Saturday, April 6, 2013

Tater Tot hotdish recipe Mom made is colorful, comfort-food for a delicious feel-good dinner

Tater Tots are extraordinarily delicious on this hotdish (the Northern word for casserole). Flavor and moisture from the base is absorbed into their centers, while the surface roasts to crispy golden brown. 


Tater Tot Hotdish
Children love Tater Tots. My favorite brand is Ore-Ida. The product was created in 1953 when the company founders were trying to figure out what to do with leftover slivers of cut-up potatoes. They chopped up the slivers, added flour and seasoning, then pushed the mash through holes and sliced off pieces of the extruded mixture. They claim, “If it's not Ore-Ida, it's not Tater Tots. With their crunchy outside and fluffy inside, Tater Tots® potatoes are as tasty as they are fun. We should know, we invented them!” Both of my grandmothers are named Ida—when I see the brand name, I’m reminded of two women that gave my parents life and helped shape mine with their wisdom and love.

A fun memory is when my mother made tater tot hotdish for a family reunion. Relatives from far away visited us on our farm near Appleton, Minnesota. The young girl with them claimed, “This is delicious! The best!”  It was “comical” (as my father put it), how she enthusiastically emphasized the DE in delicious and THE in the best.

This casserole has great color from frozen vegetables—which on their own are nothing to write home about. The nutritious veggies get wonderful flavors baked in. This is the only way I serve the classic blend of corn, carrots, peas, lima beans and cut green beans. It contains everything needed for a healthy, complete meal and often is accompanied with pickles, bread, dessert and milk or coffee.

I never really had Mom’s “official” recipe (if she had one). Basic, rough notes I jotted down over the phone with her lacked exact amounts of seasonings, time and temperature info. Either I was too busy to ask or she assumed I knew that much. One of the joys of cooking is the experimentation process. Below, I’ll share what I did the last couple times I made this, in two separate recipes. The first is for a crowd; the second recipe is smaller, a little different on the spices and varied temperature and time.

Tater Tot Hotdish served on vintage Fiestaware

Tater Tot Hotdish (crowd size)

3 pounds lean ground beef
2 medium onions, chopped
1.5 tsp garlic powder (or less)
3 tsp. salt
1.5 tsp. celery salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. paprika
3 cans condensed cream of mushroom soup
3 lbs. frozen mixed vegetables
About 2.5—32 oz. bags Ore-Ida Seasoned Tater Tots

Preheat oven to 350°. In stock pot, brown beef and cook onion until onion is tender. Drain or spoon off excess fat. Stir in seasonings, condensed soup and frozen vegetables. Spread mixture in shallow casserole or baking pan(s). Place tight rows of tater tots on top to completely cover the mixture. Bake about 1.5 hours or until bottom mixture is bubbly and tater tots are browned and crisp. Note: Time could be adjusted to do faster at a higher temperature, seasonings can be adjusted to taste and in lieu of powder, pressed garlic can be cooked with beef/onion if you have it on hand (see recipe below).

The recipe above is about right for  two 9x12 cake pans. It can be divided creatively to meet whatever needs you have, such as the example here:
  • This time I used an 11x16 pan (to share at a church potluck dinner) and additional casserole dishes: 6x6 (to generously serve two) plus, 8x8 (three large servings). After baking it at home, I brought the big one to church lightly covered with foil and wrapped in a couple bath towels to keep it warm on the way. I uncovered it and put it in the church oven at 175°, keeping it warm for approx. 2.5 hours. I didn’t sample it that day because there was such a smorgasbord of things I wanted to try. By the end of the meal, it had been entirely devoured. 
  • I saved the small casserole, unbaked, in the refrigerator a few days. It was a convenient, quick meal after work for my husband Stan and I. 
  • I froze the prepared but unbaked medium-size casserole. I moved it from the freezer to the refrigerator Saturday night and it was handy to have Easter Sunday this year—we could relax all afternoon and have a great no-hassle dinner (supper). For dessert, I served pizzelle cookies, another specialty of my mom.

Tater Tot Hot Dish (single batch)

1 pound lean ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1 or 2 cloves pressed garlic (or about 1/4 tsp garlic powder)
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. celery salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
16 ounces frozen mixed vegetables
Ore-Ida Seasoned Tater Tots

Preheat oven to 450°. In heavy skillet, brown beef and cook onion and garlic together until onion is tender. Drain or spoon off excess fat. Stir in seasonings, condensed soup and frozen vegetables. Spread mixture in shallow casserole or baking pan. Place tight rows of tater tots on top to completely cover the mixture. Bake about 20–25 minutes or until bottom mixture is bubbly and tater tots are browned and crisp. Time may vary with ovens.

What is comfort-food?

God’s Word, the Bible (classes, church, reading or hearing from it) provides food that nourishes my soul, gives direction for daily living—helps me understand the meaning and purpose of life. While I’m into it, the Spirit teaches me about my Comforter and encourages His love, forgiveness, peace and joy to shine through me toward my brothers, sisters and everyone. What a great reason to invite the Lord to be with us during a meal and give Him thanks! The inclusion of prayers and family devotions is what really classifies my memory of Tater Tot hotdish as comfort-food. On the farm in Minnesota, we always said a table prayer before meals:
Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and let these gifts to us be blessed. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good and his mercy endures for ever. Amen.

After dinner, Mom read a family devotion while we were together. I’m thankful for her faithfulness.

Portals of Prayer by Concordia Publishing House is what we used. It is an excellent choice for an easy to understand devotion, still available today and better than ever. Bible readings, a story and a prayer only take a few minutes to do each day. To close the devotion, we said The Lord’s Prayer together. 
Our Father who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation. But deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
More about The Lord’s Prayer (pdf from LCMS)

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