Mexicali Pie

This 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 Mitchell’s back pack, jostling around as he rides his bike miles and miles to work. Not every dish can pass THAT test. (Incidentally, my crazy son is riding his bike year-round—even in the January snow and ice of MinneSNOWtah.)

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

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

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

Chicken Enchiladas

FullSizeRender-1Fresh cilantro and parsley take these easy enchiladas up a notch in flavor, so much so, that no one will know the main ingredients are store-bought salsa and tortillas. They’re a great make-ahead meal you can refrigerate, then pop in the oven for a simple weeknight dinner. Or dress them up with a side of fresh guacamole and corn chips, plus a green salad, and you’ve got a company meal that wasn’t a ton of work. I got this recipe years ago from a friend who said it came from a low-cal cookbook, but I’ve always used real cheese (not the recommended reduced-fat stuff), and upped the cheese amounts, so I make no claim that this is still a diet dinner.

FullSizeRender-2IMG_1055Make it even easier by grabbing a already-roasted rotisserie chicken, or grill your own chicken breasts or tenderloins for the meat. If neither of those options work for you, fry up your chicken in a pan. Fresh herbs too pricey? You can use dried herbs, but you’ll take a bit of a hit in end-product taste. Fortunately, the lime and garlic will still bring the zip to the recipe, so you’re safe. A blender or food processor is your secret weapon, making short work of the salsa sauce that is the base of this dish.

Not only is this a quick family dinner, it’s a perfect recipe to have in your arsenal for bringing to friends who need a meal post-baby or due to family crisis. Kids will eat it cause the “green stuff” is pulverized into the sauce and won’t offend their picky little eyeballs, and adults love it because it’s not lasagna or spaghetti, the usual drop-off meals. I’ve not yet tried it using corn tortillas instead of flour, but I’m thinking that would sub in nicely for a gluten-free alternative.

2 cups mild salsa (Pace thick and chunky salsa or picante is just fine!)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves (or 1 tablespoon dried cilantro)
1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves (or 1 tablespoon dried parsley)
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon fresh lime zest
½-1 clove garlic, quartered
4 cooked chicken breasts, cubed, or 8 cooked chicken tenderloins, cubed, or 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
1 cup shredded mozzarella or monterey jack cheese
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

8 flour tortillas or 12 corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Combine salsa, cilantro, parsley, lime juice and zest, and garlic in blender or food processor, and pulse until sauce is smooth. Mix half of salsa sauce with cut-up, cooked chicken, ½ cup mozzarella, and ½ cup cheddar cheeses in large bowl, and toss to combine. Place about ¼ cup of meat mixture down center of tortilla, roll up, and place seam side down in a 9″x13″ baking dish. Continue with remaining tortillas. Pour remaining salsa mixture over the tortillas in pan, and top with remaining grated cheese. Bake 20-25 minutes uncovered. (Can also cover with foil and refrigerate for 1-2 days before baking.)


FullSizeRenderSo easy, so fresh. The biggest challenge to making this delicious guacamole, is finding avocados at the perfect stage of ripeness. Too hard, and they won’t mash. Too soft, and they’ll have gone bad. It’s kind of like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You have to look for avocados that are juuuuuuust right—when the leathery green skin yields slightly to pressure from your thumb. My son Mitchell likes freshly made guac so much, he says it’s his “chocolate,” meaning he craves it the way those with a sweet tooth crave the cocoa bean. We created this simple recipe when we couldn’t find a satisfactory ready-made version in the grocery store, and Mitchell’s been a happy camper ever since.

Makes 1 to 1 1/2 cups

2-3 ripe avocados
2-3 slices yellow onion, minced
Half of lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika, optional
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

In small bowl, combine all ingredients and mash. Serve with tacos, or dip guacamole with tortilla or pretzel chips. (Do I really need to tell anyone how to eat guac? I don’t think so!)

Tortillas for Tacos

IMG_0820Once you get the hang of this recipe, these tasty tortillas can be used for a variety of dishes, from tacos, to fajitas, to fresh sandwich wraps. They can be stored in the frig for up to a week (with parchment paper between each tortilla to keep them from sticking together), and briefly reheated on a skillet if needed. I’ve tried to make masa (corn) tortillas from scratch, but did not succeed. I need a Mexican grandma to teach me the trick to those, and sadly, I don’t have one of those in my family tree. (My lineage is more lefse than limonada.) So for now I’m sticking with these flour tortillas for our tacos. Directions and ingredients below are for making tacos or burritos at home to rival Chipotle fare. Seriously. 

Makes 8-10


2½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup shortening
1¼ cups boiling water
Vegetable oil

In large mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender or tines of a fork to combine. Pour in boiled water, starting with 1 cup and stirring with wooden spoon. If mixture is still too dry, add more water until flour pulls away from sides of bowl and dough holds together in a ball.

Dust large cutting board with flour and drop dough onto board. Sprinkle dough with more flour and knead until elastic. Drop dough into oiled bowl (use vegetable oil, not olive oil), and turn to coat. Cover bowl and let dough rest in warm, draft-free spot for 10 minutes.

Heat large griddle or skillet to high and brush with vegetable oil. Drop dough onto floured board and divide into 8 or 10 pieces. Form each piece into a ball, and then roll a ball out to about 8 inches in diameter. (The tapered French rolling pin the is perfect tool for making these.) Dough should be very thin, almost to the point of tearing. Carefully move tortilla to hot griddle. Tortilla is ready to flip when large bubbles form on top. Do NOT “pat down” tortillas as they cook! Allow air pockets to form in dough as it cooks. Flip, then brown lightly on reverse side. Remove tortilla to plate and repeat with remaining balls of dough.

Top tacos with:

One recipe Mean Mexican Rice
1 pound ground turkey, cooked in skillet, and seasoned with taco seasoning (My preference is Penzy’s Chicken Taco Seasoning—2 tablespoons per pound of meat.)
Monty Jack cheese
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
Tomatoes, chopped
Green peppers, chopped
1 can corn, drained
Scallions, chopped, or red onion, chopped
Black or Kalamata olives, chopped
Lettuce, chopped
Sour cream

Haystack Taco Dip

Haystack Salad IMG_0608So many appetizers rely on a brick of cream cheese as base, but this taco-flavored dip is chock full of fresh ingredients like tomatoes and alfalfa sprouts—and no cream cheese! And it’s probably the best thing you’ll ever dip with a chip. It’s a great appetizer for graduation open houses or other buffets as it doesn’t need to be kept hot, or cold. In fact, that’s where I first tasted this concoction, at my friend Laurie’s open house for one of her daughters. Laurie called her recipe “Haystack Salad,” but my family has always called it “that taco dip.” Laurie’s directions were to use a can of Hormel no bean chili as the base, or refried beans in a pinch. It seems Hormel has quit producing that item—I’ve not been able to find no bean chili for several years now, and the refried beans work perfectly well instead.

One way to make this dip extra great, is to get some Penzy’s taco seasoning. It has less salt and more flavor than the stuff you get in the foil packets at the grocery store. You can order the taco seasoning through Penzy’s website, and hey, grab some cinnamon and vanilla while you’re at it! (Last time I ordered, they shipped free with a $50 order, so you might as well stock up on other spices and seasonings.)

The other thing you’ll like about this appetizer, is that it goes together in about 15 minutes (or less if you enlist the help of someone to shred cheese) and requires no baking. Have I convinced you to try this one yet?

Serves 10-12

1 – 16 ounce can of refried beans
4 tablespoons Penzy’s taco seasoning or 1 package of other taco seasoning
3 ripe avocados
1 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 – 4 ounce can of diced mild green chilies
1 – 4.25 ounce can of chopped ripe olives
1/2 cup chopped scallions (about 4 scallions)
1 cup shredded monty jack cheese
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 tomatoes, diced
1/3 to 1/2 container of alfalfa sprouts
Tortilla or corn chips

Combine refried beans and taco seasoning in a small bowl. Spread on the bottom of a glass 9″x13″ baking dish. In another small bowl, add avocados, sour cream, and lemon juice together and mash until combined. Spread on top of the refried bean mixture. Drain the green chiles, and sprinkle on top of the avocado layer, followed by the chopped ripe olives, then the scallions. Next sprinkle monty jack cheese, and then cheddar cheese. After dicing the tomatoes, strain them to get rid of the extra juice. Add tomatoes on top of the cheeses, and finish with the alfalfa sprouts. If not serving immediately, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Serve with tortilla or corn chips. But remember, no double-dipping!