mexican chicken casserole goes to college

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Mexican Chicken Casserole

Okay, this is pretty simple. So simple that the pictures can do most of the talking!

Because I was only making enough for my son to take to his apartment, I didn’t use as much chicken or other ingredients. I used a small-ish casserole dish. It measures about 7×10-inches.

I started by putting a little olive oil on the bottom of the casserole dish.

Then, a layer of crushed tortilla chips:

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About 2/3 of a can of black beans (drained and rinsed): *I could have used the whole can, but decided this looked like enough.*

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About 2 cups of frozen corn:

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In a large plastic zipper bag, I combined 1/4 cup flour with the following taco seasoning spices:

  • cayenne
  • cumin
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • paprika
  • oregano
  • sugar
  • salt

*If you want this to be gluten-free, omit the flour.*

Since this is being made into a casserole, I cut 2 large chicken breasts into pieces. These pieces were tossed in the flour and spice mixture, then placed in the casserole dish:

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On top of the chicken went about 1 cup of salsa:

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Then more crushed tortilla chips on top:

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I put a few bits of butter on top (about 2 tablespoons total) or I could have drizzled 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I covered with foil then baked at 350F for 30 minutes. After that time was up, I removed the foil then continue to bake for 10 minutes. Then I removed it from the oven and topped with an additional cup of salsa and a few handfuls of Mexican cheese. This was returned to the oven for about 5-10 minutes, until the cheese melted.

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I then removed it from the oven and admired the glorious melted cheese!

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I waited for this to cool a little while, then divided it into 4 equal sections. Each one was put into a freezer-safe container.

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Now he has 4 dinners ready to go!

taco salad

My plan for dinner tonight was taco stew. While the onions and a few scallions were cooking in the oil I gathered the other necessary ingredients, starting with enchilada sauce. Well wouldn’t you know I am completely out of enchilada sauce. This astounds me, because I typically purchase at least one can each week at the grocery story. Or, I did, at one point, but then had such a stash that I stopped doing so. But I really didn’t think I’ve used them all up, yet the absence of enchilada sauce on my pantry shelves proves otherwise.

While searching frantically in the pantry, I took many items out thinking the enchilada sauce might be hiding behind bulky items. I found half a package of taco shells. Some really nice organic yellow corn taco shells that I had forgotten I had.

Hmmmm… this got me thinking. I could switch from taco stew to tacos. Sure! That would work.

But I didn’t want tacos, mainly because I get frustrated when the taco shells break at the first bite.

Okay, the other ingredients could be a salad and the broken taco shells can go on top…. voila! … taco salad!

After eating a large bowl of this salad, I was shocked that I don’t make this more often. So good. So easy. Ridiculously simple. I will be putting this meal into the rotation more often. And I will be adding enchilada sauce to my grocery list … for next time!

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Taco Salad

In a skillet saute chopped onions and scallions in olive oil or canola oil. Add 1 pound ground turkey breast and cook through.

Add a few tablespoons of taco seasoning.

Lower the heat and add about 1/2 cup salsa. Stir well.

Drain 1 can black beans, and add to the skillet. Stir well and cover.

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In a bowl start with cleaned and chopped romaine lettuce.

Add chopped tomatoes.

Add a large scoop of the meat and bean mixture.

Crush one taco shell and put that in the bowl.

Top it all off with shredded Mexican cheese and a scoop of sour cream.

Enjoy… dinner is done!

mexican chicken

This recipe has been a family favorite for years… since my teenage daughter was a toddler. At the time, I had been working on putting together favorite recipes with a group I volunteered for, and this one got top reviews from everyone who tried it. Same response from my family when I made it for them. I did alter the recipe a tiny bit over the years, to make the process easier (the original recipe had instructions to roll each piece of chicken in the crushed chips, but that was more hassle than it was worth).

Many favorite recipes have fond memories attached to them, and this one is no exception. At the time I first started making this recipe, a loving aunt, who has since passed away, lived nearby and would come to dinner weekly. One time when she walked in my house as I was cooking Mexican chicken, she breathed in the wonderful aroma and called out, “Smells like seconds!” … I had never heard that expression before, but I use it now when I know what I’m about to eat will be so good that seconds will be in order…. And I think of her.

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Mexican Chicken

1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup taco seasoning mix

4 boneless, skinless boneless chicken breasts or 1 package chicken tenders (*Note: the tenders cook quicker and are the perfect size for younger appetites)

olive oil or canola oil or butter, for greasing the pan

1 1/2 cups crushed tortilla chips

1/4 cup butter, melted

1/2 cup salsa

1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Heat oven to 350F.

In a large plastic zipper bag, mix flour and taco seasoning mix. Rinse chicken then shake each piece in flour mixture.

In casserole dish, grease the bottom with a light layer of olive oil, canola oil, or butter (whichever you prefer), then distribute 1/2 cup of the crushed tortilla chips on the bottom of the pan.

Place prepared chicken on top of chips (do not overlap the chicken pieces).

Sprinkle chicken with remaining flour mixture then cover with remaining crushed tortilla chips.

Drizzle all with melted butter.

Bake uncovered for 40 minutes.

Remove from oven; spoon salsa over chicken and distribute shredded cheese over salsa.

On the upper most rack, bake for an additional 10 minutes or until cheese melts.

taco stew

I think I’ve mentioned how my mom can not follow a recipe. Well, she can, she just chooses not to. She enjoys being creative and playful with food. Sometimes the results are awesome. Sometimes not. But that’s okay. She has fun and that’s what’s important.

I thought I’d be different. I expected to be a recipe follower. A ‘true to the original’ type cook. But instead I’ve got a lot of my mom in me. I also have a bit of my grandmother in me as well. She was a ‘little of this and a handful of that’ type cook. Even though she didn’t use many recipes, I can’t remember anything she ever made that wasn’t delicious.

I’m proud to have both of their cooking styles and this taco stew recipe is a perfect example of that.

I’m part of a mother’s group and when a member has a baby, or surgery, or has a family emergency, we schedule meals to be delivered three times a week to help out the family. There was a time I signed up for every single request that got posted. At one point I was making two extra meals a week and I found myself making the same meal each time. Wanting to be more varied, I searched the internet for quick one dish meals that used convenient ingredients. No surprise that I ended up on a “dump a few cans of condensed soup and stir” website. Yes, those recipes would have been quick and easy and convenient, but I’m not a fan of using lots of canned foods, and condensed soups as recipe ingredients just aren’t my thing. But from that site I picked one recipe that was rated highly, then starting thinking like my mom: what can I change to make this more my style?  Once I started playing with a recipe I channeled Gram and tossed in a bit of this and a touch of that. The result is this taco stew recipe. And there’s no condensed soup in it!

Taco stew has become one of my favorite meals, and it’s super fast and easy — half an hour from start to finish. Not expensive either. Perfect for my family or when I need a meal to deliver to a family nearby.

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Taco Stew

1/2 onion, chopped

1/2 green pepper, chopped

garlic, crushed (as few or as many as you like)

1 pound ground turkey breast OR ground beef (I usually make this using ground turkey breast)

1 can enchilada sauce*

½ cup water

½ cup chunky salsa

½ cup sour cream

1 tablespoon cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 cup fresh or frozen corn

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

3 large flour tortillas, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

½ cup shredded Mexican cheese blend

Cook onion, green pepper, and garlic in a small bit of oil along with meat in deep skillet until meat is cooked through. Stir in all remaining ingredients except cheese. Heat to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Stir. Top with cheese a few minutes before serving.

*Along with black beans, enchilada sauce is a canned item I purchase, but one day I will try a homemade version. For now I’m happy with the brand that my local store carries: Casa Fiesta Red Enchilada Sauce. This one is all natural — I found that some of the national brands have unnecessary ingredients, such as MSG.

Edited to note: This meal can very easily be adapted for picky eaters or to suit your tastes. When I first started making it, and when I make it for families with young children, the onion, green pepper, garlic and chili pepper were left out, as well as the beans (for those non-bean eaters). As for the salsa and enchilada sauce, I used the mild versions. When making this for my family I use lots of onion, green pepper, garlic, and hot salsa and hot enchilada sauce and lots of chili pepper. It’s a great meal to play around with, and can be just as delicious made simply with the ground turkey, mild enchilada sauce, mild salsa, sour cream, a little cumin, corn, flour tortillas, and topped with cheese.