Monday, March 2, 2009

Minnesota Dinner Date!!

I grew up in northern Minnesota but am raising my daughter in Massachusetts. While MA has great local food favorites (which I'm sure we'll explore here someday), many of the foods I was raised on just don't exist in good ol' New England. If I were to make the quintessential Minnesotan meal I would make shore lunch style walleye fillets with a side of wild rice and rhubarb pie for dessert. I have yet to find any walleye here, the wild rice is exorbitantly expensive and rhubarb is very out of season. I digress.

Of course these are not the only foods that represent the land of 10,000 lakes. If you live or have lived in Minnesota you have eaten or at least been around pierogies, lefse, venison (that you or someone you know shot, killed, skinned and butchered), pickled herring and lutefisk to name a few. I hope to share recipes for a couple of these things with you soon. Don't worry, even I know that no toddler is going anywhere near herring or lutefisk.

There is, however, one Minnesotan classic that is VERY toddler friendly...the hotdish.

Wikipedia describes hotdish as: "any of a variety of baked casserole popular in the Midwestern United States, and especially in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, northern Iowa, and western Wisconsin. It consists of a starch, a meat, and a canned vegetable, mixed together with canned soup. The soup is often cream of mushroom which serves as a binding ingredient. The history of the hotdish goes back to when "budget-minded farm wives needed to feed their own families, as well as congregations in the basements of the first Minnesota churches."

Some people refer to the canned cream of mushroom soup as "lutheran binder" because it seems to show up in everything from hotdish to sloppy joes in many a church function.

The hotdish I am most familiar with is:

Tater Tot Hotdish
(serves 6)

Celeste's "Lutheran Binder" alternative (see below)
1 lb. ground turkey (or beef/chicken/meat substitute)
1 lb. frozen french style green beans
1 lb. frozen tater tots (I used the Ian's organic...I think this might go against MN code but I have to admit it here)
1 small yellow onion
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper to taste
seasoning salt (like Lawry's)

1. In a large skillet brown the ground turkey. When it is almost brown drain off any juice and then add the onions and garlic to the skillet with the turkey. Finish cooking until meat is cooked through. Season with a little salt and pepper.
2. Stir in the "lutheran binder" and green beans.
3. Pour mixture into a 9x13 baking dish (or 2 small square baking dishes like I did).
4. Top mixture with tater tots and sprinkle the tots with the seasoning salt.
5. Bake according to the package direction on your tater tots. The meat is already cooked and the beans will cook quickly so whats important is that the tater tots cook to golden brown and crispy. In general this will be approximately 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Serve (with a little ketchup on the side for dipping the tots!)

Celeste's "Lutheran Binder" Alternative

2 Tbsp. salted butter
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. chicken stock
1/2 c. milk (I used 1%)
2 c. white mushrooms, sliced salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large saute pan melt 1 Tbsp. of the butter. When melted, add the mushrooms and saute over medium heat until cooked. Transfer to a separate bowl and set aside.
2. In the same saute pan melt the other Tbsp. of butter.
3. Gradually add the flour stirring constantly creating a roux of sorts.
4. Whisk in the stock and milk and continue to whisk over med heat until a thickened sauce forms. You are going for the consistency of condensed cream of mushroom soup.
5. Stir in the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Voila!

I thought long and hard about what would be the most Minnesotan dessert I could make to round out this Minnesota dinner date and have to admit was a little stumped. Like I said before, if I could make the perfect MN meal the dessert would be rhubarb pie (or any rhubarb dessert really) because most people I know back home have rhubarb growing in their backyard. When I was little I used to walk outside, hack off a piece and dip in in some sugar for a treat. My Grandma does a lot of canning and one of the things she cans is "rhubarb sauce" which I guess is like apple sauce only made out of rhubarb. We eat it over ice cream. Yum!

Since I can't make anything rhubarb I decided I should probably make something with blueberries--another MN staple. My Mom and Grandma would go blueberry picking and come back with gallon sized ice cream buckets filled with wild blueberries. We always had blueberries in our freezer.

If Minnesota had a 'state dessert' it would be bars (pronounced barrrs in Minnesotan). I realize 'bars' is a category of dessert and not very specific but I cannot tell you how much Minnesotans love bars. We take the recipe off the back of toll house morsels for chocolate chip cookies and throw all the dough into a 13x9 cake pan and make them into bars. Rice Krispie treats are Rice Krispie Bars (not treats) and you can bet that they will have a half inch layer of chocolate on top. If you are asked to bring something to a potluck, chances are (if you aren't bringing hotdish) you are bringing barrrs.

I decided to make some blueberry crumble bars for dessert but at the last minute had a stroke of cleverness and threw in a handfull of frozen cranberries I had in the freezer. Since cranberries are very New England I thought this was a nice MN/MA combo and decided to call them:

Blueberry Cranberry Barrs/Bahs (nod to the Boston accent)
(makes 20ish barrrs)


3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c. softened butter
1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar

Blueberry Cranberry Filling
1/2 c. sugar (I used and reccomend turbanino sugar)
1/4 c. dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1-1/2 c. blueberries
1 c. cranberries

Crumb Topping
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp. butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a small bowl combine the flour and salt for the crust.
3. Using a mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar until creamed together.
4. With the mixer on a low speed add the flour/salt mixture a little at a time until mixture is just crumbly.
5. Press the dough into a greased (I use Pam for baking) 9x13 pan.
6. In another small bowl, combine all of the filling ingredients and layer on top of crust.
7. In another small bowl (use the first one from the crust as this is starting to sound like a lot of dishes...ha) combine all the ingredients for the topping (except the melted butter)
8. Add the melted butter and stir until mixture is moistened. Crumble on top of blueberry/cranberry mixture
9. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the topping is golden brown.
10. Cool on a wire rack and cut into barrrs. Enjoy!

Honestly these were some of the best bars I've ever made. (Toot toot goes my own horn.) I really think only using dark sugars gave these such a nice flavor. Yummmm.

If there are any fellow Minnesota natives or Mom's out there I would love to hear your Minnesota food stories! Oh yeah, you betcha!


BECKY! said...

I want to make that hash brown dish - but I HATE green beans...can you think of any substitute that would be good? I love peas and most other things in this world - but I can't stomach green beans (I wouldn't even buy green bean baby food because it terrified me!). Maybe I'll try it anyways...just wondering if you knew of any other versions.

Celeste said...

Oh please! Its hotdish! You can throw any old thing you want in there....peas, corn, whatever! The world is your oyster!

Cindy said...

Love your blog. I just sub. Found it funny to read your MN post. We live about 50 miles south of Fargo/Moorhead and we love knoephla soup

Celeste said...

Oooh...I actually don't know knoephla to Google... ;o)

Stephanie M. said...

I, too, am from Minnesota...and my oldest two kids (3 1/2 and 2 1/2) LOVE pickeled herring! How far north are you originally from? My husband is from Int'l Falls. That's north! Great blob! I can't wait to try some of your recipes.

Celeste said...

Stephanie--I am from Int'l Falls also! Small world because that is a SMALL town!