Saturday, November 9, 2013

Dinner's in the Freezer: King Ranch Chicken Casserole

My #1 fan

It was about 10 months ago that I entered a couple of recipes for the Pillsbury Bake-Off.  I was tentative about the whole thing since it involved consumer voting, but fortunately a miracle happened and lots of great people voted for me, which pushed me through to the finals.

Now after all these months of waiting, it is time for me to go.  In just a few hours Mr. H will take me to the airport and drop me off for my trip to Las Vegas and a couple of days of highly organized play dates with 99 other people who managed to get there too. We will cook on Monday and the prizes will be awarded that night. To be sure, if I don't win, there will be lots of alcohol consumed afterwards with some of the other non-winners before we fly home the next day.

Even though I am really looking forward to getting away and competing, I kind of hate to see my time in Pillsbury limbo come to an end.  You see for the past 7 months or so I have been living in the thought that I could win that million dollars with my little genius (my word, not theirs) pancake recipe. Now, as "they"say in Texas, "This is where the rubber meets the road."

This past Wednesday I made my recipe one more time. Honesty, it is so quick and easy that I really don't know why. I tell myself that it was for practice, and maybe it was a bit, but I think mostly it was so my adoring public could rant and rave and tell me that I am surely the big winner one more time.

In addition to packing and shopping for that pair of Spanks that will make me look 20 pounds lighter, I have also been cooking and freezing food for my boys so they don't forget me when I'm gone. Even if they decided to eat take out every night, like I suspect they will, something homemade and delicious will be available to them just in case.

For this trip I decided on making a batch of King Ranch Chicken Casserole. The first time I ever made this was before my first trip home shortly after I was married.  My husband and his friends loved it (they were easily impressed) and it became my signature dish for a time.

Since I lost that original recipe years ago, my recipe has kind of morphed into the simple recipe I am giving you today.  There's not a ton of ingredients (even made less if you use cream of chicken soup, but I just can't do that), but the ones that are in it are super flavorful and combine to make one great dish.

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

Rumor has it that the only connection between this dish and the famous ranch in Texas is the name, but I prefer to think that maybe Mrs. King developed it to feed her family while she headed off to Vegas. Could be!

3 tablespoons cooking or light olive oil
1/2 medium size onion, chopped
1/3 red bell pepper, chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 medium size poblano pepper, roasted, peeled and chopped (or a small can of chopped green chiles)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 cup chicken broth
1 - 10 ounce chopped can tomatoes and green chiles (like Rotel)
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
8 corn tortillas, cut into quarters
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
3 cups shredded cooked chicken (leftover rotisserie or baked chicken is great for this)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat oil in a medium size frying pan over medium high heat.  When the oil is hot add the onion and bell pepper; saute until they are soft.  Add garlic and poblano pepper saute for one minute longer.

Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir in to coat vegetables completely. Reduce the heat to medium.

In a medium size bowl quickly stir together the milk, broth and tomatoes.  Slowly pour into the the vegetables, stirring constant and vigorously until it is completely combined.  At this point feel free to kick the heat back up to medium high to get it simmering a bit quicker.  Continue to stir until sauce is bubbly and thickened.  Stir in the cilantro; remove from heat and set aside.

Spray a 9 x 9" glass baking dish (or a 7 x 11" dish like I used) with non-stick cooking spray.  Ladle about 1/2 of a cup of the sauce into the bottom of the pan.  Arrange 1/2 of the tortillas on top of the sauce.  Top with 1/2 of the chicken, 1/2 of the remaining sauce, and 1/2 of the cheese.  Repeat with the remaining ingredients ending with the cheese.

Place into the preheated oven and bake until it is heated through and the cheese is melted and bubbly, approximately 20 - 30 minutes.  Since the ingredients are all cooked, you are heating it more that cooking it.

Serves 6

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