Sunday, July 21, 2013

Loaded King Ranch Chicken Casserole

King Ranch Chicken Casserole is a Texas favorite, receiving its namesake from one of the largest ranches in the world, in Kingsville, just southwest of Corpus Christi, TX. I've been to the King Ranch a few times- my family would sometimes make a stop there on the way down to visit relatives on South Padre Island. I found the ranch fascinating, and was very proud that it was so big, and in Texas. Then I met an Aussie. His country boasts THE largest ranch in the world, Anna Creek station, which makes the King Ranch look like a postage stamp. We made sure to include that fact on the back of our wedding reception menu, along with other fun Aussie-British-American statistics that our guests could peruse (amount of sweet vs. hot tea consumed, size of our respective states, etc).
King Ranch Chicken Casserole: tasty & feeds a crowd
It may not be the biggest in the world, but the King Ranch is still something of legend in Texas. Big King Ranch edition Ford trucks are branded with the running w on the side, denoting the quality leather interior. Even my grandmother owned a beautiful leather handbag, marked with the running w, which she carried proudly. This casserole reflects the legend of big, Texas tradition embodied by the King Ranch. It's filling, a little spicy, and bursting with flavor. This version has a few more vegetables thrown in than the typical recipe, and olives on top give it a little extra zing.
King Ranch Chicken Casserole loaded with extra veggies
When we lived in England, the hubs would often ask if we could make *something American* for dinner, and then usually specified this recipe. I used to make it with canned cream of chicken or mushroom soup, but this made-from-scratch version tastes better. We know exactly what goes into it, no additives or unnecessary sugar and salt. You could use your own homemade chicken or vegetable broth and your own tortillas for a true made-from-scratch recipe. This casserole can be easily made gluten-free, just use gluten-free flour to thicken the broth, and gluten-free tortillas or wraps for layering. Enjoy this classic taste of Texas, and if you haven't ever visited a ranch, I recommend stopping by the King Ranch if you're nearby.

Loaded King Ranch Chicken Casserole
6-8 servings

2 large chicken breasts (or 2 cups of shredded pre-cooked rotisserie chicken)
juice from half of a lime
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika (use smoked paprika if you have it)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil (divided use)
1 large brown onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced (any color)
3/4 cup frozen corn (or 3/4 cup cooked fresh corn)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon flour (for gluten-free use 2 teaspoons cornflour)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock
3/4 cup chopped tomatoes (or roasted red bell peppers)
1 cup chopped fresh kale (or fresh spinach)
1 cup plain or greek yogurt (or sour cream)
4 corn or flour tortillas (gluten-free if necessary)
1 cup freshly grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped olives (optional)
2-3 teaspoons Cholula or other mild hot sauce
1 cup guacamole (optional, to serve)

[If you're using raw chicken: butterfly the chicken breasts and sprinkle the lime juice, cayenne pepper, and paprika, and black pepper evenly over the chicken breasts. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Cook the chicken breasts in the pan for about 15 minutes or until cooked through, turning occasionally to cook evenly. Remove the chicken breasts and shred with two forks.] Set the shredded chicken aside.

Bring the same sauté pan back to medium heat and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the onion and sauté for about 3-4 minutes, until it begins to turn translucent. Add the bell pepper and corn, and continue to cook over medium heat for 5-6 minutes, until the bell pepper starts to soften.

Add the garlic, flour (or cornflour), and cumin, and cook for one minute, stirring often. Add the stock, tomatoes, and kale. Continue to stir over medium-low heat for 2-3 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the mixture begins to thicken. Add the yogurt and shredded, cooked chicken, and cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring to well to combine. Remove from heat.

In a 13x9 inch casserole dish, layer two tortillas on the bottom, then pour in half of the chicken mixture, spreading evenly over the tortillas. Layer two more tortillas on top of the chicken mixture, and sprinkle with half of the cheese. Top with remaining chicken mixture, then cheese. If desired, top with chopped olives and a few dashes of Cholula.

Bake at 350F / 177C for 30 minutes, uncovered, until bubbling. Serve warm, with guacamole on the side if desired.

Storage tip: Casserole will keep, covered in the fridge, for 2-3 days.

Friday, July 12, 2013

{vegan} Molasses Cookies

Molasses cookies always make me feel like Christmas. Much like the chilly nights we're experiencing in Sydney at the moment. The first year I lived in Australia, I realized one day in the middle of July that I was humming Christmas music in my head. It startled me to think how closely my subconscious related cold weather with my favorite holiday season. I had experienced plenty of cold, non-Christmas weather living in England, but somehow mid-July in Sydney got me into the yuletide spirit.

My mother makes molasses cookies and apricot preserves to give away every Christmas. All through the fall months, the freezer would gradually fill with tins of frozen cookies, and jars of apricot preserves would take up copious amounts of room on the fridge shelves. My siblings and I would sneak into the freezer and pull cookies from various tins, carefully rearranging my mother's perfectly placed cookies so that the recipient wouldn't realize they hadn't received a full batch (mom could always tell we'd stolen a couple). To this day, they're one of the only desserts besides ice cream that I will eat frozen.
{vegan} molasses cookies @ Southern Spoon blog
spiced molasses cookies: vegan & delightful
This is a lightened up and vegan version of my mother's recipe, which I think originated in an Atlanta Junior League cookbook. It's a small batch, so double it up if you're baking for a crowd. I've used oil instead of Crisco vegetable shortening because it allows you to cut the fat in half, and because Crisco is hard to come by in Australia (and I've learned through expat experience that if you aren't going to use Crisco as your shortening, don't bother trying anything else). Instead of an egg, this recipe features ground flaxseed mixed with water. I've also cut the sugar in half, and incorporated some whole wheat flour, which holds up well in this bold-flavored cookie. If you don't like cloves, use a little less than a 1/2 teaspoon, but don't cut them out completely. The spice mixture really is key, but make sure it's well blended into the flour before you mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
{vegan} molasses cookies @ Southern Spoon blog
warm molasses cookies with not-so-vegan vanilla ice cream
These are delicious served on their own or tucked into a scoop of vanilla ice cream (the hubs' pick). They make a great holiday gift, and they travel well. My best friend's little brother decided these were his favorite cookie many years ago when my mother began gifting them for Christmas. When he served in Afghanistan, his mother got the recipe from mine and sent out regular deliveries of molasses cookies. What a comfort it can be to experience tastes and smells that immediately recall memories of family, home, and the many things in life worth fighting for. I hope you enjoy this recipe, and that you treasure old family food traditions even as you create your own.

{vegan} Molasses Cookies
12 cookies

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon oil (I use rice bran oil or olive oil)
2 tablespoons molasses
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons raw sugar (divided use)
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed reconstituted with 2 tablespoons warm water
1 cup flour (I use half all-purpose or spelt flour and half whole wheat flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of freshly ground sea salt

In a large bowl, mix the oil, molasses, and 1/4 cup raw sugar until well blended. Add the flaxseed which has been reconstituted by the water, and mix until well blended. 

In a medium sized bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Mix thoroughly until combined. 

Pour the flour mixture into the molasses mixture, and stir well until combined. Chill dough in the fridge for at least 40 minutes, or up to 12 hours.

Roll the dough into balls of about 1-inch diameter. Roll each dough portion in the remaining 2 tablespoons of raw sugar, coating evenly. Place on cookie sheets, leaving at least 3 inches between each dough portion. Bake at 277C/ 350F for 8-10 minutes, until cookies have spread out to about 2 inches in diameter and are crackled on top. 

Remove from oven and wait for one minute before removing cookies. Allow the cookies to firm up a bit by cooling for at least 5 minutes before serving. 

Can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week, or frozen for 3 months.