Mar 24, 2022

Recipe that Brings Back Memories - Tater Tots Casserole

It was a great opportunity for me to experience American high school life back in the days. On top of that, my school was in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, instead of Asian overloaded states like CA or NY. It was a year well remembered, my wonderful host family, friends from school, and the amazing upper Midwest landscape that not many Asian foreign students ever truly ventured. 


So during my one senior year back in the states, I had plenty of school lunches and got quite a taste of what I thought as "American comfort food." Few things that came into my mind, also not easily found in Taiwan - pulled pork, chicken Kiev, and all kinds of baked goods and casseroles. Since I can't really find them in Taiwan (except pulled pork), I might as well recreate the dishes that I've missed myself. That's the spirit.


Tater tots casserole - 


Tater tots casserole


Ingredients (about 8 by 11 inches baking dish)?

  • 1 pack/about 75 frozen tater tots
  • 1 can/400 grams cream of mushroom
  • 1 can or about 300 grams string beans
  • 250 grams lean ground beef
  • 180 grams shredded Cheddar
  • 1/2 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 
  • Some salt
  • Some black pepper
  • Tiny amount olive oil (to grease the dish)


How?    

This recipe is not hard, especially when all the ingredients can be easily sourced back in America. Let me show you the difference here in Taiwan. First, I might need to go to a better market in order to find ground beef. Even for shredded Cheddar, most places only sell pack of shredded "mixed" cheese, not Cheddar alone. I've tried my luck here and there, finally gave up and decided to buy a whole chunk and shred the cheese myself.


Shredded Cheddar

Even canned beans cannot be found anywhere, but that part is easy since we get fresh string beans almost all year long. Use canned version if you can get a hold of it, otherwise trim the ends then slice into short sections for fresh string beans. Cook in boiling water for about 15 minutes to reach a softer bite. Once ready, drain well, perhaps pat dry with kitchen towel too, and set aside for later use. 


Boiled string beans

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit/190 degrees Celsius. Lightly grease an 8 by 11 inches baking dish with cooking spray or brush with olive oil.


Peel and dice the onion. Peel and chop the garlic.


Take a non-stick pan and turn to medium high heat. Add in lean ground beef and cook till it changes color. Drain away excess fat if any.


Stir-frying lean ground beef

Add in onion and cook till slightly translucent. Add in garlic and continue to cook for about one minute.


Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, and 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce. Mix till blended.


Stir-frying ground beef with aromatics and seasonings

Transfer this beef mixture to baking dish and spread out evenly as the very bottom layer. Pour the cream of mushroom on top as the second bottom layer. The third bottom layer will be prepped beans. Also sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper over the beans.


Tater tots casserole layers

Top the beans with all the shredded cheese then spread out tater tots over.


Tater tots casserole before baking

Into the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, plus or minus couple minutes. Check once a while, bake till the tater tots turn golden browned. Mine might look darker because I used chili flavored tater tots instead.


When ready, take out the baking dish and let it set for couple minutes. Serve like cutting lasagna portions, even better with some Tabasco.


Tater tots casserole

How long has it been? At least 10 years I think, I finally get a taste of what I've love to eat back in the states. Minnesota to be exact since I can't remember any other time that I had such casserole dish in CA. This dish brings back some homey memories, I'll count that as one extra fine seasoning to the casserole. 


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