Taco casserole for when you can’t hug

Like most of you, I’m separated from family during the coronavirus pandemic. Both of my adult sons live alone right now, trying to stay away from germs while struggling with the social isolation.

One is staying in Chattanooga. One is in downtown Knoxville, right next to Church Street United Methodist Church.

One is unemployed because his business has shut down; the other is working remotely. Both have limited funds and rely on public transportation.

I take food to them from time to time. We meet in the parking lot or driveway and we don’t hug, because either of us could be carrying the virus without knowing it.

Most of the time I take food staples: bread, peanut butter, jam, tuna, baby carrots, milk, cheese, grapes, pasta, pasta sauce, canned mushrooms, onions, frozen pizzas, lettuce, tomatoes.

But when I can, I give them a taste of home.

For the record, I have always loved making casseroles for my boys and their friends. It always seemed to be a one-dish opportunity to not only satisfy their taste for protein, pasta and cheese, but to also sneak in some vegetables.

Casseroles are easy to warm up. Casseroles are easy to deliver. They’re perfect for the disposable, standard, half-size steam table pan that you can buy in any supermarket. They store and keep well in the refrigerator.

On Friday, Mike and I had to go to Chattanooga to take care of several things. I wanted to take my Chattanooga son a casserole.

Although ground beef has been scarce in the stores, we found a three-pound package of frozen ground beef at Aldi. I wanted to use half of it for a taco casserole.

I have never been very good at making up my own recipes. I rely too much on the visions of others. But this was a simple thing, and I knew my son wouldn’t be picky.

I took 1 ½ pounds of the beef and browned it in the skillet. The fat content was high and I knew a lot of the meat would cook down. I chopped 1 onion and ½ green bell pepper, cooking it with the beef.

I sprinkled about ¼ cup of chili powder into the ground beef mixture — realizing I had it for a while in my cupboard and it might not be as potent, and a lot of it would be drained out later. I added salt and pepper.

I let the meat cook until it was brown and the bell pepper and onion were tender. I put the mixture into a colander in the sink, draining the fat by drenching it in tap water.

Once it drained, I put the ground beef mixture into a large bowl.

I had a package of corn on the cob in the freezer that needed to be used. I boiled it according to package directions, cutting the kernels off the cob with a sharp knife. I added the corn to the bowl.

I had a 15-ounce can of crushed tomatoes left over from another recipe. I dumped the whole can into the ground-beef mixture.

I crushed two handfuls of tortilla chips into the bowl with chipotle and garlic salt, then stirred to blend it all.

I placed the ground-beef mixture into a disposable eleven 3/4 by nine 3/8-inch pan. After covering the pan in shredded cheddar, I baked it for about 25 minutes or until the cheese melted.

Afterwards, I realized I could have added beans or a number of other things. (And I forgot to take a photo of the cheese-covered finale.)

Never mind, my son loved it! He is enjoying it on its own – with lots of hot sauce, of course – but also in tortillas. I wouldn’t be surprised if he got several days of meals out of it.


1 to 1 ½ pound ground beef
1 onion, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
1 15-ounce corn, drained
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
Tortilla chips, about 2 handfuls, crushed
Garlic salt to taste
Ground chipotle pepper to taste
Shredded cheddar cheese, about 2 cups

  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Chop onions and green pepper.
  • In skillet, brown ground beef, onions and pepper in skillet. Cook until beef is no longer pink and vegetables are tender.
  • Add salt and pepper.
  • Place ground-beef mixture in colander, drenching with cold tap water. Allow to drain.
  • In large bowl, add beef mixture. Add corn, tomatoes, chips, garlic salt, chipotle pepper. Mix.
  • Pour ground-beef mixture into pan. Top with cheese.
  • Bake 25 minutes or until cheese is melted.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cheese.jpg

You may reach me directly at annettespence@holston.org.

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