Minnesotans, break out your Lutheran cookbooks
July 19, 2019 6:23 PM   Subscribe

I grew up in a super meat and potatoes (and mayonnaise and cool whip...) Minnesota food culture. Help me brainstorm my super horrible Minnesota food fest.

Mrs Molerats is a bit aghast at some of my childhood favorites, and she'll be away for a few days soon, so I'm planning a bacchanalia of bland Upper Midwest delicacies. Minnesotans, sound off on your favorite potluck and church supper dishes!

My possible plans so far:
cold tuna pasta salad (mayonnaise and peas, of course)
"taco salad" Minnesota style (in my family, this was ground beef, doritos, both french and ranch dressing... yeah you get it.)
Strawberry pretzel jell-o salad
crock-pot meatballs (bbq, or the kind with the hot sauce + grape jelly)
posted by nakedmolerats to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I apologize in advance if this is off base (I don't know Minnesota) but a relative who comes from another area of the American midwest told me of enjoying a molded dish of lime jello with vienna weenies in it. Same family enjoys three bean salad, the "juicier" the better. Either of those on point?

You know what I like from that part of the world: funeral potatoes. Do they do that as far north as Minnesota?
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:35 PM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Tater Tot Hot Dish / Tater Tot casserole- seasonally questionable, and always delicious

Loose Meats - a less Sloppy "Sloppy Joe", maybe this is just an Iowa thing.

Desserts my childhood palate heartily reccommends, and now I want to revisit as an adult:

Watergate Salad - pistachio pudding, Cool Whip, pineapple, marshmallows, nuts optional.

Cream Puff Pan Dessert - found at every potluck I've been to in the Upper Midwest, and haven't encountered it elsewhere.
posted by Guess What at 6:39 PM on July 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

You need Snickers salad! And broccoli salad!
posted by advicepig at 6:43 PM on July 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Oh my god snickers salad. The one I sampled had bananas, cool whip, granny smith apples and snicker bars, but it looks like many of the recipes online include pudding.

One of the vilest concoctions I've seen at a midwestern potluck was some form of carrot raisin salad.

Sandwiches with ham and miracle whip on squishy white buns aka dinner rolls.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 6:44 PM on July 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

"taco salad" Minnesota style

I had completely repressed this memory, thanks!

posted by praemunire at 6:53 PM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Frito pie?
posted by raccoon409 at 6:59 PM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'd say cheez whiz on celery sticks (ants on a log?). Not sure if it's Minnesota enough though!
posted by bluebelle at 7:05 PM on July 19, 2019

Eight can casserole if you’ll accept other parts of the Midwest. I think it originated in Iowa. I made it once and couldn’t stop laughing because it seemed so ridiculous.

And for next time, you really need the book Square Meals, which has an entire chapter on Jello.

In fact, I’ll throw in my mom’s Jello creation. Buy at least four colors of Jello and make separately. Cut into small squares and mix it all with canned whipped cream. As a child, I loved this.
posted by FencingGal at 7:06 PM on July 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

How dare you ask this question while I'm "up north" and away from my cookbooks!

As a kid who was raised in a Lutheran Church basement, I will advocate for scalloped potatoes and bland Swedish meatballs; tuna noodle hotdish (with "Lutheran Binder", AKA Cream of Mushroom soup), cold pasta salad with Kraft singles carefully cut into 1/4" squares. If you want to go truly nuts you can bust out the Lutefisk.

Most important, make sure nobody eats the last piece/bite of anything. Keep halving the last piece if you have to but there has to be one bite left to appease the Minnesota Gods.

Serve really bad decaf coffee.
posted by Gray Duck at 7:07 PM on July 19, 2019 [23 favorites]

Best answer: Tortilla pinwheels. Everyone officially disdains them, but there are never any left.

Swedish meatballs in a crockpot - you can get them from Ikea

My college, which was matchlessly midwestern, used to serve these utterly delicious things that were a bit like strawberry cheesecake dream bars except cherry and incorporating nuts. But anyway, bars. Bars with fruit and jello layer and a jello-coolwhip mixed layer and a cool whip with nuts layer. I wish I had some of those bars right now.

Cocktail franks in a crockpot are also popular.

Cream cheese with hot pepper jelly on top, served with crackers. (Another one that everyone affects to despise but eats in vast quantities.)

I personally love midwestern "bad" food because I grew up eating classy food that had Ambitions and so store-bought cakes and weird things with sour cream have a forbidden allure.

What about making mini tuna casseroles?
posted by Frowner at 7:08 PM on July 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

Scalloped potatoes seconded!!!If you use nice ingredients, everyone will eat vast amounts.
posted by Frowner at 7:09 PM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm from Wisconsin, do y'all have ramen noodle coleslaw in Minnesota? I use that recipe, but add shredded carrots. (And for the record, even my foodie, eats no processed food ever friend likes it!)
posted by Weeping_angel at 7:43 PM on July 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Great answers so far!! To clarify, I'm just making a food-fest for one while Mrs Molerats is gone... so I won't be able to make all these! But I love the compendium!

(Mrs Molerats is, by the way, making horrified/disgusted noises as she reads these. Hi sweetie!)
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:49 PM on July 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

(speaking as Mrs Molerats, reading this thread is giving me indigestion in my eyeballs - I am very glad I'll be out of town for this. You monsters)
posted by DingoMutt at 7:55 PM on July 19, 2019 [38 favorites]

Another Wisconsinite chiming in. My grandma would ALWAYS bring Western Mac to every. single. potluck. Make sure you overboil the noodles and ONLY use Piggly Wiggly generics for authenticity.

Also Creamy Lime Jello Mold, which was only busted out for the fanciest of dinner parties.
posted by Syllables at 7:55 PM on July 19, 2019

buy some lefse if you can
glorified rice
Divinity! the whitest of fudges
Church Basement coffee
Lime jello with shredded carrots in it
Norwegian kringle, not the flavorsome danish kind
Ham salad — to go on the puffy white rolls
pickled herring for the elderly menfolk who’ve smoked pipes all their lives, and their black licorice

to NOT horrify folks you could have rice krispie bars or special k bars

I once read a church cookbook with a spice cookie recipe starting “take your leftover chicken fat” but honestly those sounded really good
posted by Hypatia at 8:27 PM on July 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Grain Belt Beer and Old Dutch potato chips! And how about some SPAM?
posted by acridrabbit at 9:12 PM on July 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Former Michigander here, but a lot of these recipes are bringing back memories of foods experienced in my youth so I'll throw in a few...

- Vegetable Pizza. The cold kind, made with crescent roll dough, a cream cheese/ranch spread, and raw chopped vegetables.
- a dubious nameless appetizer made of white bread, cream of mushroom soup, Worcestershire sauce, and butter. Apparently one mixes the soup and sauce together, spreads it on bread, rolls it up and then bakes it with butter drizzled on top until toasted.
- Corned beef hash rolls - a tantalizing filling including corned beef hash, onion soup mix and probably mayo is spread in the middle of a pack of white rolls and baked in the oven until hot.
- La La salad. Blanched broccoli, grapes, green onions, almonds, and bacon soaked in a sweet creamy coleslaw-ish dressing, preferably overnight. Horrifying but strangely addictive. Similar to the broccoli salad listed above but juicier.
- Pierogis. Gotta have pierogis. Preferably handmade by someone's grandmother.
- A Jell-o concoction known in my family as "Shrimp Mold." Combine tomato soup, cream cheese, lemon Jell-o, small shrimp, green peppers, onions, celery, and some spices. Put into a mold. Chill. Flip it over and serve as a centerpiece with crackers. If you need a visual, it's somewhere between brain and Peptol Bismol pink, studded with green vegetable bits and shrimp. Surprisingly edible once you get past the appearance.

I'll stop there, but I have inherited two entire cookbooks of this stuff, where ketchup is described as "spicy" and the addition of a half teaspoon of soy sauce makes food "exotic," in case you need more ideas.
posted by daikaisho at 10:25 PM on July 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

Cookie Salad. When I read about this recently I thought it was a joke but asked a Minnesotan friend about it and she just said "Oh yeah, cookie salad, for sure." Every family has their own variation but always with Keebler fudge striped cookies.
posted by lois1950 at 11:00 PM on July 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

Since you've already got a Jell-O salad, let me suggest broccoli rice casserole. Nothing like that jar o' Cheez Whiz to say Authenticity.
posted by Lady Li at 12:27 AM on July 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Tuna casserole! But we were poor and had canned mackerel instead. A can of fish, a can of mushroom soup, canned green beans, crumpled potato chips on top. Bake. From further down the Mississippi but I think it fits the theme.

Or ambrosia - canned pineapple, maraschino cherries, little marshmallows, shredded sweetened coconut from a bag, canned mandarin oranges.
posted by mgrrl at 12:49 AM on July 20, 2019

The casserole I grew up on and still love: make Mac&cheese, but add a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's condensed tomato soup to the cheese powder instead. Add some frozen peas, heat up, enjoy.
posted by lorimt at 3:38 AM on July 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Spread margarine (call it "oleo") on lefse, sprinkle it with white sugar, and roll it up. Slice into pinwheels...or just eat the tubes all at once.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:36 AM on July 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

Can of Hormel chili dumped into the pot of Kraft Mac & Cheese.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:38 AM on July 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm loving this. I grew up Lutheran in the SF Bay Area. We had potlucks like this -- tuna casserole, carrot and raisin salad, tapioca pudding, jello with canned fruit in it salad, etc... Sometimes there was a bucket of KFC (original only -- this was before the days of extra crispy). That always went first :). We also had lutefisk dinners once a year -- held outside so as not to stink up the church for the rest of the year. My parents drew the line at that.

Growing up in the SF Bay Area and never traveling further east than Montana for my mom's high school reunion, I had no idea that Norwegians were "ethnic" until in my early 20s, I had the opportunity to visit a small town in eastern North Dakota. There were Lutheran churches and Sons of Norway buildings, everyone was blond and blue-eyed, and they all talked like my Grandpa. The kicker was finding fresh lefse in the supermarket instead of fresh tortillas. I had found my people.
posted by elmay at 8:06 AM on July 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I spent high school in Minnesota!

I vote:
- Chicken and wild rice soup with a shit-ton of butter. It’s possible the soup base is butter.
- dIY donut holes made my boiling oil in a can and dropping sweet batter drops in, and then rolling the hot cooked batter in a dish of cinnamon and sugar, for a sugar/fat/carb bomb
- tater tot hot dish
- noodle hot dish
- canned green beans casserole topped with fried onions from a can
- white bread dinner rolls and butter
posted by samthemander at 8:25 AM on July 20, 2019

A trick for many of the savory "Minnesotan dishes": they are much better if you add a healthy amount of chili garlic paste (available in Asian markets, though it can be surprisingly hard to find--I buy a half dozen when I see it). This applies to macaroni and cheese, tater tot hotdish, sloppy Joes, crock-pot meatballs--pretty much anything that doesn't have tuna in it.

Tune the amount of chili garlic paste to the age of the expected consumers, though even little kids will deal with a fair amount, because who doesn't like garlic?

To address the main question, one dish I recall fondly even as an adult is "pizza casserole," which is basically noodles, sausage (or canonically, ground beef), cheese, pepperoni, and canned pizza sauce. Here's a recipe, to give the idea, though it doesn't look like I remember. It, of course, would be better with a bunch of chili garlic paste.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 8:47 AM on July 20, 2019

Orange jello, cottage cheese, mandarin oranges. It's creamsicle-ish. You can use yogurt, but the cottage cheese give sit that Midwest texture.

Make lime jello, add tequila and a couple mandarin oranges.
posted by theora55 at 9:28 AM on July 20, 2019

Don't make BBQ or hot sauce meatballs, make this Swedish meatball recipe instead!

It's essentially the old Byerly's recipe that my mom follows, though we like to use a little more nutmeg and allspice than what's called for. If you Google the current Lunds/Byerlys recipe it's very different from this one.

These meatballs demand to be served with lingonberry jam. You live in Minnesota... there's no excuse for resorting to grape jelly.
posted by theory at 12:07 AM on July 21, 2019

Funeral potatoes (aka church potatoes)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:56 AM on July 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

dinner roll with butter and the cheapest shaved ham you can get your hands on.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:33 AM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

My favorite Northern Minnesota Lutheran hotdish was white hotdish: egg noodles, cream of mushroom soup, and ground beef. Mmmm. Tastes like home.
posted by jillithd at 7:52 AM on July 22, 2019

Husband grew up there and here are his favorites:

--ground beef browned up mixed with a can of cream of mushroom, peas and carrots, and macaroni and cheese

--pork chops baked with a can of cream of mushroom poured over, and that it.

--hot turkey (or chicken) sandwiches: throw a turkey breast or chicken into a crockpot with a jar of turkey or chicken gravy. shred meat when tender and serve on rolls. (This one was actually pretty good)
posted by BlueBear at 11:46 AM on July 22, 2019

Oh my god, Ina made that carrot-raisin-mayo “salad” on Barefoot Contessa one time and kept saying “isn’t this kinda fun and old-fashioned?!” and that’s when I knew she was an amazing actress.
posted by Zephyrial at 6:12 PM on July 22, 2019

Carrot raisin salad is "vile?" We're fighting now.

Another hot dish variation: "rice hot dish." Rice + cream of mushroom soup + ground beef, topped with cheap chow mein noodles and baked til warmed through. Add wild rice for a fancier version.

Booyah, in some circles - basically a bigass stew.

Fried walleye.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:17 AM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

BOOYAH, yesssssss.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:11 AM on July 26, 2019

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