Vaguely Mexican Chicken

I don’t have any Spanish heritage or any Southwestern US heritage, but I think this spicy chicken casserole will satisfy a craving for Mexican food.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Dice two whole medium white onions and add them to the pan. As the onions are cooking, stir in a good shake of cayenne, garlic, black pepper, and salt. (Well, a smaller shake of salt.) Cut 1.5 pounds of chicken breasts into pieces about the size of two or three bites and add them to the pan. Cook the whole mixture, stirring periodically, until the chicken pieces are cooked through. (Do not overcook them. What I do is slice open one of the larger pieces when I think the chicken might be done — if the biggest piece is cooked through, then the other pieces should be fine. You can also remove one piece and use a meat thermometer to test it.)

When the chicken is completely cooked, scrape the whole mixture into a 9 x 9 Pyrex dish. Slice 8 ounces of smoked Gouda cheese into thin strips and lay the strips on top of the chicken casserole. Bake (uncovered) for 30 to 45 minutes, until cheese is soft and melted. Enjoy!

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Faux Mexican Dinner

I say “faux,” because I have no Latin heritage; however, I do enjoy rice and beans with Mexican-style seasonings! This is a basic recipe; feel free to spice it up by adding your own cumin, coriander, etc.

You’ll have to plan ahead just a bit for this one, as it involves black beans, which must be soaked for at least eight hours. I soak mine overnight in the refrigerator.

Place one cup of dried black beans into a large ceramic or glass bowl, or a Dutch oven. (Since virtually all canned goods are contaminated with BPA, a known endocrine disruptor, I never use canned goods. Dried beans work just fine for me.)

Inspect the beans and remove any foreign materials (stems, shells, etc.). Add three cups of water to the bowl, cover it, and place it in the refrigerator for the beans to soak for at least eight hours. (As I mentioned, I allow the beans to soak overnight.)

When you are ready to start cooking, drain the water from the beans, and place them in a Dutch oven (if they’re not already in one). Add three cups of fresh water and simmer the beans over medium-low heat with the lid of the Dutch oven tilted. You’ll want to cook the beans for 90 minutes to two hours to ensure that they’re soft enough. Keep an eye on them so they don’t boil over, and add more water if most of the water boils away.

In the interim, place one cup of white rice in a pot with two cups of water and a generous helping of butter. Bring the water to a boil on the stovetop, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 50 minutes with the pot lid tilted. Again, keep an eye on the rice to ensure that it doesn’t boil over, and add more water if most of it boils away before 50 minutes are up.

When the beans have cooked for the desired amount of time, drain any remaining water, then add one jar of salsa and stir it into the beans with a wooden spoon while heating the mixture gently.

I like to combine the rice with the salsa-fied beans and serve them directly from the Dutch oven, but you may prefer a more artful presentation of beans on top of a bed of rice. Feel free to brown some ground beef and add that, too. Some people like fresh, chopped cilantro on top of the whole thing. (Some people even like cheese on top… Mmmm…) Enjoy!