Mexicali Pie

IMG_2275This nummy Mexican-inspired casserole is one of my quick dinner go-to recipes for busy weeknights. We love the spice mix, and that it’s meat, a few veggies, and corn bread all in one meal. But we especially love that it’s great left over, and it travels well in a container, even when in a back pack on Mitchell’s back, jostling around as he rides his bike miles and miles to work. Not every dish can pass THAT test.

This recipe was published some time in 2003 in Family Fun, by Ken Haedrich, a contributing editor to that magazine at the time. He gave a list of spices to mix in, but I use Penzey’s chicken taco seasoning mix to make it easy on myself. I’ll give you the author’s spice mix below, in case you don’t do Penzey’s. (Which is easy to order online, so you totally can…) Note that the recipe called for ground beef, but I make it with either ground beef or ground turkey—both taste great.

I used to make a hot cheddar cheese sauce to ladle on top, but lately I’ve liked the fresher taste of an avocado, Greek yogurt, and some cilantro instead. The cheese sauce is great for comfort food in the winter time, but leads to that dreaded need for an afternoon nap. You know, the food coma. Since work-naps are frowned upon at my place of employment, it’s best to keep with the lighter toppings when bringing this for lunch.

Serves 8-10

Casserole
1½ pound ground beef or turkey
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons Penzey’s chicken taco seasoning mix *
2 cups frozen corn, thawed, or 1 (15-ounce) can of corn, drained
2 (14.5 ounce) cans Mexican or chili-style diced tomatoes, or regular diced tomatoes

Corn Bread Topping
1 cup yellow cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1½ tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil

Toppings
Diced avocado
Greek yogurt, or sour cream
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Brown ground beef or turkey in a large non-stick skillet, breaking up as it browns. Use a slotted spoon to transfer all the meat to a mixing bowl. Drain all but about 3 tablespoons fat from pan. Put pan on medium-high heat and sauté onions until translucent. Add green pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the minced garlic and the taco seasoning, and stir and toast spices until fragrant. Stir in corn and tomatoes. Bring mixture to a boil, cover pan, and reduce heat to low. Return meat to the pan and stir to combine.

Ladle meat mixture into a 9″x12″, 3-quart casserole dish, then make cornbread topping. In mixing bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Whisk egg, milk, and oil in separate bowl. Add milk mixture to dry ingredients and mix on low until blended. Pour batter over the meat mixture and even out with the back of a spoon. Bake for 22 minutes or until topping is golden brown, and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve with suggested cold toppings.

MAKE AHEAD TIP: You can make the meat mixture, put it in the casserole dish, and cover with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate. Then pull it out and just mix up the corn bread topping, pour it on, and bake.

*If not using Penzey’s taco seasoning, use:
2 teaspoons chili powder
1½ teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon flour

Tortilla Black Bean Casserole

IMG_0805If tacos married lasagna, this would be their love child: an easy layered Tex-Mex dish that packs a punch of flavor. I found this casserole recipe online at Midwest Living, but I’ve added a can of corn, and more seasonings than the original as it needed a little more zippity-do-da. It assembles in about 15 minutes, and bakes in 30…and as small corn tortillas take the place of pasta, it’s a hit with the gluten-free crowd. The first time I served this, my meat-lovin’ man was shocked when I told him he’d eaten—and enjoyed!—a meatless meal. So it’s a hit with vegetarians and carnivores as well. With only 2-3 of us currently in our household (that third comes and goes a lot), we always have leftovers. That’s why we were happy to find this dish is even better second day, reheated in the microwave. 

Serves 8

Casserole

2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 sweet green pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14 ounce) can of corn, drained
1 (14.5 ounce) can of diced tomatoes, do not drain
3/4 cup picante sauce or salsa
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika, or regular paprika
Pinch each garlic salt and black pepper
12 – 6-inch corn tortillas (these small ones fit best in the rectangular pan)
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack or white cheddar cheese (I prefer the white cheddar)

Toppings

1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup halved or quartered cherry or grape tomatoes
Fresh cilantro, chopped
1-2 scallions, sliced (optional)

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. In a large skillet, sauté onions on high heat until translucent. Add green pepper and cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook and stir for additional 1-2 minutes. Add black beans, corn, undrained tomatoes, picante or salsa, cumin, chili powder, paprika, garlic salt, and black pepper. Stir to combine and simmer uncovered for 3-5 minutes.

In 3-quart rectangular baking dish (9″x13″), assemble the ingredients in this order:
1/3 bean mixture
6 corn tortillas
1/2 of the shredded cheese
1/3 bean mixture
6 corn tortillas
1/3 bean mixture
1/2 of the shredded cheese

Top with foil and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 5 minutes. Remove from oven and let dish cool and set for 5-10 minutes before serving. Top each serving with a dollop of sour cream, tomatoes, cilantro, and sliced scallions.

Wild Rice Casserole

IMG_0647If you live in the Great Lakes region, you love wild rice, and you’re darn proud of it. It’s that food item you buy for friends visiting from other parts of the world, showing just how unique and versatile we are in the midwest. Hey, we are so much more than hotdish and hamburgers! But what can you make with it besides the old standby, wild rice soup? Here’s a side dish I came up with that goes great with summer’s grilled meats and fish, or winter’s roasted beef, pork, or poultry. You can make it with dried cranberries to give it a sweet twist, or mushrooms to make it savory. Either combination compliments this hearty grain, and gives everyone a much-needed break from potatoes or white rice. (The wild rice casserole pictured here is served with my husband’s Brined and Smoked Turkey.)

Serves 6-8

1 cup uncooked wild rice
4 cups water
1 cube chicken bouillon, or 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped
8 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
(or use 1/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries—aka: craisins—but not both mushrooms and craisins)
½ cup pecan halves
3 tablespoons butter, divided

Rinse wild rice in colander under cold water. Combine wild rice, water, and bouillon cube in large sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer for 45 minutes, or until most of rice kernels are cracked open. Once rice is done, drain. Do a quick rinse of cold water to shock rice (halt cooking of grains). Drain again.

Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. While rice is cooking, sauté onions in 1 tablespoon butter until translucent. Transfer cooked onions to 3 quart casserole dish. Add another tablespoon butter to pan and sauté mushrooms until cooked. Add to onions in dish. Add 1 tablespoon butter to pan, again, and toast pecan halves in butter about 3-5 minutes, or until they appear to darken slightly. Toss onions, mushrooms, and pecans with cooked wild rice in casserole dish. Cook, covered, in oven for 20-30 minutes or until heated through. Serve as side dish.

NOTE: If you prefer a tangier side dish, skip the mushrooms, and toast the pecans in 2 tablespoons butter. Then toss in 1/3 craisins with cooked rice. Cook in oven as directed above. Also, if you use salt instead of the chicken bouillon, this dish is vegetarian. It’s also gluten-free. Lose the butter, and it’s dairy-free and fat-free, but that’s going just a little too far.

Chicken, Rice, and Almond Casserole

IMG_0693Casseroles feel like cold-weather comfort food, but this savory chicken and rice dish is such a people-pleaser that you can make it any time of year. This is my go-to recipe when I’m bringing a meal to a friend who’s in need of a meal, whether due to the happiness of a new addition or the heartbreaking loss of a loved one. It’s mild enough for even the pickiest eaters, yet has enough flavor to keep everyone coming back for seconds. Make this ahead of time, then cover and keep in the frig for a day or two, and bake up when needed. (I wouldn’t recommend freezing it as the milk or cream in it will curdle. It doesn’t affect the taste, just the appearance.) So how do you make this easy recipe even easier? By purchasing a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store instead of baking, boiling, or grilling your own chicken.

I got this recipe from a friend about 20 years ago, and can barely read my handwriting on the recipe card—that’s how much it’s been used! My guess is that it was published by the makers of Uncle Ben’s rice, as that’s the key ingredient, but I’ve got no proof of that. The recipe calls for half and half, which you can certainly use if you have it on hand. However, it’s great made with milk in place of the cream, especially if you’re watching fat in your food. (My farm-boy father would tell you to make it with cream. End of discussion.)

Serves 6

1 box Uncle Ben’s Long Grain and Wild Rice Original Recipe
1/4 butter
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4–1/2 teaspoon course ground black pepper
1 cup half and half or milk
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups chopped, cooked chicken
1/4 cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit. Prepare Uncle Ben’s rice according to package directions. While rice is cooking, melt butter in large sauce pan. Add chopped onion and cook on low until onions are translucent. Remove from heat and gradually sprinkle in flour, stirring until all the flour is combined. Add salt and pepper, stir again. Put pan back on low heat and gradually stir in cream or milk until flour mixture is smooth and creamy. Add chicken broth, and stir to combine. Turn heat to medium-high. Heat and stir until mixture is smooth and bubbly. In large bowl, combine milk mixture, cooked chicken, cooked rice, and almonds. Pour into 2 quart casserole dish and bake uncovered in preheated oven for 30 minutes.

NOTE: If using gluten-free chicken broth, this is a gluten-free recipe.

Spinach and Artichoke Casserole

IMG_0910Casseroles are great because you can get most of your food groups in one dish, and the addition of artichokes in this recipe separates it from the tater tot hotdishes (that’s Minnesotan for “casserole”) of this world. It goes together quick enough that I’ve often made it before work and thrown it in the frig when we know we need dinner on the table in a hurry. It only takes about 30 minutes to assemble, and another 25-30 to bake. If you can’t eat it all in one sitting, no problem. It’s great left over, too!

The recipe comes from the Better Homes & Garden website. If you’re a Trader Joe’s fan, you’re in luck, because their Parmesan Romano Alfredo Sauce is perfectly suited to this recipe. In fact, you can pick up all the ingredients below at Trader Joe’s. I couldn’t find the suggested orzo pasta last time I was at their store, so I bought the Harvest Grains Blend of Israeli couscous, orzo, baby garbanzo beans, and red quinoa, and we actually liked it even better than the plain orzo because it has more texture. My other changes to the BH&G recipe? Added minced garlic, used a can of artichokes instead of frozen, subbed regular Alfredo for the light, and used white cheddar cheese instead of reduced fat Italian blend cheese. The ingredients and process below reflect my tweaking of the original recipe.

Serves 8

2 cups dried Trader Joe’s Harvest Grains Blend or orzo pasta
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
12 ounces turkey (or chicken) breast tenderloin, cut into bit-sized pieces
4 cups fresh spinach, julienned, or chopped
1 (14 ounce) can of artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 (16 ounce) jar of Alfredo pasta sauce
1 cup shredded white Cheddar cheese
¼-½ cup Panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Have 9″x13″ (or 2-quart square) baking dish ready to fill. Cook couscous blend or pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.

While pasta is cooking, heat oil in large non-stick skillet set on medium-high heat, then add onion. Saute until onion is translucent. Add red pepper, and saute 1-2 minutes. Add garlic and stir until combined. Add turkey or chicken to hot skillet and cook for 6-8 minutes, or until meat is no longer pink. Stir occasionally. Transfer meat mixture to large bowl and stir in drained pasta, spinach, artichoke hearts, Alfredo sauce, and cheese. Stir to coat all ingredients. Spoon mixture into baking dish.

Bake for 15 minutes, uncovered. Sprinkle with Panko. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until heated through, and Panko is lightly browned. Let stand for 10-15 minutes before serving. (Ummmm…we never do. Just dig in!)