Thursday, August 11, 2011

Recipe: Tatertot Casserole (Sans Canned Cream Soup!!!)

Ah, dear memories of my grade school cafeteria lunches.  My favorite meals were (HUGE) homemade cinnamon rolls with chili (notice what's listed first there...), cheeseburger stromboli,  and... tatertot casserole!  Such a humble casserole, really.  Comfort food at its finest.

Fast forward to now.  A few weeks ago I had a craving for tatertot casserole, the creamy, beefy goodness topped with crunchy tatertots.  But one thing stood in the way... canned cream of mushroom soup.  Over the years I've developed a mild distaste for canned cream soups--chock full of sodium and they keep the shape of the can when you dump them out (a non-Newtonian fluid, by the way).

I tried buying "Lite" soup and making a casserole, but it was bland.  No amount of additional salt or pepper could salvage it.  I was quite disappointed.

Luckily (for my tummy), I didn't give up.  Tonight, I set out to make my own "cream soup" sauce for casserole.  No half-pint gelatin salt-block "soup" was going to stand in my way!!!

Guess what!  This time I was successful.  As full of flavor as comfort food gets, and both Handsome and I had extra helpings!

Tatertot Casserole
by the Spares

1 lb. ground beef
2 1/2 c. frozen green beans
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 T. butter
3 T. flour
1 c. beef broth*
1/8 t. dried thyme
1/8 t. black pepper
3/4 c. milk
1/4 c. parmesan cheese (optional)
1 lb. frozen tatertots (1/2 of a 32 oz. bag)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray an 8x8 baking dish with nonstick spray (or a deep-dish 9" pie pan).

Brown ground beef in a large skillet.  Drain and pour beef in baking dish.  Spread the (still frozen) green beans over the ground beef in the baking dish and set aside.

Melt butter in the skillet you used earlier.  Saute onions until translucent, about 2 minutes.  Stir in flour and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring often.  Add broth, milk and spices.  Heat to a low boil and cook until thickened, stirring often.

Pour sauce over beef and green beans in the baking dish.  Top with parmesan cheese (if using) and spread tater tots on top in one even layer.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, until tatertots are brown and sauce is bubbling.  Let cool 10 minutes before serving.  Enjoy!!!

*You could replace part of the broth with wine, if you like.  This would work great if you used low-sodium broth, because wine helps food taste salty (without the added salt).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Farmer's Market: Fennel (Plus Heirloom Tomatos & Okra)

Fennel is a whitish bulb with long, light-green stems and feathery leaves.  I cut the stems off before I remembered to take a photo, but here's what my bulb looked like.

Raw fennel is crisp with a spicy, black licorice taste.  When cooked, it (supposedly) loses the harshness and takes on a soft nutty flavor.  After some research, I chose Rachel Ray's Good Fennels Pasta, because she hadn't let me down before!

As I was cooking, I uttered the famous last words, "I hope this is good... because this recipe is making a LOT!"

Turns out that I must have done something wrong.  It wasn't very good.  Salvageable, but not good.  Not enough sauce and the fennel wasn't soft like the onions and peppers were...  I added an extra two cups of tomato sauce and some parmesan cheese and baked it for 30 minutes, which helped, but it was still a crunchy-licoricely-studded fennel minefield.

In the end, I've learned that there are only a few foods that I will pick off of my plate:  blueberries, blue cheese, and now... fennel.  (And, believe me, I have been picking and picking during lunch this week... ah, leftovers.)

I'm not done, though.  Maybe next year I'll get up the courage to try it again...

On the bright side, the next night we had hamburgers topped with a thick slice of an heirloom tomato (in place of ketchup, for me).  They were delicous!  I ate the rest of the tomato with some salt and pepper!

We also bought a pound of okra, and I fried it to go with the hamburgers.  I adapted Paula Deen's recipe, but it turned out to be a little bland for us.  Nothing salt couldn't fix, though!