Baking potatoes in an oven is an easy way to prepare that vegetable, and you can end up with many different results when finished. Using the oven is much better than stove top frying because no fat is involved. By using the heat of a regular oven, instead of a microwave oven, you also have more options for browning the product.

First, let’s look at the different types of potatoes you can end up with by starting with just plain potatoes baked in the oven:

• Baked potato
• Mashed potato
• Oven baked potato wedges
• Twice baked potato
• Cheese topped potato

These are the basic things you might do with a baked potato. Other options include using that baked potato as a starter for some other style of cooked potato. This could include using your baked potato in a soup, covering it with a sauce after mashing or slicing it up, or using it in some other recipe.

To bake your potatoes in an oven, first wash them off. Use a little vegetable scrub brush if you have one, or just scrape off some of the parts like potato eyes or bad spots with a knife. Pat them dry and prick with a fork. Cook the potato as it is, brush with a little olive oil, or wrap it in tin foil. Foil keeps moisture in and gives a softer skin when cooked. There are important minerals and vitamins in potato skin, so it is good to keep it in an edible condition. Potatoes wrapped in tin foil will bake faster.

Preheat the oven. Use a baking sheet if you prefer. You can tell when a baked potato is done by pricking it with a fork. When the fork goes in and out easily, the potato is done. This usually takes about 45 minutes at 350 to 400 degrees in the oven. Another test for doneness is to use a hot pad and gently squeeze the potato. If it is soft and gives easily, it is done. If not, bake another 10 to 15 minutes.

• To finish your potato as a baked potato, simply slit it across the top and squeeze it gently open; add toppings like butter, salt, pepper, sour cream, chives, bacon bits, broccoli or cheese.
• To finish your potato as a mashed potato, scoop out the insides and mix with milk and butter; sale and pepper to taste.
• To make oven baked potato wedges, slice the potato into strips or wedges prior to cooking. Set on a greased pan or foil, brush with butter and seasoning, and then bake. Use the fork test for doneness. Use higher heat and less time than if you were baking the whole potato. Try 425 degrees for 30 minutes.
• Twice baked potatoes are just that. First, you bake it until done. Then, cut it in half, scoop out the insides and mix with whatever you want to add, like bacon, vegetables, butter or cheese. Put it back in the oven for a few more minutes.
• Cheese topped baked potatoes are a favorite of many people. Prepare the potato as a baked potato. After you either squeeze it open or slice it in half, top with shredded cheese. Bake a few minutes more, until the cheese is melted.

Oven baked potatoes are a healthy vegetable meal in themselves, especially when topped with low calorie toppings. Fancier ways to bake potatoes in an oven include preparing them as au gratin potatoes, scalloped potatoes or using them as a meal base, flattened out like a tortilla.

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