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Baked Potato Soup

This hearty soup, specially requested by a reader, is plenty fattening--but obviously very satisfying and substantial. Serve hot as a meal to 4-6, maybe a salad on the side to cut all the richness. It's great for leftover baked potatoes--in fact, it's practically worth creating those leftover potatoes just to make it.

Garnish: 6 slices bacon, fried crisp; 1/4 cup fresh chives, sliced into 2-inch lengths; 1/2 cup sour cream; 1/2-1 cup freshly grated cheddar cheese

Bake well-scrubbed potatoes in a 400 degree oven until fork tender, about an hour. Don't wrap in foil--and no microwaving, please, as you want a dry environment for the potato and its skin. Meanwhile, prepare the garnishes. Fry the bacon until very crisp, then drain and reserve. Grate the cheese. Slice the chives. Measure out the sour cream and whip it. Keep these all separate and on hand, just as you would if you were about to go whole hog on stuffed baked potatoes.

In a large saucepan, heat the milk and butter, then stir in the concentrated chicken base or bouillon until it completely dissolves. Stir in the grated onion, salt, and pepper and simmer over low heat.

When the potatoes are finished baking, cut them in half lengthwise, scoop out the meat, and put the potato shells back into the oven to crisp. Stir the potato meat into the hot milk mixture--mashing it as you go. Let simmer on low heat for another 10-15 minutes.

When ready to serve the soup, heat it to a low simmer and stir in the grated cheese. While it's melting, chop the crisp potato peels. At the last gasp of serving, toss the chopped potato skins onto the soup and ladle the portions into individual bowls. Swirl a dollop of sour cream into each serving, then sprinkle each with the chopped chives pieces and crumbled bacon. Serve immediately. It's a beauty of a soup.