Comfort food for some literary ladies (King ranch casserole without canned soup)

Hello Everyone!  Linking up with Meal Plan Monday with Southern Bite and Southern Plate but on a Tuesday!  

My friends and I have a fun book club.  Well a lot of my friends and I have two fun book clubs. There's the bigger one where we are more organized and read "real books" and have activities every other month and a book to read on the others. And then there's the other one where we read "fun" books and have a themed Sunday brunch that usually turns into a bit of a shit show. The recipe today is from the latter. I hosted at my tiny basement apartment this past month.  Luckily my courtyard was just cut and we spent a lot of time out there.
We had a fancy Trader Joe's spread and Sausage Cheese Tarlets before the main dish.  The recipe for the tarlets can be found here.  They were quite the hit, as usual!
We read Eating the Cheshire Cat, which centered around some crazy ladies in Alabama over the course of their young lives.  There is a sorority involved and it takes place in what felt like the 80's so it was a sorority sweatshirt kind of day.  My friend Meredith showed up in her Pi Phi version and I pulled out my Delta Gamma gavel to pass around as a speaking stick.  There was spiked punch (recipe to come) lots of wine, lots of old stories and the King Ranch Casserole appearing here today.

I have never made King Ranch Casserole and I am not sure if I have ever eaten it.  It felt like something they would have served at the Delta Gamma house in my day.  I had also pinned a recipe for it awhile back when I lived in Texas (where I am sure this dish was dreamed up) that did not have canned soup in it. I looked at the ingredients and thought, a cheesy casserole that is relatively healthy?  I am in!

I made this a little bit too spicy by subbing jalapenos for hatch chiles but I am a spice loving girl so that didn't matter to me.  Nonetheless it was delightfully delicious and as comforting as a hug from your grandma.  I subbed sour cream for the original recipe's Greek yogurt as we had a ton of it leftover from Hogs for the Cause and we each came home with two big squeeze tubes.  I am craving an old fashioned baked potato with the rest of my sour cream, but do y'all have any healthier ideas?  The full recipe follows the montage.

Zee cast.  The Challenge Butter has challenges on it!  

Season up your chicken if you are cooking it and cook it.
Chop up these lovely ladies
Saute them in a stick of butter.  Remember, it serves 12.
Spicy!  This may be where the latent heat was too. Only one of my friends complained.
She just ate salad.  Skinny bitch!
Get some color on your veggies and make sure they soak up some butter.
Add your flour and make a bit of a roux base.
Looking very crumbly and in need of liquid.
Stir in your chicken stock and marvel at the science of a roux.
Next time I will stick to green chiles, less chopping and less spicy.
Add your sour cream to make it even creamier and tangy.
And to change the color!
Add your tomatoes and green chiles to the party and mix it up.
Reserve a cup of sauce.
Shred up your chicken with two forks
And add it to the pool of delicious.
I love an assembly line!
I broke up my tortillas to save tortillas for a makeshift pizza craving fixer.
Do your layering like I explain below.
And end with cheese because that is the best part!
Bake until it is done.  And please let it cool before you cut.
King Ranch Chicken Casserole (Adapted from The Brewer and the Baker)

For the chicken:
2.5-3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs or the meat from 1 precooked rotisserie chicken
Olive oil
For the cream sauce:
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp chile powder
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 cup flour
3 1/2 cups chicken stock, divided
1/2 cup sour cream
10 oz can of Rotel tomatoes
4 oz can of green or hatch chiles, drained (I used jalapeno, too spicy)
For the casserole:
20-24 corn tortillas
2 cups shredded cheese (I used colby jack)

Preheat oven to 350. Cook your chicken if not using precooked rotisserie chicken.  I just salt and peppered mine and seared in an oven proof pan and finished it off in the oven.  You will want to shred your chicken, easiest way to do it is with two forks.  

Make your sauce: Melt the butter in a large sauce pan or pot over medium-high heat.   Cook the onion, bell pepper, and garlic for ~10 minutes, until softened and there's no standing liquid left.  Stir in the chili powder, red pepper, cumin, salt, and black pepper.  Add the flour in 2 batches, stirring until all traces of white are gone.  Add 3 cups of the chicken stock to the pot, 1 cup at a time, whisking until smooth.  Whisk in the cream (or yogurt), and add the Rotel (do not drain it first) and the peppers.  Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.  Reserve 1 cup of cream sauce before adding the chicken to the pot.  

Lightly oil the bottom and a 13x9 baking dish and place the remaining 1/2 cup chicken stock into a bowl wide enough to hold the tortillas.  Dip the tortillas into the stock  and line the bottom of the baking dish with them.  Pour half of the chicken mixture into the baking dish and top with 1/3 of the cheese.  Add another layer of dipped-tortillas in the same manner, lightly pressing on them to level the contents of the pan.  Top with the remaining chicken mixture and 1/3 of the cheese.  Add the final layer of dipped-tortillas and press on them to level out the dish.  Spread the reserved cream sauce over the tortillas and top with the remaining cheese.  Bake for 45 minutes, until bubbly and the top of the casserole is golden brown.

Let sit 10-15 minutes to firm up before cutting into 12-squares and serving.

Happy Cooking!


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