Recipe Review

This Cheesy Potato Casserole Is the Purest Expression of My Big Pansexual Heart

published Jun 28, 2019
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Credit: Faith Durand

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. This week, our Kitchn love letter comes from Chicago-based journalist KT Hawbaker, who is sharing their recipe for cheesy hashbrown casserole in honor of Pride Month.

It’s about seven o’ clock in the morning, and my husband and I are at the quaint Oakland grocery store near his parents’ place. Bleary and airport-worn, we’re still adjusting to the two-hour time difference and the fact that, just up the hill, his father is dying. It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation at the house as we DIY hospice care; when we aren’t readjusting Dominic’s father, we are either eating or talking about eating. Uncle Fran wants to teach my sister-in-law how to make lasagna; Ann, my new honorary Jewish mother, swings by with matzo ball soup; my mother-in-law decides it’s time to make banana bread. We’re not sure what to say, so we’re all seeking a glimmer of relief through our common edible language. 

As the one Midwesterner at this family table, I decide that today is the day I make my North Star of comfort food: cheesy hash brown casserole (aka “funeral potatoes”). I don’t call them by their proper name, because, wow, morbid.

Of course, in the hills outside the Bay Area, things lean in the Alice Waters direction, so I am stuck buying bags of organic hash browns for $5.79 a pop and the only two cans of cream of chicken soup on the shelves. But this is a time for mourning and casserole, and I am an Iowan. It’s time for funeral potatoes, whatever the cost. 

In most hash brown situations, I joke and say it’s the food that best represents my sexuality — it’s stayed with me through boyfriends, girlfriends, a same-sex wedding, a queer divorce, and finally meeting the love of my life and marrying his fine Californian ass. 

In a serious situation like this, however, I think of this casserole as the purest expression of my big pansexual heart. It’s the warmest hug I can offer. I got the recipe from the mother of my first head-over-heels love. I was a teenage vegetarian at the time, so she’d make a special dish just for me, made with cream of mushroom soup instead of chicken. Long after the boyfriend and I had gone very separate ways — and I was in the middle of some other heartache — I reached out to him for the recipe, which he politely delivered. I then made it whenever I wanted to reveal my true feelings to someone: I love you as much as I love sour cream, butter, shredded cheddar, and potatoes.

When I fed it to my first girlfriend, I was queering my German Lutheran upbringing. As I made it for my husband and his family, I was offering my tenderest self, reaching for the heaviest love I had in me. Although it’s a super-mundane little bake, this concoction feels bigger than any gender or sexual identity I’ve ever possessed. Like queerness, love lies at the core of these potatoes. 

How to Make Cheesy Hashbrown Casserole

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Combine 2 pounds frozen hash brown potatoes (shredded, not cubed), 16 ounces sour cream, 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, 2 cans cream of chicken soup, 1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder, and 1/2 cup melted butter in a large bowl. Mix everything together and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Press into a greased 9×13″ pan and bake until the center is golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before serving.