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Hotdish? Please Explain.

20 J00000010UTC 2011

I’m originally from Texas. We have three kinds of food there: Tex-Mex, BBQ, and seafood. All three, eaten in the correct proportions, with enough free refills on soda, for a long enough period of time, will get you one thing. Fat. That’s cool, though, because you’ll be so happy on your way there.

My husband is from not-Texas. He’s from a nether-region “up north” where (from my perspective) there are no definitive regional foods. He speaks of boiled meats with no flavor, really bad pizza joints, and, of course, Hotdish.

What is Hotdish, you ask? Well, that’s a fine question. The answer is, after many times of hearing the answer, I’m still not sure. I think you have to be from Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, or one of the Dakotas to fully understand– and appreciate– exactly what Hot Dish is. For you, reader, I will give it my best Texarado shot. After all, my father hails from South Dakota and my maternal great-grandparents from Michigan. Ya, shore, you becha.

*Hotdish Disclaimer. Please let it be known now that there is nothing, whatsoever, sexy about Hot Dish. It is a meal built on economy, warmth, and sheer mathematics. It is often found in church basements for potlucks, after-funeral parties, and on tables surrounded by many offspring. There is no way to make a meal centered around Hot Dish romantic or a prelude to anything, shall we say, animal, other than the consumption of Hotdish itself.

Now that’s out of the way, we can get down to business.

First, Hotdish is sort-of like a casserole, mostly because of shape, form, and consistency. Both are made and served (wow!) in the requisite 9×13 clear glass Pyrex dish every girl gets on her way out the door to college– or every couple receives from Aunt Marge and Uncle Dick upon marriage. Because of this, pretty much anyone can make Hotdish.

Next, Hotdish is meant to be a receptacle for odds, ends, leftovers, scraps, and all that stuff in your pantry, fridge, and freezer that is about to expire but you just don’t know what to do with. You could go donate it at the food shelter, but who the hell wants to go out in the snow? It is also a good place to hide undesirable canned veggies or frost-bitten meaty bits.

Third, Hotdish requires a) a binder— something gooey and pasty to keep it all stuck together. The most traditionally-used northern binder is Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, what Garrison Keillor refers to as “the Lutheran Binder”. There’s a lot of cream-of-something soups. There’s also Velveeta “cheese.” I’ve used all these in the past. I don’t recommend any of them now that I’ve studied nutrition. Sorry Lutherans. And b) a crumby topping such as panko breadcrumbs, cornflakes, those weird little onion things, or even tater tots. I won’t use them, but I dare you to.

Fourth, because of the less-than-optimal contents, I believe you’re meant to (as my husband said) “bake the shit out of it” until it all tastes like really hot processed cheese. That way you can’t taste lima beans, old sausage, or creamy mushrooms. All that happens is you get really full and really warm and have a lot of Hotdish left over for tomorrow.

Finally, as you can see, you don’t need a recipe for Hotdish. There isn’t one. If you’re one of those recipe people, good luck making Hotdish this winter because you won’t be able to. You’ll just stand in your kitchen in front of an empty Pyrex dish, wringing your hands and opening and closing the fridge over and over. It’s no way to live, but it happens.

If you want to make Hotdish, need a recipe, and would like to avoid processed foods (including cream-of-anything soup), here’s an impromptu one that’s in the over right this very minute. I snuck the idea from some other place online, but changed all the names to protect the innocent.

Texarado Hotdish

1 large-ish spaghetti squash, halved, baked and spaghettied

1 roast chicken, boned and diced (I get a pre-made one at Whole Foods!)

1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained

1 large onion, diced and sauteed till slightly brown

1 Anaheim or other pepper, diced OR 1 small can diced green chilis or jalapenos

3 cups fresh spinach, all chopped up

1 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese (don’t get crappy stuff, okay?) OR cheese-like substance such as Daiya — divided in half

sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and chili powder, to taste

Chop up all this stuff and stir it around in a great, big bowl. Use only 1/2 the cheese in this process. Dump it into your 9×13 casserole dish and spread it out. Top with remaining cheese or cheese-like substance. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

As you can see, I forewent both the “binder” and the “crumby topping,” mostly because they  bind and crumb up our insides. Get my drift? I also replaced either potatoes, pasta, egg noodles, or god-knows-what-else with a nice, clean-burning spaghetti squash. You’ll feel so tidy after you eat this meal that you might just make yourself a pumpkin pie. I did.

*Hotdish comments, corrections, recipes, and stories are welcome below!

* See also Wikipedia’s Hotdish entry or just sit and listen to Prairie Home Companion for a spell.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. gail norbraten permalink
    20 J00000011UTC 2011 9:04 am

    Never heard of HotDish when I was growing up in SD…but I don’t doubt your facts. Your dad can tell you it’s wide noodles, tuna, peas and cream of mushroom soup. It can be fancied up with albacore tuna, fresh peas and mushroom and a roux…but it’s still tuna casserole.

    • 20 J00000011UTC 2011 9:26 am

      Excellent! So maybe South Dakota is too far south…

  2. 20 J00000011UTC 2011 11:45 am

    This blog comes at such funny timing. We have a friend who hails from the south and LOVES casseroles (he also does iron-man triathlons and kayaks, so he shows zero signs of excessive casserole consumption.) In celebration of his favorite way of eating, last weekend we did a casserole party. Yes, we did. One of the questions that came up, was, what exactly counts as a casserole? Some wikipedia searches were made and we found a few explanations. But, I think your blog pretty much just nailed the tail to the pig. There are are few differences between hotdish and casseroles, but they’re basically of the same family. We made a casserole with polenta in it to act as the main “binder.” It worked out great!

    • 20 J00000011UTC 2011 10:09 am

      Great input. I’m sure the Southern casserole is the cousin of the Northern hotdish. No doubt. Polenta as the binder is a great idea. Nice work!

  3. 20 J00000011UTC 2011 6:48 am

    Great article as usual, Kris! I was both entertained and educated. I never knew such a dish existed! I might try your version of it before I dive into the real deal, mostly because the real deal kind of scares me.

  4. malia permalink
    20 J00000011UTC 2011 12:05 pm

    I LOL’ed sooo many times in this post. Nice!! xo

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