Hotdish Heaven

Hot Dish (Food):  casserole-like food common in the Midwest; normally consists of a starch, a meat, and a vegetable mixed together with a sauce, often canned soup.—From Dictionary of American Regional English.

Anne Burckhardt was in town as a guest of Friends of the Library, signing and promoting her new cookbook, Hot Dish Heaven.  I was unable to attend but Ann Seymour was there and graciously brought me up to date.

Ann Burckhardt and I have a lot in common which makes it all the more unbelievable that I didn’t own either of her latest two cookbooks.  Burckhardt is the former editor for the Taste section of the Star Tribune and has written or edited over twenty-five books on food.  And on top of that she is the former innkeeper of a Bed and Breakfast in St. Peter, Minnesota.  I immediately added “A Cook’s Tour of Minnesota” and “Hot Dish Heaven” to my cookbook collection.

Hot Dish Heaven does not include a recipe for Asian Chicken with Brussels Sprouts or Basil Chicken with Tomatoes, Squash and Barley, but in the author’s words, “What follows is a celebration of the hot dishes of the Midwest heartland:  Iowa, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.  I feature some of the best casseroles served up in Midwestern homes of the fifties, sixties, and seventies.  These over seventy recipes, updated and kitchen tested, fill chapters on classics, potlucks, comfort food, side dishes, breakfast and desserts…This book is dedicated to the cooks who stayed true to their hot dish favorites, such as scalloped potatoes with ham, corn pudding and rice custard, even when the rest of the country turned to more complicated recipes and flavors…and eating more than half their meals at restaurants or ordered take-out.  So…welcome to Hot Dish Heaven.  It’s a pleasant place to be.”

Paging through the first chapter, Casserole Classics, I came across so many old friends that I eagerly decided to cook my way from page one to the end.  I pre-warned Zig (who was delighted at the prospect of old standby comfort foods instead of my constant experiments or perpetually health-conscious dishes) and began at the beginning, “Old Standby Hamburger and Rice Bake, an oldie that I have known as Texas Hash.  My 89-year-old Dad, who lived in Minneapolis, was the recipient of all extras, frozen into individual casseroles for his meals.  He was delighted as well.  Here are the first recipes we tried and a few that are coming up as a sampling:

Old Standby Hamburger and Rice Bake

2 cups sliced onions
1 cup chopped green or red pepper or frozen pepper stir-fry, thawed
2 Tbsp butter or vegetable oil
¾ to 1 pound regular or lean ground beef
15-oz. can diced tomatoes or stewed tomatoes, chopped
4-oz. can chopped olives, drained (optional)
½ cup uncooked white rice
1 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

Heat oven to 350.  Stir-fry onion and green pepper in butter until onions are yellow.  Add meat and fry until meat is crumbled.  Stir in tomatoes, olives, rice, chili powder, salt, and pepper.  Turn mixture into sprayed or greased 2-quart casserole.  Cover and bake 45 minutes; remove cover and return hash to oven for another 15 minutes.

Ladies-Who-Lunch Hot Salad (also known as Hot Chicken Salad)

Makes 5 or 6 servings

1 cup real mayonnaise (not salad dressing)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ tsp salt
2 cups chopped cooked turkey or chicken
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup toasted bread cubes *
½ cup sliced water chestnuts (optional)
½ cup slivered almonds
¼ cup diced onion
Crushed Wheaties or corn flakes for topping

*Cut crusts from two slices of white or wheat bread; cut bread into cubes and place on large baking sheet.  With oven at 350, toast cubes until crisp.

Heat oven to 350.  In small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, and salt; mix well.  Combine the chicken, celery, bread cubes, water chestnuts, almonds and onion in a large mixing bowl; add mayonnaise mixture and toss well.  Put the mixture in a buttered casserole dish.  Finish by sprinkling crushed cereal around the periphery of the dish.  Bake uncovered about 40 minutes or until hot throughout.

Variation:  Hot Salad with Cheddar:  Omit Parmesan cheese from mayonnaise mixture; sprinkle 2/3 cup grated Cheddar over salad before adding crushed cereal.

Here is one of my mother’s favorites.  She made this often and it really brings back childhood memories:

Farmers’ Market Corn Pudding
Makes 4 to 6 Servings

3 eggs
½ cup milk
½ cup half-and-half or 5-ounce can fat-free evaporated milk
2 cups drained whole kernel corn
1 Tbsp grated onion or 2 Tbsp sliced green onion
½ tsp. salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 Tbsp fine cracker crumbs (optional)

Heat oven to 350 (325 for a glass dish).  Select a 1 quart dish and a slightly larger pan that can hold the dish and about one inch of water.  In medium bowl, beat together eggs, milk, and half-and-half.  Stir in drained corn, onion, salt and pepper.  Pour into 1-quart baking dish.  Sprinkle crumbs on top.

To bake pudding in water bath, place baking dish in the large pan.  Using both hands, carefully lift both pans and place in the oven.  Pour hot tap water into large pan, about 1 inch deep.  Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until knife inserted 1 inch from edge comes out clean.

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