The things about processed food is that it can taste - well - good. No foodie will ever admit it out loud, but we all know that if it comes in a box, chances are it has been carefully crafted with the right amounts of fat, sugar, and salt to assure the best taste and texture. Processed food is a scientic marvel of maximum paltatability.
I would believe that almost everyone has a guilty pleasure of a processed food he or she loves. Case in point: Cool Whip. Do you know someone who loves Cool Whip? I would bet you know several. I have a coworker who loves to cook, but still waxes poetic with other colleagues on how much she loves Cool Whip. I was once discussing trifle recipes on an internt forum and was shocked at how many of the posters said Cool Whip was part of the recipe. I protested. "Why can't you just whip some real cream? It tastes so much better and isn't that much more difficult?" I was attacked instead of supported. "How can you say that? I love Cool Whip." I must have heard ten variations on that. Maybe Sandra Lee is on to something after all.
I had this idea that I wanted to cook a Sandra Lee recipe at some point. I thought I might cook a few. I just wanted to see how bad these recipes were. I wanted to see if I could admit it if I discovered that the recipe wasn't bad at all.
I went through the Food Network website and tried to find an appropriate recipe. Most of them were either covered in cheese or were recipes for meats that the husband won't eat. If they didn't, then they required a slllllllllllow cooker, which I don't have. (I wouldn't mind having one, but Sir Pickypants says he doesn't feel comfortable having an appliance turned on all day when we're out of the house.) My grand scheme failed. I suppose it was all for the best.
So if I want to make a trashy recipe, where do I go?
I had an inspiration from TV, but not from the Food Network.
I sometimes find myself watching "X Kids and Counting" in that car wreck sort of way. I'm not a huge fan of the Duggars. I'm sure they're nice people and all, but their lifestyle bugs me. I don't like the way the older kids are parenting the younger ones. I don't like the way they kids are raised in their tight little enclave without really experiencing any other way of living, and thus never really choosing the life they're given. They're like automatons. *
*I'm sure there are plenty of fans reading this blog. I'm cool if you're a fan. However, please refrain from leaving argumentative comments. There are plenty of forums out there for arguing those points. This isn't one of them. It's just my blog and this blog doesn't tolerate off-topic arguments.
The one thing that fascinates me is their recipes. They are the ultimate back-of-the-box recipes. The most famous one: Tater Tot Casserole! The more I heard about it, the more I felt I needed to try it. Something about Tater Tot Casserole suggests comfort food to me and yet I've never eaten anything like it.
While gathering ingredients to make a Tater Tot Casserole, I had a small crisis of conscience. The recipe consists of frozen processed potatoes, cans of soup, and no vegetables. Could I really do something like this?
"This is the experiment," said my head. "You're supposed to be seeing how a totally processed meal would taste."
My conscience argued, "This is about the recipe and not the ingredients. Cans of soup are so against everything you attempt to stand for."
My head argued, "Just this once can't hurt. Where is your sense of adventure?"
At this point that sense of adventure almost won out. Sandra Lee makes 70% store-bought ingredients and I should too. That's why I wanted to make this.
Then conscience made one more plea. "Sir Pickypants needs a low-sodium diet. Think of all that sodium in those cans of soup."
So that decided it. I was going to make a Tater Tot Casserole that would be as homemade as possible. My version would incorporate homemade stock and mushrooms in a homemade white sauce. Flavors wouldn't just be salty soup. There would be aromatics and wine.
I started by cooking mushrooms in lots of garlic.
I softened an onion and then browned some ground turkey really well. I added white wine and sage and cooked until it all evaporated.
Then I made a white sauce flavored traditionally with nutmeg and white pepper. The mushrooms and chicken stock were then mixed in with this.
Turkey went down into the bottom of the pan.
Next a layer of frozen broccoli cuts. This eased the vegetable guilt.
Mushroom sauce on the top.
Cover the whole thing with Tater Tots and bake for an hour.
This isn't your standard Tater Tot Casserole. I'm giving this a new name. It's Napoleon Dynamite Casserole, named for the character in the (awesome) eponymous cult film who loves his Tater Tots so much he hoards them in his pockets.
How did it taste? Pretty good. In short, this recipe is just Farmer Pie for people too lazy to slice or mash their own potatoes or make their own gravy. My version had plenty of great flavor, but I would bet the orginal version is a bit creamier given the amount of liquid and the lack of vegetables.
I learned that potato starch makes a less grainy sauce than rice flour.
Napoleon Dynamite Casserole
1 pound ground turkey
1 large onion, finely diced
1/2 cup white wine
2 tsp chopped fresh sage
10 oz mushrooms, sliced
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
Oil for sauteeing
3 pinches salt
2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl flour or potato starch
1 cup milk
1 cup light cream
1 cup chicken stock (low sodium - canned or boxed is fine)
1 pinch nutmeg
1 pinch white pepper
1 package frozen broccoli cuts, thawed
1 large package Tater Tots (or generic potato rounds)
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Soften onions in a little oil. Add turkey and cook until well cooked through. Add wine and sage and cook until all liquid is evaporated. Season with first pinch of salt. Set aside.
Warm garlic in a little more oil. Toss in mushrooms and cook until they are well browned. Add second pinch of salt. Remove from pan.
Melt butter in the pan and add flour. Cook until you start to smell the flour toasting a bit. Whisk in milk and cream until smooth and continue whisking until it starts to thicken. Stir in chicken stock and cook another minute to thicken sauce up again. Add white pepper, nutmeg, and third pinch of salt. Stir in mushrooms.
In a 9x13" pan lay down the turkey mixture. Cover with frozen broccoli. Now pour the mushroom sauce over the top.
Cover the entire top of the pan with potatoes. Cook in the oven for 1 hour, or until potatoes are toasted and golden.
Then go vote for Pedro!