Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Female Mind on Meal Planning Delivers A Mexican Casserole

Gents:  for a limited time, this is your rare opportunity to see the inner workings of a woman's brain on how she ultimately plans a home cooked meal.   Ladies, I hope you don't mind I left the door open a crack; I promise I'll close the door when I finish this post!

And so, this how I came up with a fireside dinner one evening.

First, I need to address all of those typical thoughts floating around in my head:
  • What vegetables do I have on hand?
  • I'd love to make that recipe I saw (now where did I see it?)
  • Anything in the freezer I could use?
  • Oh yeah..I'm trying to lower my food bill
  • But is it going to be tasty?
  • Can I sell my meal idea to everyone else in the household?
  • I've got to do better about not wasting food
Now having tamed all the noise, I'm almost prepared to answer the age old question, "what's for dinner?"   How to do it and not drive myself into an overbooked, over spent and overtaxed frenzy?

Tamara Adler's book, An Everlasting Meal:  Cooking With Economy & Grace, has saved my sanity.  Her succinct observations have transformed my meal planning skills.   She didn't say anything terribly revolutionary; what she did do for me was eloquently write it down in one cohesive spot. 

While her book is part essay, it has inspired me more word for word than any other cookbook I own.  And therein lies it's beauty; it's not really loaded with recipes but with insight on how to summon great tasting meals from what I already have.  Cutting to the's your CliffsNotes:
"Great meals rely on the bones and peels and ends of meals before them." - Tamara Adler
What does that mean?  Roast a chicken on the weekend and save the carcass to make a chicken broth.  The chopped off ends of a carrot or celery you didn't use are still nutritionally valuable in making a broth.  Cook dried beans (much cheaper than canned) and freeze individual servings.  Make mash potatoes and use the leftovers to thicken a future soup.  Keep the rind from the Parmesan cheese you shredded; it will give you extra flavor in a vegetable soup.  Look how much money I just saved you by not having to buy additional ingredients to make a soup or having to buy pre-made broth.

My decision to make a Mexican Casserole is just one example of a scrumptious meal made possible by having a nicely stocked pantry and "ends of meals."  Enough meal planning insight.  On to making the casserole.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prep or mise en place all of the ingredients and this will come together in a snap.

Ingredients I had on hand: frozen corn from a previous shucking, pinto beans from another day's cooking session, corn tortillas,  salsa and Hatch enchilada sauce.

We also had leftover chicken from the previous night's roast.

Fresh vegetables I had in the fridge included a red bell pepper, half an onion and zucchini.

The only purchase I needed to make was this glorious hunk of creamy Manchego cheese.  Shred the whole thing.  Freeze the rind for a future meal.

Give a gentle warm up starting with sweating the chopped onions till they are translucent.  Add the bell pepper and cook for a minute.  Add in the zucchini, corn and pinto beans with an occasional stir for another 5 minutes.

Add in the enchilada sauce.  You can't go wrong if you are able to find Hatch.  Bring to a simmer on low heat.

Smear the salsa on the bottom of the casserole dish.  This will help eliminate the tortillas from sticking to the bottom.  

Start layering as you would a lasagna.   Salsa...tortillas...beans....chicken...cheese.  Repeat!
Bake for 30 minutes.  Garnish with fresh avocado and cilantro. 

Ole'!  I used mostly what I had and delivered at least one dinner and leftovers.  I'm now going to quietly close the door as I start pondering on our next home cooked meal.


  1. Bing Bing Bing! Homerun!! Was satisfied reading the first part, but then you went on to provide an awesome recipe! Wow and wow. And thank you!
    ~ Barbara

  2. There is nothing quite like the limitless possibilities of leftover roasted chicken. (chicken pot pie...chicken masala...chicken taquitos...)


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