Tater Tot Casserole

All all go back 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years to our elementary school days, shall we? That's when I first had this dish - a small Catholic school in the heartland of the Midwest that didn't have to abide by all the rules and regulations of the government mandated meals of today and because of that we had a 'Grandma' type as our school cook that made the most. delicious. meals. ever.

Our school was actually 'known' for their lunches. Other kids in the public schools were jealous and parents clamored for the recipes. Word of the quality and taste of our lunches spread far and wide as the surrounding towns 15, 30 and 45 minutes away also knew of our cook and her meals. Yes, they were that good.

We also got 'regular' school meals too. Meals that children all over the country were being served... but I still suspect maybe ours tasted better. LOL. One of the 'standbys' that the schools served and the kids loved was (and is) Tater Tot Casserole or Tater Tot Hotdish. I know it's a beloved recipe because you should see how many people on the internet are looking for the 'recipe'!

It's a childhood food. A comfort food. An affordable food to feed a hungry family. And? It tastes good. Especially with ketchup. And you can quote me on that. There are only two (2) casseroles that my anti-casserole family will eat. We just aren't a 'casserole' (or 'hot dish' if you live in Minnesota) family. Hate them. Don't enjoy them. Won't cook them. Won't eat them. This one? We will. Oh, we will.

Tater Tot Casserole

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 large onion, chopped or diced
salt and pepper
1 - large sized bag tater tots or even french fries if you are out of tater tots
1 can cream of mushroom soup (I use the 98% fat free version because it has better flavor)
1/2 - 3/4 c frozen peas

Brown the ground beef in a skillet with the chopped onion. If your family balks at onions chop and diced them really, really small, LOL. Season heartedly with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Add the can of soup and stir. If you are going to use pea's, add them now, or sprinkle over the meat mixture after it's in the pan. Doesn't matter. Note that I only put pea's in half of ours. Half of us love them and half of us don't.

Pour into a greased casserole dish or baking pan. Smaller pans mean thicker casserole. Larger pans like a 9X13 will give you a thinner, drier casserole. I used a 10" square pan in the photos. Top with the potato bites (tater tots or french fries) smoothing out to a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 375 - 400 degree's for approximately 35 - 40 minutes until the tater tots are crisp.

Browning the meat with onion. Even my brothers who *hate* onions would eat this. Just make them so tiny they turn transparent and they won't see them. LOL.

Place into your baking pan. Note I only used pea's in half of ours. My 12 year old begged me to do so and I relented since she is my 'salad' eater and gets more than enough veggies daily.

Top with a large bag of tater tots... use as much or little as you want.

I like to serve with ketchup because, well, I refuse to give up that tiny little part of my childhood. It's just better that way!

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