A few years ago the New York Times ran an article, “The United States of Thanksgiving,” in which they claimed that they searched the country to find recipes that represented each state at the dinner table. The backlash was instantaneous. Minnesotans, known for their niceness–or passive-aggressiveness, whichever you prefer–were angry and confused. The New York Times had labeled ‘Grape Salad’ as the ultimate Minnesota dish.
Grape salad?!?! Uffdah.
I was born and raised in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 hotdishes, and had never once heard of grape salad, let alone tasted it. Neither had anyone else I knew.
In my opinion, the quintessential dish of Minnesota must contain mushrooms. Usually in the form of cream of mushroom soup. More likely than not, canned cream of mushroom soup. Nearly every Minnesota household has at least a can or two stashed away in the pantry for dinner emergencies. If you find your stock depleted, you can be sure your neighbor has one for you to borrow. It’s the Minnesota way.
There are so many different recipes that I would consider representative of my home state, but grape salad is definitely not one of them. Tater Tot Hotdish, on the other hand, is a prime contender! Even my Indian in-laws enjoy Tater Tot Hotdish and they’re not really all that keen on many traditional American foods.
There are many ways to make Tater Tot Hotdish and each family has their preferred method. Some use fresh vegetables, others use frozen or canned. One family may like their hotdish bubbling with melted shredded cheese, another might like to top theirs with Kraft Singles. I’ve even seen some people who prefer to use giant frozen hash-brown patties instead of the tiny, little tots. The possibilities are endless!
This is my personal favorite recipe. It’s a drastic change from my usual “from scratch” cooking and may not be the healthiest option out there, but it takes about 10 minutes to throw together and tastes really warm and comforting! It’s perfect for a cold, winter evening and will feed a large family inexpensively. It’s also a crowd-pleaser, so whip one up and take it along to your next pot-luck!
- 1-2 tsp. oil
- 1 lb. ground meat (beef, turkey, chicken, venison--whatever you prefer)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1- 8 oz. package fresh mushrooms, chopped
- 1 bag of frozen tater tots
- 1- 10.5 oz. can cream of mushroom soup
- 1- 10.5 oz. can cream of celery soup
- 1- 10.5 oz. can cheddar cheese soup
- 16 oz. bag frozen, mixed veggies (substitute fresh or canned, if you prefer)
- about 10 oz. milk (fill one of the soup cans full to measure)
- salt, to taste
- pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
- In a large pan, heat 1-2 tsp. oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion. Cook until soft and translucent.
- Tip in the chopped mushrooms and allow to cook until they have released most of their moisture and begin to brown.
- Add in the ground meat. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Fry the meat until it's fully cooked through. Lower the heat.
- If your pan is large enough, add the cream of mushroom soup, cream of celery soup and the cheddar cheese soup to the meat mixture. Stir until everything is well mixed. Add in the milk and the veggies. Stir until everything is well combined. Add a bit of black pepper for seasoning. If your pan is NOT large enough, combine the soups, milk and veggies in a large bowl. Mix well, then add the ground meat mixture. Mix again and add a bit of black pepper for seasoning.
- In an oven-safe baking pan (glass Pyrex bowls work really well), spread out the meat/veggie mixture. Top the mixture with tater tots--as few, or as many as you'd like!
- Pop the hotdish in the oven and let it cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the tater tots have began to turn a pretty, golden color.
- Remove from the oven, let cool for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy!
- Because this recipe makes a lot of food and it's pretty heavy, my small family has trouble finishing a full hotdish. I remedy this by freezing half of my hot-dish prior to cooking.
- I simply take out two oven-safe (and freezer-safe!) baking pans. I line the one that I want to freeze with aluminum foil. Then, I use one-half of the meat/veggie filling to make the hotdish that we'll enjoy that night, and I allow the other one-half of the mixture to cool completely. Once the mixture is completely cooled, I top it with the leftover tater tots and seal really well with Press and Seal. I then slide the container into a large freezer bag which has the date the hotdish was assembled written on it.
- This comes in really handy on those nights where there just isn't time to make dinner but I don't want take-away. I simply preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, remove the hotdish from the bag. I also remove the Press and Seal. I then bake the hotdish for an hour or until it's completely heated through and the tater tots have began to turn that pretty, golden color.