at

Local potatoes anyone?

RSK Farms
13255 Route 23A, Prattsville, NJ

Brittany Hollow Farm
150 Route 9 North, Rhinebeck, NY

Olive Oil Smashed Potatoes

Makes 6 to 8 servings

So simple! If you want to spike this up, consider sautéing some thyme leaves and thinly sliced garlic cloves in another tablespoon or two of olive oil and folding it into smashed potatoes.

2 pounds small-medium Yukon gold potatoes
1 tablespoon salt
5 tablespoons excellent quality extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and ground white pepper to taste

Place potatoes in a large saucepan and add enough cold water to cover them a few inches. Season the water with salt and bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are tender but still hold their shape, 15 to 30 minutes depending on size and shape. Drain potatoes and let stand until cool enough to handle.

Peel potatoes (or not) and mash them with a handheld potato masher until blended but slightly chunky. Gently stir in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Classic Mashed Potatoes
Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
1 tablespoon salt plus more to taste
1 1/3 cups milk or half-and-half (or a 1:1 ratio of both)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Add potatoes, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain potatoes. Heat milk with butter in small saucepan over medium heat until butter is melted; set aside. Press hot, drained potatoes through ricer into large mixing bowl. Slowly add milk/butter mixture, folding into the potatoes in quarter-cup increments.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to a serving bowl.

Restaurant Romances

chicken liver pate








Husband and wife partnerships are surprisingly common in the restaurant world, a topic I can speak about from personal experience and one that definitely intrigues me.  This line of work, endless work, requires enormous commitment, unthinkable amounts of time, and typically does not allow for “civilian” life–most certainly not with respect to weekends and holidays. Given these demands, where else would you meet your ever-understanding life partner except in a restaurant?

In the bucolic setting of the Hudson Valley, marital partnerships in our top-quality restaurants seem to be even more prevalent than in urban settings. Some of the kitchen love stories that lead to the altar are ignited at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, where both young students and career changing older adults share their passions for all things food and wine. In other cases, NYC chefs and front-of-house managers end up transitioning north along the Hudson River to this most incredible food scene. I always joke to those who ask “Do you know anyone single?” that this area is like Noah’s Ark – people generally move here in pairs, not singly. There’s hope, though–more on this facet of the Hudson Valley food scene another time.

At a certain age, typically around 30, male and female “culinarians” who have honed their skills and earned their stripes at New York’s finest restaurants have a few choices: Work for a restaurant or restaurant group in the NY Metro market in a situation that, despite huge responsibilities and limitless hours, will deliver below middle-class earnings. Or find an investor and jump into a rental scenario that could cost up six figures monthly. Or move to the Hudson Valley, where people get good food, where the ingredients are that much closer to the farm, and where the get-in expenses are much more affordable.

Among my favorite local restaurants is Elephant in Kingston. Rich and Maya Reeve met at the Vassar Alumnae House in 1987 when it was still running as a restaurant. They’ve worked in two other restaurants together and have owned three–most recently Elephant Restaurant & Wine Bar, a 2007 addition to Uptown Kingston that transformed the neighborhood and some local palates.

Elephant offers an amazing dining experience. Rich cooks succulent farm to table fare with the barest of bones in cooking equipment, often alone in the kitchen aside from a dishwasher. Maya, who for many years cooked side by side with Rich, selects their wonderful (and accessible) wine list and runs the dining room. Maya says, “Rich is my best friend, we have totally different personalities, and it’s not always a bed of roses, but we sincerely like to hang out with each other!”

Rich and Maya do not have children. Their challenges are similar yet distinct from the variety of couples on our local restaurant landscape who do. Rich and Maya make a priority of grabbing time to focus on their relationship aside from the business partnership. After 20 years of working Sundays, they made a decision that Sunday and Monday would be their days. Period.

Adding children to restaurant marital life completely confounds me! Speaking with Jennifer Dalu of Le Petit Bistro in Rhinebeck, she tells me that with three young ones, the restaurant, while always a high priority, needs to be scheduled around their lives and their intent to preserve precious family time.  Other notably successful restaurant duos juggling family and food service include Francesco Buitoni and Michelle Platt (Mercato, Red Hook), Chaminda and Shiwanti Widyarathna (Cinnamon, Rhinebeck), Craig Stafford and Jessica Stingo (Flat Iron, Red Hook), and Rei and Kim Peraza (Panzur, Tivoli).

Listen up voracious Hudson Valley diners! If you want your restaurateurs to be “sustainable,” understand when they hang out a shingle saying “Closed.” While restaurant life isn’t “normal,” the people who make it all happen do need to recharge and stay inspired, both with food and each other.

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck and a catering business. She is author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook.

Chicken and Pork Liver Terrine

From Rich Reeve, Elephant, Kingston

This rich meat-lovers hors d’oeuvre is perfect for holiday celebrations. Serve it with cornichons, mustards, jams (fig!), and crispy breads, crostini, and/or toasts.

Makes about 18 2-ounch servings

1 ½ pounds chicken liver
1 pound pork liver
1 pound ground pork
¼ cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons orange marmalade
2 tablespoons port wine
2 whole eggs
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
salt and freshly ground pepper to season
pinch nutmeg

Equipment: 6 cup terrine or loaf pan

Preheat oven to 300F. Lightly butter (or oil) the terrine or loaf pan. Set aside. Rinse and pat dry livers. In the workbowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Process until just smooth, then spatula mixture into terrine mold.

Cover with foil, place in a small roasting pan with at least 3-inch sides and fill with warm water halfway up side of terrine pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until terrine reaches 150F (it will continue to cook after removed from oven). Let cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

To serve: Run a knife around inside edge of terrine and let stand in mold in a pan with 1 inch of hot water (to loosen bottom) for 3 minutes. Tilt terrine mold slightly to drain excess liquid, then invert a cutting board over terrine. Turn the terrine upside down gently, releasing it onto the cutting board. Let terrine stand at room temperature (or chill) for 30 minutes before serving. Transfer to a platter if desired and cut, as needed, into ¼ to 1/2-inch-thick slices.

Celebrating Slow Cookers

chelsea cooks_2








Some people swear they can’t boil an egg, Others have no idea what to do with supermarket convenience food much less the farm-fresh local delights of each season. As a trained chef and nutritionist, I’ve always wanted to show how truly easy and rewarding it is to nourish yourself and those you love.

Good food does not have to be complicated. Anyone can do it, and you can do it too!  My good friend Chelsea is a personal project of mine. She’s a young successful businessperson, owning Body Be Well Pilates in Red Hook and Catskill. But she insists that cooking has no place in her busy lifestyle. When she purchased her first home, I provided her with a slow cooker, a frozen turkey breast and Slow Cooking for Dummies. Chelsea was horrified.

During the later 1990s, I developed and ran a recipe-testing and development company called RecipeWorks in NYC.  In 2000, I landed a contract with Wiley publishers, who at that time were doing all those  “…. for Dummies”  books. In a 9-month span, I tested recipes for 7 cookbooks including, Mexican Cooking for Dummies, Healing Foods for Dummies, Italian Cooking for Dummies, and, yes, one of my favorites, Slow Cooking for Dummies.

I loved these projects because the talented people who authored these books broke down their topics to the most basic level. My job was to take it to the kitchen, further simplify and streamline the recipes, and make sure, of course, that the recipes actually worked and were intentionally written to guide the reader/cook.

Slow Cooking for Dummies was a favorite for several reasons. It debunked the snobbery around Crock Pots, a name manufactured to describe a simple electric appliance that cooks something slowly over several hours. It demonstrated the versatility of slow cooking vessels – not just soups, stews and braised meats, but roasts, casseroles, and even desserts.  (I did draw the line at risotto, though). And it convincingly demonstrated how 10 minutes of prep and pushing a few buttons, followed by 4 to 8 hours of delicious aromas, could produce a great meal

When showing people how to cook, it’s best to approach it like learning a new language. It is all about building blocks of understanding and skill development, where every stage of progress can be enjoyed for itself. You’re certainly not going to be laughing at, much less telling, jokes in this new dialect in the first months, but fluency will come faster than you expect.

In future columns, I’d like to delve more into basic skills like using a knife with confidence, approaching odd-looking seasonal ingredients, and  developing those basic techniques that free us all to cook: sautéing, searing, grilling, roasting, braising, steaming. Perfecting these time-tested practices, one by one, frees you to be the impromptu cook who can go to the farmers’ market, select the best goodies and then prepare a quick and delicious meal.

Back to Chelsea. I dog-eared the page for “Master Roast Turkey Breast “and another page that related to the basic do’s and don’ts of slow cooking, and said, “Go at it!” My theory was this lean, moist turkey breast could be enjoyed as a meal straight from the cooker, then used in salads, soups, pasta, risotto, and sliced into sandwiches throughout the week.

Chelsea proudly called to let me know it was D-day for turkey breast. I wished her luck, then reluctantly called her back to ask, “Did you happen to read Chapter 18, the one about the Ten Tips for Great Slow Cooking?”  When she said, no, I had to ask, “You defrosted the turkey, right?” Silence.

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck and a catering business. She is author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook.

SLOW COOKER ~ Master Roast Turkey Breast

(Adapted from Slow Cooking for Dummies  (Lacalamita & Vance, Wiley Publishing 2001)

Roast Turkey Breast is often dry and stringy. When made in a slow cooker, however, it is extremely moist and tender; it even browns!

2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium-large onion, thinly sliced
1 cup chicken broth or stock
2 bay leaves
1 whole turkey breast, 4 to 5 pounds, bone in, skin on, completely thawed if previously frozen
salt and freshly ground black pepper to season

Lightly spray or rub bottom of slow cooker with olive oil. Layer the carrots, celery, garlic, and onions on the base, then add the chicken broth and bay leaves.

Trim any visible fat or excess skin from the turkey breast. Rinse body and cavity under cold water then thoroughly dry. Season both the body and cavity with salt and pepper and place in the slow cooker.

Cover and cook 5 to 6 hours, or until an instant-read thermometer stuck into the thickest part of the breast reads 175 to 180F. [Most modern slow cookers have timers and a low setting if  you’re out of the house for 5 to 6 hours or longer.]

Remove the turkey breast from the slow cooker and let cool 15 minutes before cutting. Toss out the bay leaves and save the flavorful broth and vegetables for a deep rich poultry gravy if desired.

With a chef knife, remove the breast halves from the bone, one at a time. Enjoy sliced, cubed, or shredded.

Toasting Tousey Wines

toussey wine






Over the years I’ve heard a lot of women lament the glass ceilings in the food business. When I was younger, I very clearly remember saying to a trusted female mentor, now friend, “What ceiling?” She said, “You’ll figure it out. ….”

Sure have, but I’m far more interested in celebrating women in the food and wine field who make it happen and make a difference in a tough line of work. Kimberly Tousey of Tousey Winery is an obvious example; she is a force to be reckoned with.

Kimberly astounds me with her energy, passion, and extraordinary ability to multitask. Do not even think about telling her something is “not possible.” (She’s really hard to say ‘no’ to as well!) With complete confidence in her products, incredible sales skills, and sheer energy, Kimberly wills things to happen. She manages all of this with 2, 4 and 6-year-old children, and she’s always quick to point out the very different yet complementary roles that she and her husband, Ben Peacock, play in the ever-growing New York State wine business they took over and developed from Kimberly’s father Ray nearly a decade ago.

Kimberly describes herself as the practical extrovert, sound businesswoman, and endless promoter of their edgy and modern European style wines. She describes Ben as the “rock star” who produces their products and dreams big.  Kimberly says it is Ben’s management of the vineyard and exceptional palate that results in their award-winning wines. She manages the staff, education programs, promotion and sales, and so much more. Knowing both of them, there’s a lot of gray area too–they work as a team to produce and distribute top-notch wines, and educate people from near and far about their craft and products, and special Hudson Valley foods to enjoy them with.

Together Kimberly and Ben have put together a collection of 10 wines using 85% of their own grapes (most are single vintage), the remainder from treasured vines of NYS friends and colleagues. Kimberly and Ben are busting out of their space for both grape growing and their tasting room at Blue Roof in Clermont. Last year their exceptional Rosé sold out in 6 weeks.

While they look forward to growing their business, at the same time they ask themselves the same questions that many small-to-mid-size businesses ask– how much do I want to scale up, and what will the implications be, both to the quality of my product and my life?

In late 2013, Ben was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a battle that has only made him and Kimberly and their winery stronger. After a year of treatment, Ben is doing well and regaining strength. During this time, Kimberly was forced to understand that even the most driven and energetic person can’t “do it all.” So together they made decisions that are still positively impacting their business today.

One was bringing Matt Spaccanelli on board as vineyard manager. They also added a trusted bookkeeper and other support staff. Kimberly clearly recognizes her many skills and these decisions better allow her  to focus on them as well her lovely family, delegating what just becomes too much.

She also credits the local community for assisting with medical bills and lifting their spirits when Ben was sick. Coming from self-sufficient European backgrounds (Kimberly Danish and Ben British), “charity” seemed awkward to accept at first. But both Kimberly and Ben express enormous gratitude for the outpouring of well wishes and contributions, including Friends Helping Friends, that helped them during one of life’s great challenges. (Friends Helping Friends is an annual community fundraiser started and sponsored by CJ’s Italian Restaurant in Rhinebeck.)

Kimberly credits many people for the growth and success of Tousey Winery. Among them are Chris Kanienberg, a Delaware-based painter and sculptor, who “got us and helped curate our brand;” and Peter Bell, a renowned winemaker and Ben’s mentor.  As they make their final bottling decisions for each of their 10 wines, it comes down to three glasses. Side by side Kimberly, Ben, and Peter taste and get in sync with the profiles and characteristics of each–from there the fun begins!

Whenever I meet a strong and driven woman like Kimberly, younger or older, I quickly suss out whether they want a spiritual partnership, industry soul-sister, so to speak, or a mentor. I’m always eager to be a part of any of these relationships that often, too, result in amazing friendships.  I KNOW, if we’d all stick together a little better, the whole landscape would be a heck of a lot easier, and tastier!

Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck and a catering business. She is author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook.

The Tousey Wine List

The Queen of Clermont (white wine blend, with a hint of sweetness)
Dry Riesling

The Riot (A red blend with red berries on the nose and easy-going palate; ‘A  fun and riotous wine for all occasions.’)
Killer Red (A soft, dark, and silky 100% Merlot)
Cabernet Franc
Pinot Noir

Crème de Cassis: From a blend of 4 varieties of currants grown on the estate, along with father Ray’s honey, this lovely cassis can be added to sparkling wine or cocktails, drizzled over ice cream or gelato, blended into marinades and vinaigrettes, or simply enjoyed on its own.

Local cheeses to pair with Tousey wines:

Coach Farm:
Sprout Creek Farm:
Nettle Meadow:
Dancing Ewe:
Old Chatham Sheepherding:
Amazing Real Live Food Company:
Twin Maple Farms:

The beautiful Tousey grounds and Blue Roof Tasting Room are located on Route 9 in Clermont.

Mailing address is 1774 Rte 9 #1, Germantown, NY 12526; 518 567-5462