Sometimes, food is just about love. That’s it. No redeeming nutritional value, no hidden veggies, no sustainability/local produce/seasonal meals considerations, just love. And usually a lot of cheese.
That’s when I turn to Lisa Fain’s The Homesick Texan Cookbook. Fain is the author of one of my favorite blogs, and after reading it, this book became my immediate go-to for anything Texan or Tex-Mex, from a perfect oil pie crust and pecan pie to chili verde and oven brisket. The amount of love and thought and effort that goes into her recipes is truly astounding, and I highly, highly recommend adding this to your bookshelf. (No one paid me to say that.) I’ve cooked many recipes from it that were easily adapted to be gluten-free, and even the Paleo among us should be able to find a few staple recipes in here that they can’t live without.
The most recent recipe made from this book was King Ranch Casserole. I had never heard of it until a coworker from Houston brought it into the office one day, and immediately, my husband (then boyfriend) leapt on it. The King Ranch Casserole became something akin to the sour cream chicken enchiladas I made for the last Super Bowl: a quintessentially Texan dish that he was sure I couldn’t make, which of course made me even more determined to succeed…with Fain’s help, of course.
I made a few tweaks to her recipe, but it impressed both my husband and (I think) his mother. So, treat yourself — and someone you love — to a slice of this cheesy, disgusting, delicious mess. And then go make Fain’s fish tacos or something.
(Note. I tweaked this version to be gluten-free. And you could make it vegetarian by skipping the chicken and using bell peppers and onions instead, more of a vegetarian fajita casserole. Fain’s original online version can be found here.)
- 2 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts, butterflied
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeds and stems removed, diced
- 1/2 anaheim pepper, seeds and stem removed, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp chili powder
- 2 Tbsp masa or corn flour
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1/2 cup half-and-half
- 1 10-ounce can of tomatoes with green chiles, drained (such as Ro-Tel)
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 2 tsp lime juice
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, divided
- 12 gluten-free corn tortillas
- 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 1/2 cups shredded pepper jack cheese
- Heat first tablespoon of oil in a large cast-iron skillet on the stove over medium heat. Add chicken and cook until browned and done through, about 10 minutes per side, turning once. Remove and shred with two forks. Set aside.
- Melt butter in a large saucepan or stockpot over medium heat. Add onions and peppers and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in garlic, spices and masa and cook for 1 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, then reduce heat to low. Continue to cook until mixture has thickened, about 3 minutes. Stir in half-and-half and canned tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Uncover the pot and stir in sour cream, lime juice and half of the cilantro. Taste and adjust seasonings. Turn off the heat.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13 x 9 baking dish.
- Heat tortillas either in a skillet or the way I did — by wrapping them in a slightly damp paper towel and throwing them in the microwave (gasp!) for 30 seconds. Wrap in a kitchen towel to keep them warm as you work.
- Spoon 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of your baking dish. Layer half of the tortillas along the bottom of the dish on top of the sauce (and you can tear up some of the tortillas to fill in gaps). Add half of the chicken, half of the remaining sauce, all of the remaining cilantro, half of the cheddar cheese and half of the pepper jack cheese. Repeat the layers, ending with the cheese.
- Cook uncovered for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbling. Serve. Also freezes well.