I have a lot of respect for the casserole. They sometimes get a bad rap for being bland but just like any other food this just comes down to good ingredients, lots of seasoning, and a good recipe. And the right combination can be delicious, filling, warm, and hearty. Plus, you can get most of your cooking dishes done while it bakes.
Warm and hearty are probably two big reasons why casseroles are so popular in the mid-west, where I grew up. I, however, did not eat a lot of casserole dinners because my parents were not from the mid-west and this did not tend to be how they cooked. And the one that fascinated me the most was not even on my parents radar (seriously, they never even had it until I was 25 and made it for them myself!)
I encountered it at school, pot-lucks, even my college dorm and I thought it was fantastic. When I was in college and living in my own apartment this was one of the first recipes I looked up and started to cook for my-self.
And almost immediately I started putting my own touches on it.
Because I have an aversion to many (but not all) frozen and canned vegetables. And since I can barely stand mushrooms cream of mushroom soup is not really my thing. And I don't even think American cheese slices count as real cheese. And I don't eat meat.
And here is where I make the really big confession: And because I like flavor. Yes, OK, it can be bland. I didn't say the bad rap wasn't ever for a reason, just that it doesn't have to be. I season the shit out of it.
So here is the recipe I have finally settled on:
Simply the Best (Sorry to All the Others) Tator-tot* Hotdish
*It is not necessary to use tator-tots, I'm not advertising for them and obviously thats not what I used in my pics. It's just what we call it in MN.
1 pound Ground Beef or equivalent Veggie Crumbles
½ medium Onion, Chopped (yellow or white)
½ Red Bell Pepper, Seeded And Chopped
1 can Cream Of Broccoli Soup
¼ cups Milk
2 dashes Worcestershire Sauce (optional for vegetarian version- it contains anchovies!)
1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 teaspoon Onion Powder
2 teaspoons Cayenne Pepper, Or To Taste (optional)
½ package Dry Onion Soup
¼ cups Chili Sauce
1-½ cup Sharp Cheddar, Shredded, Divided
¾ cups Frozen Peas
1 whole large Carrot, Diced
8-¾ ounces Corn (small Can or use ½ of a regular size can)
¾ cups fresh Green Beans, Chopped To 1" Pieces
32 oz. bag Tater Tots
Preheat oven to 375F.
If using beef brown with onion in a large skillet; add red bell pepper just a few minutes before ground beef is done. Drain any excess grease.
For veggie crumbles heat a small amount of oil in a pan, then sautee onion until almost soft; then add red pepper for last few minutes.
In a large bowl combine meat/crumbles, soup, milk, Worcestershire sauce, chili sauce, dry onion soup mix, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and 1 cup cheese. Mix thoroughly.
Stir in peas, carrots, corn, and green beans. (I do not cook the beans or carrots first so they stay pretty crisp. If you would like softer veggies steam to desired texture before adding to mixture).
Transfer to a casserole baking dish. (I prefer 8″ or 9″ square, but any size will be fine. When mixture is more spread out it will cook faster, but the ratio to the potatoes will be the same.)
Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup cheese over the mixture.
Top with Tater-tots. I like to lay them in nice even rows, usually a few have to be laid vertically to fit the whole bag.
Bake at 375F until filling is bubbling, usually about 35 minutes for an 8″ square dish. Turn up to broil for a few minutes if you like crispy potatoes on top, but watch closely—they will brown up quickly.