Before reading Amy Thielen's recently released cookbook, The New Midwestern Table, the one Midwestern dish I had heard of was the hotdish. Perhaps this is cheating, since a hotdish is simply a casserole with a cute name, but I'll take it as a sign that at least my culinary vocabulary is regionally diverse. Thielen's chicken and wild rice hotdish is a fairly simple dish, elevated above the canned soup variety with a homemade mornay sauce filled with cream and aged cheese. Earthy wild rice is a welcome companion to the rich sauce, adding texture and color to the casserole. But it isn't completely scratch-made—Thielen tops the dish with a generous coating of crisp Ritz cracker crumbles.
Why I picked this recipe: Is anything more comforting and soul warming than a hot, bubbling chicken and rice casserole? I think not.
What worked: Everything from the sauce seasonings to the cracker topping was spot on.
What didn't: No problems here.
Suggested tweaks: As written, the hotdish is fairly simple. Sautéd mushrooms would be a great addition, as would diced carrots or baby peas. You could make this vegetarian by swapping out all of the chicken for mushrooms.
About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American, KQED's Bay Area Bites, and Berkeleyside NOSH. Follow her @KateHWiliams.