Years ago I had a prepared dinner business where busy families could order different meals and pick them up once a week. Meals that could be popped in the oven and be cooking while kids finished homework and parents could just relax after their long day. I offered this recipe that I discovered in The Casserole Queens cookbook, and my customers always gave it rave reviews. Plus, it freezes well, which makes this a perfect dish to double so you can have one tonight and one next month when it’s one of those days you don’t feel like cooking but you want a nice comforting casserole that’s oven ready with only one pan to clean at the end of the meal.
The recipe calls for canned cream of mushroom soup, but I have also included the very best home made cream of mushroom soup recipe at the bottom of this post. Seriously, this soup is so creamy and delicious, with no MSG, I might note. If you are a label reader...which I am, you will be surprised at some of the ingredients in canned soup. I urge you to try it out. I promise you will not want to ever buy the canned soup again. It's worth the effort and it also freezes well, so keep some in the freezer to use in any recipe that calls for cream of mushroom soup.
Now on to the casserole that my girls name "Best Darned Casserole"!
Serves 4 but easily doubled and freezes well
1 pound ground beef
1 onion diced
2 cloves garlic minced
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons butter
8 oz. sliced mushrooms (any kind)
1 can cream of mushroom soup (or see the homemade recipe below...SO GOOD)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 ½ cups tater tots
In a large skillet, brown ground beef, onion, garlic, salt and pepper over medium-high heat.
Drain the fat from the meat mixture using a fine mesh strainer into empty bowl.
Pour the meat mixture into an 8 x 8 baking dish.
Using the same skillet, add the 2 tablespoons of butter and melt. Then add the sliced mushrooms. Alternatively, you may dice them finely to disguise them from finicky eaters!!)
Cook the mushrooms over medium heat for about 8-10 minutes or until they are nicely browned and caramelized.
Evenly spread the sauteed mushrooms over the meat mixture.
Evenly spread the cream of mushroom soup over the meat mixture.
Top with the grated cheddar cheese.
Finally top with the tater tots.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
NOTE: This dish freezes beautifully. If freezing, cover the casserole with foil and freeze up to three months.
To cook after freezing, I recommend defrosting overnight in the refrigerator. Bake covered for 30 minutes then uncover and continue baking for another 30 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
The Best Cream of Mushroom Soup
Makes 5 cups
2 quarts (or 8 cups) of chicken stock (homemade or low sodium store bought)
1 stick unsalted butter
⅔ cup chopped leeks (white parts only) *see notes on how to clean and trim leeks below
1 ½ cups white button mushrooms, chopped
1 cup flour (can use Gluten Free flour if desired)
1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 cup heavy cream
In a medium pot set over medium-high heat, bring the chicken stock to a boil.
In a separate large saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter and add the chopped leeks and mushrooms and cook for 8 minutes.
Add the flour and thyme and cook for 2 minutes to remove the raw flour taste.
Gradually add the hot chicken stock to the vegetable and flour mixture, whisking constantly..
Add the bay leaves, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the soup thickens.
Remove the bay leaves and puree the soup with either an immersion blender, or in batches in a blender. (Never fill a blender with hot liquid more than half full)
Pour the soup through a fine mesh strainer into a clean saucepan.
Add the heavy cream and bring to a simmer for about 10 minutes.
Serve hot, or cool down completely and store in airtight containers in the refrigerator for a week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Leeks have a different flavor than green onions or regular onions. Typically, you should use the light part of the leek for your recipes but you can also try the dark area for stocks.
Since leeks are grown in sandy soil, leeks are usually in need of a good cleaning. Here's how in 5 steps.
With a knife trim off the root end and remove the dark, tough,green tops.
Cut the leeks into sections about 4 inches long.
Slice the leeks in half lengthwise, then slice into 1/2 inch half moons.
Fill a large bowl with cold water and add the sliced leeks and gently move them around with your hands, loosening the dirt trapped between the layer. Using your fingers separate the half moons into individual pieces. The leeks will float and the dirt falls to the bottom.
Then place the leeks in a strainer and run under cold water for a second rise.
Dry in a clean towel and use or store in refrigerator in a damp paper towel in a plastic bowl or airtight container for up to 4 days.