I live in a great neighborhood. Many of us have been there for more than 30 years. We've shared with each other multitudes of graduation open houses, wedding and baby showers, and Christmas and retirement parties.
Every summer, we get together two or three times for a ''cookout,'' although it is really more of a potluck get-together. This is where I usually run into trouble.
What do you bring to a potluck dinner? Our neighborhood has been together so long that we've seen all the covered dish trends come and go. We've all brought our share of banana split cake, seven layer salad, perogi pie and taco dip. At one recent cookout, someone actually brought vegetable couscous. Ten years ago and before Food Network hit the airwaves, no one in my neck of the woods would have known couscous from a Tarte Tatin.
Tortilla chicken lasagna waits to go into the oven. The layers of beans, tortillas, sour cream and cheese create a lasagna-like dish with a TexMex flair.
So here I was searching through the 2008 Taste of Home Annual Recipes cookbook looking for just the right dish for my turn at Tribune Cooks when the next great potluck covered dish jumped out of the page right at me: corn tortilla chicken lasagna. Not only was it perfect for carrying to the next cookout, but the recipe made enough for two large pans or 24 servings. I had to give it a go.
Ever the skeptic, I balked at the recipe's prep time. I read the ingredient list and smirked because I know my way around a kitchen. There was no way this dish could take 40 minutes to prepare. I gave myself 15 minutes, tops. I also was cutting the recipe in half, only needing to feed my husband and myself with plenty left over to share with co-workers the next day.
But first I needed to run to the store. In my pantry, there were no red kidney beans, ripe olives or convenient packages of shredded cheese. There also were no corn tortillas.
Corn Tortilla Chicken Lasagna
Prep: 40 min. Bake 35 min., plus standing time
36 corn tortillas (six inches)
6 cups cubed cooked chicken breast
2 cans (one 28 ounces, one 16 ounces), kidney beans, drained and rinsed
3 jars (16 ounces each), salsa
3 cups sour cream
3 large green peppers, chopped
3 cans (3.8 ounces each) sliced ripe olives, drained
3 cups (12 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
3 cups (12 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
In each of two greased 13-inch by nine-inch baking dishes, arrange six tortillas. Top each (layer) with one cup sour cream, 2/3 cup kidney beans, 1 cup salsa, 1/2 cup green pepper, about 1/3 cup olives, 1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese and about 1/2 cup cheddar cheese. Repeat layers twice.
Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer or until the cheese is melted. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Yield: two casseroles (12 servings each).
You must understand that I live in one of the smaller towns in the county. Small towns have small grocery stores, and although adequate, neither of our two main stores can justify ''Super'' in their monikers. Before I entered through the automatic double doors, I suspected I wouldn't find soft corn tortillas, and I was right. After perusing the shelves and the cooler near the cheeses, all I could find were flour tortillas and packages of multi-grain flour tortillas. I didn't have time, or the desire, to drive out of town, so I opted for the large multi-grain variety and would cut them to fit the pan. Problem solved.
I paid for my purchases and drove home to begin the task at hand, only to realize once I unpacked everything and gave the recipe another quick glance that I had forgotten the sour cream. No TexMex dish worth its salt is without sour cream. Back to store I went to retrieve the missing ingredient. By this time I was beginning to wonder if the ''prep time'' they spoke of in the recipe was in anticipation of an air-headed cook.
To save time, I cubed the thawed chicken breasts before cooking. Smaller pieces meant faster cooking time. While the chicken cooked, I prepped the other ingredients. I chopped the green peppers, ripped open the tops of the cheese packages, opened all the cans and gave the beans a drain and a rinse in a colander. Now I was ready to create layers.
As I prepared the dish, I was pleased that there could be so much versatility in this recipe. My huge 10-inch tortillas were easily cut in half to accommodate the baking dish. Although my tortillas were flour and not corn, I realized too late that I could have easily added a half cup of whole kernel corn to each layer. The lack of corn didn't detract from the flavor, but its addition probably would have made it better. Other changes I made included using both white and red kidney beans and both mild and hot salsa, giving the dish a bit of a bite, but not too much.
It isn't my habit to measure ingredients as I cook, except when baking, and this recipe was no different. When it called for a half-cup of this or two-thirds a cup of that, I grabbed what I thought was adequate and layered it on. Easy peezy.
After beginning the third (and final) layer, I realized I had forgotten to put the cheese on the second layer. It was too late to go back, but my lack of proper measuring assured plenty of cheese nonetheless.
When I finished the layers and slid the heavy dish into the oven, I was quite pleased that my prep time only took about 20 minutes, if you don't count my two trips to the store. Perhaps the fact that I cut the recipe in half took away part of the prep time, but if working in assembly line fashion by layering the two pans at the same time, it likely would only have added an additional five minutes. If I cooked six cups of cubed chicken instead of three, I would have simply used a larger pan.
As the recipe suggested, I left the hot dish sit for 10 minutes before cutting. The knife slid easily into the hot, steamy goodness, its aroma wafting through the kitchen. I sliced it into 12 pieces and each one lifted out easily without sliding apart. Even the sour cream between the layers held together.
The dish was tasty too, each flavorful ingredient adding to the enjoyment. I served it with cold sour cream on the side to take away the sting of the hot salsa, but if heat is not to your liking, simply use mild salsa in your recipe.
I'm looking forward to the next neighborhood cookout because corn tortilla chicken lasagna will definitely be on the menu.