The recent plague of unusually cold and grey days have begged the question, "Is it June in Minnesota or October in London?" When you spend a few weeks out of every year in subzero temperatures in a state where snow on the ground six months out of the year is a very real possibility, summer is sacred. A few days of mid-June cloud cover is enough to send even the most stoic soul into conniptive fears that an ironic Mother Nature is punishing us for global warming by taking away our summers. This calls for heavy doses of warm milky tea and a serving of serious comfort food. "Hot Dish", which is our fancy phrase for casserole in Minnesota, is just what's needed to cure the grey day doldrums.
The marvels of Hot Dish have been documented by local artist Adam Turman...
... and also on postcards and dish towels over at Keep the Faye.
But even these feats of visual artistry cannot convey the powers of a good hot dish; it really is something you must try yourself. And so I give you my mother-in-law's recipe for Tater Tot Hot Dish, perhaps the most popular hot dish in Minnesota or at least in our neck of the woods because, really, who doesn't like tater tots? It's a recipe that's so easy even a bachelor can handle it (the recipe card that we follow is from my husband's single days when this dish was a welcome break from a steady diet of frozen pizzas). Still, like a (tasty) blank canvas, it can be varied enough to meet anyone's preferences -- you can skip the meat and use another can of cream of celery instead of the cream of chicken to make a vegetarian version, add some sprinkles of truffle oil if you want to go a little bourgie, or use spicy Italian sausage or chorizo in place of or alongside the plain hamburger if you want to go ethnic.
Tater Tot Hot Dish
1.5 lbs ground beef (we use ground turkey to great results)
1 small onion diced
1 bell pepper diced (we don't always include this because my husband doesn't love them)
1 package frozen mixed vegetables
1 package tater tots (because you'll be throwing the whole thing in the oven for a while, it works out fine for the tots and the veggies to both be still pretty frozen)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1/2 can of milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While browning the meat, onions, and peppers, line the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan with a single layer of tater tots (save a handful for the top). Add the can of cream of chicken soup, the can of cream of celery soup, vegetables, and 1/2 can of milk to the browned meat. Mix well. Pour the mixture into the pan and place the remaining tater tots on top.
Place in the oven for about 45 minutes. After the check-out guy at our local market recommended it, we started adding grated cheddar cheese to the top for the last five minutes or so. It's a great addition because, hey, everyone likes cheese and because we've got to somehow make up for the animal fat that we've lost by using turkey instead of beef.
Eric eats his with just a little black pepper on top. I like mine with ketchup (because you know what I say: you can never get too many vegetables) and some hot sauce (because my favorite comfort foods all have a little spice to 'em). It's tasty when warmed up too!
Enjoy! And thanks, Lu, for the recipe.