Southwest Sweet Potato Tater Tot Hotdish

How to love yourself in November: put sautéed garlic, poblanos, mushrooms, peppers, black beans, and corn in a skillet with a cheesy queso-fundido base and top with a layer of sweet potato tater tots. Me, blanket, sweatpants, this skillet.

It’s called a Southwest Sweet Potato Tater Tot Hotdish.

Oh, yes. You heard me correctly.

This is everything we love about Tex-Mex food meeting up with our meatless goals and taking the shape and form of a beloved comfort food of Minnesota winter: the tater tot hotdish. But made new.

I grew up eating the occasional non-ironic tater tot hotdish (#proud), so I feel justified to give you the 411 on this staple midwestern casserole: tater tot hotdish usually has a ground beef and veggie mixture, made with some gravy (and by gravy I mean likely a can of condensed soup) and is topped with tater tots and ketchup. I know I know I KNOW, but for surely you need ketchup if you want to eat your tater tot hotdish like a true midwesterner.

Tater tot hotdish is one of those foods that actually so strange and borderline gross that somewhere along the way it becomes, in fact, really really good. I do not know how this works, but I embrace it.

Today, though? Tots be getting a modern makeover.

We’re swapping the ground beef for meaty portabella mushrooms, and trading peas and carrots for the spicy crunch of poblanos and bell peppers and corn. The gravy is getting replaced by a pepperjacky-queso-esque situation that is every bit as magical as you might image, and those sweet potato tots? YASSSS. Just the right amount of salty-sweetness to offset the heat.

Important things to consider: Will you swish Tabasco over the top? Sprinkle with more cheese? Decorate with colorful herbs and fresh jalapeños? These things that are up to you, my friend.

One of the keys to this recipe is the cast iron pan, which is why we use (and love) Lodge cast iron for all our heavy-duty, stovetop-to-oven recipes.

I’ve had a love affair with the enameled Dutch oven for as long as I can remember (um, how about that one time I wrote a post called 10 EASY RECIPES YOU CAN MAKE IN A DUTCH OVEN). Now might be a good time to mention that these make EXCELLENT Christmas gifts for the foodies in your life. One in every color? I’m not opposed.

It also is worth mentioning that the true cast iron star here is the standard 10.25-inch cast iron skillet – we got this as a wedding gift seven years ago, and while it took me an embarrassingly long time to get over my fears of cast iron usage and maintenance (which were all just completely in my head), now that I’ve found my stride with it, I am totally hooked. For people who are trying to clean-and-green their home life a little bit, this is an amazing natural alternative to nonstick. Plus, like the Dutch oven, it’s versatile enough to go in the oven. Boom! No more worrying about plastic pan handles melting off.

I have two rules for cleaning my beloved cast iron skillet:

Rinse and dry.
(If you’re ambitious) Rub with an oil-soaked paper towel.
The end. Nothing fancy. Natural nonstick and affordable high quality cookware is WITHIN REACH for the normals!

Baked Mac and Cheese

Hi, friends!

Today is part two of the Feeding a Broken Heart series that we are sharing in honor of our son Afton and the many people (both online and off) who have loved us so well through the experience of his birth and passing.

(Which, as a side note, it has been so fun to watch you participate in. Your stories of sharing food with others who are hurting have been inspiring and encouraging and just incredibly feel-good-on-the-internet kinds of stuff. I am very, very thankful that it is my literal job to take a front row seat to your awesomeness. Whether you’ve mailed cookies to a friend, made potato soup for your mom, or found something in our recipe archives to make in honor of our sweet baby Afton… all of it is just next level kindness. You do my heart good, and you do others’ hearts good too, which is why we put some of your stories on this page.)

Yes, those are buttery homemade breadcrumbs on top and YOU ARE WELCOME.

This baked mac and cheese is heavy on the cheesy insides, crunchy outsides, and OMG vibes. It is light on redeeming health value. Don’t worry about it. It is possibly the most emotionally healing thing that you could ever feed your heartsick self. It’s BAKED MAC AND CHEESE, for crying out loud.

If this baked mac and cheese happens to be fed to you by a friend who invites you over when you are sad beyond sadness, then your life is not so bad after all, is it, now? And that is exactly how this came into my life: around a generous table, with a fancy salad and some really good garlic bread, and kind, gentle friends who asked us about Afton and laughed with us and cried a little and all-around just took good care of us.

Life was still bad, but it was a little less bad in that moment. And for people who are hurting, “a little less bad” can be a really big deal.

I mean. Guys.

Just gaze upon the cheesy beauty that is.

As I mentioned, my friend Stephanie made this recipe for us from cookbook The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science (affiliate link). It was everything wonderful that a baked mac and cheese should be – not overwhelmingly gooey, just the right balance of inner cheesiness with crispy baked-up edges and a crunchy top. She served it to us with garlic bread (carbs on carbs like whaaa) and a beautiful green salad that, I think, also came from that cookbook.

It was comforting on every level and we felt loved.

Your turn! Who needs a pan of baked mac and cheese in their life? I have full faith in you to deliver.

Blackout Chocolate Cake

Oh, friends. Wow wow wow.

Chocolate cake on the loooooose!

This weekend I was gifted with a super-fun birthday surprise: Bjork whisked me away to Austin for a weekend of TACOS! And other things. But honestly, mostly tacos.

We packed in about twenty minutes – and by packed, I mean we ripped into my box of summer clothes that was still sealed up tight in the basement, washed, unwashed, wrinkled, ill-fitting, out-of-date, you know how it is, and tossed everything into a bag. And one 15-minute Lyft ride later, we were checked in at the airport, preparing to hop a flight to Texas.

This has been a hard season of life for us, and this birthday is a strange one for me. Okay, strange is a total euphemism. It’s sad. It’s lonely. It’s hard to feel like Happy Birthday when the birthday slash entire life I imagined was supposed to be so different.

But it’s still a birthday, and even sad birthdays still deserve cake.

As the only one in our house who bakes, I am usually the maker of my own birthday cake. And this year, I went ALL OUT. I showed my birthday who was boss.

No store boughts, no box mixes, not this year. I went with real, amazing, homemade Blackout Chocolate Cake, emphasis on the blackout. I’m coping, okay? I’m coping.

We’re talking about life-changing cake, with whole milk yogurt for moisture and espresso powder for depth, cream cheese chocolate frosting (CHALLENGE ME, I DARE YOU) for the layers, and a chocolate chip exterior that gets pressed into the frosted cake by way of a little regular-people-make-fancy-cakes hack involving cardboard. No, I’m serious. CARDBOARD. We take our cake-ing very seriously, aka not very seriously at all.