Tater Tot Casserole

Ever since I ate tater tots at the fair, the little things have been stalking me.  I'm not kidding, I don't think I'd given a thought to a tot in years and all of a sudden, they are everywhere.  Coupons for tots in my mailbox, people talking about them, bloggers writing about them, a huge bag of them in my shopping cart, you get the idea.

The strangest tot encounter I had was with a recipe book I saw about a week ago. You know those little recipe collections they sell at the checkout counter?  I always thumb through those. This particular one was called "America's Best Recipes" or something like that and had a recipe for some kind of vegetarian tater tot slow cooker thing. I'm not even sure what about it caught my eye, but it did.  The recipe had four ingredients - a bag of tots, two cans of vegetarian chili, 2 cups of cheese and something else I can't even remember but it's okay because I do not want ANYONE to make this recipe.  The recipe basically said to mix all this together and throw it in your slow cooker and cook it.  Now I love my slow cooker about as much as anyone, but some things are not meant to go in there.  Tater tots covered in canned chili and cheese are one of those things.  Tater tots must be crispy, not school cafeteria style barely browned and still tasting of the freezer. Also I just want to throw out that I hardly think a recipe including canned chili and tater tots can be classified as "America's Best" under any circumstance. I'm going to go out on a limb and say any recipe containing tater tots can't really be "America's Best" either.  Even mine.

Tater Tot Casserole
Recipe by Michelle's Dinner Bell

1/2 of 30 oz bag of tater tots - I used the crispy crowns
1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef or turkey
1 pkg sloppy joe seasoning
14 oz can tomatoes with green chiles
1/2 cup water
1 cup reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and spread out tots in a single layer.  Spray tots with nonstick spray - this will make them crispier and this is key.  Bake 20 minutes.

While tots are baking, brown meat in large skillet and drain fat.  Add sloppy joe seasoning, tomatoes and water.  Mix well and bring to a boil.  Reduce to simmer and cook about 10 minutes.  Stir in cheese.

Put meat mixture in 9 x 13 baking pan.  Top with single layer of tots.  Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake 10-15 minutes.  If you'd like to top with more cheese, you can.  But I am all about crisp and cheese reduces the crispness of the tots if you ask me.  See how crisp mine were?

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