Friday, February 6, 2015

Old-fashioned Tamale Pie (slow cooker recipe)

While many recipes for the slow cooker can be categorized as the "dump it and leave it" variety, with a small investment of time, you can make meals whose flavors are really developed and that taste as though they took much more preparation. This old-fashioned tamale pie is a case in point.

You can streamline the preparation time by using a rotisserie chicken, or, you can take advantage of a sale on boneless, skinless chicken breasts and prepare your own. For years I poached chicken in water or chicken broth. While it's a perfectly good way to prepare chicken for a recipe that calls for cooked chicken, a few years ago I began roasting it as suggested in one of Ina Garten's cookbooks. I've now replaced that methods with a combination approach of dry heat and moist heat cooking that yields the most flavorful chicken (see method below).

Serves 6 to 8 (13 PP for 6 servings; 10 PP for 8 servings)

2 1/4 cups water
3/4 cup instant polenta
salt and pepper
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I use 2%)
1 tbs unsalted butter
1 medium onion, minced
1 tbs vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbs chili powder
2 tsp cumin
4 cups shredded, cooked chicken
1 (15 oz) canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 oz) can creamed corn
1 (10 oz) can red enchilada sauce
2 tbs Minute tapioca

Combine the water and the instant polenta and 1 tsp salt in a microwave safe bowl. Cover and microwave until most of the water is absorbed, 6-8 minutes. Stir polenta thoroughly, then continue to microwave, uncovered, for another 2 minutes. Stir in cheddar and butter, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cover to keep warm.

Microwave the onion, garlic, chili powder, and cumin in a microwave safe bowl, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to slow cooker.

Stir chicken, beans, corn, enchilada sauce, and tapioca into slow cooker. Spoon cooked polenta over the filling, smoothing into an even layer with a spatula.

Cover and cook on low for 4 hours, until casserole is heated through. Let casserole cool for 15-20 minutes, then serve.

Easy Poached Chicken

Pat 2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken breasts dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat 1 tbs vegetable oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Carefully lay breasts in skillet and cook until well-browned on the first side, 6-8 minutes. Flip breasts, add 1/2 cup water, and cover. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook until thickest part of breasts registers 165 on an instant-read thermometer, about 5-7 minutes longer. Transfer chicken to a cutting board, let cool slightly, then use the tines of two forks to shred into bite-sized pieces.
I've been making a lot of Mexican food lately and I've been very happy with the results. If you like Mexican food and eat it out, you might have noticed that many dishes contain the same ingredients and tend to have very similar flavor profiles. I haven't run into that same issue with the dishes I've been making at home. Yes, chicken is my go-to protein and enchilada sauce and black beans are frequent guest stars. Despite the repetition of key ingredients, I've found the dishes to be unique and don't feel as though I'm eating the same thing. This casserole has bright flavors, a good variety of textures, and can be seasoned more aggressively, if that's your fancy. I could also see this recipe working well with shredded beef. I'm looking forward to the leftovers. I have to confess--I wish I'd doubled the polenta!

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