This dish is a quintessential mid-western HOTDISH (I still don't know what a casserole is haha!) This is my mothers recipe - its pure comfort eating. Good, fill ya up, stick to your ribs, and make you happy kind of food. My family would always just go nuts when my mom made this and now my husband and friends do too! You HAVE to try it!
You have the option to brown the meat or not... Honestly I think that it is about a horse a piece as far as time goes... so I usually just brown it with a little diced onion and season salt.
** Once browned (or not) place in bottom of 9x13 pan and spread out.
Add layer of mixed veggies straight from the freezer and smooth out over beef.
add cream of chicken (or mushroom if you prefer) over veggies. Do not dilute!
**My trick is to put small dollops all over surface and then spread those out slowly so you don't end up just "mixing" the soup and veggies together. This dish is all about the layers!
My mom adds a splash of milk here over the soup... I don't. I guess its up to you if you want yours thinner... I think that its hard to measure the right amount and not to mention I like mine thick - and that way it will not fall apart as much. Up to you.
Now the cheese! place a full layer of sliced cheese over the whole thing! No cheating and leaving gaps!
** I would NOT recommend substituting American with Cheddar - it gets pretty greasy. Do not substitute sliced with shredded as it does not melt evenly (and its a terrible base for the tots) TRUST ME :)
TOTS. Who doesn't just love tots?! I do not just throw a bunch on top and throw it in the oven.. I line them up next to each other and fill the whole pan. The only downside to doing it this way (if there is one) is that you do use a lot of tots. It seems like I always need a handful more than whats in an averaged sized (Orida) bag so I always keep extra on hand.
**Raw beef- 1 hour and check
**Browned beef - 45 minutes and check
You want to see the tots golden brown and the cheese bubbling.
Let this beast cool down! This stuff gets molten hot and as much as you may want to face-dive into this as soon as you pull it out... leave the room for a few minutes. :D
**You really do not need much of a side with this... There are so many veggies in it. If anything maybe a salad. That' about it.