Welcome to Beef Week 2018! This year, we are celebrating beef’s power to make cooking on a tight budget feel easy, exciting, and even luxurious. Won’t you join us? 
Credit: Gina DeSimone; Food Styling: Paige Grandjean; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis

Well, friends. It’s about that time.

It seems too soon to be true; alas, Beef Week is almost over. Let us take a moment to reflect upon the good times we’ve had—we made an epic amalgamation of meatloaf and spaghetti, we unveiled how to make a cheap steak feel like a fancy one, we broke down limiting stigmas surrounding cube steak’s potential, we reveled in the joy of stew meat, we came to peace with the fact that hanger steak is worth looking another human in the eye and asking for. It was all so beautiful…

But wait! Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because you can eat beef virtually any week you feel like it. And you can carry the things you’ve learned with you here, during this glorious week, to make every beef-eating occasion feel a little more magical/fiscally responsible. That, and we’re not through just yet; we’re finishing on a note of unadulterated bliss. We’re finishing with Taco-Tot Casserole.

Now in order for me to talk about this casserole, first, I need to tell you about the first real, human friend I ever made. We met on my first day of preschool. She was the only kid who wanted to talk to me after I threw a huge crying fit upon realizing that my mother was actually planning to leave me there; to be fair, wanted might be a generous term, but she bothered to. (In fact, for a 3-year-old, she showed such a remarkable level of empathy re: my sobbing breakdown.) She even shared her own snack-time snack with me when another girl straight-up stole my Goldfish crackers*. So that was that, I had a best friend.

As our friendship matured, we came to know and appreciate the truly important things about the other’s life—i.e. what kind of food the other usually had at their house. I should mention, she traced her immediate family ties to the state of Wisconsin, mine were largely rooted in south Georgia. Anyway, eventually (like probably a solid decade after we met) it came out that at my house, we ate Hamburger Helper on a weekly basis. She’d never even heard of it, much less eaten it. However, her mom’s signature throw-together, the-kids-will-eat-it dinner was something entirely foreign to me: tater tot casserole. We each found the idea of each other’s household weeknight dinner staples both hysterical and intriguing. We always said that one day, we’d try the other’s weirdo food…

I’d like to consider this Taco-Tot Casserole an homage to that promise.

OK, it’s kind of a stretch, but that felt like a semi-relevant story to share in order to make this (highly delicious) hot dish feel extra meaningful. I mean, it’s the last day of Beef Week for crying out loud! And technically, “cheesy taco” was the best flavor of Hamburger Helper, so I think this all makes total and complete sense. Sorta of.

In any case, this here is the first tater tot casserole I’ve actually ever tasted, and I have to say—it’s really good. Whether you’re throwing together a kid-friendly supper or looking to whip up something hearty for your Super Bowl viewing, this Tex-Mex tot bake is just the ticket. It’s an inexpensive one-dish meal that brings a little bit of party personality to the dinner table. And unlike your old-school tater tot casserole, our vibrant Tex-Mex twist calls for no cream of anything soup, and has plenty of fresh flavors and textures going on.

Ours consists of a succulent ground beef filling—featuring creamy black beans, crisp-sweet corn, cheese, and mild green chiles for a kick—topped with crispy tots, and finished with a drizzle of an addictively spicy and tangy sour cream sauce. Top this fiesta of a casserole with diced avocado, tomato, jalapeño slices, and fresh cilantro leaves, and it’s ready to rock. We use 85/15 lean ground beef for this recipe and do advise against going with anything much leaner, as the higher fat percentage is important both to the filling’s rich flavor and keeping the casserole from drying out while baking.

And with that—I thank you all, with the utmost sincerity, for joining the MyRecipes crew in celebrating arguably the most wonderful week of the year. We’ll be back next year with more bovine inspiration. Until then, go and carry forth the spirit of Beef Week: beef, love, and happiness to all.

*I know you’re probably wondering, and no, this girl (who will remain nameless) was never brought to justice for her grotesque thievery. And no, I’ve not forgiven her. I hope the snack that smiles back actually frowns at her.

By Darcy Lenz and Darcy Lenz