Tater Tot Casserole

I’ve been informed by my Viable Paradise roommate Chia Evers that I should not be a tater tot tease. I am also discarding my Midwest-centric view that everyone knows how to make this.

A little bit about my history with tater tot casserole. School lunches in rural Iowa were frightening. Beef gravy that was mostly made of rubber cement. Blanditos. Soft vegetables from industrial size cans. We looked for oases where we could. Tater tot casserole turned out to be so simple that not even our lunch ladies could beat the taste out it. Ah, delicious and savory, warm tater tot casserole! Second only to Jello pudding pops and the cinnamon rolls homemade on the days they had chili!

Well. In college the cafeteria menu was similarly frightening. Texas straw hat, a scattering of corn chips covered with a scoop of tomatoey glop comes to mind. Gelatin with celery tossed in. Individual ham loaves that smelled…suspicious. There were occasions when I chose Lucky Charms for a dinner entree, but again, there were bright spots. One of them was tater tot casserole.

As a young married couple, my husband and I were reminiscing about foods we had liked in the past. We both remembered tater tot casserole from school, and we figured, gourmets that we weren’t, that we could easily recreate it. It wasn’t rocket science. It came from the Ore-Ida Institute after all.

Here’s how it’s done.

Tater Tot Casserole

Ingredients:

1 pound hamburger
1 can cream of mushroom soup
Salt and pepper to taste
(Wait for it…) Tater Tots (you can use knockoffs, but that’s just sad)

Brown the ground beef in a pan on the stove. Drain the ground beef. Mix the ground beef, the mushroom soup, and the seasonings in a casserole. Smush it out so that it’s flat. Then, top that sucker with a layer of Tater Tots (TM). Bake it in a 350 degree oven for half an hour, and then crank the temperature to 450 to brown those tots. Watch in case your oven has a different opinion. This amount usually serves 4 at our house, but might serve 6 in the real world.

***

It’s not a very hard recipe, but you’ve got to give it points for folksiness. It is the American version of shepherd’s pie (which is a recipe I’m not doing until a later entry, if someone wants it.)

Last weekend, I discovered that other regional folks call it tater tot hotdish. My friend Kim makes a vegetarian version, substituting Boca burgers for the ground beef. She adds onions and paints the soup on top instead of mixing it in. Her tots only line the outside in a wreathy little ring. The principle is still the same.

Like a good muffin or scone mix, variation is key in the land of the tot. With that in mind, here are some variations. I like to keep it simple and homey. I have no trouble adding vegetables, but I’m a little weirded out by the recipes that call for milk and cheese. Purists, you know what I’m talking about. Not everything is better with cheese.

Bon appetite! (pronounced ap-a-tight with Midwestern savoir-faire. If you prefer, them’s good eatin’!

Catherine

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

5 thoughts on “Tater Tot Casserole”

  1. Now that he sees the recipe, my Chicago-bred husband believes he’s had this before. Probably at a church potluck, down the table from the green bean casserole and ham sandwiches.

  2. The first version I found with vegetables called for CANNED peas, which I loathe, abominate and despise. They are not even vegetables in my opinion, but some sort of evil counterfeit. I haven’t had this in ages. I’ll have to mess around with the recipe, as I don’t eat canned soups any more but do eat actual veggies.

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