Kid-Friendly Comfort Food, Without the Can
There's no shame in using convenience foods to help get dinner on the table in a hurry, especially when you're juggling work and kids. That doesn't mean you have to resort to canned-and-processed everything, though: This easy tater tot casserole recipe is quick and simple, but leaves out the usual canned soup for a lighter, more natural flavor. With the optional vegetables, it's practically virtuous – but still kid-friendly.
Total Time: 40 minutes | Prep Time: 10 minutes | Serves: 4
- 1 pound ground beef, 85 percent lean
- 1/2 cup diced onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup chicken, beef or vegetable broth
- Kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper, to taste
- 1 to 2 cups frozen vegetables, coarsely chopped (optional)
- 1 pound bag frozen Tater Tots
- 1 to 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
- Heat your oven to 425F. While it's heating, place a large skillet over a medium-high burner, and add the ground beef and onions. Stir, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, for 3 to 4 minutes until the beef is in loose crumbles and the onions have softened.
- Blot up any excess fat with a paper towel, and then stir in the garlic and Worcestershire sauce. Cook for 1 more minute. Add the flour, stirring well so it's mixed through the beef, then stir in the broth.
- Simmer for 2 minutes, until the flour begins to thicken the filling. Taste the mixture, and add salt and pepper as needed. Add 1 to 2 cups frozen vegetables, such as peas, green beans or broccoli, if you wish. Larger vegetables such as green beans or broccoli should be coarsely chopped so they're bite-sized.
- Pour the filling into a greased 3-quart baking dish, and arrange the Tater Tots over the top in a single layer. Then sprinkle with the cheese.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the Tater Tots are golden brown and the cheese is crispy at the edges.
- Rest the casserole for 5 minutes, then serve hot.
- It doesn't matter what kind of broth you use, because it will take on the flavor of the beef. By all means, use beef broth if you've got it, but chicken or vegetable broth works equally well.
- If your kids have a "gotta sneak 'em in" relationship with vegetables, omit the green frozen vegetables. Instead, shred peeled zucchini or other summer squash into the beef mixture, or add up to 1/2 cup of finely grated carrots. These veggies will cook down to the point of invisibility before the casserole is done.
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.