November 3, 2007

Hotdish is All That!

I asked my stepdaughter what she'd like for her birthday dinner this weekend.

She thought for a bit before answering, "That macaroni, hamburger, and tomato dish."

I couldn't believe it. "You want hotdish for your birthday dinner?"

She grinned and nodded her head vigorously.

"Of all the things you can choose, you seriously want hotdish?"


Oh, boy.

I grew up eating hotdish several times a week. When my mom went to work, I made hotdish several times a week. My parents might disagree with how frequently we ate it, but it seemed like we ate it all the time.

The way I make it is with ground beef cooked with chopped onions and green peppers, added to cooked macaroni and mixed with tomato soup and mushroom soup. And lots of garlic powder! Sometimes I add a vegetable to the mixture, but other times the vegetable is served on the side. I always preferred making the creamy kind of hotdish with the soup added, but many times I had to make it with stewed tomatoes instead of the canned soup. I didn't like the runny tomato in my hotdish. Too soupy.

I'm sure that all that hotdish cookin' shaped the kind of cook I became. I know many people bake their hotdish, but once I mix all the ingredients in a saucepan, I don't know why we just can't eat it. Simplicity is best. You can bake the leftovers in the oven tomorrow night if you really want some crunchy macaroni from the oven.

As my Minnesotan co-worker reminded me just last week, there are many kinds of hotdish. Honestly, I'm no expert on hotdish. I just know we ate it all the time when I was a kid. (I know I mentioned that already. It's important.) I also know that it was boring. So, I was forever adding things to it, thus each time I made hotdish, it was technically different from the time before. You see, hotdish lends itself very well as a leftover dish. Leftover roast beef? Throw it in! Leftover green beans that aren't enough for another full meal? Throw it in! Spaghettie sauce? Barbecue sauce? Yum! Before Iron Chef became cool, I was making meals out of whatever the feature ingredient (aka leftovers in my house) might be. I am proud of how I can make something out of nothing! I call myself creative and resourceful.

I actually stopped making hotdish years ago. In my early 20's when I was single, and then later in my first marriage, I tried to make hotdish, but I could only make a big pot of it, as I was programmed to make it for a family plus have some for leftovers. And, for some reason, it didn't taste the same.

A few weeks ago, my sweetie said, "You know what sounds good? Macaroni, hamburger, and tomatoes. Do you know how to make that?"

You know I've been cooking for my sweetie for 5 years, and he asked if I knew how to make hotdish. Seriously! Of course I know how to make it! It's part of my heritage! Not to mention that it's hardly a difficult dinner to make.

The first time I introduced hotdish to my family, I made it chunky with onions, green pepper, and stewed tomatoes, and I used whole wheat macaroni. I know it was more than he wanted, but that's the way I roll! My sweetie and the kids ate it up like it was gourmet fare. Unbelievable! I have to admit it was pretty good, though. Come to find out, the kids really miss eating ground beef. (They get ground beef if they eat a hamburger outside the house. Most of the time when I make dishes that require hamburger, such as burritos, I use fake meat.) It's the simple things in life, though, isn't it?

My sweetie isn't 100% pleased with my hotdish because the way his mother made it was much runnier with stewed tomatoes. Although, I don't have the aversion I once had to stewed tomatoes and I load my hotdish with them now (Bring on the lycopene, baby!), it's not runny enough for him. I've tried to explain to him that his mother, like mine probably used homemade stewed tomatoes, and it was a little juicier than what we buy in the store.

So, just that easily, hotdish is quickly working its way back into my life. I'm the one who plans meals now, and I have to admit, it is a versatile, inexpensive, filling meal. Once again I am making it all the time--or so it seems. It's such a natural thing for me to make that I can't believe I stopped making it for so long.

I wonder how long until hotdish loses its magical appeal, and the kids are begging me not to make it, rather than requesting it as a special meal. I have a few other forgotten foods from my childhood I should unearth. I haven't made pigs in a blanket in a long time...

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