Saturday, November 7, 2015

Hot Dish - Adventures in Healthier Scandinavian Cooking

Hot Dish - if you are of Scandinavian blood or raised by those who are Scandinavian as I was, you  know what hot dish is, the bastard offspring of leftovers and a can of cream of something soup.

It's common in Scandinavian 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 Scandinavian Here is a short test.

1) Lutefisk is to food as ___________ is to fun:
A. a singles cruise with an Arkansas Chain Gang
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 Scandanavian/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.  Pepper spray
C Assault 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 Scandinavian 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. PLUS  - I want it to be much less in sodium and fat than the typical recipe.  So I snuck in some non fat dairy (I know, I was trying to quit, but I had the serious tuna casserole craving) and revamped my Mom's Tuna Casserole Recipe to make it healthier, using non fat products in the casserole to make a white sauce that wasn't full of sodium AND using just a dab of real butter and full fat cheese in the topping with a reduced fat cracker instead of the fatty/salty potato chips. It turned out really good.  I think Mom and the ladies would have approved.

Healthier Tuna Casserole

2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive oil
2 celery stalks, small dice (about 2/3 cup)
1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
dash of crushed red pepper, salt, and pepper
2 Tablespoons flour
2 cups non fat milk
1/4 cup non fat sour cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard 
6 ounces fettuccine or a high quality egg noodle
6 ounces water packed Albacore tuna
3/4 cup 2 percent sharp cheddar, shredded
1/3 to 1/2 cup peas (to taste, or leave out, I have also substituted a tablespoon of minced jalapeno in place of the peas and it's really good.)

For the topping:
2  Tablespoon unsalted butter melted
2 Tablespoons full fat Sharp Cheddar (Tillamock is my favorite)
1 cup crushed low fat Ritz crackers

Heat oven to 350°F. Spray a 8-by-8-inch glass baking dish with non stick spray and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When oil is hot, add celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in scallions and cook for a few minutes more. Add Old Bay Seasoning, salt, peppers and flour to veggie mixture, stirring until flour until you have a smooth paste.

Cook for 1 minute, then slowly pour in milk, whisking well to make sure no lumps of flour are left. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer, while whisking gently, until mixture thickens slightly, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream and mustard, and set aside. Once the water is boiling, add pasta and cook per package directions until still slightly firm to the touch (it will finish cooking off in the oven).

Nuke the peas until done but not super soft, in a separate bowl

Stir cheddar and pasta into vegetable-and-milk mixture. Flake tuna into mixture, add peas and stir gently. Pour into the prepared baking dish.

For the topping - melt the butter and combine with crushed crackers  and cheese and sprinkle over the top of the casserole.

Bake until heated through and bubbling around the edges, about 20-25 minutes. Serve with cut up raw veggies.

1 comment:

  1. Guess the lutefisk ate my comment. As a Lutheran who attends a Methodist Church I know many who come running for it but I never was that crazy. But your post did take me back!



Thanks for visiting. Having been fortunate enough not to have to diet as a young woman - hitting middle age to find my Metabolism moved to Aruba and didn't even send a postcard was a rude awakening. Thanks for sharing the fun and the pain of getting back in shape. Note: If you are a stranger and include a link in your comment - it will not be posted, to ensure no SPAM or viruses are shared. Any link I post is tested first.