Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tatertot Hotdish

My mom and dad returned north after snow-birding in Florida and I thought it would be nice to stock their fridge with some comforts of home.  And let's face it.  Nothing says comfort like Tatertot Hotdish.

Having just spent 14 years in The South, I have come to the realization that, unless you are of Scandinavian descent, have recently watched the movie Fargo or are specifically from Minnesota, you probably don't know what Hotdish is.

Until recently, I thought it was just some midwestern, less fancy word for casserole, but there are some key differences.  The exact origin of the word "Hotdish" is not documented, but some believe the word stems form the Norwegian word "Varmretter" which means simple, "warm dishes".  And this makes sense, because, despite the growing melting pot, there are still a lot of Norwegians around here.  The word "casserole", on the other hand, is a French word that means to cook in one baking dish and that one dish is called a casserole. So here's the clincher.  While all Hotdishes could be considered Casseroles, not all Casseroles qualify as a Hotdish.  

 A Hotdish contains three mandatory ingredients and one optional one:
  1. Meat
  2. Starch
  3. Binder (Usually canned cream soup)
  4. Vegetables (optional), usually canned or frozen
Therefore, while Tatertot Hotdish could also be called Tatertot Casserole, Green Bean Casserole or Squash Casserole could not be called a Hotdish.

Are we clear, yet?


Today's Tatertot Hotdish starts out by sauteing one diced onion and one cup of diced, fresh carrots.  I know, I got a little fancy with the fresh, diced carrots, but it's one of those vegetables that tastes so much better fresh.  Personally, I don't even take the short cut with the baby carrots.  I use the real deal peeled.

Next, brown up a couple pounds of hamburger.
It's a traditional Hotdish staple.

For a recipe this size, you can use 2-3 cans of cream of anything soup.
I went with one of each, Cream of Chicken and Cream of Mushroom.

Add the soup to the hamburger and mix.

Now, I'm a big veggie person, so I like to use this opportunity to hide as many veggies under the cheese and tatertots as I possibly can.  But you can use fewer if you want.  I won't judge.

If you went the two soup can route and the extra veggie route, you might want to add a little extra milk.  It's optional.

Now pour the mixture into a 9x13 inch pan.

Top with cheese....

And a full two pounds of tatertots.
I mean, this is Tatertot Hotdish afterall!

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until the tatertots are golden and crunchy.

(Ketchup is optional, but highly recommended!)

Tatertot Hotdish
Serves 8-10 hungry people

2 pounds lean ground beef
1 onion, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
2-3 cans of cream of something soup
2 cups frozen peas
2 cups frozen corn
1 cup milk (optional)
2 cups sharp cheddar, shredded
32-ounce bag tatertots

Saute the onions and carrots in 1 tablespoon of canola oil, about 5 minutes.  Remove from pan.  Brown 2 pounds of ground beef.  Season with salt.  Add the onions and carrots back into the pan.  Add Creamed Soup and stir.  Add frozen veggies and stir some more.  Add milk, if needed.  Pour hamburger/veggie mixture into a greased 9x13 inch pan.  Top with cheese and then tatertots. 

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until tatertots are good and crunchy.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Life In Narnia

I woke up Tuesday morning and realized and that I live in Narnia - 
where it's always winter but never Christmas.

Except for the Christmas part.  
In fact, in some yards, Christmas decor still lingers.  
Imbedded in ice and snow, it remains impossible to remove!

This is what April snow is all about.  It's not some wispy flurry that melts before it is discovered.

It's sticky and strong.  It takes down power lines and branches.

Despite our protests for spring, it's hard to be mad at a snow that so carefully encrusts itself onto anything that stands still but for a moment.

It's the final affair of winter and if we're wise we savor its final gaze.

Goodbye, winter.

Hello spring!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Blondie Cupcakes

I made my own birthday cupcakes. By choice. I have to admit I've become a bit of a baked good snob.  A store bought cupcake just cannot compare to one that comes fresh out of the oven.  And when every middle-aged calorie counts, I just can't spare any that aren't steeped in deliciousness!  

So for my birthday, I picked Blondie Cupcakes.  Here are the reasons why:
  1. I was in a hurry.
  2. I had to use ingredients on hand.
  3. I am Blonde.
  4. Legally Blonde is my favorite movie... "You're breaking up with me because I'm too... Blonde?"--Elle Woods
  5. It was in the Martha Stewart Cupcakes book, and I'm baking every recipe.
  6. Legally Blonde is my favorite movie...."Whoever said orange was the new PINK, was seriously disturbed!" Elle Woods
  7. I love a good chocolate chip cookie in any form!
  8. Legally Blonde is my favorite movie....WARNER:  "You go to Harvard Law School?"  ELLE: "What, like it's hard?"
Ok...I'll stop now.

These cookies are super easy.  Just whip together your butter/margarine and brown sugar and add your vanilla and eggs.

Throw in the dry ingredients and mix some more.

Next, pick your add-ins.  
Now, a true Blondie will have only blonde add-ins like Cashews, Butterscotch Chips or Heath Crunch.

I figured a little chocolate never hurt anyone.

An Ice Cream scoop is perfect for measuring.

Like a chocolate chip cookie..... But better!

Blondie Cupcakes
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes


1 2/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter or 1/2 cup margarine
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups add-ins:
1/2 cup butterscotch chips
1/2 cups cashews, chopped
1/2 cup toffee bits or chocolate, chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a standard muffin tin with paper liners. whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.
  2. With an electric mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla;  beat until combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.  Reduce speed to low.  Add flour mixture and beat until incorporated.  Fold in add-ins.
  3. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each 3/4 full.  Bake, rotating tin halfway through, until golden brown and a cake tester inserted in centers comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, about 20 -25 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Birthday Frosting

It's my birthday today and I guess God knows I like a little frosting.

The way I see it, we have two choices.

We can complain about the negative.

Or embrace the positive.

And I am thankful for all of you!

Thanks to all of you for being a such a great source of encouragement and inspiration!
You make my life a better place!


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Sweet and Sour Vegetable Soup

April 13, 2013

Dear Diary.  It's still snowing.  I'm starting to think that spring might not come at all.  Maybe that one nice day we had a few weeks back when a few blades of grass pushed their way through the snowy blanket was the sum of our spring.  And summer.  And now it's winter again.  Did I forget to tell the weatherman that this is our first northern winter after 14 years of Southern Heat?  Oh. OK. I get it.  This is just a lesson in being careful what you wish for. I'll stop complaining. Instead, I'll make soup!

This Sweet and Sour Vegetable Soup is my all time favorite figure friendly soup. It's loaded with veggies but is hearty enough to sustain you. It starts with your basic mirepoix (Pronounced meer-PWAH'), a combination of onions, carrots and celery which are sauteed as a flavor base for the soup.  

Next, add in chicken stock, fire-roasted tomatoes, chopped cabbage, dried basil and oregano. Simmer until the veggies have softened.

Remove a couple cups of stock at a time and blend.  Return to pan.  Do this a couple of times making sure you leave plenty of chunks! Add Brown Sugar, Balsamic Vinegar and Salt and adjust seasoning to taste.

A hearty soup that is perfect for a winter  spring day!

Sweet and Sour Vegetable Soup
By Rachel @ Simple Girl


2 cups carrots, peeled and diced
2 cups celery, diced
2 cups onions, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 quart chicken stock
2 15-ounce cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1/2 head of cabbage, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1-2 teaspoons kosher salt, to taste

In a large stock pot, saute carrots, celery and onion in olive oil until softened.  Add chicken stock, tomatoes, cabbage, basil and oregano and continue to cook until cabbage is soft, about 20 minutes.  

Blend  2 cups of soup at a time in a blender.  Repeat, each time returning the blended soup to the pot.  Repeat until desired consistency is achieved, making sure to leave plenty of chunks!

Add vinegar, brown sugar and salt, to taste.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

iheartfaces | Wind

There is still snow on the path and ice on the lake.  I took this picture yesterday as we awaited the upcoming Winter Storm.  It came.  The plows were out.  It didn't melt.  Yet.  Did I mention that it's mid-April?!  Come, Spring!  I believe!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Carrot Cupcakes

I learned some new northern acronyms this week.  First, one local radio station announced the official OTO (Opened Toe Open).  While the announcer was happily optimistic, I had to disagree.  To me, the OTO needs to coincide with the LIO (Lake Ice Out) Date.  If there is still snow on the ground and ice on the lake,  open-toed shoes are really not a viable option.  

At Easter, of course, this causes a bit of a dilemma.  So for my girls, it was definitely a call for SWS.  Socks with Sandals.  It was actually snowing as we left church on Sunday.  Come to think of it, I think one of my girls wore her UGGS!

What went undisputed, however, were these carrot cupcakes.  Perfect for Easter dinner or anytime, this recipe is unpretentious.  No nuts. No raisins.  No pineapple.  Nothing but classic carrots, cinnamon, and of course, cream cheese frosting.

Sometimes, you just can't beat a classic!

Carrot Cupcakes
adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

3 cups carrots, peeled and finely grated
3 large eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups canola oil
1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

  1. Preheat Oven to 325 degrees F.  Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.  
  2. Whisk together carrots, eggs, buttermilk, sugar, oil, vanilla-bean seeds.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. 
  4. Stir flour mixture into carrot mixture until well combined.
  5. Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full.  Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 23 minutes.
  6. Transfer tin to a wire rack to cool.
  7. To finish, pipe on Cream Cheese Icing.
Cream Cheese Icing

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
2 sticks butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 pounds powdered sugar
1/4 - 1/2 cup milk or heavy cream
pinch salt

Beat Cream Cheese, Butter, Salt and Vanilla until light and fluffy.  Gradually add in powdered sugar.  Add milk or Heavy Cream to thin, if needed.