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DIVAS ON A DIME: Meet the underrated and versatile baked potato

Remember baked potatoes? I was chatting with friends about food (because what else do I talk about?) and none of us could remember the last time we had stuffed baked potatoes for dinner. We’ve been so busy with our quinoa we forgot about the King of Carbs. Good carbs, naturally.

The humble potato is seriously underrated. Besides being a low-fat, low-cholesterol source of carbohydrates and protein, baked potatoes also offer vitamin C, vitamin B6, iron, calcium, and more potassium than a banana. The bad nutritional wrap comes from the usual array of toppings. (Looking at you – butter, sour cream, and bacon.)

I’d like to encourage you to add baked potato night to your meal repertoire. Besides being the perfectly versatile blank canvas for any kind of topping you can imagine, they’re totally cheap. And that’s how I roll.

Before we top them, we must bake them. It makes such a difference when the skins are crispy, and the insides are fluffy. This means you’re using russet or Idaho potatoes. Here’s how to perfectly bake a potato.

My personal preference is to bake them in the oven. Preheat your oven to 400°F degrees. Thoroughly wash your potatoes to remove any pesticides that may remain on the skin. Poke them with a small knife a few times to help the steam escape, if you don’t, they can explode. It makes a terrible mess but at least it smells good (wonder how I know that?).

Rub them with olive oil and season with salt. Place your potatoes directly on the upper oven rack with a baking sheet on the rack below to catch any drips. Bake them for 45 minutes to an hour or until a knife inserted into the potato meets no resistance.

To cook a baked potato in the microwave, poke holes, rub with oil and season with salt. Place the potatoes on a microwave-safe plate and cook for 5 minutes. Turn the potatoes over and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Repeat until your potatoes are cooked.

If you’re short on time, you can start them in the microwave until nearly done and finish them in the oven for 20 minutes.

Here’s a recipe that’s everything you want for dinner. A complete meal that’s delicious, comforting, quick and easy to make. I call it Inside Out Shepherd’s Pie. Usually, Shep’s Pie is a hamburger and vegetable casserole topped with mashed potatoes and cheese. Here we prepare the filling and place it on a baked potato. Much easier than mashing potatoes.

INSIDE OUT SHEPHERD’S PIE

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 1 hour

What You’ll Need:

4 baking potatoes

1 ½ pounds ground beef

1 cup onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

1 to 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, to taste

1 (14.5-ounce) can (1 ½ cups) beef broth

1 (14.75-ounce) can creamed corn

1 (12-ounce) bag frozen mixed vegetables, thawed

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Here’s How:

Get your potatoes cooking using your preferred method. Meanwhile, in a skillet on medium-high heat brown the ground beef until mostly cooked, drain excess fat. Add the onion, garlic, salt, and pepper to taste. When the beef is cooked, add the tomato paste, Worcestershire, and broth, stirring to combine. Add your corn and veggies, and let this simmer, getting all cozy until the potatoes are cooked. It’s going to be saucy because no one likes a dry potato. Adjust seasoning to taste. This is when I pour myself a glass of wine. When the potatoes are cooked, place them close together in a pie plate or baking dish. Cut them open part way, fluff the insides, and spoon the filling inside the potatoes. Divide the cheese between the stuffed-up spuds and return to the oven, or microwave, to melt the cheese. Serve a side salad and dinner is done.

Here are more great flavor combinations for inspiration.

Pizza – Make pizza sauce by combining 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce with 1 teaspoon each garlic powder and Italian seasoning and 2 teaspoons of sugar or sweetener of choice. Scoop the insides out of four baked potatoes. Mash with pizza sauce, and some shredded mozzarella, then stuff back into the skins. Top with sliced pepperoni, more mozzarella, Parmesan, and broil to melt.

Broccoli, Ham and Swiss – Scoop the insides out of four baked potatoes: mash with butter, add diced ham, shredded Swiss cheese and steamed broccoli. Stuff into the skins, top with more cheese and broil to melt.

I hope this inspires you to pick up potatoes next time you shop. As a wise person once said, “Potatoes give us French fries, chips and vodka. It’s like the other vegetables aren’t even trying.”

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is the recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com

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