Pantry Meal

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I'm baaack.  This has got to be some kind of record for me, three posts in a row.  I'm on fire.  That, or I've been painfully cooped up in my house due to inclement midwest weather.

I'm going with the former.

Today's showcase is a mainstay in our home.  It's easy.  It's versatile.  It's foolproof.  It's tasty...am I missing anything?  Really, you can't go wrong with this one.  I've made it a million different ways, with different fillings/meats/carbs- like I said, not easy to mess up.  And it's three meals, made out of one set of ingredients.  What beats that?

I'm sure you've heard of this dish in one form or another and maybe you already make a version yourself.  Either way- it's a picture perfect meal of something you likely already have on hand and ya just didn't know it.

So what is this mystery dish?

Mexican Lasagna.

Or, I've also heard it called enchilada casserole, Mexican casserole, enchilada lasagna, layered tortilla casserole, again- the names are endless thus painting a perfect picture of the versatility this dish has.

How is it made?  Well, don't get irritated, but I really don't even have a recipe for it.  It's that easy.  Basically it's a lot of can opening, chopping, dumping, and layering.  That's really all the effort required.

I almost don't even want to put a recipe up for fear you may look at it and say "Oh, I don't have black beans, I can't make it!" (use pinto!  use cannellini!  use whatever you have!), or "oh, I don't have shredded chicken" (use ground beef, ground turkey, shredded pork, or, gasp, don't use meat at all!  It has enough beans to provide the protein element- we often make it devoid of any meat/poultry).  Or maybe you'll say, "I don't have a packet of taco seasoning" (so what!  make your own mix and taste as you go- some ideas include cumin, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper- just pull out your inner Martha!).

So- you are excuseless.

Really all you need are the following (seems like a lot but you'll be surprised at what you likely already have on hand):

-two  medium-sized cans of mexican-style diced tomatoes (with green chiles).  Or if you don't have these, regular diced canned tomatoes will do- but the chiles add Mexican flare
-two cans of beans, I like to use black or pinto, or refried, or a mix of a couple of the above. 
-a pound of your choice shredded or ground meat, cooked (or none at all!)
-two packages shredded cheese (use whatever floats your boat)
- a packet of taco seasoning (or create your own mix)
- one large diced onion and three minced garlic cloves (or 1 tsp garlic powder if you don't have fresh)
- 1/2 cup sour cream (or non-fat plain yogurt, what I like to use- tastes exactly the same)
- 15 oz container light ricotta cheese (totally optional but I'll explain why I like it in a sec)
- 1 egg (only use if you use the ricotta method)
-chopped cilantro (if you choose- it's optional)
- one package lasagna noodles (or flour tortillas- whatever you have!)
- a bit of canola oil
- salt and pepper
- small jar of your favorite salsa

How does it work?

Well, if you've ever made lasagna you are already a pro.  That's all it is, Mexican-style lasagna.  I like to take a basic lasagna recipe and then tweak it to include all of the above.  Here's my method/what I do:

1. Preheat oven to 350.  In a 9x13 pan or dish, spread 1/3 cup of salsa all over the bottom (prevents stickage); boil the lasagna noodles until a tad undercooked.  Not al dente, a little less cooked than that even.  Drain and set aside.  You also should have already pre-cooked your meat/poultry ahead of time.  I like to get four bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, place them on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 min.  You can do this before prepping the lasagna or earlier in the day.  Either is fine.  You will NOT need all four of the breasts' meat.  You will only need two, so will have the other two for whatever you choose.  I like to shred all the meat at once, add half to the lasagna and freeze the other half for later.  The nice thing about this meal is it actually makes three meals in one.  You'll see later.

2. In a large, somewhat deep saucepan, saute the onion in the oil until tender.  Add the garlic and saute just a min longer.  Add the two cans of tomatoes, beans, and cooked meat.  If the mixture seems super thick, add a 1/2 cup water.  Stir to combine.  Add taco seasoning. Stir again.  Turn heat to low.

3. In a separate bowl, mix ricotta, 1/2 cup your choice shredded cheese, sour cream, egg, chopped cilantro (however much you like), salt and pepper.  Mix to combine all.

4.  Now get ready to do some layering.  In your 9x13, place a layer of noodles (or tortillas)- I like to cut mine up to fit well but you can do whatever.  Top the noodles with enough of the meat mixture to cover the noodles (not too much!  you will end up having a lot of sauce leftover and that's our plan here- don't stray from it!).  Top the meat layer with one half of the ricotta cheese mix.  Top that with a good dose of shredded cheese.  Repeat all, beginning with noodle layer, then meat, then ricotta, then shredded cheese.  Top with a third layer of noodles, salsa (not meat sauce!), and more shredded cheese.

5. Bake, covered with tinfoil, for 40 minutes.  When timer is up, take foil off and bake 10 minutes longer so cheese gets nice and melty.  Take out of oven and let sit 10 minutes to set up- this is important!  Don't cut before it's set.  You don't want it to runneth...it's not pretty.

There she is.  Perfect every time.  This photo obviously shows the dish not yet baked.  I forgot to take a "final" shot.  Forgive me.



Now, a few things.  You will have a LOT of meat mixture leftover.  That's perfect, my friends, because this will transform into another meal- use the mix in tacos, wraps, quesadillas, over rice/baked potato, as a base for chili, or some other thing of your choosing.  You have now made two meals in one.  Pour the meat mix in a tupperware, freeze & save for another meal.  Dinner #2 done.


In addition to Dinner #1 (The Mexican lasagna) and Dinner #2 (the leftover meat mixture for later use) you will also have Dinner option #3, the leftover chicken.  Use the leftover two shredded breasts for something else creative, such as a chicken salad, in a stew or soup, or stir fry.  The possibilities are endless.



Another thing to add
I said I would tell you why I like ricotta.  In traditional lasagna, you make the dish this way (meat sauce in a saucepan, ricotta mix in a separate bowl).  The ricotta & egg mix helps to bind the the layers and make the whole dish less runny.  Cottage cheese will work as a substitute but it still doesn't quite do the trick.  If you choose, you don't have to make the cheese mixture in a separate bowl, you can leave out the ricotta/egg, and mix the shredded cheese, sour cream, cilantro, salt and pepper (to taste) right into the meat mixture.  That works too but make sure to omit the egg.  Though, to be honest, my experience and method above works best to make a perfectly un-runny, easily sliced dish.  Go for the ricotta.


There you have it, my friends, three meals in one with stuff you likely already have under your roof.  How brilliant is that?  It makes my "making do" days a whole lot easier, that's for sure! 

Enjoy your weekend!

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