Suggestions please, Tex/Mex chicken casserole
Today is clean out the fridge day. The ingredients I want to use up are:
-Homemade frijoles de olla (garlicy pinto beans cooked with chipolte and epazote)
-Roasted tomato salsa (also homemade and very hot)
-Two open containers of cream cheese from a NJ bagel shop. One is plain the other is veggie cream cheese. This place uses fresh veggies in its cream cheese (peppers, onions, celery, carrots.)
-Some frozen chicken that has been in the freezer for about a year. (bone-in breasts, thighs, legs)
-Corn and flour tortillas, an open bag of tortilla chips.
-Various kinds of cheese, including queso fresco, cheddar (extra sharp and mild), a Mexican melting cheese, etc.
I am thinking about some kind of layered casserole, but I really have never made anything like this before. I make casseroles, but not usually the tex/mex layered kind. My pantry, fridge and freezer are stocked with many other ingredients I can add, especially veggies.
My plan is to poach the chicken in stock and shred it. (I find it is one of the best uses for chicken that has been in the freezer too long.) Next mix cream cheese and salsa with the shredded chicken while it is still warm so the cream cheese blends well. Next do some kind of layering with the beans and either tortillas or tortilla chips and cheese.
Here are some of areas that I'd like your thoughts on:
-Should I use the plain cream cheese or the veggie cream cheese in the mixture with the chicken?
-Leave the beans whole or make them into re-fried before using them in a layer?
-Use corn or flour tortillas or the tortilla chips for the layers (Or a combination, like corn tortillas on the bottom and middle and chips on the top?)
-It seems like it needs some other dimension, especially veggies. What veggies would work? Corn, spinach, fresh asparagus, summer squash, tomatoes, peppers, onions, carrots, celery?
-What about using a jarred Salsa Verde as an additional component?
-Which cheese would work best or use a combination?
I am trying to think of ways to lighten it up/provide textural contrast so it is not just layers of cheesey, beany mush, which is why I don't usually make this kind of casserole.
The corn would work as an add in for the casserole but the squash, tomatoes and spinach could give off too much liquid- maybe serve the casserole with a mix of the sauteed veggies on the side. I love to put a mixed hot sautee (like your peppers/onions/squash) ontop of the raw spinach to wilt it a little.
This all sounds awesome. My $0.02:
1. Use the plain cream cheese - carrots don't really sound good to me in this kind of dish. I make a chicken enchilada casserole that uses evap'd skim milk and cream cheese, along with enchilada sauce, as the sauce for the chicken layer.
2. Corn tortillas for sure... flour ones turn gummy
3. Jarred salsa (drained if it's runny) would add some of that vegetable dimension, as would sauteed squash/peppers/tomatoes. Maybe give the veggies their own layer?
4. Keep the beans whole, not mashed - better texture.
5. Crushed tortilla chips + more cheese on top. Sharp cheddar will give you the best taste; I don't think texture (melty-ness) is as important in this type of dish.
I would use the plain cream cheese, maybe thinned with some milk; not use the flour tortillas since I feel they get gummy when wet and are not generally traditional in layered dishes like enchiladas; mash the beans; add corn and onions for some flavor and texture; top the dish with queso fresco when it comes out of the oven. And then I would be happy to come over and help you eat it.
This recipe for King Ranch Chicken casserole ("from scratch") has some helpful hints about using the corn tortillas as layers. It also may give you some add-ingredients hints.
I'd make 4 layers, use a sauteed tomatoes/peppers/onions mix combined with the chicken as 2 layers top with dollops of the cream cheese. along with your corn (I'd stir that together with 4-oz canned/drained mild green chilis and some cheddar or cheddar-jack) in one layer and beans in one layer.
For me, ground cumin is the herb that gives the most "Tex-Mex" flavor to a dish. It doesn't take a lot - 1/2 tsp - 1 tsp stirred into one layer of the sauce / fililng for a 9 x 13.
I like to use a canned enchilada sauce to moisten my tortillas when I make a layered casserole.
I would use corn tortillas on the bottom, and as layers with some salsa or the roasted tomato salsa on the bottom.
I would probably go ahead and use the veggie cream cheese, it will add a little texture. One layer could be the beans, and I think if you mash them they will work better.
Ys, the corn chips crushed on top would be good. And I'd use the sharp cheddar mixed with a Mexican melting cheese on top, and sprinkled on the tortillas and bean layer.
I don't think you need more veggies, if you use the cream cheese with fresh veggies, but of the list you have, I'd use the corn, and probably sprinkle it on top of one of the tortilla layers, or on the very top with the chips and cheese. Sounds good, good luck!