My "expert" advice on this profile is specifically targeted at men. Ladies, you need not read on. Men, its time we stepped up our game. If this were a competition (and what isn't?) the women would be killing us. Lets tackle this meal-taking thing with focus, determination, and brute strength. No more excuses. No more fear. No more just letting your wife take care of it (as if she doesn't already have enough to do). So buckle your seatbelts, men - what follows is a simple, straight-forward plan for making and taking a basic but delicious meal to your friends when they need it. If you have the courage to execute this plan, I guarantee you will be the meal-making hero you've always dreamed of being (ok, fine, maybe your wife dreamed it). Ready? Read on.
Jeff's Favorite Recipe - Operation TaterTot Makalot
(a.k.a Weapons of Mass Digestion)
Tater Tot Casserole is a classic meat and potatoes favorite that will be a hit for 99% of the population. But I say, why only make one pan, when you can make ten pans with only a little extra effort? Make some space in your freezer for a stack of ready-to-go meals that you can pull out whenever the occasion calls for it.
Step 1. Gather Supplies:
- 12 - 15 lbs of ground beef (try to get it when its on sale)
- 10 cans cream of mushroom soup (or cream-of-somethinelse)
- 10 cans mixed vegetables (or 15 for a slightly healthier version)>
- 3 loaves of Velveeta cheese spread or equivalent (optional for non-cheese eaters)
- 240 oz of tater tots (3 80oz bags, or 8 32 oz bags)
- two large cooking pots, metal spoons, metal strainer, cheese cutter, can opener
- 10 disposable 9x13 aluminum pans
- aluminum foil
- permanent marker (to write directions on finished product)
Step 2. Cook Meat / Prep pans:
Brown meat on stove in a large cooking pot (actually two large cooking pots and a metal strainer work well for getting rid of grease). While waiting for meat to brown, lay out the pans, open cans of soup and vegetables (probably need to strain the water out of vegetable cans), and empty into the pans (1 can of each per pan, add more vegetables if you want). When browned, add meat to pans in equal portions (about 1 lb. each). Stir meat, soup, and veggies together in each pan until consistent and level. Tip: scoop out grease with a metal spoon while meat is cooking and put into some of the empty cans to solidify. Clean out pots with a paper towel (easier when warm). If you have "helpers" (like my 6 year old), they can assemble the pans and stir the mixture while you handle the stove like a trained pyrotechnic expert.
Step 3. Add Cheese:
Carefully open "loaf" of cheese spread by folding back the wrapper down the length of seam until wrapper is flat on the counter. Use cheese cutter to cut slices length-wise and place across the pan (about 13" long). Three slightly stretched slices per pan does the trick. Reward your "helpers" (and yourself) with leftover cheese. Three loaves should cover 10 pans, but if you are too generous with your slices (or your rewards), you can use sliced American or shredded cheddar as a replacement.
Step 4. Add Tots:
This is the most important step. Add a layer of tater tots on top of cheese. Yes, it sounds simple, but I have found many different style preferences. Some people just scatter a bag of tots randomly with absolutely no care as to how disorganized it looks. Others want the presentation to be perfect. Your "helpers" may wish to make creative patterns and shapes. I prefer to let my OCD kick in and fill the pan with tots aligned in flanks of neat rows facing the same direction. If it helps you can imagine them as brigades of soldiers in your personal food army (or not). When finished, press gently by hand to flatten tots.
Step 5. Final packaging and Storage:
Rip off 10 sheets of aluminum foil to fit pans. Write the following on each with permanent marker: "Tater Tot Casserole , Bake uncovered at 350 deg for 40 min. or until bubbly, Made on by ". Cover pans with foil and store in freezer. Tip: If stacking the pans, put the foil on one, then put the next pan on top, then tuck the foil on the first to avoid rips or leaks (unless you're into that sorta thing).
Congratulations, you've done it. You're a hero. Don't worry if you made mistakes - its pretty hard to screw up this recipe. If you haven't burned down the kitchen, consider it a success. Your efficiency and prowess will improve with experience. Now see how many of the ten pans you can give away before your family eats them.
Jeff's Transport Tips:
Take it out of the freezer, choose an appropriate method of transportation, and drop it off. You could heat it up for them at their place and set the table and stuff, but some people prefer that you just leave it so they can decide when to prepare it at their convenience. I remember when we were receiving meals every night and our fridge got so full of leftovers (yummy ones) that we were relieved to get a frozen meal that we could save for later. For example, I recently signed up for a timeslot on takethemameal.com, but I actually dropped it off the week before at a convenient time for both me and him.
Jeff's Favorite Meal He's Received:
Some fettucini pasta casserole thing that was frozen and we pulled out later (see above). Second favorite was probably fresh Uno's pizza delivered hot (they obviously didn't have the meal-prep plan outlined above, but they made up for it.
Jeff's Meal Disaster:
Can't think of anything that qualifies as a "disaster". The real tragedy is when you have food available to share, and you don't offer it to someone else who needs it.