Tator Tot Casserole: The On-Going Experiment

19 02 2009

Sous chef here, with a guest blog! Hooray!

The regular chef and I have been out of town, and although we had a small amount of leftovers (from last week’s soup), I wanted us to have something ready for lunches! (Okay, so there are only two more lunches this week… anyway.) I’ve also been meaning to experiment some more with my tator tot casserole “recipe.”

I put recipe in quotes for a reason. The tot casserole has been something of a specialty of mine for a long time, and since moving to Seattle it’s become even moreso, as it’s SO Midwestern. Plus, everybody loves tator tots! Plus, it’s easy to tweak a casserole for the particular palates of those involved – so using the term “recipe” isn’t EXACTLY accurate if I’m kind of making it up each time. It’s become my signature dish.

A month or so ago a friend asked, via Facebook, for my recipe. To toot my own horn a little I decided to take the version of the recipe I’d submitted to the Woodland Park Zoo cookbook and post it as a Facebook note so that others who might want it could have. The response was bigger than any other Facebook note I’ve ever posted. Everyone had something to say about tot casserole! Specifically, I got REALLY excited about two responses:

  1. Creamed corn. I’d never, ever used creamed corn in tator tot casserole. Using/eating creamed corn in general never occurs to me, unless it’s that corn casserole with the cornbread mix and the cream corn and the corn and the sour cream and the… nevermind, that’s another post. The POINT is that I immediately realized creamed corn might be a brilliant non-dairy replacement for the cream soup! We’ve been using a made-up mixture of soy cream cheese and soy milk, which does the job but not quite the same way. I know you can buy non-dairy cream soups in some of the fancier stores, but using creamed corn seemed like a brilliant idea I immediately wanted to try.
  2. TOTS ON THE BOTTOM. People, this nearly blew my mind. Who, who I say, was the genius to realize you could also put tots on the BOTTOM?! It’s true, everyone loves tots, and there never seems to be enough of them… so putting them on the bottom in addition to the top seems like a no-brainer, but again, it had never even crossed my mind.
A layer of coin-shaped tots create a sort of casserole "crust."

A layer of coin-shaped tots create a sort of casserole "crust."

With the head chef coming down with some sort of contagious disease, the sous chef was on her own to create this entire casserole. As you can see, I first tacked the tots-on-the-bottom adventure. We had previously decided that coin-shaped tots would be ideal for this particular use. Imagine the joy you can feel from going to the store to buy TWO kinds of tots for ONE recipe! It’s almost worth it right there.

For the “filling” of this little tot-pie, I used: creamed corn, faux ground beef, canned green beans (mmmmmMidwest) and a small amount of frozen peas. I quickly realized that one can of creamed corn was insufficient. Although the can is larger than your average can of condensed cream soup, there’s also actual corn in it, and I didn’t really do the math right in my head. Hoping for a subsitute that didn’t require a walk to the grocery store, we decided to fall back on the milk/cream cheese method — except the milk was powdered vanilla soy milk and the cream cheese was chive! Only a small amount was necessary to supplement the cream corn, so I don’t think the bizarre vanilla/chive aspect will effect the overall taste.

I topped the casserole with a layer of regular tots, arranged in a nice pretty circle. See?

It looks like there's less filling than there is. I promise it's not just tots.

It looks like there's less filling than there is. I promise it's not just tots.

Just look at this beautiful example of casserole stratification – my old geology professor would be so pleased with what I’ve found. Tots, filling, and tots!

Full disclosure: We have yet to actually eat this amazing tot pie. It’s lunch tomorrow, and then someone will return with a full report on the success or failure of these new developments. Onward!




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