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One of our family favorites is Tator Tot Casserole.  It’s a simple meal and easily made all natural/organic (if you can find organic tator tots).  Someday I am going to learn how to make tator tots but not today.  I will say that you can easily top this with mashed potatoes for shepard’s pie and it will be just as good.

Normally, I make this with a can of cream of mushroom soup but I had some left over gravy in the fridge which made me think of using homemade gravy.  You can use either – just don’t dilute the soup.

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I browned my hamburger while making the gravy.  The center of my meat was still frozen so I set it to medium heat to help it thaw without over browning the rest.

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When it comes to the gravy, I make a basic bechamel sauce and I don’t use a recipe.  I promise I will try my best here to give you a recipe but it’s really more a technique.  I started with about 1/4 cup of butter which would be about half a stick.  I didn’t need a lot of gravy for the casserole, otherwise I would be using a whole stick of butter or 1/2 cup.

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Add about 1/4 cup of flour.  I add enough to absorb all the butter but keep the mix soft.  It should look like this.  My butter was browning a little fast because I was trying to take pictures as I made it.  That only adds flavor.  You want to cook your butter/flour roux for a minute or so just to help cook out the flour taste.  As long as it doesn’t blacken or burn, you can cook your roux to taste.   I never go more than about a minute because that is what I like.

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Add just enough milk to cover the bottom of the pan and stir until it is incorporated into your roux.  I don’t measure the milk because I add it slowly until I have a gravy to my satisfaction.  For the first few additions of milk, the roux will clump and remain yellowish.

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Over time, the roux/gravy will lighten and become more paste like.

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Keep adding a little at a time until it becomes and stays the consistency you desire.  In this case, it was a little thicker than I usually make my gravy.  Add a little beef bouillon for flavor.  Now if you were making gravy for serving, you would make just a touch thinner than you want because it will thicken as it cools.

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Add to the hamburger along with a drained can of vegetables.  I like green beans in my tator tot casserole.  My dad uses mixed veggies.  You may see a little liquid around the edge of my skillet.  I didn’t drain my hamburger.  Usually it’s super lean but I seemed to have gotten one that had a little more fat.  You can drain or not.

I should note that you can pour the filling into a casserole dish if you don’t have cast iron or if your skillet is not deep enough.  I used to do that until we got this really deep skillet.

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Layer on your tator tots.

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Since my family loves tator tots and I didn’t want to put a mostly used bag in the freezer, I double layered the tots.  You can choose to do this.  All it affects is the cooking time.

I cook my casserole according to the tator tot instructions.  These tots needed a 425 degree oven for 25 minutes.  Since I had 2 layers of tator tots, I cooked it for 40 minutes.

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There you have it in all it’s golden glory.  It is a dish you can make ahead of time and I am sure it’s something that you could pre-make and freeze (never gotten the chance to try it).  It’s filling.  My family eats it with ketchup or cheese depending on their mood.  Either way, it’s a perfect cold evening dish that the entire family loves.  It reheats okay for leftovers as well.  It’s not completely the same but tasty nonetheless.

Tator Tot Casserole

1 pound hamburger
1 can cream of mushroom soup or 2 cups of beef gravy
1 can vegetables, drained
1 pound tator tots

Brown hamburger, drain if necessary.  Add soup and vegetables either to the skillet or in a casserole dish.  Top with tator tots.  Bake according to the instructions on the tator tot bag or at 425 for up to 30 minutes.  The tator tots should be hot and crispy.

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