Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tater-Tot Casserole

I needed a quick meal last night that I could whip up while the baby was sleeping. (I usually baby-wear her while I cook, so I don't feel so rushed, but last night she was still asleep in her car seat, from getting my son from ball-room dance class. So, I placed her next to me in the kitchen and raced against the "waking baby clock" to get dinner done unencumbered.) One meal that I remember fondly from when I was growing up was Tater-Tot Casserole. It was a no frills meal of meat and potatoes. It was filling, comforting and cheap. Now that I'm a mom, I try to eat more well-balanced meals so I added lots of veggies to the dish for more nutrition and flavor.
    I have been trying to safely lose the last of this baby weight by "clean eating." I'm sure all of you have heard that term before, as they are buzz words floating around social media, the internet and in daily conversations - especially at the new year when people are making (and shortly breaking) their New Year's resolutions. Eating clean basically means eating all non-processed foods (or as minimally processed as you can find). So I have been on a diet of fruits, veggies and lean proteins - making sure that at least half of my plate is filled with veggies. I have been sticking with it really well and am down 7 pounds so far, and it has influenced how I cook for my family. Now, with that all being said, this recipe does have a couple processed foods in it (canned soup and tater-tots), that were purchased pre-clean eating, but like I mentioned at the beginning, I was in a rush and so I used what I had on hand. (And how can you make tater-tot casserole without tater-tots?) I actually didn't eat any of the meal (in order to stick to my diet) but this is only due to shear will-power and literally walking away from the casserole of deliciousness after the family was served. (I even asked my adorable husband to put away the left-overs so I wouldn't be tempted to sneak a few bites.)
   The family loved this meal, as I did as a child. And I feel good knowing that they are getting lots of veggies too. I know the veggies don't cancel out the processed foods, but they definitely make the dish a lot more healthy and tasty. I also want to mention that you should not feel boxed in by the veggies that I used. You can use any veggies that you and your family enjoy. I really wanted to add in some organic power greens, but I had used the last of them that morning for a green smoothie. So use what you like and have on hand. The main point is to serve a veggie packed meal that you and your family will love. (If you have the self-restraint to only scoop yourself a small portion, I suppose you could just make separate vegetable sides to fulfill your veggie requirement. But why?  The beauty of a casserole is that it is a one-dish meal. Why make more work and dishes for yourself?)
   OK, enough yammering from me, let's get to the recipe.

The first step is to brown the meat and saute the veggies. My husband is a little weird about ground beef, so that's a rarity in this house. We usually use turkey, elk, venison or bison. This meal was made with lean ground bison. Use any ground meat you like and have on hand.
Brown the meat (and drain the fat if any), then add in the veggies (I used grated organic carrots, organic yellow squash, and diced onion) along with the aromatics/spices (garlic, salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce and red pepper flakes).

When the veggies are soft, then the milk and soup get added. (I meant to scoop out some of the meat and veggie mixture for myself before adding the milk and soup, because they meet the clean eating requirements but I forgot. Oh well.)

Stir everything together until completely combined. I know it doesn't look so pretty, but it will taste really yummy, and that's what counts.

Next, prep the casserole dish. Spray the dish with no-stick spray (or use your fat of choice) and then place a single layer of tots down.

Next I decided to add cooked green beans, since I prefer to serve every meal with something green.

I then added the remaining tots on top. (*The layering can be done any way you wish. Tots/meat on top, bottom or middle it really doesn't matter, I happen to like the tots on the bottom but to each their own.)

The meat mixture goes on top in an even layer, and it all goes into a preheated 375F oven for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, top it with cheese, and bake for another 15 minutes.

This is it when it is finished.Don't you just want to dive right in?
(And yes, that is my Autumn/Thanksgiving tablecloth on my table well after the New Year. My little ones decided to write on, cut, rip and tear my everyday tablecloth to the point of disrepair. So, it will be autumn in my dining room until I can buy another tablecloth.)

Nothing left to do but serve it up and try not to eat the whole thing by yourself. ;)

Just simple comfort food.
Here's the recipe:
(Use any veggies you like!) Serves 8-12 depending on serving size

Tater-Tot Casserole 
1 pound ground meat (I used bison, but any meat works.)
1/2 onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 organic carrots, grated (about 3 cups)
1 medium to large organic yellow squash, grated (about 3 cups)
1 tsp minced garlic
salt and pepper (to taste)
a few dashes of Worcestershire Sauce
crushed red pepper flakes (to taste, optional)
1 10 3/4 oz can of creamed soup (mushroom, celery or chicken will work)
1 can of milk (fill the soup can with milk)
1 package of frozen tater-tots (I used 3/4 of the 5lb bag, but a whole smaller bag works too.)
2 14.5 oz cans cut green beans, drained
3 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated 

In a large skillet, over medium high heat, break up and brown the meat. Drain the fat (if any) and add all ingredients EXCEPT the milk, soup, tots, beans and cheese. When the veggies are soft, turn off the heat and stir in the milk and soup.
Spray a 10x15 casserole dish and line the bottom with tots. Spread out the beans and then add the rest of the tots. Top with the meat mixture, making sure to spread it out evenly.
Bake @ 375F for 30 minutes. Top with the cheese and bake another 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and the casserole is hot in the middle. Serve warm.

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