Tortilla Chip Casserole

Many, many years ago (I believe I was in junior high at the time), my family stumbled upon a casserole recipe that we’ve used ever since. We call it Mexican chicken, even though we often make it with beef and it’s about as Mexican as Taco Bell. My brother, at some point, dubbed the beef version Tijuana Meatloaf.

We are not very P.C. in my family.

Anyway, whatever you call it, the casserole made for a cheap, easy, tasty, filling meal. It’s perfect for those nights when you don’t want to cook; if your meat is precooked, it’s just throw and go! But the best thing about this recipe? It has endless variations.

The original recipe calls for:

  • 1# diced, cooked chicken
  • ¾ of a bag of nacho cheese Doritos
  • 1 small can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 small can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • Shredded cheddar

mexchick

 

Originally, I think you were supposed to mix the chicken, tomatoes, and soup and layer it with the chips. We just crush the chips, mix up everything but the shredded cheese, and top with the cheese. Then you heat it up. You can throw it in the over, or you can microwave it (all you’re trying to do is heat everything through and melt the cheese). Easy peasy. Obviously, you can use a pound of cooked ground beef in place of the chicken.  You can trade out kinds of soup, of course, or types of cheese. You could even use diced tomatoes without the chilies, or those with Italian or other seasonings. Or substitute homemade or jarred salsa.

But here’s the thing. Almost anything is possible with this recipe.

  • My sister made it with leftover Thanksgiving turkey, plain tortilla chips, and homemade salsa along with the mushroom soup.
  • Last night, I made it with chicken, 1 can of nacho cheese soup, one small can of cheap, off-brand enchilada sauce, and plain tortilla chips, topped with shredded cheddar. Cheddar cheese soup would have also been good. Or, if I’d used more chicken and chips, I could have added some sour cream to the mix. Yum!
  • I also decided that nacho cheese Doritos with leftover brisket, pulled pork, or chicken (shredded), BBQ sauce would be good. Maybe with a can or cheddar cheese soup and some sour cream.
  • If you’re worried about the carbs in the chips (but not the other horrendously bad-for-you ingredients), you could probably make this with pork skins or veggie chips.
  • Since we discovered this recipe, Campbell’s soup has released a great many kinds of “cream of” soups. The current line-up includes: chicken, mushroom, beefy mushroom, asparagus, broccoli, broccoli-cheddar, celery, chicken with herbs, mushroom with roasted garlic, onion, potato, shrimp, cheddar cheese, and nacho cheese. That’s a lot of possibilities! When you add in all the varieties of tortilla (and other) chips available, all the many kinds of cheeses, and various meats, the variations really are endless.
  • You can add other things. Garnish with lettuce and tomato. Throw in some olives, roasted red peppers, or sauteed veggies. Add herbs and spices.

Experiment, and enjoy!

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Savory Schmeres

This pair of recipes may be used as dips, schmeres, spreads, dollops, or any other way you can think of to serve them. I personally like them in small dollops on a cheese cracker or spread on biscuits hot out of the oven.

BACON JALAPENO JAM
Prep Time: 30 minuntes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Serves: 10

Ingredients
1¾ lb. thickly sliced bacon, cut into 1” pieces
2 jalapeño peppers, thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
? cup cider vinegar
½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
¼ cup pure maple syrup
½ cup strong brewed coffee
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 bags (large) Kettle Brand Original Chips

Directions
Cook bacon over medium-high heat in a large skillet, stirring occasionally, until bacon is lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Transfer bacon pieces to a large plate or tray to drain.

Saute jalapeño, onion and garlic in bacon fat until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes, then add the vinegar, brown sugar, maple syrup and coffee.

Bring mixture to a boil, stirring and scraping up browned bits from skillet.

In a crockpot, combine the bacon and the vinegar mixture, stirring briefly to combine.
Cook on high, uncovered, for 1 hour.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and two tablespoons of the cooking liquid; stir into the bacon crockpot mixture.

Continue to cook on high, uncovered, for 3 hours. Carefully transfer mixture to a blender or food processor and pulse mixture until coarsely chopped.

Transfer to a serving bowl and allow to cool before serving with chips.

Mixture can easily be made and refrigerated in an airtight container up to 2 weeks before using.
MEATY ONION RELISH
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 6 hours
Serves: 10

Ingredients 
2 cups drippings from pork loin, roast beef or other roasted meat
4 large sweet yellow onions
1tsp black pepper
1tsp garlic powder or minced garlic

Directions

Peel and dice onions.

In crock pot, combine all ingredients. Set on medium and allow to cook until all onions are soft and clear.

Turn heat to high for 10 minutes. Add arrowroot powder and allow to thicken, stirring often.

Allow to cool before placing in a bowl to serve.

Relish may be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks before using. Also good for canning project.

This relish relies on the spices used for the roasted meat as a major part of the flavoring. It will be a little different with every batch, depending on the drippings. Bits of meat and fat may be included, adding to the savory flavors.

 

I apologize for the lack of photos, but these were oddities in my kitchen. Hopefully you will give them a spin and let us know what you think.

Enjoy!

–Ann Cathey

Quick Casserole Meals

Remember all those casseroles your grandmother used to whip up in her sun-filled kitchen? She was on to something with those one-dish sides and meals. You can be, too.

Most casseroles include a starch (potatoes, pasta, or rice) as a base, veggies, meat, and some cheese. It all depends on what’s on hand or what you prefer.

Here’s a basic casserole that my family enjoys once every couple of weeks. While I have had to put a strong low-carb rule in place, you may not have to.

Ingredients:
2 cups dry rice, cooked
12 oz concentrated cream of something soup (potato, chicken, mushroom, etc.)
1/2 cup fluid (milk, heavy cream, chicken broth, etc.)
1/4 cup hard cheese, fine grated (Asiago, Romano, Parmesan, etc.)
15 oz can of beans or peas, well drained
Other veggies as desired, pre-cooked and diced (potato, carrot, green beans, etc)
8 oz meat, diced or broken
Onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper to taste
4 oz shredded cheese, any firm type (cheddar, Swiss, Provolone, Gouda, etc)

In a large bowl, place rice, soup, fluid, veggies, spices, and hard cheese. Fold together gently so as not to break up the veggies.

I will also fold in the meat at this time. You may choose to layer it in the baking dish.

Place the contents of the bowl into a baking dish, spreading it evenly. If you are layering the meat in, put it between two layers of the rice mixture so it doesn’t dry out during baking.

Sprinkle a couple of ounces of shredded cheese on top. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350F. Everything in the dish is precooked, but you want it to heat throughout.

Remove dish from the oven and uncover. sprinkle on remaining grated cheese. Allow to sit for five minutes or so while the cheese melts and the dish comes to a reasonable serving temperature.

When emplating, feel free to toss on strips of fresh basil, more cheese, chopped parsley or whatever topping you desire. A dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream is also tasty.

Leftovers can and do add a lot of variation to this meal. A teaspoon of sour cream left from taco night? Throw it in! Some shredded mozzarella left from pizza night? Stir that into the mix to create a gooier texture. Black olives? Mushrooms? Broccoli crowns? The more the merrier!

Want an Italian flavor? Use Italian spices, Italian sausage and or pepperoni with a mix of mozzarella and provolone shredded on top. A white or navy bean works well for the added texture. Serve with garlic bread or bread sticks.

Tex-mex more to your liking? Add chili powder and onions, black beans and use Monterrey Jack or pepper-jack cheeses. Top with sliced jalapeno or salsa.

Cajun Crazy? Try andouille or boudan, Ementhaler, and Cajun seasonings (We like Tony Cha’s) with diced bell pepper and onion.

The ham and cheese option is also nice. Use cheddar, leftover ham, and black-eyed peas for a southern variation.

In short, this dish can be customized pretty much any way that pleases your palate. It’s also hearty enough to put leftovers into microwavable containers for tomorrow’s lunch, or for a side dish later in the week. Just heat and serve.

Bon Appetite!

— Ann Cathey

Home-made Pot Pies

Whether you prefer to make them single serving size, or make larger family sized pies, pot pies are a wonderful dish to serve warm on a cold evening.

You can use traditional recipes, making your crust from scratch and cooking up a stew-pot of sauce and veggies. You can also use a lot of modern day short cuts as you will see below.

CRUSTY CONCEPTS
For single serving pot pies, grab a can of biscuit dough in your favorite variety. Separate the biscuits on a board and using a rolling pin, roll them out flat while retaining their round shape.

Using a cup cake tin, line each cup with one rolled out biscuit. Add your filling (we’ll discuss that below), and use a second rolled out biscuit to cap the cup. Inch the edges together and slit the top for a steam vent. You might also use a quarter of a biscuit on top as dumpling instead of a cap.

Bake these as directed on the biscuit container. When they come hot out of the over, top with a bit of grated cheese and serve warm.

Another crust short-cut for family sized pies is to use pre-made pie crusts or pizza dough. For pie shells, pre-bake them for ten minutes before filling. This will give you a better, less soggy texture. Pizza crusts are great to slice and weave for a beautiful cap on the pies. You can also skip the lining crust and just use a lattice on top to reduce your carbs a bit.

FILLINGS
Broken meats, or meats purchased specifically for pie fillings are both good to work with. Canned chicken, turkey, beef or ham will bring an extra load of salt and preservatives to the dish, but they are also very handy.

If your meats need to be cooked first, use a fat-free or low-sodium broth to start your filling out.

Fresh vegetables, such as carrots, potatoes, or turnips should be diced to 1/2 inch cubes and tossed in with the cooking meat to cook through. Peas and mushrooms, which cook much faster, should be added later in the process. Remember that mushrooms release a lot of water.

Leftover veggies are also great for this dish. They are precooked and ready to be tossed into the sauce. Baked potatoes, savory yams, buttered carrots are all likely candidates. Drain them well, skin them if you prefer, and dice them to a comfortable size before adding them.

Canned veggies, which are of course already fully cooked, should be drained thoroughly before being added to anything. Again, low or no-salt is encouraged.

For the sauce, follow your recipe for the next few steps. If you are taking short cuts, you might consider a condensed cream soup such as a cream of mushroom, asparagus, chicken or potato. Do not add any liquids! You do not want your sauce to be runny.

Turn the soup out into a bowl. Fold in your meats, veggies, and additional spices you may desire. Garlic, onion, rosemary and thyme are a good mix for most meats.

If you find yourself in need of a thickening agent, don’t rely on corn-starch. While it works very well, it also adds a lot of carbs/sugars and calories to your dish. Use finely grated hard cheese, such as Parmesan, Asiago, or Romano, as thickeners. These are a tasty addition as well adding extra protein.

Fill your pastry cups 3/4 of the way with whichever mixture you decide to use. Cap, lattice or dumpling the tops and bake as directed.

SERVING
Unlike most dishes that are called “pies” the inside of a pot pie of this sort will not gelatinize. You will wind up with a very thick stew in a shell. Be prepared to spoon out some extra filling if you serve family sized pies, and to be very careful when popping the individual pies out of the baking cups. Place your serving in a dish, sprinkle with some shredded cheese and a slice of toasted baguette.

If all of this sounds vague and less like a recipe than an idea, that’s because it is. The variations are seemingly endless, and the choice of ingredients is up to your own tastes. Make your pot pies creamy with chicken and mushrooms, or a bit more tart with turkey and turnips. Use Italian spices and tomato paste for a roseate alternative, or wild onion and venison in a brown gravy style sauce. No matter what angle you choose, it’s sure to be delicious!

— Ann Cathey

Crock Pot Breakfast

With the weather being cool to cold in most of the United States, I thought these warm breakfast dishes might be appreciated.

There are an amazing number of things that can be cooked in a crock pot or other slow cooker. I bet you didn’t know that breakfast can be prepared in a slow cooker rather than on the stove top. Here are a few recipes that are sure to delight.

These recipes are written more like concepts than with the usual ingredients list due to the many variations that are available for each.

OATMEAL
Instant oatmeal is quick, true, but it’s also just not the same as the real thing. Steel cut oatmeal or whole oat groats are a great way to kick start your morning, but the hour they take to cook can make that difficult.Instead, you should prepare oatmeal the night before for that wonderful smell in the morning. First, toast two cups of oats in a dry pan for five minutes until you can smell them.Then put the oats in a buttered crockpot with eight cups of water, two cups of milk, 1/4 c. brown sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt.Cook on low for eight hours and enjoy!

APPLESAUCE
Fresh applesauce is amazing served with a pork loin or just as a comforting snack, but it may seem a little intimidating to make. Never fear! All you have to do is peel, core, and dice 10 McIntosh apples and put them into a slow cooker with 1/2 cup of water, one teaspoon of cinnamon, and one cup of sugar. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours and enjoy the warm cinnamon smell that permeates your house. Eat warm, cold or freeze for later.

HUNTERS BREAKFAST
I think this concept has been covered before, but this blog is about breakfast and it bears repeating. Layer potatoes (sliced leftover bakers, diced leftover french fries, frozen or leftover tater tots, frozen hash browns), meat (crumbled sausage or bacon, diced ham, or any combination you may prefer), cheese, and diced bell pepper. Do as many layers as you have ingredients for. If your crock pot is half full, use 6-8 eggs, if it’s mostly full use 12-18 eggs. Crack your eggs into a large bowl and whisk them thoroughly with a splash of milk or cream for fluffiness. Salt and pepper the eggs to taste. Pour the egg mixture evenly over the ingredients in the crock pot. Sprinkle extra cheese on top. Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours (overnight). if the smell of a hot breakfast waiting for you in the morning doesn’t make your tummy rumble, you may have a cold. Serve as is or wrapped in a warm tortilla for breakfast tacos.

Give these dishes a try and let us know how you enjoyed them. See if you don’t agree that the crock pot method is a time-saving twist on these breakfast favorites.

–Ann Cathey

Broken Meats

What, you may ask, is a broken meat? This is what’s left over when you have roasted a turkey and served the bird, or cooked up a ham that you served sliced for game day, or what’s left after you had a dinner party and served a loin of beef. Typically, these leftover meats are “broken” or removed from the bone and wind up in slices, chunks, and shreds.

Broken meats can be used so many ways. They can be diced for salads, sliced or shredded for sandwiches or wraps, used in stews, soups or chili, and so on.

Turkey might wind up in a lettuce wrap with leftover cranberry sauce or a tablespoon of fruit salad. It can also be diced or shredded and used as the meat in a pot pie.

Any meat can be shredded and used in making tamales or chili. These two dishes were originally intended for “trash” meats, using tough cuts or leftover ends. Broken meats will make them incredible.

Toss broken meats into tortillas with a bit of refried beans, cheese and diced tomato for tacos, burritos or quesadillas. They can also be used as pizza toppings and lasagna fillings, and be tossed into salads for an extra jolt of protein.

Stews, soups and chowders all benefit from some extra meat. Beef, pork, and chicken are all good for these applications.

Ham, being very salty in general, and often having a sweet glaze applied, is great for dicing and scrambling in eggs for breakfast. It’s also good sliced or shredded for sandwiches, and even for tossing with diced yams (sweet or savory) for a new baked dish.

Pigs-in-blankets are great. Any leftover meat with a little bit of an appropriate cheese can be wrapped up in pre-made biscuit or croissant dough and baked up into a warm treat.

Leftover steak (like that ever happens!) can be sliced up and tossed into a stir-fry or served as a breakfast side. It can also become a new main dish when sauteed with onions and mushrooms to be served over noodles or rice.

Broken meats just require a little imagination to become interesting and tasty meals rather than just sitting in the fridge being forgotten.

Drop us a line and let us know how you use your broken meats!

–Ann Cathey

Fast Food Leftover Madness

Ever wonder what to do with those fast food leftovers in your fridge? Maybe you ordered more than you really wanted, or the kids didn’t polish off all their fries. If it’s substantial enough to warrant tossing in the fridge, it’s plenty to fix for a meal or side for the next day.

Note that wherever “french fries” are mentioned, this could be regular french fries, seasoned curly fries, waffle fries, or even steak fries. They all work wonderfully in your leftover madness.

FRIED CHICKEN SALAD
Cold fried chicken, de-boned and diced make a wonderful chicken salad for sandwiches or wraps with your favorite ingredients. Mayo, brown mustard, chopped onion and peppers are one variation. Another is mayo, yellow curry and purple seedless grapes served up in a pita half!

FRIED CHICKEN TACOS
Strip that chicken off the bone, toss it with garlic and chili powder in a skillet with a spritz of olive oil, then fill your tacos with chicken, cheese and whatever else you may desire.

HASH-BROWN FRENCH FRIES
Take those cold french fries out of the fridge and dice them. Give a skillet a spritz of olive oil and heat some diced garlic. Toss in those fry bits and treat them like hash-brown potatoes. They will cook up to whatever consistence you desire, from soft to slightly crunchy.

Crack and egg into the middle and serve it sunny side up in a ring of hash-brown fries.

CHILI CHEESE CHICKEN NUGGETS/STRIPS
Got some chicken nuggets or strips left over? Arrange them on a dish and heat in the microwave. Smother them in hot chili and your choice of cheese and enjoy.

Garnish with a bit of sour cream and sliced black olives for some complementary flavors and textures.

CHICKEN ENCHILADAS
De-boned fried chicken makes a great filling for enchiladas. Wrap the chicken and some cheese into tortillas, cover in enchilada sauce, heat and serve with fresh guacamole and sour cream.

HUNTSMAN’S BREAKFAST
Start a skillet with a spritz of olive oil and some diced garlic and onion. Cook until the onion is just beginning to soften. Add in a meat, like diced sausage or chicken strips, and cook until hot. Dice the leftover french fries and add the to the skillet, stir this mixture fairly often to keep it from sticking. Whisk up an appropriate number of eggs for the contents of the skillet, adding your spices of choice. Add this to the skillet and cook until the eggs are done.

You might serve this up on a plate with a few dashes of hot sauce, or in tortillas with cheese as breakfast tacos. Either way, it’s a quick and simple breakfast plan.

MORE DICED DELIGHTS
Diced french fries, and other leftover potatoes, with or without onions also make filling additions to stews, bean pots, and even home-made chili. Diced onion rings are great in chili and in hashbrowns.

We’ve actually bought chicken nuggets from the Golden Arches specifically to take home and smother in chili and cheese for supper. It wasn’t the healthiest meal we have ever enjoyed, but it was so tasty we didn’t mind.

— Ann Cathey