Apr 30, 2009

Tater Tot Casserole

This is a family favorite! Basically, all it is, is chili-cheese tater tots! Who doesn't love that?!?! Whenever I'm asked by my guys "What's for dinner?" and I answer "Tater Tot Casserole", there's nearly a stampede right then and there. This also freezes well. Details on that under the helpful tips section of this post.

Tater Tot Casserole

1 pound ground beef
1 (2 pound) bag tater tots
2 (10 oz.) cans hot dog chili sauce
2 cups shredded cheese (any)

1. Pour tater tots into a 9x13 rectangular Pyrex dish or other such baking dish. Cook per package directions until tater tots are crispy and cooked completely.

2. While tots are baking, cook meat. Set aside. (I like to boil my meat in a big pot of water and then drain the water out. Less fat, cooks quicker, doesn't burn and get all crunchy like browning meat on the stovetop in a frying pan can. See the tutorial on the tutorial on Southern Plate that Christy Jordan wrote for more information on this.)

3. Mix chili sauce into the cooked, drained meat. Heat through.

4. Pour chili sauce over crispy tater tots. Top with shredded cheese. Bake at whatever temperature your oven is already set on for about 5 minutes, until the cheese is melted.

Some helpful tips for cooking this dish:
1. If freezing, assemble without cooking the tater tots or heating the chili sauce. Let the ground beef cool before assembling, but go ahead and mix the meat in the chili sauce before pouring over the tots. If you do heat the chili sauce, let it cool before you pour it over the tots. Trust me, if you cook the tots before assembly, or pour hot chili over the tots before freezing, you will have yucky, soggy tots. Not cool! After assembly, wrap well and label. Don't forget to label with cooking directions, too! This way, if you need your husband or teenager to start dinner, you can thaw this in the fridge the night before, then call when you need it popped in the oven and just tell them to follow the instructions on the label you made!

2. If you freeze this, it can be cooked two ways. The first is to thaw in the fridge overnight, then bake at 350°F about 20 minutes, or until heated through and the cheese is melted. The other is to unwrap and throw it in the oven frozen. Then you would bake it at 350°F until heated through. I would guess 30-45 minutes, but I've never done it this way, so I'm not sure.

3. If you're worried about your cheese burning due to the increased cooking time after freezing and thawing, but don't want to cover it with foil while baking (so the cheese won't stick to foil, of course), then try this. Assemble the casserole, everything but the shredded cheese. When you bake this, bake for all but about 5 or 10 minutes of the time called for. Take it out, add the cheese, then bake another 5-10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

4. Short on time? No need to cook the tots if you need to throw this together really fast. It will just make for soggier tots if you don't cook them until they're crispy first. Plus, it takes about as long to cook the ground beef as it does the tots, unless you have ground beef already cooked in your freezer, like I do.

Have any more suggestions? Share them in the comments.

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