I realize it sounds brash to say that this is, “The Best Ever Tator Tot Casserole,” but you guys, it really, really is!!!
“I MAKE THE BEST TATOR TOT CASSEROLE IN THE WORLD!” (Me dropping the Mic)
I learned a trick back when I was student teaching at an elementary school and it changed my life, or at least my Tator Tot Casserole skills.
We were newly married and super poor so most days I would take my own lunch to school. However, once I found out this school was famous for it’s tator tot casserole I knew I had to try it.
Next time they served it I brought money to buy lunch and holy smokes, it really was the best tator tot casserole I had ever had. It was sooooo good!
Me being me, and needing to know how I could duplicate this, tried with all my might to figure out all the different ingredients. I thought I had it figured out, but wanted to make sure so I went to talk to the head lunch lady.
I’m pretty sure she thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care. I told her how great the casserole was and asked her if they had a secret ingredient that made it so good. I told her I was pretty sure it was just ground beef, onion, cream of mushroom soup, and a little sour cream with the tator tots and cheese on top.
She told me all of those things were in it, but there was one more ingredient. I was hanging on her every word.
What? What is it? What could it be?
Ketchup! A quarter size squirt of ketchup!
Wow, really? A little squirt of ketchup has the power to make something so delicious?
I trusted her and gave it a shot!
It worked, it really is that little bit of acid and sweetness from the ketchup that makes all the difference.
I now knew the secret, but unfortunately we were still poor and 2 lbs of hamburger was a lot of meat to use in one meal. I decided to try using 1 lb of meat and then grating/finely chopping a bunch of veggies that I always kept on hand. Carrots, celery, onion, potato, and mushrooms or zucchini if I had them.
The veggies would have to make up for the other pound of meat.
It worked great (and in my humble opinion) makes it taste even better. Everyone I ever serve this too LOVES it!
I also have made one more addition, you know me always trying to get one more veggie into my kids. I now put a couple cups of frozen green beans on the bottom of the pan.
It adds another veggie and the best part is, all the delicious flavors from everything else, cook into the beans making them extra tasty.
Such an awesome veggie packed meal that the whole family loves. This is one of a small handful of dinners that Trever actually eats seconds and thirds of and it makes me so happy that all those veggies are hiding in it and going into his little body.
If you don’t want to use extra veggies, that is fine. Just make sure to use the onion and add another pound of meat. It will be awesome!
When I think of comfort foods, Tator Tot Casserole is right up there and I’m telling you this one is the best! You’ve got to try it! (Step by Step photos to follow)
- 1 or 1½ pounds ground beef or turkey
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped or grated
- 2 medium carrots, finely chopped or grated
- 1 large stalk of celery, finely chopped or grated
- 1 small zucchini or 4 ounces of mushrooms, finely chopped or grated, (if I don't have either of these I use another celery stalk)
- 1 medium potato, finely chopped or grated.
- 2 cups frozen green beans
- 1 12 ounce can cream of mushroom soup
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 2 tbsp ketchup
- salt and pepper
- tator tots (1 regular size bag)
- 2 cups shredded mild cheddar or colby jack cheese
- In your food processor or with a grater or your favorite knife, chop the carrots, celery, onion, potato (and zucchini and mushrooms if you are using them) very finely, so they will just be tiny specs when cooked.
- In your largest saute pan add the ground beef and tiny veggie specs. Cook until ground beef is browned and veggies are tender. (make sure to generously salt and pepper this while it is cooking. (you should use at least ¾-1 tsp salt and about ⅛ tsp pepper.)
- At this point start preheating your oven to 350 degrees.
- I like to put my green beans in the bottom of the 9x13 pan and put them in the preheating oven for a few minutes to help them defrost so they will cook more evenly with the casserole. (set a timer for 4-5 minutes if you are worried about forgetting they are in there.) (If you don't want to do that, you can put them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes and get the same effect.)
- Once beef and veggies are ready add the cream of mushroom soup, sour cream and ketchup. Mix thoroughly.
- Pour mixture over the defrosted green beans in the bottom of your 9x13 casserole dish.
- Put a layer of tator tots over the meat/veggie mixture.
- Place in the 350 degree oven (uncovered) for 45 minutes.
- Take casserole out and cover with the two cups of shredded cheese, return to oven for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted to your preference. I like it to be starting to brown a little. I sometimes put it under the broiler for a few minutes if it isn't doing it on it's own.
- Once the cheese is browned the casserole is ready to serve to people you love.
Don't forget dessert