That’s how I felt about dinner tonight, folks. You know when something hits the spot so perfectly that you wish you had two stomachs so you could just keep enjoying how good it tastes? (If you don’t, well, I’m sorry.) That was tonight. Normally, you see, I’m a pasta or rice kind of girl, with lots of seasonings and not too much meat. (A favorite easy lunch? Toss cooked pasta with chopped tomatoes and grated Parmesan and top with olive oil and Balsamic vinegar.) Lately, however, potatoes have been sounding good, and chicken has not, and so I decided to try this Cowboy Casserole for dinner tonight. Tater tots were not a food my parents ever fed us, to the best of my knowledge, so this was my first foray into the world of tater tot casseroles; I dutifully bought the ‘crispy crowns’ it suggested and went to work. Being me, of course, this involved a few recipe changes…
The first was a no-brainer–I buy ground beef from Costco, and you get a bag of already frozen 1 pound tubes. We’re not THAT into meat at my house, so I thawed a pound and called it good. (I really never do more than a pound of ground beef for a 9 by 13 pan.) The second was a bit trickier, but you see, the thought of condensed soup didn’t sound particularly good. (I’m not morally opposed to using it occasionally, you understand; the thought of the taste was just not appealing today.) I decided to google substitutions for cream of celery soup (because really, I’m the only one in my family who doesn’t loathe mushrooms), and I found this odd web page with a background of removed pictures. It had a recipe for a condensed cream of celery soup substitute, however, and it sounded good and fairly simple, so I tried it. (I didn’t add the mushrooms; really, that seemed like a typo.) Instead of salt and pepper I threw in a generous half teaspoon of chicken bouillon, and while if you like things salty I’d up it to a teaspoon, maybe, it worked for me.
Other than that, I followed the recipe, although it did need a bit more cooking time to get the cheese probably melted on the top. (Sharp cheddar, because that’s my preferred kind of cheddar.) And oh, it was tasty! It was flavorful and hearty and crispy enough to suit me, and I ate an obscene amount of it. My oldest loved it and asked if we could make it again; my middle said it was “kind of good” in an unenthusiastic tone of voice, which is typical for any new recipe; and my boy refused to eat it at dinner (he’d just had rather large quantities of milk) but happily ate it closer to bedtime. Since it got a thumbs up from my hubby, I’d call it a qualified crowd-pleaser. Give it a try the next time you’re in the mood for heartiness!