BASIC MASHED POTATOES (for four)
2 pounds russet potatoes, scrubbed (russet, or baking potatoes, make fluffier mashed potatoes. Yukon golds have a buttery texture, and are also a possibility)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup half-and-half, warmed
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Peel potatoes, cut them into 2 inch pieces and place them in a large saucepan with cold, salted water to cover by about an inch (1 tablespoon salt for every 4 quarts of water). Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the potatoes are just tender when pricked with a thin-bladed knife, about 20 minutes. Drain potatoes in a colander.
2. If you want chunky mashed potatoes, drop the peeled potato chunks back into the empty, but still warm, saucepan and mash with a potato masher until fairly smooth. If you prefer a silky, smooth texture, set a food mill or ricer over the saucepan and drop the peeled chunks into the ricer in batches. Process or rice potatoes into the saucepan.
3. Stir in the butter with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Gently stir in the half-and-half, salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
NOTE: For BUTTERMILK MASHED POTATOES reduce the butter to 1 tablespoon and replace the half-and-half with 1 cup warmed buttermilk.