Forward to next post: On the Making of a Cardboard Box Oven
As served at Viable Paradise XIII.
A certain individual of note asked me to post the strategy for this dish someplace where people could find it, so here it is.
Chili-Dog Casserole is a horrific conflation of lasagna, Frito pie, and chili dogs. I always play it by ear, so I’ll describe how I made the last batch. This is just an example. Warp it to your will.
This was made for a dinner at the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop. My inspiration was the term ‘craptastic.’ As soon as it was explained to me, I said, “Oh, you mean like chili-dog casserole.” After serving this, I was startled to see Hugo winners on their knees in worship before it (I am not joking; I could name names but shall refrain); your results may vary.
1 bag of Ranch-flavored Doritos
1 package of Nathan’s Famous hot dogs
4 cans of Hormel chili (I prefer Dennison’s, which wasn’t there. I am dying of curiosity regarding Wolf chili, which I suspect may be superior.)
Innumerable fistfuls of pre-shredded orange cheddar cheese
Slices of pepper Havarti
Slices of extra-sharp New York white cheddar
Vlasic pickled nacho rings
About a quarter-cup of French’s yellow mustard
Wash your paws.
Slice the hot dogs the way you would for beanie weenies; maybe 3/8ths of an inch thick. Put them in a bowl, squeeze a big goober of yellow mustard over the hot dog slices and toss.
Go mooch the shredded orange cheddar from Mac’s freezer and swipe a couple of aluminum baking pans. Run downstairs and ask Mac whether you should be using it up or saving some. (The answer in this case was use it up.)
Slice the Havarti and white cheddar into irregular broken pieces until you’re sick of dealing with the unpleasant combination of a cheap serrated knife and a pebbled glass cutting board.
Realize the time is getting late, wash your paws, and start preheating the oven to 325, since those aluminum pans are thin and will probably burn at the preferred temperature of 350.
Get a spoon to handle the hot dogs. Open the nacho rings and set a fork in them for later use.
Spread a fistful (which in my case would be like a cup, cup and a half) of the shredded cheddar over the bottom of the pan. Top with one-quarter of the hot dogs, which should be generously coated with mustard. Look at the time nervously; wish you had the option of browning the hot dog slices in a sauté pan before marinating them in the mustard. That trick really ups the flavor and these people deserve it. They ain’t getting it, though.
At this point, Mac will loan you an oven thermometer and warn you that the ovens are very unpredictable. Silently curse the electric stove. Hang thermometer from a rack in the oven.
Return to your mise. Spread a few nacho rings between the hot dogs on the left-handed half of the casserole.
Open a can of chili. Spread it out over the whole pan in an even layer.
Top with the sliced cheeses, using the pepper Havarti only on the side where you’ve placed the nacho rings.
Add a layer of the shredded orange cheddar.
Go and wash your paws, then take the bag of chips and roughly crush it before opening. Spread a layer of chips over the cheese.
Check the oven. Holy smokes, Mac was right, it’s only like 275 in there. Look at the time nervously, increase temperature to a hypothetical 375.
Hope. Curse electric stoves.
Layer hot dogs, nachos, chili, sliced cheeses, shredded cheese, chips.
Wash your paws.
Check the temperature of the stove; not bad, it’s at just under 325.
Open a beer, drink half in two gulps. Cover your mouth and belch. Set the beer down next to the cutting board.
Wash your paws.
Begin to repeat the layering process, then realize you need to cut more cheese with that horrible knife and cutting board. Curse aloud.
While slicing cheese, knock beer over. It spills between the wall and the table. Set beer upright, get up to fetch a dishtowel, experience a premonition of disaster.
Grab the beer and finish it off before you spill it again, oafboy.
Fetch the dishtowel and swab the wall, table, and rug.
Wash your paws.
Slice more cheese.
Finish the third layer.
Look nervously at the time. Contemplate bourbon (Wild Turkey 101, to be specific.)
Walk across the hall and tell Mac you want to write about a superhero named Overproof.
Return to kitchen. Wash your paws. Set down a fourth and final layer with the last can of chili going on the very top, and mark the spicy side with a nacho ring. Reserve about 1 1/2-2 cups of chips for the gratin. Crush these chips finely. Reserve 1/2 in a bowl covered by a small plate and leave the rest in the bag.
Look at the baking dish. Look at the oven. It isn’t your oven, so you’d better use some aluminum foil on the rack in case there’s any leakage from the pan. Go swipe foil from the staff room. Line the rack with foil, set the pan in the oven, and go take a shower.
Return from your shower, look at the time, open the oven, and inspect the casserole. It is not bubbling around the edges, let alone the middle.
Panic. Wash your paws.
With your extra-clean finger poke a hole in the middle of the casserole and realize that it’s tepid at best. Panic some more while smearing the casserole about as you try to disguise the finger hole. Hope nobody notices it when you serve.
Take the foil out of the oven, since it blocks heat from the stupid electric element on the stupid floor of the stupid oven. Turn up the heat. Move the casserole to an upper rack, unknowingly scraping part of it onto the oven floor with a flange on the oven roof that you cannot see.
Get another beer. Get a cushion from the couch and try and use it for lumbar support as you loll in the armchair. Sip your beer while praying to deities in whom you do not believe that the casserole will be properly cooked by the time you’re supposed to serve it. Reflect on the fact every ingredient can be eaten raw. Think about eating a raw hot-dog. Shudder.
Notice the smoke coming from the oven. Open the oven, note charcoal on the floor and the stupid heating element. Crouch while grunting in pain and see the stupid flange. Go open the sliding glass door. Return to your chair and beer.
Spill beer in crotch when the fire alarm goes off. Leap to your feet and run to the fire alarm. Stare up at it, far out of your reach. Wish you could figure out how to take out the battery. Experience an abject sense of emasculation as you contemplate your inability to cope with the physical world. Take two deep breathes while wallowing in self-loathing. Remind yourself that you are a worthy and loved person.
Run screaming into the hall.
At this point, a nameless faceless voice will tell you to take out the battery. In your panic-stricken condition (optimally, your hysteria will be informed by sleeplessness, starvation, and the steady mix of booze and pain pills you’ve been pouring down your gullet for days), you try and do what the voice says.
Return to your room, stare up at the smoke alarm. Realize that nothing has changed since the last time you did this.
Run screaming into the hall, where Jim will meet you. Jim will help you open doors and windows, then he’ll grab a towel and fan it at the smoke detector, which will go silent in a minute or two.
Jim will leave after this, giving you the opportunity to reflect on what little you know of his past. Few people have as thoroughly earned their air of command; try not to be bitter. Succeed in this to a marginal degree.
Wash your paws.
Open the oven, pull out the casserole and poke it again. Obscure the second finger hole. Look at the clock. Panic. Turn up the heat.
Return to your chair and finish your beer without spilling it again. Contemplate changing your pants; give up the idea as impractical and over-elaborate.
Get up. Wash your paws.
Put a couple of fistfuls of grated cheese into the mostly-empty bag of Doritos crumbs. Shake it until crumbs and cheese are mixed.
Wash your paws. Take the casserole out of the oven. Look at it dolefully; look at the time. Poke it with your finger; it’s at least warmish. The cheese has started to melt. Curse, with an emphasis on copulatory and excretory terms. Engage in ‘nesting,’ where one profanity is split into two parts in order to allow the insertion of a second profanity.
Obscure the finger hole, then top with a handful of cheese, then the cheese and crumb mixture, and finally with the reserved crumbs. Forget to mark the half of the casserole that has the pepper Havarti and nacho rings.
Go to the staff room. Loom over Mac and plaintively bleat that it’s going to take at least a half-hour, maybe more, for the casserole to finish cooking. She will tell you not to worry. Things will be fine.
After half an hour, remove the casserole from the oven. It looks perfect until you realize that there are a lot of spice wimps around here, and that you’ve failed to mark the side of the casserole that they should eat. Decide that it sucks to be them.
Carry the casserole downstairs, then go back upstairs to fetch more food. On your return, you will find that the casserole pan has been emptied, flattened, and licked clean.
Enjoy your enhanced reputation. Wish you’d gotten a bite or two — but hey. You can make this stuff any time you want.
(Note — you can mix all the ingredients together in a bowl rather than carefully layering them. You can stick beans up your nose, too. Neither practice is recommended.)