Holiday Favorites

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

by Shawnda on November 8, 2013

in Chicken & Poultry,Freezer Friendly,Mexican & TexMex,Texas,Thanksgiving

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

That is King Ranch Chicken Casserole. And it’s Texas’ contribution to the category of amorphous, 50-Shades-of-Brown, one-dish comfort foods that taste far, far better than they look.

But I’m not doing it justice.

To describe King Ranch Chicken a little more favorably – and in a manner totally worthy of that warm bowl of comfort that’s perfect for a chilly Texas fall night – think of it as a cross between a TexMex lasagna that’s made with tortillas rather than pasta and a chicken pot pie that’s lighter on the vegetables and sports a topping of corn tortillas and golden brown and bubbly cheese rather than a flakey pie crust.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

Absent in this casserole are the much-maligned cream-of soups. If you want to use them, you can. But making the homemade cream-of soup that serves as the base for King Ranch Chicken is only slightly more work than cranking open a couple of cans with a manual opener. And you get to take a pass on all those 15-letter ingredients and the extra sodium.

Present in this casserole is a generous dose of green chiles for mild warmth and a mountain of shredded cheese to contribute to that oozy, melty, and magical amorphous blob.

Did I do it justice that time? Good. Now get out your grocery list and let’s get to work.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

Put it on your menu for a stretch of cold nights this winter when your schedule would high-five your for 2 nights of scoop-and-reheat leftovers. Put it on your menu for a week when store-roasted rotisseries go on sale. Put it on your menu to crush those Thanksgiving dark-meat turkey leftovers.

Either way. You’re gonna want to put it on your menu soon.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

The ultimate in Texas comfort food, this casserole is made with homemade cream of chicken sauce and corn tortillas.

Ingredients

  • For the chicken:
  • 2.5-3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs and/or breasts (or the meat from 1 precooked rotisserie chicken)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • For the cream sauce:
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp chile powder
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken stock, divided
  • 1/2 cup cream (I use fat-free greek yogurt instead)
  • 10 oz can of Rotel tomatoes
  • 4 oz can of green or hatch chiles, drained
  • For the casserole
  • 24 corn tortillas
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (I used a mix of white and yellow cheddars and monterrey jack)

Instructions

  1. If cooking your own chicken, preheat oven to 425. (If not, you just shaved 30 minutes off dinner prep!)
  2. Drizzle the chicken with olive oil, salt, and pepper (or your favorite general seasoning).
  3. Divide it into 2-3 foil pouches and bake for 20-25 minutes.
  4. Let sit for 5 minutes before shredding.
  5. While the chicken is cooking, make the cream sauce and reduce the oven to 350.
  6. Melt the butter in a large sauce pan or pot over medium-high heat.
  7. Cook the onion, bell pepper, and garlic for ~10 minutes, until softened and there's no standing liquid left.
  8. Stir in the chili powder, red pepper, cumin, salt, and black pepper.
  9. Add the flour in 2 batches, stirring until all traces of white are gone.
  10. Add 3 cups of the chicken stock to the pot, 1 cup at a time, whisking until smooth.
  11. Whisk in the cream (or yogurt), and add the Rotel (do not drain it first) and the peppers.
  12. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
  13. Reserve 1 cup of cream sauce before adding the chicken to the pot.
  14. Lightly oil the bottom and a 13x9 baking dish and place the remaining 1/2 cup chicken stock into a bowl wide enough to hold the tortillas.
  15. Dip the tortillas into the stock (I did stacks of 4 at a time) and line the bottom of the baking dish so that the tortillas are 2 wide and 4 long.
  16. Pour half of the chicken mixture into the baking dish and top with 1/3 of the cheese.
  17. Add another layer of dipped-tortillas in the same manner, lightly pressing on them to level the contents of the pan.
  18. Top with the remaining chicken mixture and 1/3 of the cheese.
  19. Add the final layer of dipped-tortillas and press on them to level out the dish.
  20. Spread the reserved cream sauce over the tortillas and top with the remaining cheese.
  21. Bake for 45 minutes, until bubbly and the top of the casserole is golden brown.
  22. Let sit 10-15 minutes to firm up before cutting into 12-squares and serving.

Notes

Yields: 12 servings

Slightly adapted from The Pastry Queen

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Orange and Cranberry Curd Squares

This truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

After our Fairy Mermaid Princess (Princess Mermaid Fairy?) waved goodbye to the last of the trick or treaters, we turned off the lights and gave The Little her choice of Hocus Pocus or Charlie Brown to help wind down from the excitement of the night. Because nothing blows a 3 year old’s mind more than seeing other kids dressed in a costume.

Momma, look! That boy has a face on top of his other face!

She, who ended up sleeping in her Mermaid Fair Princess tutu-dress thingy – again – chose Charlie Brown… Christmas. So here we are, on November 1st with the first holiday dessert of the year already half gone.

Orange and Cranberry Curd Squares

In my defense, we didn’t have a single piece of Halloween candy left over. So we went with the next best thing for breakfast today: Orange & Cranberry Curd Squares.

You might recognize the recipe from its cousin post, Grapefruit Curd Squares. Because next to a margarita, those bars are still the greatest things to happen to a grapefruit.

And these bars aren’t that far from being the greatest things to ever happen to cranberries. Or cranberry juice, I should say.

Orange and Cranberry Curd Squares

Pies will get their moment to shine but for now, we’re perfectly happy ushering in the holiday season with a batch of beautiful citrusy & tart cranberry bars.

Plus, it’s far harder to pass off a piece of pie as breakfast.

Orange-Cranberry Curd Squares

A citrusy shortbread cookie topped with a beautiful red cranberry curd.

Ingredients

  • For the cookie base:
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Zest from 2 small oranges, divided (and fruit reserved for juicing later... or just eating)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, cold and cut into 8 pieces
  • For the cranberry curd:
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup cranberry juice*
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp yogurt or sour cream
  • Powdered sugar, for serving
  • 1-2 drops red gel coloring (optional)
  • *We're talking about the pure, unadulterated 100% "why did I wear white today" cranberry juice, brands like RW Knudsen. Not the juice cocktail kind with pear and apple juice.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Spray an 8x8 baking pan with non-stick spray.
  3. Add flour, salt, sugar, 2/3 of the orange zest, and butter pieces to the small bowl of your food processor and process for ~1 minute, until the butter has been completely distributed into the dry ingredients and there are no traces of powder left. (You can do this by hand, it will just take a few minutes longer - just smash the sugar with the orange zest first to better distribute the orange flavor.)
  4. Spread mixture evenly into the prepared baking pan and press down firmly.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes, until the edges brown.
  6. Let cool for 20 minutes.
  7. Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
  8. Whisk in the remaining orange zest, cranberry juice, eggs, and yogurt until thoroughly combined and lump-free.
  9. Not overall thrilled with the color of the mixture? Consider adding just a drop or two of red gel coloring. Happy now? Great, let's move on.
  10. Pour over cookie crust and bake for 20-25 minutes, until just set - the center should jiggle but not be fluid when you gently shake the pan.
  11. Let cool in pan for 30 minutes and then run the tip of a knife around the edges of the pan to loosen.
  12. Allow to cool completely before cutting into 12 squares and serving dusted with powdered sugar.
  13. Leftovers will keep a few days covered, at room temp or in the fridge.
  14. Fabulous eaten cold and called breakfast. Not that I'd know.

Notes

Yields: 12 servings

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Lemon Curd Squares

Estimated time: 2 hours

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Pineapple-Marinated Beef Fajitas

This is what I look forward to most, living in southeast Texas. Not fajitas, but this time of year. (Although, let’s be honest – has any culture produced a more amazing, fascinating cuisine that even gets close to TexMex?)

It’s open-windows during the day, almost-cool-enough-to-consider-a-light-cardigan over a tank top at night.
These next few weeks? They’re why we put up with 6 months of soul-sucking heat and oppressive humidity.

We don’t get acres of beautiful trees ablaze with oranges and reds and golds. Actually, it would be a lot easier to sum up “fall in Texas” with a single red leaf on a small-tree-sized weed behind the back fence.

IMG_5132

That’s it, y’all :)

And you can easily identify those Texans who have been counting down the days for a break from the convection oven weather – they’re the ones who went full-on boots, jeans, scarves, and puffy jackets at preschool drop-off last week at 68 degrees. And returned for preschool pick-up in shorts & flip flops.

Those Texans, minus the puffy jackets, they look a lot… EXACTLY… like me :)

We’re the ones crowding the patios for dinner under the lights with a pitcher of margaritas and platters of sizzling fajitas at the table right next to the overkill patio heater. The ones with the pool heater on because the water is already to cold to swim without it.

It’s all the best parts of spring, only there’s football being played somewhere nearby, 5 nights a week. And beautiful weather calls for beautiful food.

Pineapple Marinated Beef Fajitas

These fajitas are the perfect example of how we’ve had a hard time this “fall” getting into heavier, comfort foods. We’re still hanging on a little bit longer before free-falling off the cliff into the creamy casserole canyon. But I have to admit – it’s not that far off. King Ranch Chicken, here we come!

Pineapple-Marinated Beef Fajitas

Juicy flank steak tenderized with a fresh pineapple marinade.

Ingredients

  • For the marinade:
  • 1/2-inch thick slice of fresh pineapple, core removed*
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Generous pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 lb flank steak (or your favorite cut for fajitas)
  • For serving
  • Diced pineapple
  • 6-8 tortillas
  • Cilantro
  • Sliced fresh jalapeno
  • Diced red onion
  • Cilantro
  • Plain yogurt or sour cream
  • * If you're using canned pineapple, go with 2 slices and the juice from the can.

Instructions

  1. Place the flank steak in a large zipper bag.
  2. Place the marinade ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.
  3. Pour over the flank steak, seal the bag, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes only - do not marinate it longer than 30 minutes. Pineapple is an ultra-tenderizer and it will turn your meat into mush if left in contact too long.
  4. While the steak is marinating, chop the rest of the toppings and prepare any sides.
  5. Heat your grill or grill pan to high.
  6. Cook the flank steak ~4 minutes on each side for medium (~5-6 for medium well).
  7. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing against the grain, holding your knife at an angle when cutting.
  8. Serve in warmed tortillas, topped with red onion, pineapple, jalapeno, cilantro, and a dollop of yogurt/sour cream.

Notes

Yields: 6-8 fajitas

Source: Confections of a Foodie Bride

Estimated time: 1 hour

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Black & White Tacos

There’s bar food. And then there’s post-bar food. Those tacos, those fell into the latter category.

After college, I predictably kept the safety-net low-paying, entry-level job as a drone at SkyNet that I used to pay my some of my way through school to work for a bunch of people who undervalued me only slightly more than I undervalued myself. I was quiet, reserved. I did what I was told, showed up when I was supposed to, and somehow managed to fill out a weekly to-do list with the fluffiest of fluff – always leaving off the biggest accomplishment of the week. Smothering another section of my soul.

Black & White Tacos

I missed the smell of old books and desperation while cramming in the library before a Histology or Virology exam. I missed the crazy, passionate look in Professor Ds eyes as she lectured on the physiology of the nasal passages of dessert mice and urinary tracts of frogs. (And really, how awesome is a person who can get excited over frog kidneys?)

I missed the quiet. I missed dreaming about the future, what I was going to be when I “grew up.” Being an adult sucked. And the second the clock on my very-closely-monitored-as-if-I-were-a-criminal PC clicked over to 5:00pm, I was running out the door to the half of an apartment I shared with the anti-Shawnda in a transitional area of town that was half pouring-distance-to-great-night-life and half lock-yourself-in-after-dark.

You had to prioritize.

Black & White Tacos

Anti-Shawnda & I had tons in common: we both could afford only half of the rent and we both drove Dodge Rams. (And sweet Jesus, are Texas boys seriously weak when it comes to the whole girls-who-drive-trucks thing.) (And we totally knew it.)

Most weekends, she felt it was her mission in life to liberate me from the spinster-in-training delivery Star pizza and a game of Madden to bounce between douchey clubs full of douchey poeple, all vying for the chance to pour another round at the drop-dead-gorgeous brunette, and by association, the blonde bored-as-hell-and-kinda-bitchy-and-angry-at-the-world friend (as many a wingman would describe) next to her. Rule #1: Guys who didn’t want to – or worse, couldn’t - talk football with a girl didn’t get to talk about anything else with the girl.

More than once I went to the bathroom with the intention of hopping into a cab cab to drive me back home after making a pitstop at Chacho’s.

Black & White Tacos

Now that was truly worthy of putting on pants and eyeliner after 8pm. Chacho’s was where the real party was. A few texts and a cab ride later, a few fellow spinsters-in-training and I would converge to celebrate escaping another wingman who had no respect for personal space with tortillas so fluffy and thick, you’d be hard-pressed to pass them off as tortillas.

Call ‘em what you want, but they served as the perfect vehicle to The Black & White: a burrito loaded with black beans, white cheese, sour cream, and then the predictable burrito white noise of shredded lettuce and tomatoes.

You ordered it as a half or you had them cut a whole one to split with a spinster-in-training. Like the Texas Teas at the Marquis II, you didn’t tackle a whole one by yourself and remember enough about it to be able to brag the next day. But those Tuesday half-price teas are a story for another day.

Today the story is a decently fulfilled, happy-with-life, still-LOVES-to-talk-football, non-spinster blonde whipping up a more manageable version of the black & white for her husband and daughter.

Black & White Tacos

Black beans, Monterrey jack cheese, and sour cream (or Greek yogurt) make for a fantastic meatless taco worthy of reminiscing about the old days.

Ingredients

  • Black beans (you can used rinsed canned beans or use these leftovers)
  • Flour tortillas
  • Grated Monterrey Jack cheese
  • Sour Cream (I use 2% Total Fage Yogurt)
  • Pico de gallo
  • Lime wedges
  • Sliced jalapenos

Instructions

  1. Top warmed tortillas with 1/4 cup of black beans, a generous pinch of cheese, pico, sliced jalapenos.
  2. Squeeze a lime wedge over top before dolloping yogurt/sour cream and rolling.
  3. Happily reminisce about the old days.*
  4. *Your experience may vary.

Notes

Yields: Servings vary

Source: Confections of a Foodie Bride, Inspired by Chacho's

Estimated time: 20 minutes

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