Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tater Tot Hot Dish. Uff Da.

If you're from Minnesota, chances are you both know what tater tot hot dish is and have eaten it. You may also have a family recipe, which is just a little different from your best friend's family recipe. If you're not from Minnesota, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about. Certain Minnesotans I know (*cough*myhusband*cough*) would probably argue you should stay blissfully ignorant.

I'm not going to let that happen. First, some explanation - hot dish is just what we call a casserole up here. Go to any church basement pot luck and you are likely to find not only at least 3 different varieties of tater tot hot dish, you're also likely to find a whole bunch of other questionable-looking  ground beef/potato or noodle/cream of __________ offerings. I advise you skip most of them.

This one, however, you should try. And while you're eating it, try to fit in as many "ya sures" and "you betchas" and "uff das" into the conversation as possible. A lot of us really do sound like Fargo up here (though we will deny it and be extremely offended if it's ever pointed out to us).

Tater Tot Hot Dish
family recipe
Serves 5-6
Prep Time - 5 min
Cook Time - about an hour

1 1/2 lb ground beef (ground turkey works well too)
1-2 TSP olive oil
1 med. onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic
salt & pepper
1 can low-sodium cream of mushroom soup
1 can low-sodium cheese soup
Most of a 2 lb bag tater tots

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook for a few minutes, until they start to get soft. Add the ground beef to the pan and brown. Season with salt & pepper. When the beef is almost done, add a few cloves of garlic. Once the beef is browned, drain if necessary.

Add to the bottom of a 9x13 pan.

Meanwhile, while the beef is browning, mix together the cream of mushroom soup and the cheese soup in a small bowl. Do not add any other liquid, like milk or water, even though it'll be very thick and you will be tempted to.

Pour the soup mixture over the ground beef. Spread it around a little so all the ground beef is mostly evenly-covered.

Add tater tots to the top of the pan, sort of lining them up, using the picture above as a guide for how to do it. You should use somewhere around 2/3 to 3/4 of the bag. Cover the pan with tin foil.

Bake, covered for 25 minutes.

Remove the tin foil and bake, uncovered for 20 minutes to get the tots nice and crispy.

Let sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ratatouille Pasta

My oldest two nephews love the movie Ratatouille. I doubt the yonger two have a preference, considering they're 6 months and 12 months, respectively, though I like to think if they could follow a plot line, they'd love the movie, too. We watched it at Thanksgiving (or more accurately, it was on while the adults were talking and drinking homemade Sangria). I'd forgotten how cute the movie actually is. It made me hungry for ratatouille. 

Fastforward 4 months. It feels like summer here. March is normally our snowiest month of the year, but I was sitting on my deck wearing a tank top and capri pants. Now, as much as I know this weather isn't normal and in all probability shouldn't be happening right now, I can't help but love it. It really puts me in the mood to make the things I normally make in the summer when I can get fresh, local produce (often from my back yard or the Farmer's Market at my office). 

This time I decided to take it one step further and make traditionally ratatouille even more delicious - add ravioli, top it with cheese, and bake it. It was a revelation. Now if only I could be guaranteed it won't drop below freezing for the rest of the year so I can get started planting my garden.

Ratatouille Pasta Bake
Serves 4ish

2-3 TBSP olive oil
1 eggplant, peeled chopped (about 2 cups)
2 zucchini, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15 oz) can diced tomato
1 (28 oz) can tomato puree 
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3 TBSP fresh basil, chiffonade
3 TBSP fresh parsley, chopped
2 packages fresh ravioli (we like the 4-cheese kind from Trader Joe's)
1 cup Mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

Put the eggplant in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Let it sit out for about an hour. You'll probably notice a lot of moisture on the eggplant. After about an hour, rinse the eggplant thoroughly, and then pat it dry. This process will help coax out the bitterness in the eggplant and help collapse the air pockets, so your eggplant doesn't absorb as much oil.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven. Let it get very hot, but not smoking. If your oil isn't hot enough, the eggplant will absorb it and it. Cook until the eggplant has begun to soften and is a little brown, stirring occasionally. It should take around 5. Add the zucchini and cook until it starts to soften, again about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the bell pepper, and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the onion and garlic, and again cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the diced tomato, tomato puree, salt, pepper, basil, and parsley and simmer for about 20 minutes, again, stirring occasionally.

In a bit pot, bring some salted water to a boil. Add the ravioli and cook until al dente. Set aside if the 20 minutes isn't up yet, or to the ratatouille, if it is. Stir to combine.

Add the ratatouille with ravioli to a casserole dish and cover with mozzarella cheese. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly.