Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Growing Up Lutheran - Hot Dish

Hot Dish - if you are all or part Scandahoovian heritage as I am, you  know what hot dish is, the bastard offspring of leftovers and a can of cream of something soup.

It's common in Scandahoovian cooking and a veritable staple in the Lutheran Church Basement dinners that were a big part of my childhood. Hot Dishes were an easy, economical way to put supper on the table as well as use up leftovers on hand.

Ever have a craving for a warm, hearty hot dish? You too might be part Scandahoovian. Here is a short test.

1) Lutefisk is to food as ___________ is to fun:
A. a singles cruise with the Democratic party
B. Hazardous Waste Clean up
C. a colonoscopy

(2)  Finish this sentence.  "Did you hear. . .
(A).  'bout the new spice store  in Ballard
(B.)  'bout the new instant decaf coffee
(C.) 'bout the lutefisk spill over at Abbediengveien Way ? Geese are still dropping out of the sky.

(3) You have gotten into a disagreement with the customs agent at Oslo and accidentally call him a Quisling. What do you do now?
A. Hold up the Scandahoovian/English tourist dictionary and apologize profusely
B. Pray he didn't hear you
C. Nothing. Die with your boots on

(4) For the your favorite  in self defense technology you reach for:
A.   A 1911 in .45
B.  A Colt Python
CAssault Herring 

For me, hot dish was, and still is, comfort food. Some of the earliest discoveries of the hot dish were going to ladies church functions with my Mom, held in the basement of the Lutheran church. Of course there were always the baked goods, rolls, breads cookies. The smell of fresh cardamom bread takes me back there in only moments, and I still make it for Sunday breakfast sometime and there is no better assortment of wonderful Christmas cookies than in the Scandahoovian kitchen.

But what sticks out in my memory today, was all of the hot dishes laid out by the women on the tables, invariably covered with tater tots, bacon bits, shoe string potatoes, chow mein noodles, cashews and almonds (but only for Confirmations) , hard boiled eggs or crushed potato chips. Macaroni (especially the Creamette "Salad-ettes") was almost always involved and well cooked (al dente is for wimps!)

Of course, there was a "Cream of" soup as a binder for about everything. Cream of Asparagus, Cream of Mushroom. Cream of Chicken. Cream of Herring (OK, maybe that was celery).  The food was fairly bland, most cupboards only containing only cardamon and cinnamon, salt and pepper, onion salt, MSG or Lowrey's it seemed. It was also quite pale, lots of macaroni and chicken and cream of soup will do that, even the non white food (meatballs, meatcakes) having a thick blanket whitening agent on it (white gravy).  As kids we ate it all up, the ones with the crushed potato chips on them being our favorite and often requested on "liver and onion night" when Mom would make us something of our own to eat while Dad enjoyed his favorite.

Of course, the adults at the Lutheran basement gatherings tried a little of everything, the highest compliment being that you almost went snow blind looking at someone's casserole. If you were polite you would ask for the recipe, which in Norwegian translated to "Wow, how do get perfectly good food to taste like this?" People always asked my Mom was the recipe. My Mom was a Deputy Sheriff. Mom had auburn hair and was 5 foot 10. She got asked for her recipes a lot.
Of course there was always the accompanying jello salad, often made in decorative molds. Including the infamous green one that included shredded carrots and mayo (shudder). The church ladies would be quite competitive in the jello molding division. I did discover that you could mold the jello quite creatively if you cooled it with liquid nitrogen (available anywhere fine artificial insemination products are sold), creating something that would rival an ice sculpture. But Mom said No. (she also said no to the 8 mm Mauser for Show and Tell as well.)

But now, although jello as main course is only a quivering memory, I still like hot dish. But I add some HOTR touches, that the Lutheran Church women never would have thought of. Comfort is good but I don't want my food to be so bland as to be hypoallergenic.  I think Mom and the ladies would approve.
It starts with Homemade Cream of Cluck Soup . It's less than the cost of the canned stuff and 10 times better, as well as having MUCH less sodium (I just don't like the taste of most canned products because of the sodium). It's the perfect base for hot dish made from leftover roast chicken. Roasted garlic gives it a very nice, rounded flavor.

Make it ahead and freeze it and then just thaw out what you will need for a recipe. I bet if you look in your refrigerator you have the makings of a hot dish.

Hot Brass Hot Dish.
1 can of store soup or 1/4 recipe of the homemade cream of cluck
8 ounces sour cream
1/3 cup milk or half and half
a couple shakes of crushed red pepper
1/8 to 1/4 tsp Lowery's or your favorite Seasoning Salt (I also like Penzey's Ozark seasoning)
a grind or two of black pepper
a generous 1/2 teaspoon of chopped roasted garlic (or 1/4 tsp of  jarred minced) .
2 cups leftover roasted chicken
1 and 1/2 cups mixed vegetables, thawed if frozen or barely steamed.

Mix and put in a 13 x 9 pan, cover with shredded sharp or smoked cheddar (I didn't measure, just a light sprinkle on everything).

Make a box of Stove Top stuffing as directed (on the "sit 3-5 minutes part" of the directions go for 3 minutes or slightly less, as it will dry out on baking). I used the chicken flavored mix and added two pinches each of parsley and sage. I also replaced half the water with leftover chicken stock, but water will work just fine. Dollop or spread it out on top of the creamy chicken mixture and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes

It's not going to win any photo contests, but it was really good (with or without a jello sculpture of a 1911).

click to enlarge the photos, it's prettier close up.