I was making tater tot casserole for the first time in several years last week. I couldn't remember whether I used to put the hamburger and sauce mixture on the bottom with the tater tots on top or vice versa, so I started looking through cookbooks to see what they might have to say on the subject. But despite having multiple Sunset and church cookbooks, I couldn't find a recipe.*
I did, however, find the large compilation of recipes my friend Dena put together several years ago, collected among our group of friends. I had lost track of it over the course of our various moves, so it was a pleasure to look through it again and rediscover a number of recipes I haven't been able to make in a while. Our family recipe for a supposed Afghan recipe called Sulizi Pilau, for instance, which I have never been able to find on the web (it's basically a beef and rice dish spiced with turmeric, served with plain yogurt. The only actually provenance I know for it is that my aunt acquired it in the 60s, that golden age of authenticity in ethnic cooking, so I feel justified in my doubts). I copied my mother's recipe several years ago, but can't find it now for the life of me. But now I have it nicely bound.
* I did finally find a recipe in a kid's cookbook from the mid-80s. The answer is that you put down the ground beef, layer on the tater tots and then pour the cream of mushroom soup over it. The problem with that is that I don't use canned soups for casseroles when a basic bechamel sauce is so easy. Really. I'm not at all the sort of person who turns my nose up at packaged foods, but this is just so easy. Brown the ground beef and put it in a pot (or keep it in the skillet if it's lean enough), sprinkle three tablespoons of flour over it, stir to coat. Pour in two cups of milk, or a cup of milk and a cup of broth, simmer for several minutes until it thickens. Et voici, no need for gloppy salt lick in a can. However, that left me with nothing to pour over the tater tots, so I just stirred them all together. Which is what I thought I should probably do in the first place and would have saved myself all the trouble of searching through cookbooks.
Something Alton Brown mentioned on one of his podcasts is that he no longer brings a gallon of water to boil for cooking pasta. Instead, he merely covers the pasta with cold water and simmers it for a few minutes. By the time it's come to a boil, the pasta is done, and as a bonus, you have a pot of starchy water useful for sauces. I can't speak to the sauces, but I've tried this technique and it works just fine. It's faster and less wasteful of water to boot.