Last fall at my husband's grandmother's 100th birthday party in Minneapolis was when I first heard of "hotdish." The word, spoken with a slight Minnesotan lilt, seemed so much more nostalgic than "casserole," which is in essence what a hotdish is. Apparently hotdish has been the answer to what's for dinner in Minnesota, as well as the Dakotas, Wisconsin and parts of Iowa, since at least the 1800s.

To be proper, the dish should include meat of some sort, a starch (potatoes, rice or noodles are common), a bit of vegetable (frozen or canned, preferably, for ease) and a binder, which is typically a creamy soup, such as cream of mushroom.

One of my husband's relatives, Eric, told me his hotdish of choice is Tater Tot hotdish-ground beef with cream of mushroom soup, perhaps some frozen green beans or peas and then a layer of Tater Tots on top. Seriously?????! I was drooling! I was sure this sort of dish was the perfect candidate for an EatingWell makeover-we would make it with fewer calories, less saturated fat and processed ingredients, but still with plenty of ooey-gooey comfort factor.

When I did get back to Vermont, the weather had turned chilly and I headed to the store to pick up the frozen Tots, canned soup and a bag of frozen French-cut green beans.

For my first taste of hotdish, I thought it was only right to go with an original. The results were heavenly...Americana on a plate. I wanted to try another classic, wild rice and chicken casserole, but I skipped the canned soup and made up a quick light, creamy sauce instead. That opened the floodgates. I realized rules were made to be broken and if I wanted to lighten the casseroles, use fresh vegetables, skip potato chip toppings or never use canned soup, that was just fine. It was hard to go wrong and, frankly, I was hooked on hotdish. The recipes I put together can be made ahead and taken along, and many can be popped in the freezer and reheated later.

And most of all, they taste like rich, satisfying comfort in a casserole dish. Perhaps next time I see the relatives in Minnesota, we'll share a hotdish together.

Here's an original EatingWell test kitchen recipe, inspired by the classic Minnesota Tater Tot hotdish, to get you hooked on hotdish: Broccoli, Beef & Potato Hotdish (pictured)