Tator-Tot Casserole is a true Minnesota tradition! {Brittany's Pantry}There are many things that define a region or state.  With Colorado, its the Rockies.  Maine makes me think of lobsters.  The west coast brings to mind visions of Hollywood.  Iowa?  Well…nothing comes to mind when I think of Iowa.  *smile*  And while people always ask me if Minnesota really IS the land of 10,000 lakes (as I assure them it is, more than 12,000 actually), I am glad that its Minnesota’s landscape-and our weather-that most people recognize.

But there is a little known culinary masterpiece that I have taken from my youth and added to my regular line-up of tried and true dishes.  A true Minnesota tradition that I have made for sailors in Hawaii and San Diego, college students in Wisconsin, and now, my own family in the corn fields of Illinois.  A favorite among the people, I am talking about Tator-Tot Hotdish.  Mmmm, the best use of canned soup and a pound of ground beef north of the Rio Grande.  I made it for dinner last night and the second I opened the oven door, I was a kid again.  I don’t think my Mom ever had a recipe for it, she just kinda, threw it together.  And I don’t know if she made it when she was little, as I am having a hard time picturing my Grandmother making this dish on the farm, but who knows!  Now to those of you who are reading this and nodding fondly, reminiscing about the tator-tor hotdish of your youth, let me be clear.  I do not wish to replace your recipe.  Only to offer mine to those who have not yet been enticed by its goodness.  Like most casseroles, this takes minimal skill and very little time.  I used to make it when I was in Jr. High after I got home from school.  So give it a try.  Enjoy.  And experience a bit of Minnesota tradition with every bite.

Tator-Tot Hotdish

1 lb of ground beef
1 onion, diced
1 tsp minced garlic
salt and pepper
Brown the ground beef and the onion.  Drain off fat.  Add garlic and salt and pepper to taste.
Add:  1 can green beans, drained
1/2 small bag of frozen corn, about 1 1/2 c
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
Half of a large bag of tator tots

Mix all ingredients together and pour into sprayed casserole dish.  Dump the second half of the bag of tator tots on top of the casserole and spread evenly.  Bake at 350 for 45 min to an hour, or until the center is bubbly and the top is brown.  Leftovers are awesome.

Note:  Add whatever veggies you like.  I use these because they don’t get mushy when they bake and they taste good with the potatoes.  If you like peas, add them.  Diced peppers are your favorite?  Go for it.  Its a casserole!  Just dump it all together and bake!

These Oven Roasted Potatoes are a classic and simple side dish! Onions, garlic, and lots of butter! {Brittany's Pantry}There is an old dutch proverb that reads, “Eat butter first, and eat it last, and live till a hundred years be past.”  I don’t know about you, but this seems to be some great advice.

Of course we now know that eating too much butter on a regular basis is a recipe for heart disease, but I am a firm believer of everything in moderation.  And when it comes to butter, there are a few things that I just won’t compromise on.  The amount of butter on these potatoes is one of those things.  You need alot.  And I mean, ALOT.  I made them the other night and tried to cut back to save a few calories-big mistake and a big disappointment.  Now, as a general rule, I only buy unsalted butter.  Why?  Well, the majority of the time I am using it for baking and I don’t need all that extra salt in my recipe.  The flavor of the end product is the same, less sodium is better for you, and it is a good habit to get into.  But I do buy salted butter at Thanksgiving and usually have a block of it in my freezer.  If you are eating butter on a hot roll or directly on a pile of mashed potatoes (as I do-gravy less), then I like the flavor better.  I grew up adding a pat of butter to my bowl of malt-o-meal and was very disappointed when the taste wasn’t the same when I made it when I got older.  Aha!  Salted butter!  *sigh*  So good on food, so bad for your blood pressure.

For the record, I am NOT one of those people who love butter so much they could eat it with a spoon.  You have to draw the line somewhere, and mine is when there is more butter than food.  Once, when I was a little girl, I was sitting down to dinner with my family and my Grandmother was visiting.  When I liberally buttered a warm and crusty slice of my Mom’s homemade bread, she calmly took it away from me and re-buttered it.  When she was done, I couldn’t even taste the bread, it was slathered on so thick.  She smiled at me, winked and buttered hers the same way.  Now, I loved my Grandmother dearly, but a heart attack at 10 was not my goal.  I nearly gagged.

The first time I ever made these potatoes I was serving about 500 people.  I was 16 years old and working at the MN State Fair 4-H Building Cafeteria.  I have no idea if Molly and Dede, the women in charge and dear friends of mine, created this dish or if it existed even before their time, but I’m sure glad it was on the menu.  In fact, I love these potatoes so much, they were served at my wedding.  Nowadays, I make them on a much smaller scale, but the recipe hasn’t really changed.  And just like you can’t substitute skim milk if you are making alfredo, bite the bullet and add more butter to these potatoes.  And who knows?  Maybe they will help you live to be a hundred.

You may be curious about the title of this recipe, but its kind of a long story.  Suffice to say, there was a good lookin’ man, and he loved these potatoes.  Huh!  I guess it wasn’t that long of a story after all.These Oven Roasted Potatoes are a classic and simple side dish! Onions, garlic, and lots of butter! {Brittany's Pantry}Good Lookin’ Man Potatoes
Exact measurements do not matter.  Just throw the ingredients together and you have a winner.  These potatoes go great with everything.  It is one of those dishes that you can fall back on and use over and over.  Everyone will like them and the leftovers are fantastic fried for breakfast the next day.

Potatoes, peeled and cubed into bite sized pieces
Onions, sliced
Garlic, minced (fresh or jarred)
Dried Parsley
Salt and Pepper

Layer the potatoes and onions in a shallow casserole.  I like to use one, med sized onion for a large casserole dish, but adjust based on your taste.  Sprinkle garlic over the top-be generous!  Shake some dried parsley on and the salt and pepper.  You can melt butter and pour it over the top or just cut up a stick into little pats and let it melt as it bakes.  For a large casserole, I recommend a whole stick of butter, but you be the judge.  Make a little or alot, just adjust the quantity.  If you are grilling, put the whole thing in a disposable tinfoil pan, cover with foil and place directly on the grill.  Or, cover with foil and roast in the oven at 375 for a half an hour to 45 minutes, or until potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork. Cooking time will vary based on the size you cut your potatoes.

Stuffed Shells

Stuffed Shells are great to mix up and freeze! Brittany's PantrySeconds, please!!  That is what your family will be saying after they eat this pasta.  Its hot, easy, and perfect for company.  Baked pasta filled with cheese.  Is there anything better?  The great thing too is that you can change it to however you happen to like your italian food.  I vary this recipe quite often so experiment!  And any of you who think that this recipe sounds like alot of work, don’t fret.  It comes together really easy.  I am not a huge lover of ricotta cheese, so I like the fact that this gives you that salty, creamy, satisfying bite (just like lasagna) that is so comforting, but without the graininess.  This recipe is a regular at my house.  Originally, the idea came from a recipe my friend had, but I have changed it so much, its all my own!  That is the best way to create in your kitchen.  A nudge in the right direction and a little necessity, and you end up with a hit.  Add a Caesar salad and some garlic bread and you have a classic italian dinner.  If you want to change it up, roasted zucchini is fantastic with this.  Toss cubed zucchini and/or summer squash in a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and some italian seasoning and roast at 450 till a bit brown and soft.  Don’t let it get mushy.  If you don’t have room in the oven because of the pasta, use the same ingredients and saute the veggies on the stove just before dinner time.

One of the things I like the best about this recipe is that it makes a huge amount, but freezes well.  If I am not serving this for company, I either halve the recipe (which is very easy to do with this one) or make two smaller pans instead of one big one, and put the second one, assembled but unbaked, in the freezer.  Wrap it well in plastic wrap and then foil and the pan should keep just fine for a few months.  If I am really thinking ahead, I make the second pan in a 9X9 aluminum disposable and then I don’t have to sacrifice one of my glass baking dishes.  This meal would be great to bring to a neighbor or new mommy.  Leftovers are awesome!
Stuffed Shells are great to mix up and freeze! Brittany's PantryStuffed Shells

1 box Jumbo Shells

2- 8 oz pkgs cream cheese, room temp
3 c shredded mozzarella
3/4 c grated Parmesan
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 T chopped fresh chives
2 jars marinara sauce
1/2 lb italian sausage, browned, crumbled and drained
Parmesan and mozzarella cheese

Cook pasta shells until they are still just a bit chewy.  You want to do this because they will cook more as they bake in the oven and your don’t want mushy pasta!  Drain and rinse shells.  Set aside.  While pasta is cooking, mix together all filling ingredients.  Spray a large, 9X13 glass baking dish with cooking spray.  Pour 1/2 jar of marinara into dish.  If you like your pasta really saucy, use a whole jar.  Fill each shell with about 1 T of filling and place upright in the pan.  When all the shells are filled, layer the italian sausage over the top and pour remaining jar of marinara evenly over the shells.  *Pasta can be frozen at this point.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until hot and bubbly in the center.  Sprinkle the top with more Parmesan and mozzarella cheese, letting it melt and brown slightly during the last 10 minutes of baking.  Let the pasta cool 15 minutes before serving.

Hint:  Feel free to omit the sausage for a vegetarian version.  Or you could add the sausage to the pasta sauce instead of the filling!