I love casseroles! They are so easy to make, cook in one dish, are usually better the second day, and are the ultimate comfort food. My only problem is that The Artist doesn’t so I rarely get to make them. This week he was out of town for a few days on business so I planned a meal that was just for me, tater tot casserole!
I have loved tater tots since I was a child and grab a bag whenever I have room in the freezer to store them for a few days – they rarely last longer than that! I usually just heat them up and eat them for snacks, dipping them in ketchup and never have to worry about sharing with The Artist because they aren’t his favorite. More for me!
I looked around the Web and found a ton of recipes for Tater Tot Casserole but all of them called for some form of Cream of xxx soup, which is something I don’t keep in the pantry. When I was looking through the cupboards seeing what I had on had to work with, I discovered a lot of ingredients that work in Mexican or Tex Mex meals. I was thinking of making a Tamale Pie except substituting the tater tots for the cornmeal topping. Perfect! It was just what I was looking for and something new to try out.
So I gathered up all of my ingredients and set them out on the counter. Then I sat down and wrote out my preliminary recipe. I have made similar dishes many times and had an idea of what I wanted to make. A few tweaks and I was ready to start cooking.
When I am doing recipe development for myself (and you guys), I usually have a concept in mind and know which direction I am headed in. Occasionally I take a Left at Albuquerque and wind up somewhere totally different, but usually I am close to my original thoughts. Starting with a concept still leaves me plenty of room to make changes as I go along, feeding my creative spirit.
My ideas are usually inspired by a trip to the grocery store or farmer’s market, and then figuring out ways to utilize the beautiful produce and proteins I find there. My cooking methods are usually fairly straightforward and simple, though I may use a lot of individual ingredients to get the flavors I am looking for.
After all these years in the kitchen I rarely screw up so totally that our meal is inedible (although I’ve had some doozies, LOL). But on the off chance that I make a big mistake, I live by the motto, “Let’s try everything and if it doesn’t work out, we can always order pizza!” I allow myself to make mistakes, which is liberating! Having this “plan B” gives me the freedom to experiment and have fun in the kitchen without worrying about making mistakes.
If you aren’t used to creating your own recipes, do what I did in the beginning. I would open several cookbooks and take parts of different recipes and combine them. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it was a flop, but I always learned something valuable and eventually became confident in knowing what types of ingredients, herbs, and spices go together really well and complement one another.
While I have a basic “recipe” to work with, I keep my computer in the kitchen with me and make notes of what I am doing and which ingredients I am adding as I go along. A lot of what we do is such a habit that we often forget to include it on the first pass. Sometimes the way I wrote the recipe in the first place isn’t the way I actually made the dish, so I will rewrite the recipe as needed.
Once I have everything made, have tasted it and made adjustments with the seasonings, I sit down and write out the final version of the recipe immediately. You don’t want to wait until you’ve eaten your meal or you will forget half the steps and little things that will make your readers successful when they are making it for the first time.
If you are a food blogger and need to take photos of your cooking, you know how hard it is to make the meal and get the family served while racing to get your photographs taken. Take the time during the day to preset your place setting or the area where you will photograph. Set out your props, plates, etc. Then all you have to do is swap out the empty bowl with the filled one and quickly take your shots. I always serve The Artist first so he is happily eating while I photograph my own plate. When I am done shooting, I join him and we finish our meal together.
I encourage you to start writing down all the ad hoc meals you make. Create your own recipes and build your library. Who knows, one of these days you may want to start your own blog or write a cookbook to hand down to your children and grandchildren!
Have a wonderful weekend my friends! Get out and enjoy the beauty of your community and maybe create a new recipe that your family and friends will love!!
Taco Tot Casserole
© 2013 Jane Bonacci, The Heritage Cook. All rights reserved.
Yield: about 6 servings
1 tbsp organic olive oil
1 lb ground beef, pork, chorizo, dark chicken, or dark turkey (use your favorite or a combination)
1 large onion, peeled and diced finely
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp chili powder, use a blend or single chile such as ancho
1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained well, optional
1 (4 oz) can chopped mild green chiles, or to taste, optional
2 cups frozen whole kernel corn
Juice of 1 lime
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 (16 oz) jar enchilada sauce, preferably Frontera Classic Red Chile Enchilada Sauce
2 tbsp masa harina or corn flour
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro, optional
2 to 3 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 (32 oz) bag frozen mini tater tots (Ore-Ida brand is gluten-free), use as many as needed to fully cover the top of your baking dish; re-freeze any leftovers
Cilantro sprigs, for garnish
Chopped green onions, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9×13-inch baking pan with vegetable oil spray; set aside. Assemble and pre-measure all ingredients.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Brown the ground meat of your choice with the onions until thoroughly cooked through, about 4 minutes. Use a spatula to break up large clumps, getting the mixture as smooth as possible. Add the garlic and cook, stirring for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Drain excess grease and discard. To the skillet, add the cumin, oregano, and chili powder. Stir until thoroughly mixed in and evenly distributed. Add the black beans, green chiles, corn kernels, and lime juice, tossing to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat.
In a large bowl, combine enchilada sauce, and masa harina or corn flour. Whisk until completely incorporated and no lumps remain. Pour the sauce mixture into the skillet and stir until evenly distributed. Transfer to the prepared baking pan.
Sprinkle half of the cilantro over the meat mixture in pan. Sprinkle half of the grated cheese over the cilantro. Place the tater tots evenly over the pan and sprinkle with remaining cheese and cilantro.
Place in the preheated oven and bake until the filling is heated through and bubbling and the tater tots are crispy and well browned, for 30 to 50 minutes. Carefully remove from the oven and let set for 10 minutes to cool slightly before serving. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and chopped green onions if desired.
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