Winter Comfort Foods: Cheesy Tater Tot Casserole

Winter Comfort Foods: Cheesy Tater Tot Casserole

Cheesy tater tot casserole

Cheesy tater tot casserole

When my friend Scott announced he was preparing a tater tot casserole, my ears perked up.  Tater tots? As in the crispy, little potato nuggets that I loved as a kid?  I begged him to tell me more.  A native of Nebraska, Scott says he grew up on tater tot casserole, and prepares the same recipe his mother made, which he happily shared with me.  Scott’s tater tot casserole is a playful rendition of shepherd’s pie — ground beef, diced vegetables, canned soup and plenty of tater tots. It’s something the kid in all of us would enjoy… and here is my interpretation of the dish.

I created this recipe using a popular hash brown casserole as an inspiration, then added flavorful chicken sausages and sweet bell peppers to the mix.  I used sun-dried tomato smoked sausages, but regular hot dogs or shredded chicken breast will substitute nicely.  Serve this casserole with a side of steamed broccoli, lima beans or a fresh salad and you’ll have an easy comfort food favorite.

With my friend Scott

With my friend Scott

Cheesy Tater Tot Casserole
Serves 6

Ingredients

6 cups frozen tater tots
1 red bell pepper, diced
4-5 smoked chicken sausages, sliced
2 10-oz cans of cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 F.  Spray or grease a 13×9 rectangular baking dish and set aside.
  2. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and bell pepper over medium high heat.  Add the sausages and saute until peppers are softened and sausages have toasted, about 3-4 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the condensed soup, sour cream and milk.  Add the garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste.  Once combined, add all the cheese, tater tots, peas and the sausage mixture.  Mix until well combined.
  4. Pour into the prepared baking dish and bake, uncovered for 30-40 minutes.  The casserole is done when the tots are slightly browned and the cheese is melted.  Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Fryday, Fryday, Gotta Get Down on Fryday!

Fryday, Fryday, Gotta Get Down on Fryday!

French fries made from just a little itty bitty teaspoon of oil??  Come on, now. Guilt-free eating?  How can that be?

I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a kitchen skeptic.  I see so many products, receive so many pitches and promotional pieces on the latest cookware and appliances that I put up a wall when it comes to new fads or trends.  When I heard about T-fal’s Actifry, I took it with a grain of salt.  But as Elie Krieger explained to me, and to quote her directly: “It really is awesome.”  Then Ming Tsai talked about the Actifry and Emeril Lagasse talked about the Actifry and even David Lebovitz wrote about it.

And yesterday, my Actifry arrived at my door.

Actifry is a revolutionary, new and healthier way of cooking.  It produces food with less fat and calories than traditional methods.  For example, everyone loves French fries (or if you prefer, chips, frites or crisps) but nobody loves the deep fat frying that goes with it.  Actifry allows you to make fries at home — with just a teaspoon of oil.  Nothing else needed, which means no added fat or calories.

Now, I’ve seen the fry demos on TV.  I’ve read a lot about how wonderful the food tastes, just like they came out of a deep fryer.  Since I’m a skeptic, I decided my first use of the Actifry would be a twist on regular fries.  I decided to do tater tots.  I emptied a two pound bag of frozen tater tots into the Actifry and drizzled one scant little half tablespoon of canola oil.  I closed the lid and pressed start.

Fifteen minutes later, I had hot, crispy, flavorful tater tots waiting for me!  I tasted the first tot and was amazed.  I decided to close the lid and let them go for another five minutes.  They were even crispier and the aroma of just made potatoes filled my kitchen!  I was so delighted I threw in a handful of mini corn dogs. This time, there was no oil, just the corn dogs as is.  Minutes later, I had steaming hot corn dogs that were toasted on the outside and warm and tender on the inside.

Because I can’t leave well enough alone, I decided to make the Actifry do a healthy dinner dish.  After all, it’s categorized as a multi-cooker appliance.  I took a pound of un-cooked, peeled shrimp and a handful of fresh snow peas and voila!  Dinner was made with just a teaspoon of sesame oil.  In the last minutes of cooking, I added low-sodium soy sauce and the results were fabulous — much less fat and sodium than take-out.

Since so many of us know we need to reduce fats and oils from our diet, the Actifry really is going to revolutionize our kitchens.  It’s not exactly a cheap piece of equipment, but places like HSN allow for monthly flex-pays which millions of shoppers love to take advantage of.  I will be demonstrating the Actifry as a representative for  T-fal on HSN on Saturday, March 10 and I’m super excited.  From now until next week, I’ll be creating healthy, low-fat, no-oil or low-oil recipes for everyone to enjoy.

So far, I’m thinking about a spring risotto (with peas and fresh herbs), saucy chicken wings and some kind of hearty and spicy jambalaya.  Any other ideas?  Let me know and I may just go on-air with your recipe!