Monday, March 7, 2011

Tater-Topped Casserole

Recipe modified by Gretchen Wilson – February 1, 2009
For a commentary-free and printer-friendly version of it, please click here.

Recipe originally published in Kraft Food & Family, Fall 2008.

The first time I made this, I was looking for something to take to a Super Bowl party.  Everyone always brings dips or cookies and I wanted to bring something that could be eaten for dinner and something the kids would like.  There were several reasons it appealed to me.  First, who doesn’t love tater tots?!?  Not only would the kids love it, but the kid inside each adult would love it too.  Second, I could assemble it at home and then cook it at the party.  Last, it wasn’t that expensive to make.

My finished product:

© You Want Me to Cook?

Picture published with recipe:

© Kraft Foods

In this particular case, my photography skills didn’t reflect my culinary skills.  I had a spoonful out on the plate so you could see the ingredients, but was too far back to see the detail of the casserole.  And yes, I also missed the detail of the casserole from the pan because I turned it away from the camera.  So you’ll have to take my word for it – it turned out almost exactly like the picture did.

for more details about what my ratings mean, go to Gretchen’s Rating System

MessEH – after you chop up the onions, you cook the meat and assemble the casserole.  Sounds fairly mess free, right?  Well you’d almost be correct.  Draining the fat from the meat is never a mess free task.  And I managed to pour out the tater tots all over the cabinet too.  So your mess will mostly be “user error” but there’s the potential for it.

Start-to-Finish Time: A LITTLE OVER AN HOUR – the prep work won’t take you very long and the beef and onions will brown quickly. However, after you assemble the casserole, it has to cook for 45 minutes.

Prep Work: SLIGHT BLOOD LOSS – Just a little chopping.  Unfortunately, it’ll still make you cry, but at least you’ll only have a small onion to do.

Ease of Recipe: COOK IT IN MY SLEEP – I can’t remember if I cooked ground beef when I was in middle school home economics.  I’m sure it was something I did at home though.  Other than that, you just pile everything into a casserole dish.

OverallSORRY HONEY, NO LEFTOVERS – This is the kind of dish that will remind you of being a kid.  It’s homey, quick and very yummy with all the parts of a meal – meat, veggies and potatoes.

Recipe Information:
Time estimates are from the original publisher of the recipe, not the length of time it took me to create it.  Look for my comments below.  Nutritional Information is based on original recipe.  Any changes I make to reduce the caloric, fat, cholesterol or sodium content are not reflected in the Nutritional Information.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 6 servings

Nutritional Information (1 cup)
Calories 400
Total Fat 24g (Saturated Fat 9g)
Cholesterol 65mg
Sodium 860mg
Total Carbohydrate 25g
Fiber 1g
Sugars 4g
Protein 21g
Vitamin A 10%DV
Vitamin C 8%DV
Calcium 15%DV
Iron 15%DV

I’m starting to think that “prep time” for recipe writers mean everything up until you toss it in the oven.  For me, prep time means “getting ready to cook” so it shouldn’t take you very long to chop up an onion.  An hour, for the rest of the recipe, is a fairly accurate time calculation, but it may take a little longer than that.

When I revisited this recipe, I was a little shocked that it only said 6 servings and that those servings are only a cup each.  Honestly, I got a lot more than that out of this recipe.  If you want to go exactly by the recommended serving though, make sure you have a nice large salad to accompany this dish.

The nutritional information on this recipe isn’t too bad, but there is room for improvement.  I took the suggestion of Kraft and used a leaner cut of beef (ground sirloin), reduced fat soup and cheese to save 50 calories and 7 grams of fat per serving.  It probably shaved off a little cholesterol too.  I also used skim milk, so I’m guessing those numbers will be even smaller still.  If you pair the serving with a large salad, you can possibly eat this with a smaller serving size and save yourself even more.

Changes denoted by red text

1 pound ground sirloin
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (10¾ oz) condensed reduced fat cream of mushroom soup
¼ cup skim milk
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables, <i>thawed</i>
1 cup reduced fat Shredded Cheddar Cheese
1 pound frozen bite-size seasoned potato nuggets

Ingredient Notes:
Ground Sirloin – the different types of ground beef and their fat content depend on the cut.  According to Cook’s Thesaurus ground chuck has the highest fat content while ground round is a leaner cut.  Apparently the fat is supposed to help you make your meal juicy and tasty, but in this case, we drain the fat after the meat is cooked.  That is why ground sirloin is a good choice, not only is it a very flavorful cut of meat, there will not be nearly as much to drain from the pan.  If you’re like me, draining fat from a pan usually ends with some of the meat in the trash.

Garlic – it isn’t in the original recipe, but I felt it needed something after the first time I made it.  I didn’t want to add salt, so I figured I’d give it a punch of garlic.  That worked!

Cream of Mushroom Soup if you choose a Reduced Fat version of the condensed soup, you’re going to save almost half the calories, have only a quarter of the fat, half the cholesterol and almost half the sodium.  That’s the one I went with, although Campbell’s has a Healthy Request soup that, although has slightly more calories than the fat-free version, has even less sodium and no cholesterol.

Skim Milk – the soup is thick enough to hold the dish together, so I’ve never had an issue with using skim milk.  It saves you almost half the calories, all the fat and almost all the cholesterol.

Frozen Mixed Vegetables
  • You can use your favorite blend of frozen vegetables.  I used a corn, carrot and green bean blend to match their picture as close as possible.  However, try to stay away from any strong tasting vegetables like asparagus.
  • The original recipe called for you to use the frozen vegetables without thawing.  The first time I made it, after 45 minutes of baking, it was still cold!  I checked the recipe's comments by "regular people" on the Kraft website, and a lot of people said the same thing.  They said they solved that issue by thawing the vegetables first.  They were right!

Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese
  • There are several types of cheddar cheese.  I went with a mild, finely-shredded reduced fat cheddar cheese.
  • You’ll save almost a quarter of the calories and a third of the fat and cholesterol by using a reduced fat cheese instead of the regular.  Sargento also has a reduced sodium cheese, if that is your main concern.

Seasoned Potato Nuggets – This is the “scientific” name for TATER TOTS.  I’m going to assume that they didn’t use a brand name since it is not a brand magazine, but it is kind of ridiculous.

Equipment Needed:
Cutting board
Sharp knife
Large skillet
Large spoon
3-quart Casserole dish
Medium mixing bowl
Spoon – mixing

Equipment Notes:
3-quart Casserole Dish – the original recipe called for a 2-quart dish, but I found that the casserole was mounding over the top in my dish and I couldn’t fit in all the tater tots.  So the next time I made it, I used a 3-quart and that worked much better.

(1)  Heat oven to 375ºF.

(2)  Brown meat with onions and garlic in large skillet, stirring occasionally; drain.  Spoon into 3 quart casserole dish.

If you are using a lean cut of beef, like ground sirloin, there shouldn’t be too much fat to drain.  Don’t panic!

(3)  Mix soup and milk in a medium mixing bowl; pour over meat mixture.

(4)  Top with layers of vegetables, cheese and potatoes.

If you want to put more vegetables in this dish, you can, but make sure there is room for the potatoes on top.

(5)  Bake 45 minutes or until potatoes are golden brown and casserole is heated through.

Remember, if you don’t thaw your vegetables first, you may need to cook it longer.

Overall, everyone seemed to enjoy this dish at the party.  At least that’s what they said.  I’ve made it at home for my husband and I and we definitely enjoy it.  It is a really nice comfort food for a chilly day you plan on spending on the couch watching movies.  If I were going to do anything differently:
  • I’m going to toss mushrooms in with the ground sirloin, onions and garlic.  I love mushrooms for their high nutritional value and their taste.  I’ll probably go with a baby-bella.
  • I’m thinking I’m going to possibly double the number of vegetables in that layer of the casserole.  It can definitely handle it.
  • They now have onion tots and they also have mini tots.  I may try one of these options, just because I can.

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