Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tater Tot Casserole

Tater Tot Casserole out of oven.
    I tried a tater tot casserole right out of a national magazine (almost) and that bright idea become a failure. Not to accept defeat, I waited and researched. 
    Now I must admit that it was difficult to stick to the recipe. Tator tot casserole, or Cowboy Casserole as some call it, has almost as many variations as meatloaf. Some are cream soup based while others offer a tomato sauce filing - almost like a Sloppy Joe.
    I really wanted to add some corn, black beans and chili powder but I refrained. This dish was going to be cheesy and user friendly. See what you think, but feel free to use the options to add a little extra to an easy weeknight dish.

Tater Tot Casserole
1 1/2 lb. ground beef, browned
1-2 tsp. minced onion (or 1/4 cup real onion added while beef is cooking)
1 tsp. minced garlic (or 1 clove added while beef is cooking)
sprinkle of salt and pepper
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 can cream of mushroom soup

Simple ingredients.
1/8 cup milk or half and half
1/4 cup sour cream
2 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese, divided
32 oz. bag of tater tots

Options - 1 can corn, drained, 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained, 1/2 bell pepper, diced, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. paprika, 1/8 cup bacon bits, 1 T. parsley or cilantro or 1 can diced tomatoes, drained.

Spray coat or grease a 13x9x2 casserole dish. Preheat oven to 400.

Spread tots in single layer on bottom and up sides of casserole.

In medium bowl, combine all other ingredients and 1 cup of cheese (saving 1 cup for topping).

Spread meat/soup mixture evenly over top of casserole.

The bottom layer of tots and mixed filling
Bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining 1 cup of cheese. Return to oven and bake at least 15 - 20 minutes more until bubbly.

Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes to let cheese settle. Cut into rectangles and serve with side salad or baked beans.

Serves 8.

Casserole ready for oven.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Crispy Chicken Tenders

Photo courtesy of Taste of Home
     Of all the ways I've fried chicken for my family, their favorite is chicken strips. I took my lesson from the Colonel and spiced up the flour and pan-fried sliced breasts until golden brown. 
    They are perfect dipped in a sauce, smothered in gravy and even reheat pretty well. My trick to a light crispy breading is using instant mashed potato flakes in the final coating. Yeah, who would've thought, but I've been doing it for years.
Crispy Chicken Tenders
2 lb. frozen chicken breasts (cut in strips) or tenders

Flour Coating -
1/2 cup flour mixed with 1 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. onion salt and 1 tsp. paprika in a pie pan

Egg Wash - 
2 eggs mixed with 1/4 cup milk and a splash (2 tsp.) of hot sauce (optional) in flat bowl

Breading -
1/2 cup instant potato flakes
1/2 cup Bisquick
1 tsp. each oregano, basil, parsley, paprika, onion salt and garlic powder
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper all combined in a pie pan

Pour about 1-inch oil into large skillet and set over medium heat. 

Set up dipping station with farthest from skillet the flour mixture, in center the egg mixture, with a pie pan of potato flakes, biscuit mix and remaining spices closest to stove.

Roll chicken in flour to coat, dip in egg mixture, then coat well with potato breading

Fry about 5-6 minutes each side until golden brown. Drain on a plate lined with paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and pepper while hot. 

Serves 6-8.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Italian Tomatoes and Meat Sauce

Photos courtesy of the Cooking Corner.
    A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law dropped by for a visit and told us about these Italian tomatoes she found at the store that were just superb. I had an idea that she had to be talking about San Marzano tomatoes, which are what the chefs on TV use. I just didn't know that you could get them locally. Curiosity came into play so I had to try them myself.
    These particular plum tomatoes have a sweet flavor, are low in seeds as well as acidity and are easy to peel. They are an excellent tomato for sauces because they thicken and sweeten as they cook. Now, I understand all of the hype. There very well could be something to vine-ripened and handpicked.
    Normally when I make a pasta sauce, I start with a jar or can of store bought sauce as a base and doctor it up with herbs and spices. But with these Italian tomatoes I didn't even have to add some tomato paste as a thickener. It was just herbs, simmer and go. You'll have too see for yourself what a difference real Italian tomatoes makes to the sauce.

Italian Tomatoes and Meat Sauce
1 can (28 oz.) San Marzano tomatoes
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 T. olive oil
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
1 (12 oz.) pkg. Italian sausage
    (I used Farmington chicken sausage with mozzarella and bell peppers), sliced
1/4 pkg. angel hair pasta
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. marjoram
1/4 tsp. fennel seed (optional)
5 fresh basil leaves, sliced thin
grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Fill medium pot 3/4's full of water. Sprinkle with salt and a splash of olive oil. Bring to boil. Add pasta and bring to boil, cooking for 7 minutes. Set aside.

While pasta is cooking heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. When hot, but not smoking, add bell peppers, onion and red pepper flake if using. Cook 5 minutes until they soften. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more, stirring often.

Add chunks of Italian sausage and cook 2-3 minutes more. Stir to prevent sticking and over browning. Pour in tomatoes and add spices. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for at least 20-30 minutes.

Drain pasta and cover with lid to keep warm. Stir to separate.

Place pasta on plate and top with sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan just before serving.
Serves 4.

Taste Of Home Recipe of the Day