To prepare potatoes for baking, use a stiff brush and cold water to thoroughly clean them, and then remove any bruises or spots. Pierce each potato with a fork a number of times so steam doesn't build up inside the potato. Dry them and use a pastry brush to lightly coat with oil, then sprinkle them with a little salt. Turn the oven on to 350 degrees F. Put them in the oven and let them bake while you cook the rest of the meal.

There are two ways to cook them. If you wrap them in aluminum foil it will keep them soft and moist. Or you can just put them in the oven with a baking sheet underneath in case the oil drips. This will give them a crispy skin. It's a good idea to turn them over when they have cooked halfway so they cook evenly. The time it takes them to cook depends on the size of the potatoes and how many you are cooking. It's easy to see if they are done by sticking a sharp knife into each potato - it should go in easily.

When they are baked the way you like them, take them out of the oven and cut a slit in the top with a sharp knife. Squeeze the ends towards the middle until the potatoes snap open. You might want to do this with a kitchen towel, because the potato itself will be very hot, and steam will come out when it opens.

This is when you or the people you are serving can add all kinds of toppings. There are the usual ones: butter, sour cream, cheddar cheese and bacon. But all kinds of things go well with potatoes. You can add your own favorites, like different kinds of cheese, baked beans (either plain, barbecued or spicy hot), cream cheese, different kinds of salsa, chopped green onions, chives, and all sorts of herbs and special seasonings.

You can also make twice-baked potatoes by removing all the potato from the skin, beat in some cream to make it smooth, and then add any of the above mentioned toppings, or others of your choice. Spoon the mixture back into the skins and return them to the oven. Cook until they get a little brown and are hot all the way through.

Once you get used to fixing them this way, you will probably agree that this is the perfect way to bake potatoes!

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