I can’t believe I have waited until now to talk about Minnesota’s state dish! Hot dish (or casserole for those unfortunate enough not to be from Minnesota) is a great canvas for experimentation. It’s easy, generally inexpensive, and good for weeks when you won’t have time to cook.

Back in the day, I subscribed to The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacycyzyn. In one issue, she presented a universal hot dish recipe.  This was the first time I learned about universal recipes. It was a revelation and changed the way I cook. Ever since, when I want to make something, I read lots of recipes and look for the commonalities, then make my own recipe.

My version of a universal hot dish varies slightly from Dacycyzyn’s, and is as follows:

Starch: pasta, rice, tater tots – usually cooked
Aromatics: onions, garlic, celery – generally sauteed.
Protein: usually ground meat or leftover meat, can also be beans
Vegetables: additional veggies – usually cooked.
Binder: often a ‘cream of’ soup like cream of mushroom or cream of celery, but you can make your own bechamel sauce or use canned tomatoes
Topping: cheese,nuts, or potato chips. added to give the dish a little zing

In general, the meat is browned (if not cooked leftovers) and mixed with everything but the topping. Put the mixture is put into a casserole pan, sprinkle the topping on it, and bake at 350 for about one hour.

Universal recipes like this let you think about flavors you like and make a hot dish incorporating those flavors. For example, if you have leftover chicken, you could saute onions and garlic, add bell peppers as the additional vegetable and mix with pasta. Add basil and thyme and use canned tomatoes for the binder and top with Parmesan. It’s not chicken cacciatore, but it’ll be tasty.

If you prefer TexMex flavors you could season ground beef with taco seasoning, saute onions with garlic and jalapenos. Use rice for the starch and add black beans and corn as additional vegetables. Top with crushed tortilla chips and cheese.

I rarely make hot dish these days because I like to cook everyday (kitchen therapy) and I find it easier to control my portion sizes when I cook single meals. But at least once a year I make Wild Rice Hot Dish (the most Minnesota of hot dishes) and freeze portions for nights when I need comfort food.

I live in an area where wild rice is considered exotic and is thus crazy expensive.


On sale, they want $3 for a four oz package. Whenever I visit Minnesota, I seriously stock up.


This package cost me about $7.

I use wild rice as gifts for my book club or a neighbor that watches my cat occasionally. My brother is a college professor at St. Cloud State and has done the year abroad program several times. They take students to Alnwick, England (the professor apartment he uses is in the barbican of Alnwick castle which was used as Hogwarts in the first Harry Potter movie.) The students and professors bring wild rice to use as hostess gifts. And that’s how Alnwick became the wild rice capital of England.


Feeling Minnesota Wild Rice Hot Dish

4 C boiling water
1 cup wild rice
1 ½ pounds of ground beef – browned and drained.
I medium onion, chopped
1 cup chopped celery.
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup beef stock
1 tsp salt,
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp onion powder
½ tsp paprika
sliced almonds for the top

Pour the boiling water over the rice and let sit for 15 minutes, drain. Saute the onion, garlic and celery until translucent, then add the mushrooms and saute until softened. Mix the beef, wild rice, and vegetables together and pour into a casserole. Sprinkle the almonds on top and bake at 350 for 1 ½ hours. Serves half an army.