[Photograph: Jennifer May]

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.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of The New Midwestern Table to give away this week.

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.


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