Weather forecasts like we have had lately, make me think about comfort foods. If ever there was a comfort food, it’s potatoes. Whether you like baking potatoes, sweet potatoes or old fashioned small red potatoes, they are all tasty and filling. French fries, and tater tots and hashbrowns, oh my! What do these three foods have in common? America’s favorite vegetable, the potato, is loved because of its versatility and fry-ability. I literally love potatoes with anything, any time. Mashed, cubed, shredded, sliced, boiled, baked, twicebaked, fried, cheesy. However, potatoes do not usually get a good rap for their healthfulness. Believe it or not, the potato is about 80% water and only 20% solids. Those solids are mainly starches, or in other words, carbohydrates. Lots of folks steer away from potatoes. But when the weather is icy and cold, there is nothing better than potato soup, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes and fried potatoes. Whether your meal is breakfast or dinner, potatoes can find their place on your table. Do not shun them from your diet. They actually contain a lot of great nutrients in addition to the carbohydrates. The skin on a potato contains more potassium than a banana, in addition to the fiber it offers, along with B6 and vitamin C. I am not saying you should eat tater tots and French fries every day to get your daily vitamin C and potassium, but you can certainly have them once in a while. Try preparing potatoes in a variety of different ways, keeping the skin intact, as that contains many of the beneficial nutrients. One of my favorite dishes is sweet potatoes. A real delicacy when I was a child was when my mother made Southern Sweet Potato Casserole. Now we have sweet potatoes for many occasions. We serve baked sweet potatoes when we are grilling out in the spring and summer. I make sweet potato muffins to enjoy with breakfast and coffee. The color and flavor just can’t be beat. Sweet potatoes originated in North America, first joining market shelves alongside the white potato as far back as the late 1600s. Back then, the sweet potato was also white or yellow in color. In the 1930s, an orange version was cultivated. Good Ole’ Fashioned Potato Soup 2 pound bag frozen hash browns 1/3 cup onion, chopped 1 can cream of chicken soup 1 can cream of celery soup 1 can mushrooms, drained, optional One 16-ounce carton sour cream Real bacon bits Shredded cheddar cheese Place hash browns in a large soup-cooking utensil. Add just enough water to cover. Boil until tender, then remove from heat. Add onions, soups, mushrooms and sour cream. Stir until well mixed. Return to heat and warm until ready to serve. Do not boil. Top with bacon bits and cheddar cheese. Serve with your favorite crackers or chips. A great warm-you-up for a cool night. Always Ready Potatoes 3 pounds of potatoes 2 tablespoons butter 2/3 cup sour cream 1/4 cup milk 1 6-ounce cream cheese 3/4 teaspoon salt Paprika Peel and cook 3 pounds potatoes. Use a large soup pot with salted water. Drain and then add to large bowl and mash them. Add other ingredients, mix well. Put in a 9-by-13-inch dish. Brush the top with melted butter, sprinkle with paprika. Refrigerate. When ready to serve, let them stand for 40 minutes after taking from refrigerator. Bake in oven at 350° F for 30 minutes, uncovered. Southern Sweet Potato Casserole Casserole: 3 cups cooked mashed sweet potatoes 1 cup white sugar 2 eggs beaten 1 stick butter or margarine, melted 1/3 cup milk 1 teaspoon vanilla Sprinkle of salt Topping: 1 stick butter or margarine, softened but not melted 1/2 cup flour 1 cup pecans, optional 1 cup brown sugar Casserole: Mix all ingredients until well blended. Cook in buttered casserole dish. Topping: Mix topping ingredients with a fork and crumble on top of casserole. Bake at 350° F for 20-25 minutes. Casserole may be made a day ahead of serving. But put topping on just before baking. MARY KATE RIDGEWAY, a retired Extension leader, is a freelance home economist and educator.

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