For years, Beverly and I tried to figure out how to duplicate the potatoes at our favorite steakhouse, with the skin a little crunchy and the middle moist and fluffy.

"Real" baked potatoes, we discovered, need to cook at 475 degrees for an hour. Ever since discovering the high-heat secret, I practically shout it from the rooftops. I see complete strangers shopping for baking potatoes at the grocery and tell them, "You know, for a steakhouse potato, you need to cook it unwrapped at 475 degrees."

Oh, sure, I've gotten plenty of crazy looks, but last week a lady came up to me at the grocery and said, "You told me last month how to cook my potatoes and I went home and did exactly like you told me to. They were fantastic! You really should write a cookbook!"

I didn't mention that I had co-authored three cookbooks, but I did tell her how glad I was that she liked the potatoes. Then I proceeded to buy a couple of potatoes for myself, went home and baked them just like I'd told her to do. (I always bake extras because they're easy to warm again for leftovers.) With the temperatures outside reaching nearly 100 degrees around here, I just topped my potato with salsa, sour cream and cheese, and poured myself a cool glass of Pinot Grigio.

But you really can top these beauties with anything you like. And then there's my absolute favorite way: Serve them alongside an amazing steak.

(If you're cooking out, check out www.kitchenscoop.com for great tips in the grilling section of our recipe box.)

Yield: 1 to 4 baked potatoes

Start to finish: 1 hour

Ingredients

1 to 4 large (8 to 12 ounces each) russet baking potatoes

For each potato:

2 tablespoons prepared salsa

1 tablespoon shredded cheese of choice

1 tablespoon light sour cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Scrub the potato skins, and prick each potato twice with a fork. Bake, uncovered, directly on the oven racks (no baking pan needed) for 1 hour. Using oven mitts or long tongs, carefully remove potatoes from the oven.

To serve immediately, slice the top open and, with oven mitts, squeeze the potato like a coin purse to open. Top with salsa, cheese and sour cream, or other toppings of choice. If not eating now, let potatoes rest until cool.

For use in future recipes, place potatoes in a zipper-top bag or covered container, and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 3 days. (Do not freeze.) To rewarm, split the potatoes and heat for 3 to 4 minutes on high in the microwave. Top with toppings of choice and warm for another 1 to 2 minutes. Serve.

Approximate values per potato (with sour cream, cheese and salsa): 255 calories (13 percent from fat), 4g fat (2g saturated), 12mg cholesterol, 7g protein, 50g carbohydrates, 5g dietary fiber, 265mg sodium.

Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross are co-authors of "Desperation Dinners!" (Workman, 1997), "Desperation Entertaining!" (Workman, 2002) and "Cheap. Fast. Good!"(Workman, 2006). Contact them at Desperation Dinners, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106, or send email to tellus@kitchenscoop.com. Or visit the Desperation Dinners website at www.kitchenscoop.com.