I have prevailed! I won the 2nd place People’s Choice award, loosing out to the first place winner who stood up and proudly announced that she was 97 years old, had been living in NE Minneapolis since 1928 and wouldn’t ever want to live anywhere else! She was way, way, way too cute to be anything but thrilled that she won.
Prize or no prize, this is hands down the best community event I’ve ever participated in. It is the perfect mixture of honoring the blue collar roots of the neighborhood while poking fun at their (lack of?) culinary taste. Hotdish is what it is. It’s a staple of funerals and church fundraisers, the thing that you bring to the table when you need something easy, economical and easily re-heatable. For some people (I am not one of them) it is the ultimate comfort food.
Most varieties of hotdish are 1 starch + 1 meat + 1 veg + 1 binder. The most popular of which are the tater tot hotdish (hamburger + corn + cream of mushroom soup, (also known as “Lutheran binder”) + tater tots) and tuna hotdish (tuna + peas + Lutheran binder + potato chips.) This lack of culinary excellence may be why one of the organizers, sitting at our table, marveled at how the annual event had caught on over it’s 3 year history. He said when they came up with the idea for the event, they were dubious that it was a good idea but they decided to give it a go anyway.
It was a good idea, in part because you would be hard pressed to find the traditional hotdishes at the competition. There is one category (“Tater Tot Excellence”) where one can find them, but not in the others (Spicy, Vegetarian, I Made It! (for cooks under 16) or Darn Good.) All you do is bring your hotdish, get a number, line your entry up under the corresponding sign and prepare to be judged by neighborhood celebrities, including actual high school lunch ladies. Once the judging is complete, the eat-a-thon begins.
The guy sitting next to me displays some serious plating prowess.
The most surprising aspect of this competition is how good many of entries are. When you’re eating food made by completely random strangers, you don’t really expect it to be good. Of course, this is a large part of the fun. There are a lot of sly looks with people whispering, “What do you think that is,” to each other as they poke at dishes they find less than obvious. Even if you can’t tell what they are, there are a lot of them. I was #59 and there were plenty of people who came after me so I’d guess that there were at least 80 different kinds of hotdish there. Oddly, not really knowing what in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks you are eating – is a lot of fun.
My hotdish was entered in the Vegetarian category. It was a toss up between that and Darn Good – but Darn Good came with the requisite that it didn’t fit in any of the other categories and mine did fit into vegetarian. It’s baked french toast stuffed with fruit and cream cheese. It’s really good. Fellow contestant (and former first place prize holder), Jeff Harkness, has also shared his recipe (judged in the Spicy category) for ¡Plato Caliente!, smoked brisket and beans in mole sauce topped with crumbled corn bread. There is also the tater tot hotdish I made last year with steak in a cheddar & blue cheese sauce. So, join in the fun – cook up a few of our hotdishes or invent your own. Invite a bunch of people over, judge and eat. You’ll be surprised how entertaining it is.
Darn Peachy Hotdish
2 T butter, melted
1 1/2 loaf Hawaiian bread or other egg bread, cubed into approx 1″ cubes and left to dry out for a day or two
1 c packed brown sugar
1/2 c butter
1 T water
1 T vanilla
1 10 oz bag sliced frozen peaches, thawed*
1 10 oz bag frozen blueberries, thawed*
6 oz cream cheese, softened**
1/4 c powdered sugar + more for decoration
1/2 c cream or whole milk
1 T vanilla extract
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
This first step isn’t totally necessary, but I found making croutons out of half the bread helped them to keeps some crunch after everything else was poured on them. Preheat the oven to 450°f. Pour butter evenly in a 13 x 9 baking pan, sprinkle some cinnamon over the butter. Toss half the bread in and toss gently with a spatula. Put in the oven and bake until golden brown, tossing every five minutes or less to make sure they bake evenly. This should take about 20 minutes.
In a sauté pan, melt butter stir in brown sugar, water and vanilla. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes stirring often.
Cover these… with this.
Cover 9 x 13 glass baking dish (or ramekins – if you want individual portions) with croutons. Drizzle brown sugar mixture evenly over the croutons. Spread on a layer of peaches and a layer of blueberries over the croutons. Whip cream cheese together with powdered sugar. Place dollops of it onto the peaches. Cover with the rest of the bread. Using an electric mixer, whip the crap out of the eggs, cream, vanilla and cinnamon, gently pour evenly over bread. Refrigerate for 3 hours – up to overnight.
I suspect you could do pound cake croutons instead and make mighty nice parfaits by stopping at this point.
Preheat oven to 350°f. Bake for 40 minutes or until the egg mixture is cooked through. If the bread starts getting too brown cover loosely with aluminum foil. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.
*I did make this with fresh fruit over the summer. I used a pint of blueberries and 4 medium peaches with skins removed. It was really good.
**You could also use yogurt that’s been drained for 24 hours.