Friday, June 06, 2008

One man's hot dish is another man's hotdish

A hot dish to me is one that's served hot, not cold. It's the generic term for any hot item. Thinking back, I can't really think of any specific application in my culinary vocabulary.

But a discussion thread on the IDOS Forum on casseroles changed how my brain processes the term when I hear it.

"I was wondering anybody had ever made a casserole the 7 qt. dutchie? Should I line it with parchment paper?" came Jen's query at about 5 a.m. Monday morning.

The first three members who responded focused on the use of parchment paper to line a Dutch oven when baking a casserole. "I can't imagine parchment helping much with a casserole," said Benjammin.

Then the thread took a turn just before 9 a.m.

"I've done Tater-Tot Hotdish right in the oven with no liner and I think it really added nicely to the seasoning of the pot," interjected Tim, a Dutch oven cook from the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.

Within five minutes Ranes of Lehi, Utah, came on board. Is Tim's recipe posted in the Internet, asked Ranes. He had just cooked mountain man breakfast in six Dutch ovens over the weekend. Diners favored the breakfasts made with Tater Tots over hash browns.

I can't really say that the topic "exploded," but it certainly changed direction. Enthusiasm for Tater Top hotdish had captured the eye of the Dutch oven folks from the upper Midwest.

After a quiet six or seven hours, Fant, from Rochester, Minn., posted this definition of hotdish:
A hot-dish is just about any casserole you can think of, made in MN, with Tater-tots added on top. It is basically a local MN (and maybe other parts of the Midwest) creation. Go figure.
"The recipe for TaterTot Hotdish can be found in any Lutheran church-lady cookbook worth it's weight in Lefse ...," added Tim later that evening. (Wikipedia says Lefse is a "traditional Norwegian flat bread made of potato, milk and flour.)

I understood once I saw Tim's explanation of the basic hotdish recipe and realized that I'd made many hotdishes over the years, just without the obligatory Tater Tots.

I'm a proponent the use of canned condensed cream soup as a binder and sauce in casseroles. My favorite is cream of mushroom. My mother often used cream of celery or chicken in her hamburger stroganoff.

These soups work wonders in quick casserole dishes. Even Campbell's newer line of low-sodium, low-fat soups work well in casseroles.

To make true Midwestern hotdish, brown ground beef and drain. Add chopped onions, your favorite canned condensed cream soup and some Tater Tots. Pour the mixture into a lightly oiled casserole dish or Dutch oven. Top with a layer Tater Tots and shredded cheese. Bake at 350 degrees F. until bubbling and cooked through.

The topic had exhausted itself by late Monday evening. I suspect many hotdishes were served in Dutch oven homes throughout the country Tuesday night.

Next time hotdish is used in my presence, I'll think of a dish that's certainly hot. But my mind will drift to a filling casserole made with canned cream of mushroom soup.

Of course, I'll dig in.

"Oh yea, I forgot the other defining ingredient in 'hot-dish,' cream of mushroom soup. That's it, anything you want, plus tater-tots and cream of mushroom soup," said Fant.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

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