Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Simple Mexican Casserole

I had two goals for yesterday: work on the Christmas project, fix dinner (which I failed at the night before).

Hey sometimes you have to have simple and attainable expectations. But the cat boxes did get cleaned yesterday! I packaged up all of the turkey stock. I ended up with 14 cups! Ran out of freezer bags and Gladware though. And I unpacked and cataloged half a box of CDs. I was tired of doing important goal oriented stuff. Apparently I am a big Eric Clapton and Natalie Merchant fan, though I don't know when the last time was I listened to any of those CDs. I also really like The BoDeans. I knew that but I have a lot of emotional baggage with them.

When you're busy or broke, (or both!), you can't beat crock pot or casserole dishes. And if you need one, the absolute best place to find one is in any local community cook book. I have several including a giant one from the bank. You'll have no problem finding at least 20 recipes for each in any God-Loves-Our-Church-the-Best cookbook. And as bonus, at least as many recipes for cheese balls. The down side is that after awhile, every crock pot or casserole dish starts to look or taste the same.

Knowing this I pulled out three such cook books from my collection and started thumbing through looking for a recipe that matched up with the few ingredients we have left in house. We've got plenty of frozen meat because I have been stocking up when it's on sale. Piddly few vegetables though and a whole lot of nothing else. Finally found one that I had mostly enough to make. I was horrified that my stash of various canned tomato products was gone!

I bet everyone has a Mexican casserole dish in their repertoire. I have a good authentic Chilaquiles al Chipotle recipe, but I needed something simple. This recipe was it, but I didn't like the technique and I was missing a few ingredients. I've come to believe that technique is the second degree of separation from being an OK cook to Really Good cook and I like to believe that I spend more emphasis on technique than most people. (The first degree is good, quality ingredients by the way). Eventually I'll write this up for my files but here is what I did.

In a few tablespoons of oil, saute a cup or so of chopped carrots and onions until the onions are soft and translucent. It is important that you chop the carrots so that the pieces are uniform in size. This was they will cook evenly.

Add in about a pound or so of ground beef and brown evenly. Drain off any fat as necessary. Then stir in one can of Mexican tomatoes. This is the kind with garlic and green chiles in it. Stir in about a tablespoon of chili powder and half a tablespoon of cumin. Let that simmer for a few minutes so that the flavors meld.

Take half of the meat and spread it out on the bottom of a small casserole dish. I think the one I used was about 9" x 9" x 4". Cover the meat with a couple handfuls of shredded cheese. Cover the cheese with crushed Tostitos (that's not an endorsement, use what ever you have. Fritos would have been tasty). I used about 2 cups crushed. Then layer the rest of the meat and another layer of crushed chips, a little thinner this time. I used about one cup.

Bake at 350 degrees for half an hour. Sprinkle another handful or so of cheese on top and bake for five more minutes. This lets the chips on top be crispy instead of soggy under the melted cheese. Let it rest for a few minutes before serving.

Like I said, everyone probably has a similar recipe and they become very similar to each other over time, but this was pretty simple. I think all told, under an hour from start to finish.


Brook said...

I have not made a "frito pie", as it was called by my family growing up, in forever. Am actually planning a similar thing for supper for us tonight though I am just going to make a giganormous nacho thing on a big round pizza pan (I like the onions and carrots thing in the meat mixture[ground deer for us] and will grab it for this-get some veg in there)with guacamole that I need to make since for some reason I bought a bag of 5 avocados at Sam's and they are all ripe at the same time. And I just restocked my canned tomato stash but discovered that I forgot paste! I always feel good when I can make a complete and tasty meal from the stuff that's been hanging out in the back of the pantry, languishing in the veggie drawer and lurking in the depths of the freezer. Good on you for using what ya got!

Dinah said...

This was an awesome casserole! I ate it or lunch the next day, and it was just as good (??better) on the second day. We always say, "If it sucks we'll go out," but we stayed in for this one!