There's no such thing as too many starchy dishes on the holiday buffet table, right? For many families, Thanksgiving dinner wouldn't be right without mashed potatoes. It seems there is always one family member relegated to the task of whipping them at the last minute — an honorable duty. And there is always someone else leaning over his shoulder making sure he adds a bit more butter. If you want to assign mashed potato duty to a family member, but would like to avoid the last-minute chaos in the kitchen, know that it works perfectly well to cook and mash potatoes up to one hour in advance. They can be kept warm in the top of a double-boiler set over simmering water, or reheated in a microwave oven just before serving. If you use a to do-ahead plan, be sure to add an extra pat of butter, or two!
Peel the potatoes and rinse under cold water. Cut each into quarters and place in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan. Cover with cold water, partially cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil over high heat.
Uncover, add the salt, and reduce the heat so that the water boils gently. Cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 10-12 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter together until the butter has melted and the mixture is hot but not boiling.
Drain the potatoes and return them to the warm pan over low heat for 1 minute to evaporate any excess water. Use a potato masher, ricer, or food mill to mash the potatoes.
Stir in the milk and butter mixture into the potatoes, a little at a time, until the potatoes are as soft and moist as you like. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve immediately, or keep warm in the top of a double-boiler, or cover and rewarm in a microwave oven.