Baked potatoes are almost as American as apple pie, and have been a traditional dinnertime favorite for at least 50 years. They're inexpensive, filling and nutritious, with beloved classic toppings, such as butter, sour cream and steamed broccoli. Best of all, even most picky young eaters like potatoes.
Baked potatoes are a traditional accompaniment to a big, juicy steak, but pair them with chicken, meatloaf, and pork as well. A green salad with creamy dressing completes the meal. Avoid serving baked potatoes with other starchy dishes, such as rice or pasta. Add sour cream, chicken broth, bacon, chives, seasoning mix and cheddar cheese to diced baked potatoes for a hearty potato soup. Make a meal out of baked potatoes by topping them with chili, broccoli, and cheese or other savory fillings. As an alternative to butter or sour cream, try buttermilk dressing or Southwest seasoned dressing.
Baked potatoes are traditionally baked in the oven. Prick them with a fork so air doesn't build up in the potato and explode it during cooking. Some cooks prefer to oil the skins or wrap them in aluminum foil so they stay soft. Cook them with the rest of the meal at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes to 1 hour. For quick weeknight meals, place clean potatoes in a slow cooker in the morning. Cook them on low all day for baked potatoes at dinnertime. Place potatoes in a microwave-safe bowl or platter and cover them. Microwave them on high for 4 to 6 minutes, depending on the size of the potato and microwave power.
Selection and Storage
Select firm, smooth potatoes without green spots or signs of decay. Russet potatoes are preferred for baked potatoes because they have a fluffy texture and thick skin that stands up to baking. Store potatoes in a cool, dark location away from onions. Potatoes store best at temperatures between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigerating potatoes causes them to develop dark spots and off-flavors. When potatoes are exposed to sunlight, they develop green spots. These spots taste bitter and are toxic when consumed in large amounts. Cut the green spots out or discard potatoes that are mostly green.
Potatoes are a good source of fiber, minerals, and vitamins B and C. A plain baked potato has only 95 calories. Flavor potatoes with chicken broth or seasoning mix if you're reluctant to add butter, or try fat-free creamy dressing as an alternative to sour cream.
Julie Christensen is a food writer, caterer, and mom-chef. She's the creator of MarmaladeMom.org, dedicated to family fun and delicious food, and released a book titled "More Than Pot Roast: Fast, Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes."