Cheesy Mexican Chicken & Rice Casserole

Lately I have been on a major Mexican kick. I don’t know if it’s the onset of summer (possible) or too much time away from the U.S. (ironic and yet likely probable), but I have been welcoming any dose of salsa, chile, cheese and black bean concoction I can easily prepare or order (note, we’ve taken to ordering from the mediocre Mexican restaurant in town just to get a bit of a fix…why hello, desperation). Fortunately this dish meets both my “Mexican food fix” and “easily prepare” categories, all while being a healthy dinner option (and much better than Mexican take-out, I might add). While I have substituted various ingredients (namely regular yogurt instead of Greek) and added or left items out from time-to-time (added spinach, left out green chiles), it really is best prepared with the exact ingredients listed. The Greek yogurt gives the dish a nice sharp edge in flavor, fooling your tastebuds into thinking this is way cheesier than it actually is. The result is a flavor-packed Mexican-inspired dish that is surprisingly good for you!

Serves 4-6

Ease of Preparation: Easy
Bonus: you can find all of the ingredients in Guangzhou (specifically at Ole in case anyone is interested)

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 whole Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • salt, pepper, cajun seasoning and small drizzle of canola oil for chicken
  • 4 cups cooked Brown Rice
  • 1/2 medium Yellow Onion, diced fine
  • 4-5 Scallions, diced
  • 4-5 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper, diced
  • 1-2 tsp Canola Oil
  • ¾ cup Frozen Corn
  • 15 oz can Black Beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup Plain Non-Fat Greek Yogurt
  • 4.5 oz can Green Chilis
  • ½ cup Salsa
  • 1/2 cup low-fat Cheddar Cheese, plus more for topping
  • 1/2 cup low-fat Mozzarella Cheese, plus more for topping
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Cilantro for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 415 degrees. Sprinkle salt, pepper and cajun seasoning over chicken breasts. Lightly drizzle with canola oil then use hands to rub mixture around the chicken, assuring the spices and oil are evenly distributed (note: you can do this as much as a day ahead of time, or immediately toss into the oven). Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until your meat thermometer reaches 165 degrees (just break down and go buy a thermometer…well worth the $12). Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes then shred both chicken breasts. I like to use the ultra classy “two-forks” method….so high-tech.

While chicken is baking, heat 1-2 tsp oil in a medium skillet or sauté pan. Add onions and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Then add bell pepper, scallions, and a bit of salt and pepper (and some cajun seasoning if you prefer), and cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until bell peppers are just beginning to soften. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients (except for cilantro and extra cheese), making sure that everything is evenly distributed. Transfer to an oven-safe casserole dish and sprinkle the top with extra cheese. Bake for 25-30 minutes (if you have a shallow, wide dish you may only need to bake for 20-25 minutes). Turn on broiler and broil for 1 minute, just long enough to brown the cheese on top. Garnish with cilantro if desired.

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Mexican Chicken & Rice

Nihao (hello) from Guangzhou! It’s been a roller coaster ride for the past 6-7 months since our last post, but we are beginning to feel somewhat “settled” into our new city, which has finally led me to my very first post from the Far East. My plan is to share with you a bit of life here, while also posting our recipe discoveries. So what better way to begin than by posting a…Mexican dish??? Well, at least it bodes a foreign flavor. The truth is, life here at the moment has made cooking a bit challenging at times.

We are currently in a temporary apartment while our permanent home is under renovation. This means we are without both internet (I’m currently in a public wifi spot) and our kitchen supplies, so currently our cooking doesn’t extend much beyond boiling rice and sautéing a few vegetables. BUT it has given us a prime opportunity to sample the local cuisine, which has been awesome! And (knock on wood) I have yet to get sick, so I’ll continue to sample my heart out.

Of course I have pictures of our new food discoveries, but my camera cord is in the shipment of kitchen supplies and our other belongings. So it will probably be a few more weeks before I can fully relate our culinary experiences to you all back West.

In the mean time, I did find a great Mexican dish right before we moved from DC that I’ve been meaning to post for some time now. It’s both simple and tasty, and very flexible so you can easily add items or take something out, based on your preference.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

3-4 boneless chicken breasts, prepared with spice rub beforehand (see below)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion chopped
3 cloves garlic chopped
1 1/2 cups brown rice (or your preference)
3 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 jars roasted red pepper chopped (2-4 peppers)
1 16-oz can plum tomatoes chopped
1 16-oz canned black beans rinsed
1 16-oz bag frozen baby corn
1/4 teaspoon salt
(optional) 1 green chile pepper, seeded and chopped; for an extra kick throw in some of the seeds
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro chopped

Spice Rub:
1 1/2 teaspoon Red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoon Ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon Chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper freshly ground

Over medium heat in large dutch oven with cover, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sauté chicken about 2-3 minutes on both sides, so that outside is golden brown. Remove chicken and set aside.

Add remaining tablespoon of oil to pot. Add onion; sauté for 3-4 minutes or until translucent. Add garlic and sauté for additional 1 minute. Stir in rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in chicken broth, roasted peppers, tomatoes with juice, black beans, corn and salt. Bring to simmer; add chicken back to casserole. Cover and reduce heat to low; cook for 20 minutes. Turn chicken and cook for another 25 minutes, or until chicken pulls away easily and rice is tender. Take chicken out and place on cutting board. Shred chicken with two forks then add back to pot. Add cilantro. Serve immediately.

Spice Rub:
Mix together all ingredients in small bowl. Pat chicken dry, then rub spices onto chicken pieces. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for least 1 hour.

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The Health Craze

Recently, Paige and I decided to make a renewed commitment to healthy living. I know that this sounds like another tired story beginning with a New Years resolution and a pricey gym membership, and ending with a healthy dose of reality and humility. Well, fear not reader! For of those four items, our story boasts only a healthy dose of reality.

Our health craze, which has developed into more of a lifestyle rather than a craze, was based on the firm reality that fitness goals need to be longterm and diet is a large part of achieving those goals. That said, our lack of posts over the last several months hasn’t been due to a lack of activity in the kitchen. Far from it, we’ve been continually tinkering with a number of tasty and healthy recipes we’ve found. Over the next couple weeks, we’ll be posting some of the results of that tinkering in the hopes that all of you can try out some of our favorite foods for yourselves.  To whet your appetites for the recipes to come, take a look at some of the really great recipes that we found when we started our commitment to healthy eating.

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes – I can’t say enough good things about these pancakes that come courtesy of bodybuilding.com. They are super easy to make, and they taste great. I had a tough time finding Oat Flour (called for in the recipe) at my local grocery store, so we used whole wheat flour instead. The sugar substitute we used is Stevia. It’s an all natural sweetener that is gaining in popularity, so you can find them with relative ease. What’s also great now is that you can get these all natural sugar substitutes in a form that works as a cup for cup substitution for sugar. Sweeteners like this usually have their own ‘not quite sugar’ flavor, but you can’t taste it at all in this particular recipe. When we make these, we add about a 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts and about a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Also from bodybuilding.com are these Turkey Meatloaf Muffins. I’m a huge fan of meatloaf. Paige doesn’t share my enthusiasm for the delicacy, so I won’t spend too much time on it here. If you’re into meatloaf, these are super quick and easy to make. But be warned! You’ll need some a potent breath freshener after downing two or three of these bad boys.

Chicken Sausage Stir Fry – Paige made this one night on a whim, and I was instantly hooked. This is a great basic recipe, and there are so many great ways to tweak it. The only thing we routinely change however, is the type of chicken sausage. We generally go for the chicken sausage that has the lowest calorie, sodium, and fat count. It typically ends up being a different brand than is mentioned in this recipe. This comes from the Self.com blog Cook Like Me, which is a sub-blog of Eat Like Me. Definitely worth the time to check these out.