Everyone who knows about these potatoes calls them Texas Hash Browns or something of that nature. I call them Will’s potatoes, because it was my brother, Will, who first made them for me waaaaaay back when we were in college at SMU. A girlfriend of a friend of Will’s had made them for the boys on some occasion and it made an impression. He got the recipe and passed it along to me. I made it a few times and then lost track of it. Pity.
I was leafing through a community cookbook over the new years holiday with my friend Courtney and saw a variation on the theme. All of a sudden I was overcome with the need to re-create it. Done in the traditional manner, it requires a bag of frozen hash browns and a can of the ubiquitous Cream of Chicken canned soup. Somehow, the convenience of the frozen potatoes works with me in this campy, cooking on vacation, feeding an army kind of a way. But, I still wince a little at using the “cream ofs”.
So, I made it slightly more work intensive, which is still not even remotely work intensive. The ingredients are basic. Just make sure you get the cube shaped potatoes that don’t have extra stuff in them…no peppers or added “stuff”. Look at the label and it should simply say, “potatoes.” I suppose one could use fresh potatoes and adjust the cooking time, but it would utterly destroy the nature of what this is…easy as sin.
Speaking of sin…the more cheese the better. And, I did a kid side as well as a grown up side to this casserole. On the grown up side, I added a can of chopped green chiles right on top of the potatoes but under the other toppings. It was awesome. I highly recommend the green chiles. And, many of you might recognize this as usually having crushed potato chips or corn flakes on top. You are correct. I had neither of those handy, and opted for salty Ritz crackers. You may choose whichever floats your boat.
1 bag (2 pound) frozen cubed hash browns, partially thawed
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided use: 4 for soup and 4 for topping)
4 tablespoons all purpose flour
¾ cup chicken broth
¾ cup whole milk
1 cup sour cream
1 can (7 ounces) chopped green chiles (optional)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
15 Ritz crackers
4 tablespoons butter (for topping)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9” by 13” baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
2. Place the hash browns in a large bowl and allow them to thaw a bit while you prepare the other ingredients.
3. In a small saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir with a whisk until the flour is completely incorporated into the butter. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Slowly add the chicken broth, stirring constantly to work out lumps. Allow the soup to cook for one minute to thicken. Then slowly add the milk. Stir to combine, and allow the soup to simmer and thicken for another minute. (Surprise! You just made cream of chicken soup without all of the junk that comes in a can.) Season with salt and pepper. Remove the soup from the heat. Allow it to cool for a moment.
4. Mix the sour cream into the soup. Add approximately ½ cup of the cheddar cheese to the soup and stir to combine. Pour the soup mixture into the bowl of potatoes. Mix the soup into the potatoes. Spoon the potatoes into the prepared baking dish. Spread green chiles on top of the potatoes if you decide to use them. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top of the green chiles.
5. In a small bowl, crush the crackers. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and mix it with the crackers. Distribute the crackers evenly on top of the cheese.
6. Bake for 1 hour. Tent the dish with foil halfway through the cooking time to prevent the potatoes from becoming too brown. Once out of the oven, allow to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.
The perfectly sliced serving of potatoes is from day two. Left-over alert. I ran out of sunlight and took a photo the next day after it had firmed up significantly. There wasn’t much left to work with, honestly. But do not expect it to come out of the pan quite this nicely right after taking it out of the oven. Serve it with a big spoon and don’t fuss over pretty corners.
I get a lot of the traffic on this blog from websites like Foodgawker, Tastespotting, Tasteologie and Serious Eats. To have a photo published on those sites, the food needs to look beautiful. It is called “food porn,” if you aren’t familiar with these kinds of websites. So, it is imperative that I get a “pretty” photo of the food. Some of the tastiest foods I make are ugly as a mud fence. It is a pity. And, to some, the top of a cracker covered casserole is not the pinnacle of beauty. My version of beautiful can differ dramatically from the subjective opinions of the editors of these sites. But, those are their sites and they get to publish what they want to. My credo is to publish good recipes and to let the photos fall where they may. This is also why I often have several views of the same dish. If they say no to one, I still have a few left so that I can re-submit them. Some days they like close ups. Some days they like photos from straight above. Some days I can’t make them happy to save my life (the exception to this is Photograzing on Serious Eats…they are very compassionate editors).
The “process” photos I take mean that it takes me about two to three times as long to prepare a dish as it would for you. I sometimes run out of sunlight and I will take a photo of the dish on day two, so I can have a picture of a “serving” instead of a whole dish. I show you exactly what I am cooking for my family and that means sometimes I take my most important photos with three people sitting at the dinner table asking me to hurry up and put down the camera. Most blogs (though many also do process photos) generally show several photos of only the finished product, which would be a bit less time consuming. I could spend a lot more time dealing with the aesthetics of the final photo. But, I think (and please let me know if I am mistaken) that the process photos are valuable. If I do have to take a picture on the second day and a dish, such as this one, looks a bit different from day one to day two, I will let you know so that you don’t think you have missed a step somewhere. I promise you that.
I take plenty of gorgeous photos that end up being from average recipes and I do not share those recipes, even though I could surely get the photos published on these sites based on the appearance of the food, alone. But I don’t do that, because then you wouldn’t come back. That is why I so appreciate you sharing PIE with your friends on Facebook, Twitter and on sites like Pinterest and StumbleUpon. It allows me to concentrate on the food aspect and a little bit less on the artistry of the photos. After all, this is about the food. It keeps me from having to re-buy and re-prepare and re-do meals just for the sake of photos…say, at noon, when there is no one home to eat it but me.
And, while I’m on the topic of the guts of running a blog like this, let me just say that the greatest gift you can give your local blogger is to spread the word, leave a comment now and then, and pay attention to the advertising, if you have the time. It makes a huge difference in whether a post is a dud or a joy, and in whether continuing the blog is financially feasible. Let’s just say that food blogging makes NO sense financially. (One should not quit one’s day job to do this.) So my payment is your enjoyment of the recipes and your generosity of spirit in sharing the posts.