Thursday, October 28, 2010


In 1973, when Tom and I were first married, one of the staples on our newlywed menu rotation was Tater Tot Hotdish: a pound of hamburger, a can of sliced mushrooms, a can of cream of chicken soup, and a bag of Ore-Ida Tater Tots.

At the time, Tater Tot Hotdish met my three main culinary criteria: 1) quick, 2) easy, 3) cheap). The fact that Tom would eat it was just frosting on the cake.

But as a couple, our culinary tastes have moved far beyond our early years of cheap casseroles. We have traveled the world; we have tasted food from other cultures. Our palates have evolved, and we are no longer tied to the comfort food of our Midwest youth.

The only problem is that everything I make ends up tasting like Tater Tot Hotdish. Even when I try a brand new recipe, trying to add variety and international cuisine to our dinners, the new recipes still have that old familiar look.

“I tried something new,” I’ll announce to Tom as we sit down to dinner.

“Great!” he’ll smile, always up for a new adventure. He’ll poke at the new dish, lift a bite to his mouth, and ask cautiously, “What is it?”

“Beef Bourguignon,” I’ll announce proudly, although I’m never exactly confident in my ability to pronounce ‘Bourguignon.’

“Reminds me a little of Tater Tot Hotdish,” he’ll reply good-naturedly and eat it anyway.

Part of the problem is that I’m an ingredient substituter. It really annoys me to try a new recipe and have to buy an ingredient that I don’t already have. If a new recipe calls for ¼ teaspoon of turmeric—well, gosh, how important can turmeric be if the recipe only calls for a ¼ teaspoon of it? Seems to me it’s kind of a gingery/mustardy/curry-ish colored spice . . . so I’ll throw in a little of something I have on hand that looks like it might be in the same spice family and hope for the best.

I’m beginning to suspect that my ingredient substitution might be part of the problem.

The day I tried cooking the Beef Bourguignon (a lovely French dish made from cubed beef chuck, carrots, beef broth, red wine, and mushrooms), I didn’t have exactly the right ingredients. So I just did a little substituting: cubed beef chuck (substituted hamburger), fresh cremini mushrooms (substituted a can of Green Giant mushroom stems and pieces), beef broth & red wine (substituted a can of cream of chicken soup), pearl onions (substituted Ore-Ida Tater Tots).

Last night, I tried a new recipe called “Prosciutto, Pear, and Blue Cheese Sandwich.” ‘Be daring,’ I challenged myself. ‘Break away from the same old/same old menus.’ The recipe called for: 100% multigrain artisan bread, arugula, shallots, extra-virgin olive oil, Pompeian red wine vinegar, freshly ground black pepper, prosciutto ham, a pear, and blue cheese. Really . . . who actually keeps that stuff on hand?

No 100% multigrain artisan bread? No problem (substituted Ore-Ida Tater Tots). No prosciutto ham? (ham? ham-burger? It’s like they were meant to be interchanged!) No arugula or shallots or pears? Easy (substituted a can of Green Giant sliced mushroom stems and pieces). No Pompeian red wine vinegar or extra-virgin olive oil or blue cheese? Not a problem (a can of cream of chicken soup should lubricate the dish).

So, you’re invited to my house for Thanksgiving—turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, yams, pumpkin pie. The works. But don’t be disappointed if it turns out looking a little like Tater Tot Hotdish. It’s a mystery.


Anonymous said...

I've never made tater tot hotdish!! ejb

2to4aday said...

ejb: What!?!? Never made Tater Tot Hotdish? Maybe when you learned to cook, they hadn't invented Tater Tots yet.

Actually, Tater Tots only reached their height of popularity in 2004 when Randy says to Napoleon Dyamite, "Napoleon, give me some of your tots," and Napoleon answers, "No. I'm freakin' starved . . . " Then Randy kicks Napoleon's pants pocket (where Napoleon kept his Tater Tots left over from lunch).

If you've never made Tater Tot Hotdish and you've never watched the movie "Napoleon Dynamite," I would say that an important part of your life is missing.

Elaine said...

That is my favorite food! I could eat it every day!

Anonymous said...

Funny thing-I haven't made Tator Tor Hotdish for years for Ron and I (I make it quite often when my daughters tell me what to make for supper when I am at their houses kidsitting) BUT Monday night, while grocery shopping I bought Tator Tots to make hotdish for Ron and I. Are we related or what??? Thing is--now I make a big dish and then I freeze serving size portions of it because Ron will only eat the same leftovers 2X. He still has touble opening the freezer door and seeing the little plastic containers--he would much rather whine that there is nothing to eat. Have I trained him wrong or not!! Grandma Nettie

Elaine said...

I have an idea: You like to write. People read your blog. People laugh. (The holidays are coming--who couldn't use extra cash?) You could sell your column to magazines. People who like to laugh could pay money to buy the magazines so they could read your funny stuff. Kind of a win-win thing. You write, people laugh, you make money. Everyone has their own special gift. After reading your writing for almost 50 years, I am pretty sure that is your gift to spread around to everyone. Oh, and my gift is getting up at 3:00--a.m. that is.

2to4aday said...

Elaine: I am very flattered by your faith in me! However, there are close to 120 million blogs out on the Internet, and an estimated 50,000 people start blogging every day. I would like to believe my blog is really special, but that would also mean that I would have to believe in the Tooth Fairy. Thanks for the vote of confidence, however. And go back to bed--what are you doing up at 3 a.m. ?????!!!

Anonymous said...

You made me laugh out loud once again. Thanks for bringing laughter to us! PS I'm a Grandma as of Saturday! Maryln L

Anonymous said...

I ate this dish in Minnesota when I was there last in 2007. I think it is still part of me!