Food for Fathers

Fathers, as a group of people, are not a monolith. Making a blanket statement about such an infinitely diverse and varied population would be incredibly shortsighted, to put it lightly. Fathers should absolutely be celebrated and appreciated, but not in the way that Hallmark cards seem to think.

To treat all fathers the same way is reductive, completely opposite to what we’re trying to convey in the first place. If it comes from a genuine place, Father’s Day is about recognizing the people that raised us for all their unique quirks, habits, and mannerisms. It’s a chance to reminisce about the lessons they taught us early on, our challenges and struggles together; all the things that make them who they are, and in turn, make us who we are.

That kind of depth defies stereotypical gift guides. You can’t put that in a cooler filled with ice or wrap it up in a tool set. I may not be able to speak as a Father myself, but I promise you, they don’t all want beefy burgers or “man caves” or golf sets. Once and for all, almost none of them want neckties.

I’m not going to offer you a recipe roundup of The Best Father’s Day Recipes for the simple reason that I don’t know your father or what they like. Instead, this is a roundup of things I think my father would like. Maybe you’ll find some overlap here for inspiration. Whatever you make, just make sure they know they’re loved. That’s the real point of this holiday.

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Hot Tots

So bad that they’re good; unwanted scraps that everyone can’t get enough of; terminally uncool to the point of being a new trend. Tater tots live in a world of conflicting extremes, forever at odds with themselves and the public at large. We have Ore-Ida to thank for the innovation in 1951, when new French fry cutting technology gave birth to immaculate shoestrings while leaving mountains of potato slivers and small pieces in its wake. That excess became the foundation of tots as we know them, formed and fried into something entirely new.

Any kid growing up in the 90s had more than their fair share of the crispy potato bites, piled up on cafeteria trays and smothered with ketchup, in lieu of any other vegetable-like matter. I remember my first encounter in first grade, when I got to the front of the line and found the paper boat of tots before me. These weren’t the thick potato wedges I wanted, and not even the smooth mashed potato puree that I tolerated. With great trepidation, I took a microscopic bite, chewed once, chewed twice… And spit it into the trash. For the rest of the day, I languished in the nurse’s office, convinced I was sick, and that those demonic tater tots had done me in.

Drama aside, I came to learn after many years that tots were not all bad. Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed. Consistent, reliable, affordable, and ageless, they’re an accommodating neutral base for toppings and dips of all types. Now that Millennials are “grown up” and seeking solace in their kitchens, tater tots are finally reaching their full potential. No longer reject spud shards but genuinely worthy starters and snacks, I, too, have come around to the ways of the tot.

That said, I don’t crave them. I wouldn’t go out of my way to try them, nor are they my first, second, or third choice on a menu. It needs to be something really special to catch my eye… Like the cauliflower tots served at Better Half Coffee & Cocktails here in Austin. These savory nuggets are square, fried to crispy perfection, and served alongside a silky purple beet ketchup. Sadly, they’re not vegan thanks to the generous application of eggs and cheese, but I couldn’t get them out of my mind after one visit. They certainly made a more lasting impression than the date I was on at the time.

I could sell these as a healthier, lower-carb option that’s naturally gluten-free and higher in protein, but this isn’t about getting the most nutritious snack. Let’s be honest: No one eats tater tots for the health benefits, so caulitots shouldn’t try to be anything other than delicious. That is where they truly excel. The outsides are browned to a satisfyingly crunchy finish, while the interiors remain moist, creamy, and slightly gooey thanks to the inclusion of vegan cheese shreds.

For a recipe worth more than nostalgic value, caulitots truly elevate the humble bar snack to a new level. Though you could serve them with regular old ketchup, BBQ sauce, plant-based honey mustard, or even ranch dressing, give the beet ketchup a try, at least once. It’s better than your average dip, and these upscale tots deserve the best, as do you.

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