Pantry Raid: Tex-Mex Casserole

It was a snowy weekend here in the Northeast. Sounds of plows and shovels could be heard all night and afternoon on Saturday as the snow fell and our development crew worked to clear it out so we could all get out of our homes and on the roads today to go about the day. We are getting another snowfall now, and even more is on the way for later in the week.

Me, I am not a cold weather-loving person. Looking at the snowfall is all well and good, but I prefer to stay inside and do that, if at all possible. It is not that I am scared to drive in bad weather — been there, done that plenty of times — but it is everything that goes with said weather that adds up to be a royal pain. Cleaning off the car and walking on ice both suck. Letting the car windows defrost for what feels like an eternity before it is possible to see clearly to drive anywhere is annoying. And don’t get me started on wet clothes, especially socks and jeans, which are the absolute pits. Ugh.

As far as I’m concerned, on an icky day nothing beats staying toasty next to the fireplace while crafting or playing board games and also having plenty of time for cooking or baking. When nobody has to venture out to get anything for dinner, thanks to a well-stocked kitchen or workable leftovers, even better yet.

The resulting dish from this weekend’s pantry raid was a Mexican casserole, one which made great use of colorful and healthy canned, fresh, and frozen vegetables. I sauteed the vegetables with a Tex-Mex seasoning that I always keep on-hand; used salsa that I canned over the summer, combined with a small can of petite diced tomatoes and a little water to thin, as a chunky sauce; and added plenty of cheese to bind it all together when it was layered with the corn tortillas in the baking tray. This was great with a side of rice and topped with chipotle sour cream.

Tex-Mex Casserole

Feel free to add some leftover roast chicken or other protein, if you have it on-hand, to the vegetable mixture. For the Tex-Mex seasoning, you are welcome to use a store-bought prepared mix or make your own spice blend. 2 teaspoons of cumin, 1 teaspoon oregano, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1/4 teaspoon ancho chile powder, and 1/4 teaspoon of chipotle chile powder is a good place to start, but feel free to experiment. Stir all of those spices together and store your blend in a small, covered jar in the pantry until it is needed.

Serves 6-8, depending on portion size

Ingredients

For the filling:
Oil or butter, for sauteing
1 medium red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
2 bell peppers, diced
1 jalapeno, diced (optional)
1 can (14oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 carrots, julienned (I used a nifty julienne peeler, then cut the strips into thirds)
2 teaspoons Tex-Mex seasoning, homemade or store-bought (see note above)
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the sauce:
2 cups prepared salsa of your choice
1 can (14oz) petite diced tomatoes
Water or stock, to thin the salsa if needed

For the casserole:
3 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend, such as Sargento or Kraft
Corn tortillas

Method

Preheat oven to 400* F. Grease or lightly spray a oval casserole dish (mine was this stoneware baker by Le Creuset, 3.5 quart capacity) and set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet or saute pan and, once hot, add onions, garlic, and bell peppers. Season with salt and pepper, and saute until translucent. Add corn, carrots, black beans, and other prepared vegetables or protein (as desired) and saute until tender. If necessary, add a little water to the pan and cover to let steam for a few minutes to thoroughly cook the carrots.

While the vegetables are cooking, combine salsa, tomatoes, and water (as needed) in a small saucepan and let warm through.

To assemble, layer tortillas with sauce, vegetables, and cheese in the prepared casserole dish. Layer as high as your casserole dish will allow without overflowing, ending with a layer of tortillas topped with the remaining sauce and cheese. Place on a baking tray and cover with foil.

Bake until heated through and bubbly, approximately 40 minutes to an hour, depending on your oven. Uncover towards the end of cooking to help brown the cheese, or broil for a few moments right before serving, if desired.

Serve with cilantro-lime rice, sour cream, and guacamole, if desired.

Mini-Recipe: Cilantro-lime Rice!

Depending on how many people you are serving, cook up a cup or two (a serving is approximately 1/4 cup per person, but I always like to make extra) of your favorite kind of rice using either a rice cooker or the stove top; whichever method works the best for you. Once the rice is finished cooking, fluff with a fork and add a few tablespoons of chopped cilantro, a teaspoon of lime zest, a drizzle of good olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Mini-Recipe: Chipotle Sour Cream!

Combine a cup of sour cream with whole chipotles in adobo sauce in a food processor or mini chopper. Pulse until well combined and season with salt, to taste, and a squeeze of lime juice. Depending on your preference for spice, you may use a half of a chipotle or up to two, whole chipotles.