Thursday, November 5, 2009

Team Catserole: Hooray!

When my friend Andrew asked if I would collaborate with him on a casserole cook-off, I was reticent. My culinary skills are best served in a cake pan or with frosting. I relented because it was, after all, casserole and I'll do just about anything for cheese.

The guidelines were simple. A casserole was defined as anything consisting of at least two ingredients, one being a starch, and baked in a casserole-type pan. Because I'd never really thought about it before, my brain started reeling with the possibilities. What kind of starch? If I were to develop a casserole recipe from scratch, a dream-casserole, what would it taste like? What textures would be most pleasing?

Andrew had his mother's King Ranch Chicken in mind. Growing up in Wisco means that I wouldn't have considered using chiles for flavor or corn tortillas for starch. We hosted a tasting party to perfect the recipe; the alterations appear in Italics below.

Andrew's Mom's Recipe for King Ranch Chicken

1 boiled, boned, chicken: cut into bite size pieces (we used boneless chicken thighs and 2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks)

Cumin and Chili powder

1 dozen corn tortillas, cut into bite size pieces

2 large yellow onions, chopped fine

1-2 bell peppers: we used red, orange, and green for additional color

2 cups grated cheese (cheddar and pepperjack)

1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes with chiles
1 can chicken broth (or that reserved from boiling chicken)

Preheat oven - 350. We prepped everything in advance so assembly would be easy. To enhance the flavor, after chicken had been cut into bite-size pieces we coated it with a dusting of cumin and chili powder.

Saute onion and pepper with a clove or two of garlic.

Mix sauce ingredients in glass bowl. Like most other delicious things, it starts out looking pretty gross:

Grease casserole dish, put layer of chicken, tortillas, cheese, and sauteed pepper and onion. Mix tortillas into sauce and pour on sauce. We deviated from the original recipe in that we assembled the casserole like a lasagna, layering sauce between tortillas and cheese. We topped the casserole with crushed Fritos, blue and yellow tortilla chips, roasted jalapenos, and finely shredded cheese. Bake for 35 minutes or until hot and cheese is melted.

We didn't win, but we were one of few casseroles that included any amount of spice or heat. We lost to a casserole with duck confit, which had you tasted it, would make sense. The rich duck fat melted on your tongue.

Also, I made us team-aprons, for awesome:

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