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Quick and Cheap Dinner: Mexican Layer Casserole

Posted Mar 06 2010 7:08pm 1 Comment

Life changes, and apparently mine does this all at once. In two weeks time, I’ll have flown to Houston to wrap up work at my most recent position, will head home to pack up the one bedroom apartment in Chicago, will fly down to Atlanta to train for my new career, and then back to Chicago to move into our gorgeous two bedroom place in River North. Am I cooking as much these days? No, but I’m relying on some old standbys to get us through the next few weeks without eating out every night.

When I know a busy period is coming up I plan ahead and cook up odds and ends on the weekend that can be quickly thrown together in a casserole dish during the week. Pre-cooked rice and chicken breasts can mean the difference between a 20- and 60-minute meal. Mexican Layer Casserole takes advantage of both. This dish is comfort food to me. It’s flavorful and filling and comes together quickly, even though the ingredient list looks long. Don’t skip the chiles in adobo sauce because their spicy smokiness really punches up the flavor in the casserole. You should be able to find them in the Mexican food section of most large grocery stores, along with the can of green chiles. If you prefer less heat just omit the green chiles, gringo :-)

Adapted from Low-Fat Living Cookbook
Serves 6
Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Cost per serving: ~$2.50

2 cups cooked brown rice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon canola oil
1/2 white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1-14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon water
1 cup low-fat sour cream
2-3 chiles in adobo, chopped with 2 teaspoons sauce reserved
1-4.5 ounce can green chiles, chopped (optional. You could use a can of chopped chiles, too.)

No-stick spray
3 cups broken up corn tortilla chips
1-15 ounce can refried black beans, warmed
1.5 cups low-fat shredded sharp cheddar
1 cooked chicken breast, diced small (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Prep work: Mince the garlic. Chop the cilantro, onion, and chiles in adobo. Chop the green chiles and chicken, if using. Warm up the beans in a sauce pan on low heat.

  1. To make the rice: mix together all of the rice ingredients and set aside.
  2. To make the sauce: Heat the oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the can of tomatoes, broth, tomato paste, chili powder and cumin. Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Reduce the heat to low. Mix the cornstarch and water in a small bowl, then stir in the sour cream. This will help prevent curdling when you add it to the hot sauce. Stir in a small amount of the sauce into the sour cream, then transfer the sour cream mixture to the sauce in the saucepan. Add the chiles in adobo with the reserved sauce and the chopped green chiles (if using). Stir everything to combine and remove from the heat.

  4. To assemble the casserole: Heat the oven to 375° F. Spray a 2-quart baking dish with no-stick spray. Arrange half the chips on the bottom, then drop spoonfuls of the warmed beans on top, using about half on this first layer. Warming the beans makes this step easier. Layer on 1/2 cup cheddar, half of the rice, half of the chopped chicken (if using) and half of the sauce. Repeat the layers of chips, beans, cheese, chicken and sauce. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup cheddar on top.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes uncovered. Sprinkle with the remaining cilantro and serve.

Nutrition info assumes that optional ingredients are used and low sodium chicken broth and low fat sour cream, cheese and black beans are used. This casserole is a good source of almost everything and is still low in fat in spite of the cheese and sour cream.

Currently making me happy
I started this in my last post and I think I’ll keep doing it as I find things that make me happy. For now I want to focus on things I discover as I get to know Chicago, but eventually I will branch out.

Just three blocks from my house is the sweetest of temptations, Canady Le Chocolatier . It’s a lovely little chocolate shop tucked into a small store front in the South Loop. The hot chocolate at Canady beckons me out of the apartment even on the ickiest Chicago winter days. But the chocolate silk pie, oh man, I have never had anything like it. The texture is smooth and creamy but it’s not so rich that you get sick of it after a few bites. The flavor is much more complex, with a honey-like depth to the sweetness. I’m practically salivating just writing about it.

Mr. Canady makes all of the chocolates on site and you can tell that this is his passion. Each of his little treats is like a gem, a delicious, addicting little gem .

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I really want to make this- does it reheat/freeze well?
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