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Published January 21, 2009, 12:00 AM

DON'T SAY DIET: Baked Potato Soup keeps texture while cutting the fat

Baked potato soup doesn’t need cream — or even much half-and-half — to keep its thick and creamy texture.

By: Kathy Manweiler, McClatchy Newspapers

Baked potato soup doesn’t need cream — or even much half-and-half — to keep its thick and creamy texture.

My healthy version uses Chef Todd Wilbur’s secret of instant mashed potatoes, but I cut down on the butter and half-and-half by stirring in some fat-free milk with a little flour and cornstarch.

I also leave the skin on the potatoes to keep some extra nutrients and fiber, and I top my soup off with a little center-cut bacon and reduced-fat cheese.

My alterations to this recipe slashed the fat by 57 percent and shaved off 27 percent of the calories

You can have a 1½-cup serving of my baked potato soup for 247 calories and 6.7 fat grams.

Kathy’s Baked Potato Soup

2 medium (about 3 inches in diameter) potatoes

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup diced white onion

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 cups chicken broth (low-sodium, if desired)

2 cups water

¼ cup cornstarch

1½ cups instant mashed potatoes, such as Potato Buds, unprepared

¾ teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon dried basil

1/8teaspoon dried thyme

1/3 cup half-and-half

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons fat-free milk, divided use

6 tablespoons sharp Cheddar cheese made with 2 percent milk, finely shredded

2 slices center-cut bacon, cooked and finely crumbled

2 green onions, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake the potatoes for 1 hour or until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove them from the oven to cool.

As potatoes cool, melt butter in a stockpot and saute onion until light brown. Add the flour and 2 tablespoons of fat-free milk to the onion and stir to make a roux. Add chicken broth, water, cornstarch, mashed potato flakes, pepper, basil and thyme and bring mixture to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Chop each potato into ½-inch chunks. Add chopped baked potatoes, half-and-half and 2/3 cup fat-free milk to the pot, bring soup back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer the soup for 15 more minutes, or until the soup is thick.

Spoon 1½ cups of soup into each of six bowls and top with a tablespoon of shredded cheese and a sprinkling of bacon and green onions.

Yield: Serves 6.

Approximate nutritional analysis per 1½-cup serving of soup with cheese, bacon and green onions: 247 calories, 6.7 fat grams, 669 milligrams sodium, 41 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 7 grams protein, 19 milligrams cholesterol.

Source: Adapted from a “Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 2” by Chef Todd Wilbur.

Reach Manweiler at (316) 268-6266 or