I recently read a book called "French Fried" by Harriett Welti Rochefort. It is both an instructional guide on French customs from the perspective of an American who met and married a Frenchman and now lives in France and a rant on how much better the formality of French entertaining is versus American-style meals. While I certainly respect that author's perspective after 30 years living in another country, I respectfully beg to differ on one item - the formality of entertaining. She stated that entertaining guests for dinner in France means providing your "best meal" often in multiple courses and that it would be looked down upon the host/hostess to have a potluck or more casual entertaining. While I am certain there are those that always follow that custom of formal entertaining stateside (I'm guessing many that do choose to cater that spread!), we are the land of the potluck and the barbecue. While I think both styles have their place, maybe it's just the familiarity of a casual entertaining style and casual food that appeals more. The same goes for providing food for others - is there nothing more soul-satisfying than digging into a yummy casserole prepared by a friend in your time of need? I think not....
Here in the South especially, it's not considered rude to ask people to contribute to the meal by providing some type of dish. Hey, at least you're guaranteed to find one item on the buffet that you enjoy that way! Back during football season, we hosted some friends to hang out and watch the game. In the spirit of the Texas style of potlucks and cooking, I turned to the old wall o' cookbooks for inspiration and we had a Texas-style potluck. The cookbooks used for this shindig were: "Recipe Hall of Fame" - a compilation of the best recipes from other cookbooks. This is perhaps one of my favorites for entertaining; "Matt Martinez's Culinary Frontiers" - a great Tex-Mex cookbook and historical record of the emergence of Tex-Mex cooking from Austin; and finally, a riff on a Pampered Chef recipe called Touchdown Taco Dip.
In celebration of Texas-style food, the menu was a Texas fusion of goodies - King Ranch Chicken cassreole, chili dip, a beefy taco dip (courtesy of Martha!), Mexican rice, and buttery corn. The chili dip and beefy taco dip were the appetizers. Since IceDaddy is not a very veggie guy, I left out the olives, lettuce, and tomato that the original Touchdown Taco Dip has. Instead, I took refried beans, layered that in a shallow casserole, mixed sour cream and cream cheese with taco seaoning and put it over that, then dumped a can of chili over all of it and topped with cheese. Baked to a bubbly goodness and served with tortilla chips! I used the willing suspension of disbelief that the dips were anything but healthy....
If there is one dish that I WILL master before I die, it's Mexican rice. Growing up in San Antonio, I've eaten some of the most amazing Tex-Mex food on the planet (I still crave Tio's Restaurant). The Mexican rice, when done right, is infused with flavor, and just tender enough without turning to mush. After trying the same recipe with minor variations about 4 times, I'm 95% there. Still a little too moist, but close. Frankly, IceDaddy has never complained, so I must be doing something right.
If I have to name a dish that as ubiquitous with Texas as a longhorn steer, it's King Ranch Chicken. King Ranch chicken is that perfect fusion of 50's casserole and Tex-Mex flavors. Flour tortillas, cooked chicken, cream of chicken soup, Ro-Tel, and cheese - is there a more homey combination? My one variation this go-round was to bake the chicken with a spice mixture of cumin, cayenne, and paprika. Truthfully, I don't think it really added to the flavor of the casserole, but I will remember that for a tasty chicken option!! There are probably 500 different variations on this casserole. Some add onions or use Velveeta, for example. Based on my husband's taste preferences, here is the recipe he often requests:
King Ranch Chicken Casserole - Serves 4 - 6 generous portions
1 package fajita-size flour tortillas (you can use corn tortillas if you prefer)
1 can Cream of Chicken soup
2 cups chicken broth
1 package (8 oz) shredded cheddar and jack cheese (2 cups)
1 can Ro-tel original style (tomatoes and chiles), undrained
2 cups shredded or chopped cooked chicken
Spray an 8"x8" pan with cooking spray; set aside. Slice tortillas into strips (you will need approximately 8 - 10 tortillas). Mix cream of chicken, broth, and Ro-tel together in a bowl. Begin layering casserole by putting tortilla strips in a single layer in bottom of pan, slightly overlapping. Place 1/3 of the chicken on top of tortillas and 1/4 of shredded cheese. Pour in 1/3 of soup/broth/Ro-tex mixture. Repeat layers twice more. Cover and bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove cover and sprinkle with remainder of cheese. Bake 10 minutes more.
**Note: I often use reduced-fat and sodium Cream of Chicken soup, fat free flour tortillas, and reduced fat cheese and the recipe is still very good.
If you like it spicier, choose the "hot" version of the tomatoes with chiles