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Cookbook author and Food Network's "Girl Meets Farm" star Molly Yeh shares her version of the classic Midwestern meal called hotdish (typically ground beef, a starch—she uses Tater Tots—frozen green beans or peas and gravy or creamed soup baked in a casserole dish). Her husband, Nick, is a BIG fan!
"As a Tater Tot enthusiast with an endless desire to tinker, I will be experimenting with the hotdish equation until the cows come home. I will switch up the seasonings, sneak in vegetarian proteins, add 'trendy' vegetables, and, yeah, I'll eventually try to gracefully sprinkle in everything bagel seasoning... but no new spin on a hotdish will ever come as close to giving Nick that new-Star-Wars-movie excitement as the classic: beef, creamed soup, flaccid veggies, tots. There's a reason it's a classic, and that it's as comforting as cuddles from a big furry puppy. It doesn't need anything fancy, no specialty this or that; even adding parsley at the end sometimes feels wrong (but, hey, we are living in the Instagram age, so do it if you want). All it needs is love and good tot arrangement. My version forgoes store-bought creamed soup for a velvety smooth sauce you make yourself, ideally with dreamy homemade stock as the base (but store-bought is great, too). I've added just a couple of tiny extra sparks—some beer for acidity and nutmeg for warmth—but nothing to take away from the nostalgia of it all. Consider this its no-makeup makeup look. While we don't typically add cheese, many families around here do, either under the tots or on top. Frozen French fries can be subbed for tots, and ground turkey or that new meatless meat can be subbed for beef. I get my personal freak on by covering my whole bowl with ketchup, which both cools it down so I can eat it faster without burning my mouth and adds bright acidity." —Molly
Arrange a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 450°F.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ground beef and season it with 1 teaspoon salt. Brown the beef, breaking it up with a wooden spoon or spatula. Stir in the green beans and cook for a few minutes, until thawed. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the mixture to a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish and spread it out evenly. Set aside while you make the creamed soup.
Discard the juices that remain in the skillet, wipe it out, and return to medium heat. Melt the butter and whisk in the flour to make a paste. Cook, whisking, for 2 minutes. Whisk in the pale ale, then add the chicken stock very gradually, in 3 or 4 additions, whisking continuously and allowing the mixture to thicken before each addition. Whisk in the heavy cream, a bunch of turns of black pepper, the thyme, and the nutmeg. Increase the heat and continue whisking frequently until it just begins to simmer, then reduce the heat to low and simmer very gently for 5 minutes, whisking occasionally. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired. Pour or ladle the mixture all over the ground beef and fold together to incorporate. Top with perfectly aligned rows and columns of Tater Tots (adding a layer of cheese under or over the tots, if desired) and season with salt and pepper.
Bake until the tots are golden brown and crispy on top; begin checking for doneness at 35 minutes (or a few minutes earlier if you have cheese on top). If you want to get the tots even crispier, finish with a few minutes under the broiler. Let cool slightly, top with parsley, and/or serve with ketchup, if desired.
TO MAKE AHEAD: Complete the steps up through topping with tots (and cheese, if using), assembling in a 9 x 13-inch metal casserole dish. Let cool, wrap in plastic or foil, and refrigerate or freeze until ready to cook. It'll last 2 days in the refrigerator and 3 months in the freezer. If reheating from the fridge, proceed as directed, but add on a few more minutes in the oven to ensure that it's heated through. To reheat from frozen, cover loosely with foil and bake at 350°F for an hour, then uncover, increase the heat to 450°F, and bake until the tots are golden brown and the innards are heated through; begin checking for doneness at 20 minutes. Let cool slightly, top with parsley, and/or serve with ketchup, if desired.
Excerpted from Home Is Where the Eggs Are by Molly Yeh. Copyright © 2022 by Molly Yeh. Used with permission by William Morrow. All rights reserved.