It's Almost Perfect!
Could baked potato be the world’s perfect food?
Think about it—one large potato costs less than a dollar. It’s an inexpensive, filling, nutritious and easy-to-make food in the college dorm*, a handy dinner for one, or even comfort food for an upset tummy. (Bet you didn’t know that.)
But that’s not all. Multiply the number of potatoes, add a few simple toppings, and you have an easy weeknight dinner for your family.
*Note: Yes, I know that dorm potatoes are microwaved, not baked. However, even though a microwaved potato is not perfect, it is better for you than a bag of popcorn.
How to Perfectly Bake a Potato
Before you create the perfect baked-potato meal, you need to have a perfectly baked potato.
- Move the rack in your oven to the middle level.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Scrub each potato with a stiff-bristled vegetable brush under cold running water, but don't let them soak in water.
- Dry each potato with a clean paper towel.
- Pierce each potato four times on each side with the tip of a sharp knife.
- Rub some olive oil on the skin of each potato and then sprinkle lightly with salt.
- Place prepared potatoes directly on the oven rack (no pan).
- Bake until tender (about 40 to 45 minutes).
Two Important Rules
- Never ever wrap your potatoes in foil. If you do, you will have steamed, not baked, potatoes.
- Always used russet potatoes. Yukon golds, reds, and other "new" potatoes are waxy, not starchy, so they will never produce a potato with a crisp outer skin and fluffy interior.
15 Baked Potato Meal Ideas
1. The Greek
Everything you love in a Greek salad.
- diced tomato
- crumbled feta cheese
- minced Kalamata olives
2. The George W. Bush Special
You know how much our former President loves broccoli. Use broccoli florets and this light and easy cheese sauce recipe to make a great vegetarian meal. Or try this idea for broccoli and cheese-loaded stuffed baked potatoes from Katie, author of GoodLifeEats
- steamed broccoli florets
- vegetarian bacon slices, cooked and diced (or real bacon if you prefer to go to the dark side)
- low-fat cheddar cheese sauce from Cooking Light Magazine
3. The Nacho
Nachos are corn or flour tortilla chips topped with everything you love in a taco. Why not try those same toppings on a baked potato?
- shredded Colby Jack cheese
- sour cream
- diced avocado
4. The Julia Child
Julia Child gave us Mastering the Art of French Cooking and taught us how to poach the perfect egg. Topping a baked potato with a poached egg makes a satisfying and quick-to-fix vegetarian meal.
- one beautiful poached egg
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
5. The NFL Special
Watch your favorite team at home, heat up some chili, and enjoy a hearty baked potato. Use this tasty recipe from NeighborhoodFood or canned chili.
- chili con carne
- shredded cheddar cheese
- sour cream
- minced green onions
- diced tomato
6. The Messy Potato
What makes a messy potato? How about cooking up a batch of sloppy joes but ditching the bun and using a fluffy baked potato instead?
- 1 pound ground turkey (93 percent lean)
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons prepared mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Cook turkey in a large sauté pan over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
7. The Lazy Poutine
What is poutine? Yes, the name is French; this dish of pomme Frites (French fries) covered with gravy and cheese curds originated in Quebec, but it is now a favorite comfort food in Wisconsin, too (where the best cheese curds on the planet are made). What makes this "lazy"? There is no real cooking involved; simply use leftover gravy or even from a jar. Trust me.
- jar or leftover beef gravy, heated
- cheese curds
8. The Gobbler
This one is great the day after Thanksgiving. Leftover turkey, some turkey gravy; it's so easy you might feel a bit guilty.
- leftover turkey, chopped
- leftover turkey gravy
9. The Burger Lover's Potato
Perhaps a bit silly, but so good.
- broiled hamburger patty, crumbled
- minced onion
- grated cheddar cheese
- diced dill pickle
10. Summer Fun
Summertime is barbecue time. Hot and salty pulled pork plus crisp coleslaw; it's a great combination of contrasts. The food blog PaleoLeap.com uses a baked sweet potato as the foundation for their pulled pork. I think a baked russet potato would work equally well, or you could try this great recipe for pulled pork and slaw from Tyler Florence on The Food Network.
- BBQ pulled pork
11. The New York
Buffalo chicken without the mess; the amount shown below is for one potato.
- 1/2 cup diced cooked chicken (leftover rotisserie is great for this!)
- 2 teaspoons melted butter
- 1 teaspoon (or more) buffalo hot sauce
- 1 tablespoon crumbled bleu cheese
Heat chicken in the microwave. Toss with melted butter and buffalo hot sauce. Spoon on top of the potato and garnish with crumbled bleu cheese.
12. Dinner in Tuscany
When I think of northern Italy, I remember the fresh seafood and the tangy Parmesan cheese. Warm some cooked shrimp in your favorite Alfredo sauce. Add a simple green salad, and you have a complete meal.
- cooked shrimp
- jarred, homemade, or deli alfredo sauce
- grated Parmesan cheese
13. The French Café
- Baked or poached salmon
- sour cream
- minced chives
14. The Deli Special
Smoked salmon or lox; it is perfect on a bagel or on a baked potato. Follow this easy recipe, and may I suggest a few capers on top?
- smoked salmon
- capers, rinsed and drained
- sour cream
15. The Tuna Melt
This recipe makes enough to top four baked potatoes:
- 2 (6-ounce) cans of water-packed tuna, drained and broken up with a fork
- 2 tablespoons minced celery
- 2 tablespoons minced yellow onion
- 1/3 cup low-fat mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon whole-grain (not yellow or Dijon) mustard
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven broiler and set the oven rack to 5 inches from the heat source. Combine all ingredients except the cheese in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Evenly distribute over 4 baked and split potatoes. Top each with 1/4 cup of cheese. Broil 3 to 5 minutes or until cheese is bubbling. Watch carefully so that it does not burn.
So, There You Have It
Fifteen ideas for topping a hot baked potato to turn a simple side dish into a hearty meal. Do any of these sound interesting?
© 2016 Linda Lum