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Beatrice Ojakangas column: 'Hotdish' or 'casserole," it's all delicious

In some parts of the country, a casserole is considered to be a “covered dish” and around here it is a “hotdish.”

Chile Con Queso Dip with chips and veggies on a plate
Quick and Easy Chile Con Queso Dip.
Contributed / Susanna Ojakangas
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How would you describe a casserole? Do you think “hotdish?” When I first started working on this book, I realized that everyone has a different idea, especially when you traverse the country.

In some parts of the country, a casserole is considered to be a “covered dish” and around here it is a “hotdish.” Once when I mentioned “hotdish” (not in Minnesota), I was met with laughter. A hotdish, they thought, is a certain kind of lady.

So, I went to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. A casserole, according to their definition, is “a dish that food is baked in” or the” food that is baked or cooked” in that dish. Using that definition, I realized that lots of foods or preparations qualify.

With this definition behind me, I was able to write a book that included more than 500 casserole recipes. I outlined almost 20 categories that include foods that qualify as a casserole, beginning with appetizers and breads, to seafood, meats, poultry, pasta, rice and grain, vegetarian, casseroles for crowds, for two, for kids, and even desserts. It didn’t take long for me to list over 500 ideas!

The book, "The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever," was first published by a national publishing company — unfortunate, because they don’t want to really promote anyone but “big-name” writers. So, the book lasted only a few years. Luckily, the University of Minnesota Press picked it up and now, it is a fresh, new book with a clean look and a new life. Here are some examples:

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Quick and Easy Chile Con Queso Dip

Chile Con Queso Dip on a plate with chips and veggies
Quick and Easy Chile Con Queso Dip.
Contributed / Susanna Ojakangas

This is an appetizer that you can assemble ahead and refrigerate until an hour or so before your party. Slip it into the oven and it will be ready when your first guests arrive.

  • 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
  • 1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chiles (Ro-Tel is one brand)
  • ½ cup prepared mild, medium or hot salsa
  • Tortilla chips and raw veggies for dipping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine all of the ingredients (except for the chips and veggies for dipping) in a 1-quart sized casserole. Cover with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes until the cheese is melted and the dip is bubbly.
Serve with tortilla chips and raw veggies for dipping.

Serves about 10.

Cheese, Olive and Pine Nut Casserole Bread

Here's a delicious bread to bake along with your Easter ham, or with lasagna, pasta or a beef stew.

  • ½ cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
  • 2 packages or 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 ½ cups warmed milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, cut into half-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
  • 20 pitted green and black olives (preferably Kalamata for the black), halved
  • ½ cup pine nuts

In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast, sugar, salt, butter, milk and egg. Let stand for five minutes, or until the mixture begins to bubble.
Stir in the flour a little at a time until a very stiff batter forms. Beat with an electric mixer for two minutes until very smooth.

Stir in the cheese, olives and pine nuts. Butter a 3-quart round casserole (or two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans. Turn the batter into the casserole or prepared pans. Let rise for 45 minutes or until the batter reaches the top edge of the pans.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Slash the top of the bread diagonally a few times with a sharp knife. Bake for 55-60 minutes for the large pan, or about 40 minutes for the smaller loaves. Or until a skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean and dry. Remove bread from the pan or pans and cool on a wire rack.

Makes 8-10 servings.

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Mashed Potato Casserole

Thinking of holiday get-togethers (if you do feel safe yet), here’s a mashed potato casserole that is designed to be perfect for making ahead.

  • 10 tablespoons butter, divided, plus extra for the dish
  • 10 medium-sized potatoes (I prefer russets), peeled and cubed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ cup milk or cream, scalding hot
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs

If you are not making this ahead, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole (could be a 9-by-13-inch pan).
Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water to cover until fork-tender, about 15 minutes and drain. With a hand-held mixer, whip the potatoes with 1 stick of the butter. Add the salt, pepper, hot cream and cream cheese and beat until light and fluffy.

Transfer the mixture to the casserole and top with the breadcrumbs (I like to use panko crumbs), and sprinkle with the remaining 3 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces. (At this point, you can cover and refrigerate for up to one day, or wrap and freeze for up to one month. Bring to room temperature before baking).

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the casserole is heated through and the top is lightly browned.

Makes 10 servings.

Norwegian Lemon Custard

Norwegian Lemon Custard in a dish
Norwegian Lemon Custard.
Contributed / Susanna Ojakangas

When this dessert bakes, it separates into two layers and becomes a sponge cake topped custard, which is why it’s sometimes called a “pudding cake.” It's so easy to make and the ingredients are simple, but it is a perfectly refreshing dessert.

  • 2 tablespoons butter at room temperature, plus extra for the dish
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup fresh lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 ½ cups half-and-half or whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 1-quart casserole dish.
In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the 2 tablespoons butter, the sugar and egg yolks until light. Add the flour, salt, lemon juice and lemon zest. Mix in the half-and-half or milk.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. With a rubber spatula, fold the beaten egg whites into the egg yolk mixture.

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Pour the batter into the casserole and place it into a larger pan. Add boiling water to the large pen and bake, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.

Makes 6 servings.

Beatrice Ojakangas
Beatrice Ojakangas

Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth food writer and author of 31 cookbooks. Find her online at  beatrice-ojakangas.com.

Related Topics: FOODRECIPES
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