“You learn a lot about a person when you eat their hotdish,” Johnson states on p. 25, as she takes us through her stint judging the Minnesota Congressional Delegation Hotdish Competition. Having grown up in Iowa, I have had many a casserole, but few hotdish. I had expected something plain and involving cream of something Campbell’s Soup, but this cookbook really demonstrates the versatility of the dish, as well as celebrate the diversity of Minnesota (there is a section devoted to Divali).
Land of 10,000 Plates is divided into four chapters representing the four seasons—starting with “Life Beneath the Snow” and ending with “It Ain’t Over Til the State Fair”. Each chapter includes sections highlighting a single food or food occasion and incorporates stories from the author’s life in Minnesota including childhood anecdotes, interviews with Minnesota chefs and even a Dairy Princess. It’d be tempting to skip over these sections and go straight for the recipes (as the recipes are indeed tempting), but that would be doing yourself a disservice, as the meals are more fully enjoyed with the story. I did not have time to make all the recipes in this book, but there was not a one I didn’t want to try after reading of the author’s inspiration.
I made three of the recipes in this book. Minnesota Hmong Hotdish is a flavorful twist on the traditional Minnesota tater tot hotdish, swapping a red curry sauce for the cream of something soup. I wasn’t able to find lemongrass or Thai lime leaves at Cub Foods in Mankato, but the dish was still delicious with these omissions. No-Can Fish and Noodle Hotdish was my first time trying my hand at this traditional dish, the smoked salmon I chose was a little too salty for my taste, and I think if I make it again, I will try a white fish, but a pan of it provided many a comfort meal through the long winter nights. The last recipe I tried was Farmers Market Bread Pudding, which I made as a main dish for a brunch party. I took the author’s advice and added mushrooms and red peppers. This savory bread pudding was a hit! My friends went back for second and even third helpings, and the little I had left over was just as good for lunch the next day.
All of the recipes I tried in Land of 10,000 Plates were comprehensive and easy to follow, and Johnson adds little snippets of background and suggestions to each one, that makes it feel at once as if you are making the recipe your own and that you belong to a long tradition of cooks. I will certainly be making all three recipes again and will be making many more in the future!