Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Features and More

Picky eaters — including this mom of 3 — choose taco casserole

WHO: Susan Bates, 47, wife, mother of three and employment coordinator at the TradeWinds Hotel.

WHAT: Taco Casserole

ABOUT THE RECIPE: Fifteen years ago, Bates bought a taco casserole mix at the supermarket and realized she could come up with her own version. Today, her taco casserole is a family favorite loved by everyone, including herself. (She makes it for her own birthday dinners.) When her daughter, Becca, visited from California this month, she asked her mom to make the casserole. "I missed it while I was in California," she says.

What makes it so special?

"I have a secret ingredient which makes it the most delightful taco casserole anyone would ever taste, in my opinion — and that would be sugar," Bates says. "Sugar is the special ingredient that gives it just a little bit of pizzazz."

Along with the sugar, Bates loves the combination of textures: the "crunch from the tortillas" combined with the "creaminess of the soup" and the "spice from the taco seasoning."

Growing up in Southern California, Mexican food was a staple in her childhood home. Now she incorporates those dishes in her own cooking: tacos, enchiladas, burritos and Spanish rice are weekly meals. The taco casserole is a tradition she has started with her own children, along with their ritual of eating meals together as a family every night they're home. "It's just a family tradition that I'm sure 30 years from now . . . will be a possible memory."

FAVORITE THING TO COOK WITH: A pinch of sugar can enliven most recipes, whether it's a taco casserole or spaghetti sauce. "Most of (my recipes) probably include sugar," she says. "Sugar and garlic powder are two things I always make sure I have on tap."

ON THE SIDE: Tortilla chips and sour cream. You can eat the casserole with a fork or scoop it up with the tortilla chips.

TIPS: Personalize it. If you like spicy food, you can "increase the taco seasoning." If you love cheese, "then you might want to sprinkle (cheddar) cheese over it," then put it back in the oven for five minutes to melt, Bates says.

WHY COOKING? Bates has a theory: Picky eaters are good cooks. Her list of hated foods includes most fruits and vegetables, macaroni and cheese, hot dogs and bologna. But she knows that if she makes a meal herself, she'll like how it turns out. As a child, she used to slip her dreaded food onto her siblings' plates once their mom left the room. "Meals were just a thing I tolerated three times a day," she says. "After I was married and learned that I could create meals that I liked, it ignited something in me that I never knew was there. The cooking process is almost as enjoyable as the eating process because I know I'm making something that is exactly what I want and will like."

By Emily Young, special to the Times

Signature Dish is published periodically in Taste. If you have a recipe that you would like featured or would like to nominate other home cooks and their dishes, please email the information to [email protected] with a name and daytime phone number. Include SIGNATURE DISH in the subject line. Nominations can be mailed to Taste, Tampa Bay Times, 490 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

Comments
Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

Birchwood owner will open a three-story restaurant and bar at St. Petersburg pier

ST. PETERSBURG — Chuck Prather, owner of the Birchwood in St. Petersburg, returned from his daughter’s Maine wedding this week with an exciting announcement of his own. On June 7 the St. Petersburg City Council is expected to sign off on him being on...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Top things to do for Memorial Day weekend in Tampa Bay: Concerts, festivals and memorials

Top things to do for Memorial Day weekend in Tampa Bay: Concerts, festivals and memorials

Our editors' picks for things to do this weekend.
Updated: 7 hours ago
New restaurants on the horizon: Metro Diner and Zoes Kitchen in Tampa, Trophy Fish and Oak & Stone in St. Pete

New restaurants on the horizon: Metro Diner and Zoes Kitchen in Tampa, Trophy Fish and Oak & Stone in St. Pete

OPEN NOW: BAHAMA BUCK’SFeel a shiver? Just in time for Florida’s sultry summer, Bahama Buck’s opened this week in Trinity with an avalanche of sno. The 2,346-square-foot island-inspired shop opened at 8815 Mitchell Blvd. with more than 91 flavors of ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Lee Roy Selmon's original Tampa restaurant is closing, marking the end of an era

Lee Roy Selmon's original Tampa restaurant is closing, marking the end of an era

Lee Roy Selmon’s, the restaurant that paid homage to the community icon who rose to fame as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and grew to become a popular civic leader, will shutter the doors of its original location on Tampa’s Boy Scout Boulevard in...
Updated: 7 hours ago
John Fogerty, coming to Clearwater, isn’t backing down on protest songs, Parkland and #MeToo

John Fogerty, coming to Clearwater, isn’t backing down on protest songs, Parkland and #MeToo

It’s been 50 years since John Fogerty wrote Fortunate Son, one of the most scathing protest songs from the Vietnam War era. Writing another one with that kind of impact has been a challenge ever since. "Back in the ’80s, I had a couple o...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Well, it’s different: Porn stars are doing stand up comedy this weekend in St. Pete

Well, it’s different: Porn stars are doing stand up comedy this weekend in St. Pete

IF YOU SAY SO: PORN STARS ARE COMEDIANSWell, it’s different. Porn Stars Are Comedians extends the concept of the podcast Porn Stars Are People ("the only podcast with porn stars where we don’t discuss porn or the business of porn"), hosted by Dan Fri...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Waiting for ‘Godot’ to end: Half-okay performances mar an already irritating classic at Hat Trick

Waiting for ‘Godot’ to end: Half-okay performances mar an already irritating classic at Hat Trick

CLEARWATER — Hat Trick Theatre, the resident company of Ruth Eckerd Hall, closes out its season with Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I must say it’s a stark choice, mainly because I can’t get two sentences into this without using the word "stark....
Updated: 10 hours ago
What’s in theaters this week: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story,’ Art and Short Film Mini-Fest

What’s in theaters this week: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story,’ Art and Short Film Mini-Fest

SHORTS: Art and Short Film Mini-FestA fundraiser for the [email protected] brings an Art and Short Film Mini-Fest to the studio tonight. There will be four short films, an exhibit of artwork by Corinne Leavengood and photography by Diana Lucas Leavengood. P...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Artist and activist Benny Andrews at the MFA, 50 years of prints at the Tampa Museum and dresses inspire art

Artist and activist Benny Andrews at the MFA, 50 years of prints at the Tampa Museum and dresses inspire art

MIX MASTER: BENNY ANDREWS AT THE MFABenny Andrews was an award-winning artist known for his innovative use of collage in his paintings and works on paper, starting in the late 1950s. He was also an activist and advocate for African-American artists, ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
A weekend of festivals: Sunset Music Fest, 97X Barbecue, WMNF’s US Festival tribute

A weekend of festivals: Sunset Music Fest, 97X Barbecue, WMNF’s US Festival tribute

THE BEATS GO ON: Sunset Music FestivalAt last year’s Sunset Music Festival, the focus was all on crowd safety. After two fans died from drug overdoses at Tampa’s largest annual rave in 2016, organizers heightened security across the board, yielding a...
Published: 05/23/18