Saturday, September 17, 2011

Reunion Casserole with Asiago Tater Tots

Recipe modified by You Want Me to Cook? – March 11, 2011
For a commentary-free and printer-friendly version of it, please click here.
For a commentary-free and printer-friendly version of the Reunion Casserole recipe ONLY, please click here.
For a commentary-free and printer-friendly version of the Asiago Tater Tots recipe ONLY, please click here.

Reunion Casserole recipe originally published by Simple and Delicious – December/January 2011
Asiago Tater Tots recipe originally published by Every Day with Rachael Ray – February 2011

At some point, I realized that I need to make more meals instead of single dishes.  Part of the issue is that I have a couple of stand-by side dishes that I always go back to.  Not that they are bad, just unimaginative.  The other is that I’m making a lot of casseroles.  Casseroles have everything in one dish which is sort of the appeal.

Then I came upon this recipe for the Asiago Tater Tots.  I love a good tot (who doesn’t), but it isn’t like you can make a meal out of them.  Well I actually had a boyfriend who would make entire bags of them and eat them out of a bowl with an oversized spoon… but he was an idiot, so that doesn’t count.

So I had to find a recipe that would work with the tots.  I could have gone the hamburger/hot dog route but when I read this recipe, it reminded me of a fancy sloppy joe, with pasta for the carbs instead of bread.  I knew it would be a hit.

© You Want Me to Cook?
Reunion Casserole with Asiago Tater Tots
Visually, I’m disappointed with the meal.  It is so brown.  Separately, I can’t complain.  The casserole looks hearty and yummy.  It could have a little more color, but it still smelled fantastic.  The tater tots turned out even better than I thought they ever would.  Golden brown and crisp, I couldn’t wait to eat them.


© Simple and Delicious
Reunion Casserole
As I look at the picture Simple and Delicious published, I realized that their dish looked like it had more tomatoes.  In my dish, more tomatoes would have made me happy because I love a tasty tomato sauce.   

They seemed to “plate it” with additional cheese on top.  More cheese is never a bad thing, but I wished I would have done the same before I took the picture.  It would have just made it prettier.

Another thing I noticed is that the recipe called for “wide noodles” but I can’t see a single noodle in their dish.  Did they not mix the casserole up?  Did they forget to put in the noodles?  

No matter what happened, their casserole looks prettier than mine, and that makes me sad.  Good Lord, now I've taken to competing with faceless magazines.  I should be embarrassed, but I'm not.  Just the competitive nature in me, I guess.

© Every Day with Rachael Ray
Asiago Tater Tots
I’m impressed with my tater tots when I look at the picture published in Every Day with Rachael Ray.  I had no idea I could get mine to golden brown and although I had issues getting the cheese to stick (I let them cool off too long), there was still enough on there to have a delightful taste.

One note: the recipe calls for “grated asiago cheese” and just like me, Rachael Ray used shredded asiago cheese.  It isn’t that big of a deal, but as you all know, I can’t stand it when the recipes give one direction and then take another.

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

MessYIKES – Where do I start?  First, the reunion casserole has ground beef that needs to be drained and I had to make the noodles smaller since I couldn’t find noodles any wider than fettuccine.  But the real mess was made during tater tot creation.  I know the way I just phrased it, sounds like I waved my hands over the ingredients and declared “LET THERE BE TOTS!”  I wish it had been that easy.  First, the grating of the potatoes and onions was unbearably messy.  About half way through the first potato I almost ditched the project.  Then there was the whole “squeezing out the excess moisture” out of the tot mixture.  That “moisture”, a delightful starchy moisture that requires a chisel to clean up, was all over the counter, me, floor and stove.  Finally, I had to dispose of the oil after I was done.  You can’t just pour it down the sink or into your trash can.

Start-to-Finish Time: AROUND AN HOUR AND A HALF – You can make the tater tots while the casserole is baking, but neither dish can be done quickly.  Being made alone, the Reunion Casserole will take about an hour and a half to make and the tater tots an hour to make.

Prep Work: LOSS OF FINGER POSSIBLE – Just look at the following equation:
Grating Potatoes + Grating Onions + Some basic chopping 
1 grated finger & a missing fingertip

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad (I still have all my fingers and their tips), but I did end up grating my thumb… twice.

Ease of Recipe: MORE THAN I BARGAINED FOR – I did not realize how terribly messy the tater tots were going to be.  The dish wasn’t difficult overall, especially with my Fry Daddy, but there were several occasions while cooking that I almost gave up.

OverallNOT BAD – Both were tasty, but I’ve got a million recipes like the Reunion Casserole and it simply wasn’t worth the mess to even consider making the tater tots again.

Recipe Information:
I am not a doctor or dietician.  I make my nutritional assessments with the aid of Spark Recipes.  I run the original recipe and my altered recipe through their calorie counter and then compute the differences I find.  My numbers are to be used as a guideline.  Anyone who is under dietary medical supervision should follow the advice of their medical professional if their opinion differs from mine.  PLEASE!

Reunion Casserole:
Servings: 8-10
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Bake: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

I’m not sure about the 10 servings.  That might be stretching the recipe a little thin.  Of course, throw a salad and some bread on the table with it and the tots and you could very well get there.

As for the timing… oh really Simple and Delicious?  An hour total?  It took me 16 minutes to cut up all the vegetables and get everything ready to START making the meal.  My casserole wasn’t ready to put in the oven until 40 minutes into the recipe.  Here is the timing of my recipe:
  • Prep Time: 16 minutes
  • Casserole Assembled: 24 minutes
  • First Bake Time: 35 minutes
  • Second Bake Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Nutritional Information
  • Calories 364
  • Total Fat 18g (Saturated Fat 9g)
  • Cholesterol 79mg
  • Sodium 840mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 29g
  • Fiber 2g
  • Protein 19g
When I initially looked at the nutritional information for this recipe, I was a little leery of the sodium level, but I wasn’t overly concerned.  I knew I was going to try to cut down some of the bad numbers (fat & cholesterol) so the sodium wasn’t too much of a concern by itself.  Then I plugged the dish into the Spark Database to check its accuracy and here are the numbers:
  • Calories 568.1
  • Total Fat 34.1g (Saturated Fat 14.7g)
  • Cholesterol 97.9mg
  • Sodium 1179.8mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 38g
  • Fiber 3.8g
  • Sugar 7.1g
  • Protein 26.7g
What the… I ran this recipe three times actually pulling products off my shelves and from the internet to make sure their numbers were accurate.  I got the same numbers 2 out of the 3 times (and the third wasn’t that far off).  Then I realized they based their numbers off of the 10 servings.  I plugged in 8 servings to compute the numbers.

Basically what I’m saying here is that this dish isn’t as healthy as it appears.

I used some reduced fat and sodium products when I made the Reunion Casserole, so I was excited to see the differences in MY recipe.  Here are the numbers from my altered recipe:
  • Calories 481.8
  • Total Fat 22.4g (Saturated Fat 7.9g)
  • Cholesterol 65.1mg
  • Sodium 1264.1mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 44g
  • Fiber 6.5g
  • Sugar 9.6g
  • Protein 28.3g
Okay, not as impressive as I wish it was.  Still it’s a decent source of fiber, thanks to the whole grain noodles and it is a decent supplier of:
  • B12 – important to the functioning of the brain and nervous system and the formation of red blood cells
  • Niacin – important to increase your “good cholesterol”
  • Riboflavin – assists in breaking down carbohydrates and assists your body in using oxygen
Asiago Tater Tots:
Servings: 6
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

SIX SERVINGS Rachael Ray?  Oh please.  You use only 2 baking potatoes for this recipe.  That would be 1/3 a potato per person.  There is no way on Earth that this is going to give you 6 servings.  No. Way.

And what about the timing being 25 minutes total.  Are you people smoking something at the magazine?  It took me double that:
  • Prep Time: 13 minutes
  • Tots Completed: 39 minutes
  • Total Time: 52 minutes
Nutritional Information
None given

I wasn’t surprised when there was no nutritional information for this recipe.  First, this magazine is notorious for not publishing this information.  Second, anything fried in oil isn’t going to be healthy.  They’ll just tack on a “you need to eat in moderation” disclaimer for it and feel it is all okay.

Now I had issues accurately computing the nutritional information for this recipe.  I couldn’t just add 3 cups of oil to the recipe because only a certain amount goes into the food.  It wasn’t until I started writing this blog post that I realized I could have measured how much went in and how much was left to compute the amount absorbed into the tots.  Of course, this is a little too late to do it. 

Therefore, I plugged the dish into Spark Database, eliminating the frying oil, and here are the numbers:
  • Calories 135.3
  • Total Fat 5.1g (Saturated Fat 3.1g)
  • Cholesterol 44.1mg
  • Sodium 1927.1mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 17.1g
  • Fiber 1.8g
  • Sugar 1.5g
  • Protein 7.4g
As for the recipe itself, I didn’t do anything differently (at least that would affect the numbers).  Keep in mind calories, fat and cholesterol are all going to go up with frying.  The sodium content was horrifying.  I’m going to pretend that number doesn’t exist right now so that I don't feel so bad that I ate most in one sitting.

Changes denoted by red text
Reunion Casserole:
1 pound ground sirloin
1/2 pound bulk spicy pork sausage
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded reduced fat cheddar cheese, divided
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 can (11 ounces) whole kernel corn, drained
1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed reduced fat / low sodium tomato soup, undiluted
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
1/3 cup sliced pimiento-stuffed olives, drained
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces whole grain lasagna noodles, cooked and drained
Cooking Spray
Fit Wash

Asiago Tater Tots:
2 large baking potatoes, grated
1 small onion, grated
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Vegetable oil, for frying
1/2 cup shredded asiago cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

Ingredient Notes:
Ground Sirloin – the original recipe called for ground beef that traditionally has an 80/20 fat content, but I went with a ground sirloin that was 93/7 fat content.  A great perk to less fat content is less grease to get rid of.

Pork Sausage – the original recipe called for a spicy pork sausage, but I’m not a “spicy” kind of gal.  I’d rather make it on the tame side and let my husband add hot sauce to it.

Onion – To get a cup of chopped onion, you can use about 1 medium onion.

Reduced Fat Cheddar – the original recipe called for traditional cheddar cheese, but I used reduced fat cheddar cheese to cut out 20% of the fat and cholesterol.  It wasn’t specified what type of cheddar to use, so I went with a mild cheddar.

Reduced Fat / Lower Sodium Condensed Tomato Soup – the original recipe called for regular tomato soup, but I used Campbell’s Healthy Choice that has lower fat and sodium content.

Tomato Sauce – the original recipe called for Hunts brand tomato sauce, although now it lists just regular tomato sauce on the Simple and Delicious website.  I recently found a low-sodium tomato sauce that I would use next time since the sodium level was extremely high.

Garlic – to save some time, I used pre-minced.  Yeah, I know it isn’t as good as fresh, but I don’t care.

Whole Grain Lasagna Noodles
  • The original recipe called for regular wide noodles but I couldn’t find anything thicker than fettuccine.  Of course, looking at their picture, I’m guessing it wouldn’t have mattered if I used fettuccine.  Whole grain noodles have more fiber and are generally healthier.  Yes, I’ve heard it over and over again about how it doesn’t taste the same and blah blah blah.  Yeah, I can’t tell that much of difference, but if you can’t handle whole grain, you can use the regular pasta.
  • To “make” my own wide noodles, I snapped the lasagna noodles in half and then cooked them.  Once they were done, I tore them down the middle to make them thinner.
Cooking Spray – you have to lightly grease the baking dish, and this is the most effective way I know how to do that. 

Fit Wash – I like to clean off my vegetables (especially one that can have a wax buildup) with Fit Wash.  It is a citrus wash that doesn’t affect the taste of the vegetable at all. 

Potato – a potato is a potato.  However, I wanted to mention that the potato started to brown almost immediately after I grated it.  Just wanted to give you a heads up and make sure that you don’t leave too much time between grated the potato and using it. 

Parmesan Cheese – the original recipe called for grated parmesan cheese, but I had shredded on hand, so that is what I used. 

Asiago Cheese – the original recipe called for grated asiago cheese, but I didn’t want to buy a brick of asiago (expensive!!!) and all I could find was shredded.  Now normally that doesn’t matter much, but in this case, it did kind of affect the dish, but more on that later.

Equipment Needed:
Cutting board
Sharp knife
Pasta pot
Wooden spoon
Dutch oven
Large spoon
13x9 baking dish
Aluminum foil
Vegetable peeler
Small bowl
(2) Large bowls
(2) Spoons – mixing
Fry Daddy®

Equipment Notes:
Baking Dish Better Homes and Gardens says one of the major differences between metal pans and glass/ceramic baking dishes is the way heat affects them (high temperatures can make glass shatter and cooking temperatures need to be altered when substituting one for the other).  However, in this case, the acidic quality of tomatoes can react with metal pans and cause the food to discolor, so you definitely want to use glass if at all possible.

Small Bowl – this is to hold the egg white when you are separating the egg.  Now you could just throw the egg white into the trash, but I will make an egg white omelet or try to use it for something else if I can.

Fry Daddy ® – the original recipe called for using a deep skillet, but I felt my fry daddy would be easier to use… and it was.  If you decide to use a skillet, make sure you get a deep fry thermometer because if the oil isn’t hot enough, it will just soak into the tot and you’ll have soggy tots, and NO ONE wants that.  And of course, you don’t want it too hot.

(1)  Make Reunion Casserole:
(a)  Prior to preparing ingredients, start pasta water to boil. Prep ingredients.

(b)  Cook pasta and drain when finished.

(c)  Meanwhile, in a large Dutch oven, cook the beef, sausage and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain.

(d)  Stir in 1 cup cheese, green pepper, corn, soup, tomato sauce, olives, garlic, salt and noodles. Transfer to a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish.

(e)  Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Cover and bake at 350° for 35 minutes or until bubbly.

(f)  Uncover; bake 10 minutes longer or until cheese is melted

(2)   While casserole bakes, make Asiago Tater Tots:
(a)  In a Fry Daddy, heat oil to 350F°.  Prep the ingredients.

I prepped the potato and onion directly into the bowl which I mixed the potato mixture.

(b)  In a bowl, combine the potatoes, onion, flour, parmesan, egg yolk, salt and garlic powder.

(c)  Form rounded tablespoons of the potato mixture into balls, squeezing out the excess moisture.

(d)  Working in batches, drop the mixture into the oil and fry until golden, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

After you cook a batch, let the oil reheat between.  Don’t let the tots cool off too much before moving on to next step or the cheese won't stick to the tots as well.

(e)  Place the asiago and rosemary in a large bowl. Working in batches, toss the tater tots in the cheese mixture

The Reunion Casserole was good, but the olives were really overbearing.  I have to admit, I feel this way about most of the dishes that have olives.  Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE olives, but I like tasting things other than olives in my food.  As for the tots, I’m going to stick with the store bought ones.  Rachael Ray says you can buy tater tots and make them the same way (frying and rolling them in the cheese mixture) if you really want them that way.

If I were going to make any changes, I probably would leave the olives out of the Reunion Casserole and put them on the side, or at least put in a lot less.  For the Asiago Tater Tots, I’d only use half of the rosemary.  The two tablespoons overpowered it so much that I couldn’t taste the tot that well.  I also would go with the grated asiago.  Using the shredded asiago was a mistake because it didn’t stick.

But I'm not going to complain anymore because I did get to eat tater tots for "scientific research."  THAT is research I can stand behind.

No comments:

Post a Comment