It’s Not Purty But It’s Good

When I was a little girl we spent many Wednesday nights at Family Night Supper. It was almost always a potluck affair, and while Poplar Springs Methodist wasn’t the largest congregation in my hometown, I PROMISE that we had the best cooks. I’d put them up against any other church in Mississippi – even the Baptist ones.

I mean, y’all know the Baptists can throw down with some potluck. It’s their collective spiritual gift.

It’s funny when I look back on that time and realize that I always knew whose dishes to look for as we walked through the potluck line. Miss Kitty made a chicken pie that I loved. Mrs. Julia made scalloped potatoes, and anything Miss Ruth made was delicious. Ditto for Martha and my mama, who never showed up for Family Night Supper without a freshly baked cake or pie, with the exception of that one time Martha took an Edward’s Key Lime Pie because “you just can’t make them any better than they do! You can’t! They’re just so light and creamy and tart but not tarty tart, not so tart that your lips pucker but tart so that it’s just so refreshing, you know it’s refreshing! It’s a refreshing tart!”

So all that to say: I have a thing for food that reminds me of Family Night Supper. I don’t make a lot of casseroles these days because we sort of burned out on them last year, but every once in awhile I’ll run across a casserole recipe that I can’t wait to try. And that happened to me this past weekend in Memphis when I was looking through one of Janie’s Paula Deen magazines – because as soon as I saw the picture that accompanied the recipe, I knew it was some Serious Family Night Fare.


I had most of the ingredients in my pantry, and since the recipe makes 8-10 servings, I knew the three of us could eat the casserole for several meals. And while I was expecting to be underwhelmed, the dish did not disappoint. It’s simple, hearty, tasty and 100% comfort food. Provided that you have happy Family Night memories, of course.

(Thanks, Poplar Springs, for the happy family night memories!)

Paula’s Tater Tot Shepherd’s Pie

1 1/2 pounds ground chuck
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (10.75-ounce) can cream of celery soup
1 (10.75-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1 (15-ounce) can niblet corn, drained
1 (15-ounce) can English peas, drained
3 tablespoons browning sauce (I didn’t know what this was so I left it out)
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (I used hot sauce)
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon poultry seasoning (left it out because it seemed weird)
1/8 teaspoon sage (left out the sage, too)
(I also added about 1/4 cup sour cream because I just felt like it)
1 (32-ounce) package frozen tater tots

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 13×9-inch baking dish.

In a large skillet, combine ground chuck, onion, and garlic; cook over medium-high heat until meat is browned and crumbles. Drain well.

In a large bowl, combine meat mixture, soups, corn, peas, browning sauce, garlic salt, red pepper, paprika, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, and sage. Spoon into prepared baking dish. Top evenly with tater tots.

Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until browned and bubbly.

Makes 8 – 10 servings.

When I took it out of the oven I had such a Family Night Supper Flashback that I had to take a picture. It looks like a big dish of gray and beige – which, come to think of it, I guess it was – but oh, did we ever enjoy it.

It doesn’t even have cheese or bacon (I KNOW!), and still, it was delicious.

Do any of you have Family Night Supper favorites? If so, share the recipe or a link to the recipe in the comments – I have a feeling that Campbell’s Soups are about to be well-represented.

Bon tater tot, y’all.

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  1. You just made me realize how long it’s been since I’ve read an honest-to-goodness story about Martha. I’m not trying to boss you about your blog, but when you write about her, I can hear her, and I LOL, like, not in the way people SAY they’re LOL-ing, when you know they’re just secretly smiling, but I literally Laugh Out Loud. And it makes my day. I’m just sayin’.

  2. Looks delicious! I actually have my own Shepard’s pie recipe I need to add to my blog! Thank you for reminding me!!

  3. “I mean, y’all know the Baptists can throw down with some potluck. It’s their collective spiritual gift.”

    Classic BooMama. Classic. :)

  4. It doesn’t even have cheese or bacon (I KNOW!), and still, it was delicious.

    This just cracked me up. I love the way you write as if we’re just having a big ol’ conversation- one sided of course. But hilarious.

    I’m Baptist and remember all those covered dish dinners. One time my Dad wanted me to try some of Miss Peggy Jean’s chicken spaghetti. (eating wasn’t my spiritual gift- but it is now!) I didn’t know it was her’s and told my Dad no because it smelled like playdough- oh, yes, right in front of Miss Peggy Jean! I was a big fan of the lemon slices Miss Clara would give me instead. Cooking- a spiritual collective gift yes- but not for all!

  5. One reason I look forward to Heaven is because I can sit down at the banquet and not have to bring a covered dish.

  6. This post reminds me of the Mitford books by Jan Karon.

    And mine was Brenda Reeves Chicken Spaghetti and Homemade Banana Pudding. Oh, man… ain’t lived til you had some.

    It’s so funny, when I read through the ingredients I wondered why there wasn’t any cheese in it……

  7. Oh, and browning sauce is added to brown gravy in a pinch.

  8. I can tell you this, tried and true, throw some cheese on top of those tots next time. My hubby makes it and that is his addition. It makes the dish even better!!!!

  9. looks soooo good.

  10. Definitely cheese on the tots (agreeing with Connie). It looks interesting, and sounds great!

  11. I made a Paula Deen hash brown casserole that was simply divine! My family loves this dish! Anything that lady makes is fabulous!

  12. Becky Kelly says:

    Wouldn’t you know. A great recipe and the cardiologist told my husband to cut back on red meat. What? We only have it once a week!! No more every other week Friday vegetable pizza either. Sheesh. I was hoping he was doing so well we could actually add a ‘Pioneer Woman’ night.

  13. You should take a peek at Jamie and Bobby Deen’s newest cookbook. They are definately sons of Paula, that’s for sure. It’s called, “Y’all Come Eat” (I think it came out last year?) and I’m tellin’ ya… all the pictures make my mouth water. And the recipes are actually easy. Good comfort food!

  14. I need help

    Tater Tots?

    English Peas??? – do they come out of the tin with an english accent?

    If anyone can translate for me, I would love to give this a try.

  15. Southern Gal says:

    Love potluck at my Baptist church. I know who makes what and what will go on my plate before I even get to the line! You nailed it in this one.

  16. This was one of those post that evokes strong memories. Comfort food. Comfort blog! Love ya,’ jean

  17. Does anyone else remember the one lady that always brought a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken? I grew up Baptist. I married a Lutheran. I miss pot luck nights. Sigh…

  18. We Church-o-Christ-ers do it a little differently. We do Sunday lunch between church services! Ooo-weee! Do I remember those days! Especially at my grandmother’s church when we were little. The smells, I can remember to this day!

    Oh, I do love food!

    Of course I believe my Big Mama is one of the best cooks of all time (but I do know that your grandmother probably is too – whose isn’t?)

    But she would usually make this wonderful desert-ish-salad-ish-dish that we named BIG MAMA’S PINK STUFF! Just one of those memories that takes you back to runnin’ in between the pews, playing hide-n-go-seek behind the pulpit, you know – all that kid stuff!

    Thanks for the post Boo Mama! I surely took me back! :)

  19. I love all things cheesy, saucy and casserole-y at our Baptist family suppers. My good friend Marc (our church pianist) and I had a tradition – we’d check out the dessert table first. If Miss Lucille’s peanut butter cake was there, we each grabbed a corner piece (it’s a layer cake, but she uses square pans, hence corners, where extra peanut butter icing lurks) and we’d hide them before supper started. Sadly, Miss Lucille moved to Texas to be closer to her daughter. Miss Dora took up the peanut butter cake slack, and hers is good, but she uses round pans. No corners. Sadness.

  20. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh my, does that look yummy!!!!!! :o)

  21. I don’t think I have ever commented here, though I read you regularly. I just have to say that I love the heck out of you. You just always give my day a little lift and since much of what I write is heavily laced with humor, I truly get you. I did want to say that I love browning sauce and it comes in a brown bottle with a yellow and red label and yellow lid. The only brand I have ever seen or used is Kitche Bouquet and you can find it everywhere…even Wally World. Happy Wednesday!

  22. OH how I miss living in the South! I loved it when people call the ladies “Miss Ruth” or “Mrs. Barbara”. LOVE THAT!!

    Since it is Lent (Happy Ash Wednesday!), that means Lenten Lutheran Suppers are here. And if you’re in MN at a Lenten Supper, the following must be present:

    1. Jello salad with marshmallows and/or floating fruit topped with cool-whip.
    2. Homemade white bread with butter
    3. Some sort of hot dish that must include the following: ground meat, cream of mushroom soup and some frozen veggies.

    I mean, it wouldn’t be a church basement supper without those! : )

  23. A potluck dinner makes me think of one thing… Poppy Seed Chicken. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

    I posted the recipe last year. Here’s the link…

  24. Elizabeth says:

    Ooh, I was JUST thinking about poppyseed chicken. It is a staple for my own family’s personal family night supper-type events. Except I cheat and use the all-white canned Tyson chicken. Sure saves a lot of time!

  25. The best meals I have ever eaten have been in the basement of my Grandma’s church!

  26. I am in LOVE with this. I make Tater Tot Casserole each year in the fall and it is a HUGE crowd pleaser!!!

  27. The carb and fat content at a church social is just off the charts.

    Miz Barbara made a layer salad that was to die for. The healthy parts of english peas, spinach, onion and ice berg lettuce were masked by the heart stopping goodness of the other layers. Which consisted of bacon, swiss cheese, eggs, mayonaise and sour cream.

  28. Collective spiritual gifts…never thought of that but I like it! I would pay top dollar to have some of Mrs. Pat’s cheesy chicken spaghetti today. It’s the stuff dreams are made of.

  29. I think I’d have to leave out the peas. And sprinkle in some cheese.

    A friend of mine used to make fun of me for using Campbell’s soup in recipes. She called them Cream of Crap. We’re not really friends anymore.

  30. We didn’t have Potluck Suppers that often being Catholic and all … but we loved it when we did. My dad did this thing which we have named “the hovercraft” – he would walk up and down the table with his hands clasped behind his back scoping out the dishes so he could make a beeline for the ones he thought were best. All of us kids have inherited this trait and employ it at potlucks and buffets.

    My family is of East Indian descent and since we mainly had Indian food at home I was in heaven with all the classic American dishes – I loved em all!

  31. It may not call for cheese, but I bet it would make it even better!

  32. I know about the covered dish meal..growing up Baptist and all and now that we are at a non-denominational church the potluck has disappeared…oh the injustice. Apparently, they are lacking in collective spiritual gifts. LOL I love that!

    Every single event at our Baptist church ended with, AND bring a covered dish. Oh the memories…especially on Homecoming Day!! Banana pudding in a styrofoam bowl..holla

    The tator tot cassrole looks yummy!!

    I made our comfort food this week: chicken and dumplins’.. It tastes better if you say dumplin’ instead of dumplings. :)

    That was always a staple at church gatherings and the above mentioned banana pudding or puddin’ as the case may be and now you have me starving. LOL

    Next, sprinkle some cheese on top of the tots. It just seems right. hee hee

  33. Nicole M. says:

    AAAHHH! Cream of crap – that is hysterical! My good friend makes a tater tot casserole at her house and DOES Add cheese. You really could put crap on tater tops and it would still be good. I love your followers, Boo Mama! What a fun bunch of gals! You’ve got to LOVE Paula’s recipes!

  34. I love me a Martha story!!

    We’ll have to get your casserole on the menu soon, Sophie–it looks quite tasty.

    In Little Rock our choir director, Jean, made the best recipe and everyone raved over it. Though, it was very, very bad for you.

    Here it is:

  35. Thanks for posting your recipe! I know my family will love this. Brings back many memories of church potlucks. I always looked for the person that brought the fried chicken. If you did not get in line fast, it was always gome by the time you got to the table!

  36. Hi Boo Mama! I am a new reader and also a Mississippi girl! Love The Office and American Idol as well. Were we separated at birth?

    I am loving this recipe and plan on leaving out the peas, throwing some cheese on top of those taters and serving it up to my boys before church tonight.


  37. Up North, that’s known as Classic Hotdish. (That’s what Minnesota Lutherans call casserole.) It has many variations (see Wiki), but almost all of them include meat, canned veggies, cream of something soup and either tater tots or crushed potato chips on top.


  38. I have this sweet memory of making my darling Daddy a tater tot casserole for Father’s Day my first year out of college…he loved it!! Since that wonderful man is now with Jesus (eating lots of Tater Tot casseroles, no doubt!), we make this on occasion just to remember…so I love this post! Love it!

  39. I do one very similar to this, just with veggies in it and much easier. Here is my version:
    ground beef (cooked)
    1 pkt of Lipton Onion Soup mix (sprinkled over the top of the meat)
    1 lg. can of Vegall
    1 can cr. mushroom soup (spread over the top)
    1 pkg of Tater Tots (on the very top)
    350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly.

    Try that one. It’s good too.

  40. Oh, I thought browning sauce was a nice way to say, “the grease you just drained off the meat.” I had no idea it was a real thing.

  41. Love it!! The recipe looks great! And I love me some Paula Deen! And yes, Baptist can throw down with some potlucks. Yummmm…and my momma always used Kitchen Bouquet browning sauce…it helps make some deeelicious gravy for a “rump” roast.

  42. We eat a big potluck dinner the first Sunday of every month at my Baptist church. It’s obviously my family’s favorite Sunday of the month! I’ve got to decide what to take this weekend, and this casserole could be the winner! Thanks!

  43. JanMary, I don’t know about English peas, but Tater Tots are basically cylindrical hash browns. If you don’t know what hash browns are, you need to find out NOW.

  44. I cannot believe this. I searched all morning on the net for a recipe for Shepherd’s Pie. And then, voila. Here on your blog you have one that looks absolutely delicious! Can’t wait to try it.

  45. My mama would always make Italian for our church potlucks (yep, I’m Baptist). Stuffed Shells, Rigatoni, Ravioli, Busy Day Lasagne… mmmm. Her dishes would always come home empty.

  46. Stephanie says:

    Browning sauce would be Kitchen Bouquet – you can find it by the worcestershire or gravy mixes. don’t ask me how I know…my mother taught me how to use it.

    Casserole looks delish!!! I will have to try it.

  47. THANK YOU for the recipe! My husband hates cheese (which I know would be a deal-breaker for you!) and it is sooo hard to cook for him. He might like this. :)

  48. I’m Episcopalian now but my family was Presbyterian during my childhood. During lent, Family Night Supper was a simple supper of homemade soup and bread. My dad is a minister and always made this soup for Family Night Suppers during lent – sounds weird, but it’s delicious. Tastes like home.

    1 giant can of V8
    1 pound ground beef (lean-ish)
    1 bag frozen soup veggies (the kind w/ okra in it)
    1 medium onion, diced
    2 cloves of garlic, minced
    1 medium or 2 small bay leaves
    2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
    2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
    salt and pepper to taste

    completely brown the ground beef in the canola oil and worcestershire sauce. add the onion and garlic and cook until mostly soft. add the V8, the frozen veggies (you can add them in still frozen – doesn’t matter) and the bay leaf. stir to combine. bring the soup to a boil and then turn down to low. cover and simmer for as long as you can – i would give it at least 45 mins but 2 hours is best. add salt and pepper to taste.

    if you’re making a double batch, try using 1 can of regular V8 and a bottle of the spicy V8. Or use a bottle of spicy V8 in place of regular in the original recipe.

  49. Love your blog!! This is a bit off topic (but only a little), but did you see the video of Paula Deen at a wine and food festival where her pants fell down? It’s hilarious!!

    this is the link:

  50. Sally Green says:

    I am so laughing at loud! You KNOW that comparing Potluck suppers can be some serious throwdown words! I mean we Baptist INVENTED the Potlucks!:) HA! You make my day with your blog! Just like you made my day when I got to talk to you in college!

  51. And here I thought our spiritual gifts were not dancing or playing cards…and “praying out loud” for people by name. :) About the time I reached junior high my mom (of 5 kids) started “letting” me make the dishes. I’m sure there were quite a few “surprises” for the faithful and BRAVE members of our church. The way I see it, I brought them closer to Jesus…through prayer for healing.

  52. Ooh, I’m going to have to try this later. We didn’t have the same sort of potluck family suppers growing up, but I love anything with tater tots on top =)

  53. I love that you left out the browning sauce! I have no idea what that is either!!!

  54. The way I see it is the casserole is a whole lot like the Baptist “dress” ~ you know the one piece deal with a built in vest ~ it is eternal.

    I’m quite sure that when we get to Heaven we will find out that Manna is just code for “Casserole”. I’m just sayin’.

    I made this tonight and it did not disappoint! Would anybody hate me if I said I added cheese AND went a little nuts with the Lousiana hot sauce?!

  55. Nothing like a church covered dish, for real. Plus, anything covered in Tater Tots has to be good. I feel sorry for JanMary from Northern Ireland who does not know the Tater Tot.

    Kitchen Bouquet is the browning sauce…I was taught to bathe a roast in it before cooking it…never have used it as an actual ingredient.

  56. Hey Boo Mama! I love this post because on a ladies retreat this weekend, we started discussing the evolution of the potluck dinner in the churches we were raised in. From the wonderful homemade actual entrees of the 50s-70s to the pasta cassarole phase of the 80s to the fried chicken from Church’s and KFC in the 90’s, what a change its been! Now, we are in the Stoffers phase. Some of us have noticed a return to actual cooking though. All I have to say is thank goodness for the church cookbook that preserves all of those good recipes from those wonderful cooks we worship with!

  57. Baptist Potluck Suppers are still Alive and Well in West Alabama. We have one at every possible excuse we can come up with. I’d have to start my own blog to give you all the recipes!

  58. Ooh…Tator Tot Hotdish….yes, another native Minnesoooootan here! I now live in Pittsburgh and there aren’t many Lutherans here, so we don’t have potlucks anymore. Lots of good memories, though!

    BooMama, you do realize that by leaving out several seasonings from Paula’s recipe, you’ve totally changed it, don’t you? Cracked me up!

  59. Nita in South Carolina says:

    On behalf of the Southern Baptist contingent, I’d just like to point out that we do not use the term “potluck”. It’s “covered dish.”

    Squash casserole! And many, many things combined with rice!

    Now I have to go wipe the drool off my keyboard.

  60. I’m now in some serious need for a church potluck. Or, as Nita pointed out above, a “covered dish” meal–since, you know, it’s sacreligious for a pastor to speak of luck from the pulpit. Or something like that.

  61. I swear, I do not know a single other person who would even think to say, “Bon tater tot, y’all.” Just made my day. :-)

  62. My Mamaw Mullen could be called the Queen of the Oakland Baptist Potluck. We would travel all the way from Greenville to stay with Mamaw and Papaw for their Vacation Bible School every summer. To kick off the VBS festivities, the Oakland Baptist Church would have an “Ice Cream Supper”. For the uneducated and less Baptist among us, that means just what it sounds like. Umm hmmm. Silver canisters of home made ice cream and every single thing you can think of to put on it. I firmly believe old Baskin Robbins must have been hiding in the hedge next to the Ford’s house and stole the idea from them. Just stole it. Anyway, they could ever more do just a regular pot luck also. Now we are approaching Holy Week. Five area churches host a service each evening. Well, sister girl, the church that hosts on Good Friday ( I am not saying their name but their initials are Tillatoba Baptist) can ever more put out a feast. They go all week to the other churches and take notes and then let me tell you, they lay out food from one end of that fellowship hall to the other. Let me know if you need to plan a visit.

  63. You do realize that this is something Mama would have never fixed while we were growing up, don’t you? :)

  64. While I’m certain that the Meridian Methodist crowd has a large number of fine cooks, I think that you might have underestimated the sheer number of Baptist cooks that abound in your home state. Surely there has to be some kind of proportional formula that makes your statement (“I’d put them up against any other church in Mississippi – even the Baptist ones.”) invalid.

    And now I don’t mean to sound antagonistic or anything, but as a full-blooded Mississippi Baptist woman I’m just gonna have to say, “Bring it, sister.”
    You understand that a cookoff is inevitable, right?

  65. So, “quick” background. Until I was 6, my dad was the minister at a medium-sized church that did potlucks, but then we moved to a megachurch on the other side of town. And the potlucks… they DIED. I always missed them. In college, as part of a church plant, we actually interrupted the sermon to psyco-analyze potlucks, and realized there was something bonding about food (DUH!). And then I spent 2 years at a house church, where every week we potlucked together, amen. And it was so vital to our friendships.

    SO. For our wedding reception, I kid you not, we are doing a POTLUCK. And if I were bringing food, I would be worried about it during the ceremony, we’re starting with the eating, yes we are. Food, the classic wedding slide show, go outside for the ceremony, back inside for cheesecake and dancing! :-D