Hotdish

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Last night I made the most traditional of Minnesotan dishes — a hotdish. My roommate was intrigued… but not enough to want to try it. I’ve had various reactions through the years: some people love it, some people hate it, some people think it sounds gross (despite having never tried it), some people think it looks like cat vomit, and once, a lifelong fan of A Prairie Home Companion offered me $3 to have some. (And, by the way, she loved it.)
The biggest misconception about hotdish is that all hotdishes are the same. But in reality, “hotdish” is just a class of many different dishes. So just because you don’t like one particular hotdish, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike them all. The basic ingredients are some kind of meat, some kind of vegetable, some kind of starch, a cream-based soup (often cream of mushroom), and optionally, cheese. If you cook often (which admittedly, I don’t), leftovers are fair game as well. It’s all thrown together in a casserole dish and baked in the oven for about 45 minutes. There are few constraint rules that may vary by chef. For example, if the meat is tuna, the starch is some kind of pasta. Other than that, it’s pretty much a free-for-all.
I generally make two different kinds of hotdish: tuna and tater tot. Tuna hotdish generally consists of tuna, cream of mushroom soup, corn, egg noodles, and I’ll often throw corn flakes (and once grape nuts) on top to give it a crunchy crust. Tater tot hotdish, which I made last night, consists of ground beef or ground turkey, a bag of mixed vegetables, cheddar cheese, cream of mushroom soup, and, of course, tater tots. Since you have to pre-prepare the meat, tater tot hotdish usually takes a little longer to make.
The magic of hotdish is two-fold. First, you’ve put all your food groups in one dish, so there’s no need to also make a side dish, which also reduces the number of dishes you have to do. Second, it reheats surprisingly well, so as a single person cooking for one, I can make one hotdish on Monday night and have dinner for the rest of the week. Oh, and despite the naysayers, I happen to think it’s delicious.

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6 responses »

  1. The ruralites, Grange members, Church social, and summertime group (or multi-family) picnic-ers among us recognize the dish — as if it were one! — and happen to love it, so MN has no copyright, I assure you.
    The only place we actually divide paths occurs when you open with hot tuna, however: I have never understood why, because I will eat almost anything put in front of me, but I do not like it — the metallic “taste” I recognize in it — which I always explained to myself as a matter of not having frequently encountered as a child (my own mother never made it, although I had one grandmother who did. So imagine my surprise when I learned as an adult that my mother’s “tongue” is not only clever and sharp but also recoils from hot tuna — owing to a “metallic” taste.
    Another way you are right again has to do with ingredients: if you like them and can imagine they belong, toss ’em in!
    One way your directions fail — miserably! — is that you fail to mention the MAIN ingredient: onions. In my book (up to about five or six) the recipe reads “one per diner;” but if — unless the pot is enormous and the other ingredients by major volume — you go much beyond six the meal becomes “hotdish onions,” which some folks (personal tastes of one RJW aside) just cannot abide.
    Unless the temp exceeds 18C, tomorrow night! and I am the chef.

  2. Oh no… no, no, no.
    Onions are the fruit of the devil. Should onions be added to the hotdish, the entire meal has been wasted and must be thrown in the garbage. That’s one of my constraint rules.

  3. Yeah, I shoulda known…someone who thinks onions are not a true vegetable, just a condiment-ary enjoyment.
    Onions are a vegetable and a fruit and a dessert, and the nicest thing about them is they can be enjoyed fresh, sauteed, glazed, as part of a casarole — you name it — with the same glad celebrations of tongue and palate — all to our gustatory delight.
    Someone — Quick! Save that dish!

  4. The onion, as a food, has a rather interesting history. In the formative years of our planet, our atmosphere had a much larger percentage of oxygen than it does today. This has been given as one reason why the flora and fauna of the time reached dinosauric proportions. However the time was rife with volcanic action and there was also comparatively large amounts of sulfur as well. Given the above, one can only imagine the toxicity and size of the resulting dung. In fact, it was so toxic that nothing would (not could, seemingly) grow where it landed. However, prehistoric onions thrived on the mass and their primary purpose was apparently to break down the plethora of toxins to make the dung more palatable for other plant life.
    While difficult to determine, it is presumed that from this beginning, onions gained their peculiar flavor. (In short, why onions tast like dinosaur shit.)
    The following is perhaps apocryphal, but has the ring of truth as there is no logical reason why early man would eat something as virulent as an onion. It seems that an optimistic Neanderthal was digging in a pile of dung looking for the pet dinosaur that he was sure must be there. While digging, he uncovered the root bulb of the onion plant (latin name : rottenus obnoxini). Being of limited intelligence, he bit into the bulb in an attempt to determine if it was a dinosaur seed. Upon tasting and after the conclusion of the concomitant retching, he exclaimed, “this tastes like dinosaur shit!” Again, evolution fails us here, as all his buddies were incapable of understanding oral language and presumed he had said something like, “this is better than McDonald’s” and they, too, dove right in. The rest, they say, is history.
    While this doesn’t explain why we continue to perpetrate the myth of onion as food, let me conclude by merely stating that as the Former Director points out, onions are an entree’, a dessert and a side dish. And, as is usually the case, when something tries to be all things to all people, it becomes nothing to anyone. Would that that had been the fate, but, alas, once again evolution has failed us.
    (Not to deride evolution too much, but the existence of the onion is pretty much the clincher that the world was not created by an “intelligent designer”.)

  5. I believe that hotdish came up when we were trying to come up with a list of dishes that were American in invention (which excludes hot dogs and hamburgers, and a ton of other “American” meals).
    Also on the list:
    -General Gau’s
    -Fortune Cookies
    -Fried Twinkies
    -Salt-Water Taffy
    -Corn on the Cob (strictly, any dish involving New World food might be counted as being invented here, but some usages were invented outside the Colonies/USA, like Shepherd’s Pie)
    -Turducken
    On the other hand, the Italians didn’t invent pasta (nor pizza, says Teresa), and they still get the credit for it. “Italian food” my ass.

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