Insofar as your entire life, to this point, can be understood as a series of undertakings begun in earnest, gradually disintegrated by pressure and time, and then finally destroyed with sudden, spasmodic violence, you—exactly you, you there, reading this now—are the perfect person to make and bring the mashed potatoes to the family Thanksgiving get together. You have been practicing this procedure, in iterations metaphorical and not, for many, many years. Finally, you will have a fleeting opportunity to feel less terrible about that, you absolute horror-show of a person.
There's not a lot of glory to be had in the Mashed Potato role at these potluck-type deals, and with good reason: We all understand, at a very basic level, that virtually any minimally-competent person (ahem, hands down, Mr. Schiano) can make perfectly OK mashed potatoes, and for the most part, we never require our mashed potatoes to be much more than perfectly OK. For chrissakes, the most complicated culinary technique involved is turning the stove off before the potatoes dissolve to liquid; a goddamn dog could do that, or anyway probably some dogs could do that, good dogs, dogs who are not losers [stares daggers at Abruffham Lincbark], and you're a hell of a lot smarter than a dog, at least in the sense that you only bark at your own reflection when it goddamn well asks for it.
So the bad news is, yeah, when Aunt Hortense asked you to bring the potatoes, she was basically calling you a nigh-useless human dumpster fire who can't be trusted to crank open a can of cranberry jelly without sawing both your arms off and staggering over a cliff. On the other hand, the good news is that you can clear the abysmal bar of familial expectation with relative ease, here, and thus perhaps ascend to the rank of Napkin Bearer in years to come. It'll take gumption, can-do, pep, probably some other weirdly olde-thymey bullshit, and, er, well, the ingredients and kitchen implements required to make mashed potatoes.
Let's do it.
The first thing to do is to roast some garlic. That's right, damn you: Garlic! You are going to roast some garlic to glorious spreadable softness, and then you are going to mash it into your mashed potatoes, and it is going to cause those potatoes to taste fucking amazing. The neat-o thing is that adding a moderate quantity of roasted garlic to your mashed potatoes won't cause them to taste overwhelmingly of garlic—in fact, an unsuspecting eater could down a heaping mouthful of the result and not necessarily recognize that she is tasting roasted garlic in there at all. What our hypothetical unsuspecting eater will recognize is that the mashed potatoes taste good—remarkably good; deep and nutty and warm and surprisingly lively for boiled and pulverized tubers—and that is what you are going for: good-tasting food, and not simply a bland starchy spackling paste to adhere you to the sofa for the rest of the afternoon. So. Garlic. Yes.
There's not much to this: Peel the outermost layers of skin off two whole heads of garlic; with a knife, slice off and discard the top quarter-inch or so of each intact head, exposing the flesh of the individual cloves; drizzle these exposed cloves with some extra-virgin olive oil; wrap the oil-drizzled heads of garlic in aluminum foil; stick them in a 400-degree oven for a half-hour. At the end of this half-hour, the garlic cloves will have turned a sexy caramel color and the consistency of room-temperature butter and your home will be filled with the aroma of cooked garlic and, OK, yeah, go ahead and prepare two more heads of garlic for roasting, because you are not going to be able to use these ones now that you have smeared their softened insides across your naked torso.
The roasted garlic is very hot. Set it aside for a while.
Now, peel and chop some potatoes. Say, five pounds of 'em? Sure, that sounds good. Hack them into quarters or eighths, so they'll cook more quickly and offer even more laughably futile resistance to their eventual pulverization. As for what potatoes you use: Russets are the classic choice, here, thanks to their starchy, floury texture, but you can use what you like, or what's cheap, or whatever. Idaho potatoes are generally fine for mashing; butter potatoes and Yukon Golds are maybe a tad closer to the waxy end of the potato spectrum (there's a potato spectrum) (all its colors are brown), but they'll yield some tasty mashed potatoes, too. Stay away from reds and fingerlings and such, for the primary reason that they'll take much, much longer to soften, and you printed this column out days ago and forgot about it and now you have to leave for Aunt Hortense's in nine minutes and that is just not going to work.
(A note, here. Yes, goddammit, peel your goddamn potatoes. Or don't peel them. It's your food, and you can do what you want with it. But: Peel them. Mashed potatoes with skins mixed in are perfectly fine, but this is Thanksgiving dinner, here, and you're already getting off easy by bringing the mashed potatoes, and peeling the skins off is the smallest gesture you can perform to indicate that maybe you are not quite the lazy corner-cutting sack of crap that, actually, yeah, you totally are, which is why no one trusted you to bring pie.)
So your potatoes are peeled [stares daggers] and chopped. Cover them with cold water in a big pot and boil the potatoes for a while. Probably at least a half-hour; prod them with a fork every few minutes just to make sure. You're looking for potato-hunks that can be speared with very little effort, but which do not dissolve in the roiling water, because, appetizing though it may seem, a hot potato smoothie turns out to be pretty fucking disgusting, however much riboflavin it may contain.
Taters done boilin'? Good! Drain them in a big colander. Now, working quickly, add some other stuff to the still-warm pot. As much of a stick of unsalted butter as you can force your otherwise health-minded conscience to tolerate, plus a few big glugs of milk (choosing your preferred level of fattiness, here, all the way up to heavy cream if you really wanna ride the lightning—but, please, not the fat-free stuff, which is tasty and refreshing in a bowl of cereal or a glass or poured over a scoop of chocolate ice cream, but which will add nothing whatsoever aside from dour, sad wetness to your mashed potatoes). Dump the hot drained potato-hunks into the pot with this other stuff, and now ...
... get mashiwait no not yet. First you have to add the roasted garlic to the pot. This is accomplished, annoyingly, by either squeezing the softened cloves from their papery enclosures, or prying them out with a small fork. They're very soft; you're very clumsy; you'll probably lose one or two of them on top of the two or three you furtively pop into your mouth. Get as many as you can into the pot. And now ...
... get mashing! Or, well, destroy your potato hunks and roasted garlic and combine them with the milk and butter in the non-thermonuclear method of your choosing, anyway. If you want to mash with a potato-masher or a big fork or even a sturdy wire whisk, get busy; if you have a hand-mixer (go ahead and look around if you're not sure; you'll find it hiding behind the wall and exterior acreage separating your home from that of the nearest insufferably well-adjusted grownup), you can press that into service, here, and wind up with a somewhat smoother, lighter finished product that sticklers for this sort of thing will insist upon calling whipped potatoes.
In any event, mash and mash and mash; when your elbow and forearm and wrist tire from mashing, power yourself through to the finish-line by imagining that the potatoes are officers in the Special Tuber Unit of the Miami Gardens police. Eventually, after a few minutes of this, your potatoes and garlic and butter and milk will have transmuted into a thick white paste with some number of minor lumps in it, or maybe no lumps, depending on your thirst for justice. Season the potatoes with salt and freshly cracked black pepper, mix this in, taste, and repeat as necessary, until suddenly you discover that you are eating entire handfuls of the stuff and cannot stop and this might actually be a little bit dangerous.