What do you do when you want to make tater tot hot dish but find yourself without the allegedly essential cream of mushroom soup? Don't be daunted! The possibilities are endless! All you need is a substitute for cream of mushroom that has equivalent congealing power. Appetizing, no?
One strong contender is jarred queso. Yes, you could make homemade queso but that's a lot more work. And I happened to have a partially eaten jar of queso in the fridge.
Here's how to make tater tot hot dish with jarred queso:
1) Sweat onions and celery with salt and olive oil in a large oven-proof pan until tender.
2) Meanwhile, heat up a jar of store-bought queso over low heat. Make sure it is the gelatinous kind that wobbles when it's not hot. Once it is warm (but not boiling), add your favorite regular cheese and whisk it in until it melts. Stir in a dash of ketchup (trust me - the sweetness provides important balance). Keep the queso warm, but make sure it does not boil.
3) Add ground beef and minced garlic to the pan with the celery and onions. Season with whatever you choose: red pepper flakes, garlic powder, cumin, chili powder, etc. If your jarred queso doesn't have chilis in it already, I highly recommend adding a jar of rotel. Be mindful about how much salt you add at this point, because the queso will add a lot of saltiness and savoryness.
4) Once the beef is cooked, add frozen peas or green beans. Cover the pan until the veggies are heated through. If there is a lot of moisture in the pan, uncover it and let some of the moisture cook off (don't let all the moisture evaporate - you just don't want standing liquid in the pan).
5) Add the queso sauce to the pan with the meat and vegetables and mix. Sprinkle shredded cheese over the top of the mixture.
6) Arrange tater tots to cover the top of the mixture. Bake according to the tater tot directions (it may not take quite as long as the bag suggests).
7) When the tater tots are golden, take the pan out of the oven and sprinkle more shredded cheese on top. It will melt from the heat of the tots. Let the hot dish rest for 5-10 minutes. Resting is a key step in making hot dish! This allows everything to come together and set up so it is less messy to serve.
8) Garnish with parsley or other herbs and serve.