Rags to Riches; or There and Back Again

Last week we found ourselves in possession of a pound of hamburger. It was such an odd occurance and I didn't know what to make of it. I also forgot about it. So I was a little surprised when Nick asked me if we still had it. That was during the shopping trip where he asked me if I could use up a whole bag of potatoes before they went bad. I smile because (as my mom can attest) I've always been able to eat a lot of potatoes.

On Thursday I put a bunch of potatoes in the oven to bake (I like to just have them around for various things) and decided that I'd make some chili, since I had the hamburger. I then realized that I'd been making chili a lot lately and I wanted something a little less heartburn inducing. I cast around for ideas of where to use the meat. The first thing that came to my mind was what my mom calls "Hamburger Pie." (I'm going to make that the next time we have hamburger, so I won't tell you how it's made yet.)

My mom grew up in Minnesota, and I was also born there. (I spent my first five years there and some part of me considers that to be home, so when I joke about Minnesota in any way it's with fondness.) The folk in the Frozen North just cannot cook the same way that the Southerners can. There is something about spices and taste--even a proper amount of salt--that northern people just can't quite match.

Minnesota and the surrounding areas were settled by the Swedes and Germans because it has the same climate and agricultural conditions as their home. Not that Swedish and German food is bad--ok, Lutefisk is, but otherwise--I really like some of their foods. But there are certain foods and spices that cannot grow in that climate. So of course the food up there traditionally just has little flavor.

One of Minnesota's culinary accomplishments has been perfecting the casserole. They've developed so many variations that those who are dirt poor can eat it while the millionaire neighbors also have it. It starts with the ever popular can of cream of mushroom soup. You just mix that with whatever else you happen to have that day and bake at 350 for an hour. Generally the large part is startch, potatoes or rice if you have it. I've grown up on this, which they affectionately call "Minnesota Hot-Dish."

The funny thing is that about three months or so before I stopped working at the restarunt we started serving it there. It had meat and vegetables mixed in some sort of creamed base, topped with potatoes and cheese, and baked. We served it in individual dishes, and we called it "Shepherd's Pie." Of course, at out restarunt we used, I forget--ground lamb? We took one of the simplest and poorest dishes and turned it into a high class dinner.

That can be done with almost anything, if you have the means. All of the recipes we post here have that kind of potential (and when we're rich and famous we'll probably still be making all the same stuff, just a better quality.) This Thursday was not a day to try those possiblities. And I made a Shepherd's Pie using only five ingredients (if you don't count the spices).

Happy Cooking!


Shepherd's Pie
1lb hamburger
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 onion chopped
1 frozen or canned vegetables
7-8 potatoes mashed
shredded or sliced cheese
spices (if you have them [I used paprika, garlic and sage])

Fry the hamburger and drain the grease off. Add the vegetables (drained) and the cream of mushroom soup (I also added half a can of milk). Mix well and season with the salt&pepper and spices. Pour into a casserole dish. Spoon the mashed potatoes on top. Top with cheese and bake until the cheese is your desired shade of brown and bubbly.


  1. Ubetcha! Nothing like a Minnesota hot dish to warm the heart. Now, what you ought to look up is how to make lefsa. It's something you can do with all those left over spuds.


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