My friend issued me a challenge that hasn't been bested by my cookbooks or my powers of Googling. Heck, even Chow didn't have a topic, forcing me to quit lurking and ask a question.
Neither of us grew up eating Tater Tot Casserole, though being from the southern Midwest we are are familiar with casseroles and potlucks in general. Without that haze of nostalgia she claims that the tater tot casserole her former roommate concocted bimonthly was the most reprehensible thing she's ever had. A gloppy mess of condensed soup, ground beef, canned green beans (sometimes), and a strata of essentially steamed tater tots on top with some bagged cheese over the top.
I like casseroles and think they can be done well. I think Tater Tot Casserole could be made edible but now that she called me on it I'm kinda stuck. I can't find any recipe that has been dressed up, which surprised me. (Though one woman's secret ingredient is sour cream.)
Any advice, Chowhounds? I'm torn on what my approach should be. Should I stick with all the processed foods that are typical but just improving on his techniques? (I know the boy. I've seen him eat ramen straight from the package. I know he didn't fry those tots first, and I think a crisping in bacon grease and not being tucked under cheese to become soggy would make a difference.) Should I gussy up the ingredients with some carmelized onion, a bechamel, etc? Or maybe take it to a different flavor profile and make essentially a Shepherd's Pie with tater tots instead of mashed spuds? And then the thought of sweet potato tots and some cayenne drifted through my head...
Picture attached? What we want to avoid.