Monday, June 21, 2010

Make Ahead Meal: King Ranch Chicken Kickasserole

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This is not the blog post where I tell you all the secrets to successful meal planning.  I won't tout the benefits of "once a month" cooking or give you a slew of time-saving tips to use on your everyday weeknight meals.  Because, generally, that's not the way I operate.

I am NOT a domestic goddess. I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kindofa girl when it comes to weeknight cooking.

It's not that I haven't tried.  I've given meal planning a whirl. Made the list. Clipped the recipes. And meticulously shopped for all the grocery items that I need to create exactly seven home cooked meals in a week. I've witnessed the money it saves, and the headaches it prevents. But, honestly -- when the rubber hits the road -- planning ahead to that extent simply doesn't work for me.  In fact, some of you will be surprised to hear that that level of planning actually starts to stress me out.  I like a little bit of flexibility in my evening plans... maybe even a bit of uncertainty when it comes to what I'll whip up for dinner.

So, I was a little bit surprised when I discovered the brilliance that is the King Ranch Casserole.

YES -- this is a bit like the Tex-Mex casserole dish that shows up in all the ghastly women's magazines.  And YES -- it's a throw-back from post-World War II cooking, when casseroles made with canned soups were the space-age cuisine (because they could be made quickly and kept for later use, casseroles liberated the modern woman from the slavery of cooking).

But, NO -- this is NOT the version that uses cream of *whatever* soup.  And I promise you, this isn't a trap.  But, it will give you at least a night off from cooking... if you do a bit of prep work ahead of time.

This dish does require you to think ahead -- because the flavor of the dish improves pretty dramatically over the course of a day... or three.  The flavors meld. The textures improve. And, although it will still take you an hour or so to bake it up for dinner on the night you serve it, it gives you what might be exactly the right amount of respite from actual cooking duties to renew your strength and energy.

The best part of it is, it doesn't even require a REAL recipe -- though I'm going to give you a bit of a cheat sheet you can use if you'd like to recreate this dish at  home.

Here's what you'll need (more or less)

  • a package of corn tortillas (A pack of 12 works great. We like sprouted corn... )
  • 2-3 cups tomatillo sauce (it helps to have a bit of this in the freezer, but you can make your own)
  • 3 cups cooked chicken (again, nice to have this in the freezer)
  • An onion 
  • a few cloves of garlic
  • a teaspoon or so of cumin and smoked paprika
  • salt and black pepper (to taste)
  • 1/2 cup or so of chopped cilantro
  • 8 oz sour cream
  • 2-3 cups of grated cheese (Chihuahua, Monterey Jack, or whatever you have on hand)
Dice your onion and saute it with the garlic until everything is tender. Mix in the cumin, paprika, cilantro, pepper, salt, and chicken.   Provided you have your sauce and chicken together, this is all the cooking you'll need to do.

Put a bit of tomatillo sauce on the bottom of a glass or ceramic baking dish, and start layering your ingredients:
  1. 4 tortillas
  2. a bit of sour cream (spread this over the top of the tortillas)
  3. 1/3 of the chicken mixture
  4. 1/3 of the tomatillo sauce
  5. cheese
Keep layering until you've used up all of your ingredients -- ending with a nice layer of cheese on the very top. Cover the pan, and place it into the fridge.  Leave it there for 1-3 days. I promise you, it's worth the wait.
While you're waiting for your casserole to "age"  you can do all sorts of fun things -- go out, make a new friend, write a blog post or two, read other peoples' blogs and get new ideas for what to make for dinner NEXT week.

When it's time to bake the casserole, put the dish into a cold oven.  Set the oven to 375ºF and allow the casserole to bake for 50 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, whip off your apron and mix yourself up a nice stiff brandy old fashioned. You deserve it.  Make it a double.  After all, you'll have to wait almost an hour for the casserole to come out of the oven. Might as well make it worth your while.
When the casserole is all brown and bubbling, it's going to smell seriously good and you'll be tempted to slice right into it.  But, you should refrain for about 10 minutes just to let everything set up a bit.

One bite of this and the children will rejoice. Your significant other will sing your praises. And the dog will beg to lick your plate when you're done eating.

You'll feel liberated.
And modern.
And oh-so-very-savvy.

But you can thank me later.  In the meantime, take a bite of your casserole.

Quick Roasted Tomatillo Sauce

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14 comments:

  1. Mark says it sounds like too much cilantro. Sigh. I wish I was not the only person in the house that likes cilantro. Maybe I could have a cilantro sauce or pesto for the side?

    thanks for the inspiration!

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  2. Even if I don't make the recipe you post (although I often do), I never fail to have a blast visiting this blog! Kickasserole! I love it and wish I had thought that one up. I'll be keeping this recipe though. It sounds (and looks) delicious and is easily made gluten-free. I have so much cilantro in my CSA share lately that this will be perfect. Plus, cilantro is soooo good for you. This one is definitely a "keeper" -- spicy name and all. =)

    Melissa
    xo
    xo

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  3. Wow, a hotdish (yes, I'm in MN) that has to age...very sophisticated ;)

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  4. I even love the name. Sounds wonderful. I wonder how I could get my husband to eat something so full of cheese and sour cream. Maybe if I didn't tell him what was in it, he wouldn't notice? I seriously want some now!

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  5. I've made a bad version of this before that did use cream of whatever soup. My family loved it. I hated it.

    But seeing as how this is semi-homemade and all. I think I could wrap my head around it.

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  6. This looks really tasty, and I am all about letting stuff sit for a day or two before eating!

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  7. I grew up on casserole, can't wait to give this one a whirl.

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  8. Hubby and I had a good laugh over your post title and wondered why we've never heard the term "kickasserole" before. That rocks!

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  9. Hey Lo, you eat corn tortillas too, but obviously 'good' ones (smile). This sounds delicious, as I love cumin and smoked paprika.
    By the way, sometimes planning stresses me out too. I'm just like 'I don't want plan something right now'. I've got more immediate things to think about. Yeah!

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  10. LOL....Kickasserole... hahhaah..... awesome! I'm definitely going to have to remember that one for the next time I make a casserole.

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  11. Mmmmm! You've just reminded me that I meant to plant tomatillos this year, and didn't. I wonder if it's too late? I love things like this, and fully agree about meal planning. When you have no idea what will be on the table, it's just more spontaneous and exciting...and like you said, more stress free!

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  12. Very nice. Loves me some casseroles for those lazy weeknight meals.

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  13. I have a question. Does it make a difference if the dish is 'aged' in the fridge covered with saran wrap or lid? I'm making this for sunday dinner :)

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  14. I think that saran wrap would work just fine! Hope you enjoy.

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