Jed had some serious reservations about marrying me. I have long believed that one of the main reasons I was able to talk him into asking me was because I could make Potato Top Casserole. The first time he ate it, we weren't even dating; it was just our apartment visiting his apartment for dinner. (In fact, some other guy who wasn't invited followed me like a dog over to the dinner, I was mortified because it meant no one would even look at me because they thought I was there with him. Ew.) I'd never seen anyone eat anything as fast as Jed ate that casserole. And when everyone was done, he finished off the rest of the pan. o_O
I learned to make the dish at a farmhouse in Wyoming (that was another roommate adventure, too long a story). The farmhouse mom who taught me how to make it was kind and loving and very competent. (I was also enamored of her dishwasher; as a cattleman's wife, she had one that could wash all the butchery equipment and stuff...it was bigger than my apartment room.) I couldn't believe that something so homey and delicious could be so easy to make; it is a comfort food, pure and simple. It's become a family favorite..or to be more specific, a Jed favorite.
Now perhaps you've heard of the dish as Tater-Tot Casserole. That's how I learned it...but I dislike tater-tots with a passion. I prefer to use Ore-Ida Crispers french fries, or some kind of inexpensive frozen hashbrowns. Both serve the same purpose as tater-tots and taste better. You can choose whatever frozen potato product that you and your family like. This dish fits whatever pan you're using, too...so you can modify the ingredient amounts based on the pan you use. If you don't have kids or are not entertaining, this works just as well in an 8x8 pan, you can likewise go larger if you've got a crowd to feed. I'm going to give the amounts for a 9x13 glass dish.
1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 an onion, thinly sliced
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese, or the equivalent in sliced cheese
two cans cream of something soup (I prefer mushroom, Jed prefers chicken. Celery works too)
Your choice of frozen potatoes
The trick is to layer everything evenly, like a lasagna. Smash the beef down into a glass 9x13 pan in a thin layer. It should cover the whole bottom of the pan evenly. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the beef (you can even splash on a bit of Worcestershire sauce.) Spread the onion slices evenly over the seasoned beef. Next, sprinkle the shredded cheese in a layer on top of that, or if you're using slices of cheese, lay them out evenly. Carefully spread the condensed "cream of" soup over the cheese with a spatula (it may seem easier to switch these two layers, but the "cream of" soup will soften and mingle with the potatoes better than the cheese.) When all you can see on top is the soup, cover it all with the frozen potatoes. Bake at 400 for 45 minutes, or until you can see that the beef is no longer pink and the potatoes are golden. Devour!
When I made it for myself the first time, it ended up swimming in grease. I had to call my friend's mom and ask what I did wrong. "We grow our own beef, dear. It is extremely lean." Well, that doesn't help! My advice is to choose beef that is 90% lean or more if you're going to make this dish. It's healthier anyway.