By Ernest Barteldes
Among my favorite things to do in the kitchen is baking and roasting – one reason is the fact that when it comes to main courses, they are arguably the hardest to screw up and also the least messy to prepare – there is nothing splattering or overflowing, just put whatever you are preparing in a dish and check on it from time to time. And as you do that, you have the time to clean up before serving – ever tried doing that after grilling something?
Of course, you can’t really do any of that during the summer months. I recall one Sunday morning when I baked a quiche when it was in the 90s outside and as I walked into the kitchen to check on it, I suddenly felt out of breath and became increasingly nauseated to the point that I called in sick at church because I realized I wouldn’t be feeling better anytime soon. Strangely enough, I baked all the time when I lived in Fortaleza, Brazil (average temperature 80⁰F/27⁰C year round) and it never affected me.
During the summer months, my electric grill does the heavy lifting in our kitchen – I grill everything from fish fillets, chicken, vegetables and the like. Not surprisingly, during that time my gas bill plummets in the same proportion that my Con Ed bill skyrockets.
In the months when I can roast and bake, I love making creative dishes – for instance, last week I made spinach roll-ups, which are basically rolled lasagna noodles stuffed with ricotta and spinach and covered with tomato sauce – easy to make and very delicious. There are also those breakfast dishes (as that quiche I mentioned before) or chicken pieces with garlic and roasted potatoes…
Last week I said ‘goodbye’ to my oven for the season by making a Mexican chicken casserole that has become a standard at home (Renata loves it) – it’s a simple combination of cooked chicken, sour cream, cream of mushroom, tomatoes and cheese with an ingredient rarely used in main courses: tortilla chips.
I discovered the recipe on a cookbook that uses condensed soup in every one of their dishes – I am not a huge fan of doing too many shortcuts in the kitchen, but on a weekday when time is short and you want to make something delicious, this is certainly one option.
Mexican chicken casserole
1 package crushed tortilla chips (about 2 cups)
6 oz. cooked chicken (or turkey), cubed
1 cup Monterey jack cheese
½ cup chopped red jalapeno peppers
1 can (14 oz) chopped tomatoes in their juice
½ cup black sliced olives
½ tbsp olive oil
1 cup condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup sour cream (or soy cream)
In a large bowl, mix chicken, peppers, cream of mushroom and sour cream, Grease baking dish with olive oil and sprinkle with 1/3 of the chips. Add half the chicken mixture, top with half the olives, ½ cup cheese and 1/3 tortilla chips. Repeat the process, ending with final layer of chips. Bake, uncovered in oven at 350⁰ for about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and top with chopped tomatoes. Serve with white rice, beans and guacamole.