Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cookbook Challenge #34: The Great Minnesota Hot Dish

Ya, sure, you betcha!  The latest Cookbook Challenge takes us to my beloved home state where we explore the wonder that is the "hot dish."  For this installment, we cook from the pages of The Great Minnesota Hot Dish by Theresa Millang.

Hot dish is "Minnesota nice!"
I have written about hot dish on my blog before.  It is basically a Minnesota/Midwest regional term for a baked dish that would be referred to as a "casserole" just about anywhere else.   

A hot dish can be many things, and the variety of recipes is endless, typically consisting of a meat, some kind of starch, cheese, often times bound together by a can of condensed "cream of something" soup out of convenience (but there are plenty "made from scratch" hot dishes as well that utilize some sort of homemade sauce instead).  We are talking hearty fare, here - good "winter warmer" meals designed to feed a crowd, and no church potluck in the state is complete without a hot dish or two!  Millang's book, which would not be out of place in any gift shop in the state, is a vast collection of such hot dish recipes, with chapters broken down by the main ingredient (beef, pork, chicken, turkey, seafood, etc).

One hot dish that Minnesota is probably most famous for (or at least it is the most indigenous) is Wild Rice Hot Dish.  This is a casserole typically made with beef or chicken, a cream sauce, mushrooms, and Minnesota's native wild rice, which is an absolutely delicious local specialty.  And perhaps one of the best known hot dish to those outside of the Midwest is Tater Tot Hot Dish, a ground beef and green bean casserole topped with delicious, crunchy tater tots.  It was no doubt present at many a school cafeteria lunch.  (On a related note, I have also made a Buffalo Chicken Tater Tot Hot Dish for a fun twist on the classic!)

Of course, the book contained examples of both of the above.  But I prepare these two types of hot dishes often enough, so I went a different route. 

I chose to make the "Taco Hot Dish."  There is nothing Minnesotan about it.  For all intents and purposes, this is what is known in Texas a Frito pie.  But here in Minnesota, we are all about equal opportunity and embrace hot dishes of all kinds!

The ingredients
The ingredients are ground beef, kidney beans, a little onion and garlic, tomato sauce, a packet of taco seasoning (I used a homemade substitute - Alton Brown's Taco Potion #19), corn chips, and cheddar cheese. 

You make what is almost a quick version of chili with the beef, onions, garlic, beans, sauce, and seasoning, and then you layer it in a baking dish.  Take half the meat and bean mixture, top it with a layer of chips and cheese, add the remaining half of the mixture with a final layer of chips and cheese on top, and bake until bubbly.  Once baked, you can serve it with your traditional taco accompaniments - shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sour cream, chopped onions, and black olives if you wish.  (I couldn't find the specific recipe online, but there are numerous examples of Taco Hot Dish and Frito Pie that are all very similar in principle)

Out of the oven, it really doesn't look like much.  In fact, it kind of looks like a big 'ol taco-like mess!

Right out of the oven - a scary looking hot dish!
But plated up, with all of the standard taco accoutrements, we end up with a pretty colorful and decent looking plate of food.

Taco Hot Dish (or Frito Pie), all dressed up
The chips and cheese on top almost weld together and get super crispy, offering fantastic crunch and textural contrast.  The beef and bean mixture thickens up quite a bit and has great taco flavor.  Dressed up with lettuce, tomato, chopped onions, black olives, and a little sour cream, it is almost like a meat-and-bean-heavy taco salad.  Very nice!

The leftovers, while still tasty, are slightly less lustrous, as the chips on top lose some of the crunch.  And the chips in the center have turned into a cornmeal mush, completely absorbed into the sauce.  Some hot dishes make for good leftovers.  This one, probably not so much.  I would say the taco hot dish is best served the day of, right out of the oven.  

The Great Minnesota Hot Dish is not about haute cuisine.  And I'm certainly not going to say every recipe in the book is a winner.  In fact, some recipes seem downright strange ("Fish Sticks Au Gratin?"), and others call for ingredients like a full cup of mayonnaise or a 12 oz. bottle of Thousand Island dressing!  The book is about the hot dish, a simple food.  It's about getting a hot meal on the table without a lot of fuss.  It's about a regional tradition with recipes that become a part of the local culture.  And sometimes, that is all you need.


SteveQ said...

I once made a "100% Minnesota Lutheran Church Basement" dinner, including hotdish and Jello salad. I got points deducted for forgetting tater tots for the hotdish topping (though the green beans in mushroom soup had frenchfried onion ring topping).

I did an Evil Kitchen recipe that people might actually make and like - Blueberry Tart.

Jean said...

Steve, I love it! And the Jello salad reminds me we used to occasionally see the green jello with the shredded carrots. That just screamed of a creation of some mom trying to sneak veggies into a kid's diet!

And blueberry tart...yum!


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