Homemade Tater Tot Casserole
Tater Tot Casserole – it’s my response to the 4,000th time I’ve been asked ‘what’s for dinner?’ And really, it’s an awesome meal solution. Tater Tot Casserole is easy to make, the ingredients are simple, and upon hearing the words ‘tater tots’, my kids are over the moon.
If you are anything like me, you may be finding yourself in shock that (during this pandemic) your family members are expecting 3 meals a day — every single day. You may be surprised to know that even being a cooking instructor and recipe writer doesn’t exempt me from becoming weary over all the meals expected to come out of my kitchen lately.
And then it hit me – Tater Tot Casserole. The kids will be thrilled, the production will be simple and one more meal will be checked off my to-do list.
This recipe uses a short-list of ingredients, all of which I consider pantry staples (and that list is included in the recipe below). But here’s what I want to talk to you about – how to simplify your meal making. Isn’t that what we all need help with these days?
It starts with a properly stocked pantry. And by pantry, I’m including your fridge and freezer. A properly stocked pantry must include :
What’s in my stocked pantry?
- basic baking essentials, like flour, sugar, baking powder etc
- fresh herbs
- the vegetable trinity (pepper, onion, carrots – celery is nice too)
- potatoes – fresh and frozen (Yukon gold is my preferred potato)
- veggie, chicken or beef stock
- a jar of high-quality mustard
- crushed tomatoes and tomato paste
- browned ground beef, chicken or turkey FROZEN in 1-2 lb increments
- frozen berries
- milk, cream, cheese
If I have these things on hand, I can pretty much make anything. I’m sure there are a few things I’ve left out but this list should get you prepared for most of your meal production.
Another tip that helps in simplifying meal-making is to buy ground meat in bulk, brown, portion into 1-2 lb amounts, bag and freeze for later use. When it comes to dinner time, using pre-prepared ground meat saves a step and time!
Tater Tot Casserole – tips for success:
So, let’s talk Tater Tot Casserole. Start by making a basic white sauce (aka béchamel sauce). Knowing how to make this sauce will replace your need for condensed canned cream soups.
Simply add roughly equal parts flour and butter to a deep skillet or saucepan over medium/medium-high flame. Bring the butter & flour to a medium blonde, frothy consistency while stirring. Add milk or cream, add s+p, stir to combine and simmer to thicken.
Once you get comfortable making this basic white sauce, you can add cheese or roasted chopped peppers or lemon zest or capers or a grainy mustard or fresh chopped herbs and really make any type of creamy sauce you can imagine.
I even used this base to make 5-minute Queso.
To complete this recipe, once your béchamel sauce is made, add thawed pre-cooked browned ground beef and a small can of roasted, diced chiles. Top with frozen tater tots and shredded Colby Jack cheese. Bake according to the tater tot package instructions (until tater tots are cooked through and crisp and cheese is melty).
Sure enough – the dish was scraped clean and the kids loved it. But really, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Who wouldn’t love crisp cheesy tater tots and a creamy hamburger gravy all mixed together in a casserole and called “dinner”?! Sign me up!
Homemade Tater Tot Casserole
- 2 lbs pre-cooked, browned ground beef (drained and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper)
- 3 T salted butter
- 2 T flour
- 4 c milk
- 1 c cream
- 1 t sea salt
- 1/2 t pepper
- 4 oz canned, chopped roasted peppers (drained)
- 2 lb bag frozen tater tots (I like Trader Joes)
- 1 lb Colby Jack cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 400°, or temperature listed on tater tot package instructions.
In a large, 12″ (2″-3″) deep skillet, prepare white sauce by adding butter and flour over a medium/medium-high flame, 2-3 minutes. Stir to incorporate. Butter mixture will be frothy and turn light golden in color.
Once the flour mixture gets frothy, add milk and cream, stirring to remove lumps. Allow to come to a low simmer, continuing to stir. As mixture thickens (about 5 minutes of simmering), add drained chopped chiles (this is an optional ingredient).
Add ground beef, stir to combine and season with s + p as needed.
Top with frozen tater tots and grated cheese.
Bake 25-35 minutes, until tater tots are crisp, mixture is bubbly and cheese is melted.