Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mexican Chicken Casserole

Recipe modified by You Want Me to Cook? – May 5, 2011
For a commentary-free and printer-friendly version of it, please click here.

Recipe originally published by Cooking Light via e-mail on May 3, 2011.

So we continue with the trend of cooking a lot of the same things with another one of my favorites – Mexican chicken casseroles.  I know what attracted me to this dish other than my love of Mexican food.  It is supposed to be a “healthier” version of a creamy chicken casserole.  The ingredient listing had all the right things and the picture looked fantastic, so why not?

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Mexican Chicken Casserole
Okay, it looks tasty, but it isn’t what the recipe’s picture looked like.  I can’t figure out why it is so orange looking.  Okay, I can (enchilada sauce), but I used the same amount as specified in the recipe and the same type of cheese.



© myRecipes
Their casserole just looks better than mine.  Good thing too because if it looked like mine, I may have just passed it over.  I do wonder though… did they even add the enchilada sauce?  Seriously, it looks like there isn’t even a hint of it in there.  Perhaps they used green enchilada sauce, but they should have specified that in their recipe.

for more details about what my ratings mean, go to Gretchen’s Rating System

MessSIGH – I gave this a lot of thought.  There wasn’t TONS of equipment and there wasn’t a TON of prep work, but there was a lot of transferring of stuff around during the recipe.  Add on to that having to shred the chicken (with following juice) and there’s a lot of opportunity to make a mess.  And I made a mess.

Start-to-Finish Time: AROUND 90 MINUTES – You can break it up to help yourself out by cooking the chicken and assembling the casserole and popping it in the oven when you’re ready to cook it.

Prep Work: SLIGHT BLOOD LOSS – The only thing that could cause the blood loss is chopping the onions, but there is more of a mess when you’re crushing the chips.

Ease of Recipe: THE BASICS – Sure there are a lot of steps, but there’s nothing too hard for even a beginner cook.

OverallNOT BAD – The process was interesting and it smelled great, but it was a lot of work for a normal chicken casserole that didn’t have a different twist to it.  If there was a lot of calorie and sodium cutting steps, it may be worth it (I’d probably bump it up to a YUMMY) but it uses a lot of convenience food that doesn’t help the “healthy” cause.

Recipe Information:
I am not a doctor or dietician.  I make my nutritional assessments with the aid of Spark Recipes.  I run the original recipe and my altered recipe through their calorie counter and then compute the differences I find.  My numbers are to be used as a guideline.  Anyone who is under dietary medical supervision should follow the advice of their medical professional if their opinion differs from mine.  PLEASE!

Servings: 8 (serving size = 1 cup)
Timing: None given

One cup per serving doesn’t seem like a lot of food.  That’s the thing about this recipe that irritated me.  It has a decent nutritional information per serving for a very small amount.  Not exactly the point of making a dish healthy.  You can eat a quarter of a cheeseburger and get decent nutritional information – but who the heck only eats a quarter of a cheeseburger?  To try to keep this in check, serve it with some corn on the cob and a small salad to round out the meal.  I’d skip the bread though.  There isn’t a lot of sauce to sop up anyway.

There was no timing information given and there’s a reason for that… it wasn’t a quick meal to make.  Like I said, if it took a long time to make and there was a lot of health benefit to it, I wouldn’t mind.  That isn’t the case here though.  Anyway, here is how my timing came out:
  • Prep Chicken: 1 minute
  • Chicken Done: 32 minutes (prepped rest of ingredients during this time)
  • Assemble Casserole: 20 minutes
  • Bake Casserole: 30 minutes
  • Casserole Rest: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
Considering that all you’re doing from scratch is cooking the chicken (meaning not using rotisserie or pre-cooked) that’s kind of a lot of time.  You aren’t even making homemade enchilada sauce!

Nutritional Information
  • Calories 369
  • Total Fat 11.4g (Saturated Fat 5g)
  • Cholesterol 79mg
  • Sodium 479mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 31.3g
  • Fiber 3g
  • Protein 35.6g
  • Iron 2.4mg
  • Calcium 360mg
I’m really skeptical about these numbers, especially with the canned enchilada sauce, canned chilies, tons of cheese and tortilla chips that aren’t baked.  I ran the recipe through my calculator and it was what I expected and also not.  I was shocked the calories, fat and cholesterol were the same.  Good for us!  However, the sodium was a significantly larger number – 729mg.

I made some changes to try to make it even healthier.  I used all reduced fat cheese and cream cheese.  I really had hoped it was going to make a big difference.  Here’s the nutritional result of those differences:
  • Calories 332
  • Total Fat 9.3g (Saturated Fat 3.5g)
  • Cholesterol 72.7mg
  • Sodium 766mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 26g
  • Fiber 3.2g
  • Sugar 4.3g
  • Protein 34.6g
Unfortunately, the sodium is slightly elevated due to the reduced fat cheese.  It is always slightly higher than full fat, but it didn’t seem worth it for the minimal reduction of fat and calories.  My advice is to choose what is most important to you.  If you’re watching your sodium levels, stick with the recipe as is or look for lower sodium products.  If you’re watching calories and fat content, you may just choose to go with my changes.

The other good news is that this recipe is a good supplier of the following:
  • Niacin – Helps the body release energy from protein, fat and carbohydrate during metabolism
Changes denoted by red text
© You Want Me to Cook?
Mexican Chicken Casserole - ingredients
1 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 (4.5-ounce) cans chopped green chiles, divided
1 3/4 pounds skinned, boned chicken breasts
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup evaporated skim milk
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded reduced-fat Colby Jack cheese
1/4 cup (2 ounces) tub-style light cream cheese
1 (10-ounce) can enchilada sauce
10 (6-inch) corn tortillas
Cooking spray
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded reduced-fat extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 ounce tortilla chips, crushed (about 6 chips)

Ingredient Notes:
Chicken Broth – I went with Swanson’s 100% organic chicken broth which is both fat free and has 33% reduced sodium.

Chicken Breast – The chicken breasts I bought were thinly sliced so I didn’t have to worry about the chicken not cooking through.

Onion – Although it doesn’t specify, I used a white onion – my onion of choice.  It was a small-to-medium size and it gave me a cup.

Skim Evaporated Milk – I always mistake this for condensed milk, which is WAAAAY sweeter and mostly used for baking.  I’m not saying you’ll make the same mistake, but I thought I’d just throw that out there.  Make sure you shake the milk can well before you open it too.

Colby-Jack Cheese – I went with Colby-Jack since I couldn’t find only Monterey Jack.  Also, I wanted reduced-fat cheese and I couldn’t find a low-fat Monterey Jack cheese, even in brick form.

Cream Cheese – I used Philadelphia whipped cream cheese with a 1/3 less fat.  I don’t care for no-fat cream cheese because it has a sharp taste.

Enchilada Sauce – Although it didn’t specify, I went with the red chile enchilada sauce.  I know that they do make green sauce, but I don’t think I found it that day.

Corn Tortillas – The recipe called for 12 tortillas, but they were only sold in packs of 10.  I wasn’t going to buy a second pack to go bad just for 2 more tortillas.

Equipment Needed:
© You Want Me to Cook?
Mexican Chicken Casserole - equipment
Cutting board
Sharp knife
Dutch oven
(2) forks
Large glass measuring cup
Large spoon
2-quart casserole

Equipment Notes:
Dutch Oven – This recipe called for a large skillet, but I didn’t have one that was deep enough for all the chicken AND cooking liquid.

Large Glass Measuring Cup – Since the chicken’s cooking liquid is VERY HOT, go with something heat resistant and easy to pour.  Glass is one of your better options.

Ordinarily I tell you to prep all of your ingredients first, but since you have to boil water (which adds time to your recipe) and cook the chicken, you don’t have to start there.

(1)   Start chicken cooking:
© You Want Me to Cook?
Mexican Chicken Casserole
Chicken in broth
(a)   Combine broth and 1 can of chiles in a Dutch oven; bring to a boil over high heat
(b)   Add chicken; reduce heat to medium, and simmer 15 minutes or until chicken is done, turning chicken once.

NOTE:  Be careful when putting in chicken into the cooking liquid.  Quite often, I’m an idiot and this time, I stuck my hand in broth/chile mixture while it was boiling.  Did I mention I’m an idiot?

My chicken breasts were sliced thin so it only went about 6-7 minutes per side.  I wanted to be sure that the chicken was cooked through, so I got out the meat thermometer to make sure it was done.

(2)  While the chicken is cooking, prep the rest of the ingredients.  Preheat oven to 350°.

© You Want Me to Cook?
Mexican Chicken Casserole
Finished chicken and cooking liquid
(3)  Remove chicken from cooking liquid, reserving cooking liquid; cool chicken. Shred meat with two forks, and set aside.

Don’t worry about cooling the chicken cooling completely – it will cool while you’re shredding it too.  Just make sure it isn’t too hot to handle.

© You Want Me to Cook?
Mexican Chicken Casserole
Chilies & onion
(4)  Heat oil in a large same Dutch oven over medium-high heat.

(5)  Add 1 can of chiles and onion; sauté 3 minutes or until soft.

© You Want Me to Cook?
Mexican Chicken Casserole
Chicken in sauce
(6)  Add reserved cooking liquid, milk, Monterey Jack, cream cheese, and enchilada sauce; stir well.

(7)  Stir in shredded chicken; cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

© You Want Me to Cook?
Mexican Chicken Casserole
Casserole pre-baking
(8)  Place 4 tortillas in the bottom of a 2-quart casserole coated with cooking spray.

(9)  Spoon 2 cups chicken mixture over tortillas.

(10)  Repeat layers twice, ending with chicken mixture.

(11)  Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and chips.

(12)  Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

As I’m looking through my notes, I realized that I didn’t make any comments on the taste.  This is significant because I usually have a “THIS IS DELICIOUS” or a “WOULDN’T FEED TO THE DOGS” somewhere in there.  I wasn’t wowed enough of this dish that I would want to go through all the trouble of making it again.  That being said, it gave me a great way to cook up some quick chicken with a slight kick for other recipes.

If I did decide to make this again, I’d try to find a mild green enchilada sauce.  The orange color to this dish was too neon for me to be comfortable eating it again.  I know it’s silly to say this, but if a dish doesn’t look even slightly appetizing, I tend to not want to eat it.  If anyone makes it and thinks I’m crazy, definitely let me know.

Happy cooking!

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