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how minnesotan of me

March 18 2009 by Kristin at The Kitchen Sink in Recipe,Turkey » 34 comments

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It’s come to my attention that many of you have never heard of a “hot dish.”  So let’s get that issue out of the way right off the bat.  A “hot dish” is this: a casserole baked in Minnesota.  Simple as that.  To flesh out the definition, though, I’ll let you know that hot dish also involves a 9-by-13-inch Pyrex and some Campbell’s Cream of [Fill-in-the-Blank] Soup.  And the very best version is Tater Tot Hot Dish, a recipe title that jets me back to my childhood—happily so.

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Now, I consider Tater Tot Hot Dish a regional dish.  Like queso in Texas, barbecue along parts of the Eastern Sea Board, biscuits in the South—where every cook in the region has a recipe for the dish firmly in his recipe, every good Minnesotan has her own version of Tater Tot Hot Dish.  The Tater Tot Hot Dish might not be as glamorized or hallowed as any of these other regional delicacies, but we Minnesotans take it pretty seriously.  Just show up to any Lutheran church pot luck: you’ll have your pick of at least a handful of versions.

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Tater Tot Hot Dishes recipes, among Minnesotans, are a bit like culinary fingerprints: everyone has one, no two are exactly the same, and you can barely tell two different versions apart unless you look really closely.  For instance, my mom, my aunt and my grandma, who lived together under the same small roof for nearly two decades, all have distinct Tater Tot Hot Dish recipes.  I would not turn down a scoop (oh, that’s another thing: hot dishes are meant to be scooped, not sliced; if you’re looking for the cohesion of a slice of lasagna or a wedge of gratin, for instance, you are barking up the wrong tree with hot dish) of any of these three ladies’ versions of hot dish (especially not my grandma’s, as she’s been known to shell out a quarter to any grandkid willing to eat her hot dishes), but it almost seems my destiny that I should find a Tater Tot Hot Dish recipe of my own.

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And find it I did, after my Sloppy Joe post kicked up a wave of nostalgia in me and a storm of curiosity in you all.  So, as promised, I set out to create my own version of the Minnesota classic over the weekend.  If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know that I have a serious predilection for all things homemade (I don’t even like ketchup, for heaven’s sake!).  Thus, I couldn’t bring myself to use frozen tater tots or canned mushroom soup.  Oh, and I prefer ground turkey over ground beef, so I used that in my version.  Yes, that’s right, I took a recipe that has roughly three key ingredients and omitted all of them.  Whoopsie!

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But I think we did all right with our Tater Tot(-less) Hot Dish.  I made a faux cream of [fill-in-the-blank] soup by thickening up some chicken stock with some flour and milk.  I also went heavy on the vegetables (leeks and celery) and, for punch and fragrance, I added a pinch of celery seed and herbs de Provence.  And I roasted tiny cubes of russet potatoes to stand in for the the tater tots. Yes, I’d say I put my stamp on the Tater Tot Hot Dish.  How Minnesotan of me.

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Tater Tot(-less) Hot Dish

2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
4 medium potatoes, scrubbed and diced (1/4-inch dice)
kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
1 pound ground turkey (light or dark, or a mixture of the two)
1 1/2 cups leeks, trimmed and sliced thinly into half-moons
1 cup celery, sliced thinly into half-moons
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
2 cups chicken stock
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Butter a large baking dish (a gratin dish or 9×13-inch pan) and set aside.

Toss diced potatoes in 1 tablespoon of the oil and some salt and pepper, spread on a baking sheet and roast for 40 minutes, turning halfway through.  Reduce the oven heat to 350.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a heavy skillet or Dutch oven.  Add the ground turkey, a small pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until the turkey is nearly cooked through.  Add the leeks, celery,  garlic, celery seed, herbs de Provence and a pinch of salt and pepper; saute for several minutes until softened.

Add 1/2 cup chicken stock to the pan. Place the flour in a small bowl, and whisk in the milk. Add milk mixture to pan, stirring constantly. Gradually add remaining chicken stock; cook 8 minutes or until mixture thickens.

Pour the turkey mixture into the buttered dish.  Top with the roasted potatoes and grated parmesan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

34 comments so far. »
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  1. noble pig says on March 18 2009 at 7:21 pm:

    I love it. It’s really a classic dish and I love the regional story. Very nice!

  2. Amy says on March 18 2009 at 7:25 pm:

    Mmmm…this sounds amazing. (Your version, that is, not the kind with frozen tater tots and canned soup!) I love that you whole-fooded it up! :)

  3. Christina says on March 18 2009 at 7:28 pm:

    Thank you for the lesson in Minnesota culture! I’m a big fan of casseroles, and this one looks yummy! I appreciate your substitutions, much more nutritious.

  4. Kay-From the Back Yard says on March 18 2009 at 7:34 pm:

    I can smell the coffee and the home made bread & butter pickles (along with the hot dish) in the basement kitchen of the Methodist church right now!

  5. mike says on March 18 2009 at 7:40 pm:

    I love new takes on the old standards! I grew up on ground beef, tater tots and Campbell’s cream of [...] soup (and don’t forget the Lipton onion soup mix).

  6. Whitney Merritt says on March 18 2009 at 8:31 pm:

    I love how every region has its own cuisine and quirky language. I have been spending the week in TX and it just reminds you of the simplicity of the classic dishes. I love that you revamped the original and created your own “hot dish”.

  7. Chocolate and Toast says on March 18 2009 at 8:55 pm:

    I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about Tater Tot Hot Dish from my favorite Minnesotan friend. I’m pretty sure I’ve even had some, made by her, although there was also drinking involved in that occasion, so I don’t rightly recall . . . At any rate, I will have to try your version, it sounds like my kind of deliciousness–but I’m not sure my friend will eat it with me!

  8. kickpleat says on March 18 2009 at 10:39 pm:

    wow, i’ve never heard of such a dish. looks delicious!

  9. sue bette says on March 19 2009 at 3:27 am:

    I’ve heard that Minnesota is casserole country – and I’ve run across the tater-tot casserole recipe before and thought it was probably perfect for family dinners. I LOVE your potato substitution, it’s a great way to update a classic dish. Looks wonderful!!

  10. Becky says on March 19 2009 at 8:04 am:

    This is very unique :) As a Minnesotan though I can’t imagine making my tator tot hotdish without the tator tots! I love your description of how hotdish is meant to be scooped up.

  11. Tabitha (From Single to Married) says on March 19 2009 at 8:12 am:

    I have to admit that I, too, have never heard of a hot-dish but I have to say that it looks really good.

  12. megan says on March 19 2009 at 8:14 am:

    I want to make this! :) one question though – when you bake the casserole at the end, do you keep the oven at the 425 temp from roasting the potatoes or should you turn it down some?

  13. NanaLana says on March 19 2009 at 8:15 am:

    This looks great! I love to learn about different regional cooking traditions. I grew up and have always lived in the deep, deep South where we have very distinct food traditions. I think it’s so important to keep those traditions alive. Thanks for sharing yours!

  14. Dawn in CA says on March 19 2009 at 11:04 am:

    I, too, have a strong preference for homemade (I can’t remember the last time I baked a boxed cake). And okay, so your version definitely looks and sounds delicious. But… I must confess… I am a sucker for frozen tater tots, and I don’t care who knows it. With their crispy-salty-crunchy outsides and their starchy-soft insides, they are, IMHO, a near perfect mouthful. :) And now you’ve gone and planted the tater tot hot dish idea in my head and I must. have. tater. tots.

  15. Vanessa says on March 19 2009 at 11:21 am:

    I’m a true Minnesotan, through and through; your rendition of this northern classic looks delicious! I can’t wait to try it at home! You betcha!

  16. Hannah says on March 19 2009 at 12:02 pm:

    That looks so good! Definitely a recipe to test on the boys I live with :)

  17. The Duo Dishes says on March 19 2009 at 12:32 pm:

    Every dish has a story to tell. Literally. This is the first we’ve heard of any hot dish, but it sounds pretty darn good.

  18. Biz319 says on March 19 2009 at 3:39 pm:

    Great recipe – never heard of a hot dish before – thanks for the explanation!

  19. Kate says on March 19 2009 at 4:39 pm:

    1) That’s not a tot hot dish.
    2) It looks delicious anyway.
    3) I won’t tell you about my recipe for Yumghetti, which has not one but two types of Campbell’s soup, because it might make your head explode. The cheese in it is real, though. I refuse to make anything using cake mix, however.
    4) Have you seen this? http://neckredrecipes.blogspot.com/2009/02/pininoa-tomato-sauce.html

  20. Patti says on March 20 2009 at 8:13 am:

    Yea!!! Minnesota. We LOVE hot dish.

  21. RissyKay says on March 20 2009 at 8:56 am:

    Yes! I grew up in MN and went to the Lutheran church where we had many potlucks and MANY hot dishes. Tator tot was always my favorite and my mom always made it! It is one of my favorite comfort foods. I may have to give your Tator Tot (less) one a try sometime!

  22. Katherine says on March 20 2009 at 8:58 am:

    Hm.. like a Shepherds Pie variation? Meat in a gravy with veggies covered by potatoes.

    Thanks for the story especially about the variations in recipes.

    I’m Swiss. Do you know how many recipes there are for fondue? I’m up to 23 and counting. There aren’t enough weeks in winter to try them all!

    Thank goodness it’s Spring and I can put off testing until next winter :)

  23. Kristin at The Kitchen Sink says on March 20 2009 at 10:37 am:

    noble pig: Thanks!

    Amy: I did my best!

    Christina: Why, you’re welcome.

    Kay: YES! I can smell that coffee too. And the basement — the food was *always* in the basement.

    mike: How could I forget the onion soup mix? Another staple.

    whitney: Hope you’re enjoying Texas!

    Chocolate and Toast: Ha! I hope you try this!

    kickpleat: Thanks!

    sue bette: Definitely perfect for a family dinner. Sometimes a side dish (which seems a bit absurd to me now: meat with a side of meat), sometimes the main course. Always leftovers.

    Becky: I can’t blame you!

    Tabitha: Thanks!

    megan: Thank you for catching that! I’ve updated the recipe.

    NanaLana: I couldn’t agree more.

    Dawn: Ha! I had the most insanely delicious tater tots at a restaurant in Vegas. I think they were laced with truffles, or something equally decadent. I could’ve eaten them all night.

    Vanessa: Yay! A “you betcha” on my blog. That makes me happy, indeed.

    Hannah: Let us know how it goes!

    Duo Dishes: So true.

    Biz: Thanks!

    Kate: Yumghetti, you say? That might be one cream of xxx soup creation I have yet to come across.

    Patti and RissyKay: More Minnesotans! I love it.

    Katherine: You’re right. Just roasted potatoes, in place of mashed. That’s a lot of fondue!

  24. Treehouse Chef says on March 20 2009 at 2:53 pm:

    Okay, this made me LOL. It was amost like a Garrison Keilor story…..for a moment I thought I was listening to Praire Home Companion. Love it! Great post!

  25. Marianne says on March 20 2009 at 10:53 pm:

    Well, you learn something new every day. I’d never heard of “hot dish” myself. But it sounds pretty damn good. Nice comforting food :)

  26. Kristin at The Kitchen Sink says on March 21 2009 at 7:11 am:

    Treehouse Chef: Oh my gosh, you have no idea what high praise that is! Thanks!

    Marianne: I appear to have become something of a hot dish evangelist! I’ve decided I’ll embrace it. : )

  27. Tyler D from MN says on March 21 2009 at 12:43 pm:

    Oh, that sounds good and healthy! Living in California, you don’t get the chance to eat such things since people here are health nuts… anyways… We’re (and by “we” i mean my girlfriend and I) are making TTHD for our good Armenian friends’ bday party tonight. He has never had the chance to induldge in this touch of Minnesota culture. Thanks for the receipe!

  28. Tyler D from MN says on March 21 2009 at 1:21 pm:

    Oh, I forgot our secret ingredient… “Pleasoning” Available from La Crosse, WI: http://pleasoning.com/

    Happy cooking!

    –Tyler

  29. Tami Lyn says on March 21 2009 at 9:15 pm:

    I love all the comments that people have never heard of ‘hot dish’! My kids hate tater tots, but the youngest can’t get enough of TTHD at school. We are the hot dish capital here in MN! Our church had to build a new church due to issues, so now we don’t have a basement anymore. Kind of sad-the food just tasted so good down there.

  30. April in CT says on March 22 2009 at 5:20 pm:

    I made this tonight and it was fantastic! I made a few changes based on what I had on hand, but this will lend itself to so many variations I can’t wait to try. Mr. Picky Pants (aka my hubby) even loved it so this will be a keeper.

  31. Brendaq says on May 28 2010 at 5:00 pm:

    I am sure your recipe is delicious. But, I do not think it can be considered any version of Minnesotan Tater Tot Hotdish! Sorry.

  32. [...] I basically followed her recipe but did make a few adjustments. To see her recipes, visit here site here. The recipe has a salt-free chicken stock-flavored slurry (fat-free white sauce),  which gives [...]

  33. How to Make Classic Minnesota Dishes « Coborn's Blog says on August 28 2012 at 1:02 pm:

    [...] you love cooking from scratch you’ll love this recipe for Tater Tot Hot Dish that doesn’t even have tater tots in it! Instead, roasted potatoes, ground turkey, vegetables [...]

  34. Pam says on November 01 2012 at 3:31 pm:

    Another Minnesotan chiming in here…this is in no way a Tater Tot hotdish! While it looks delicious and I actually just took mine out of the oven, I must stand in defense of the original and say this doesn’t even come close! Please everyone, if you haven’t had hotdish, try a REAL Tater Tot hotdish recipe just once, at least!

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