Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Taco turkey casserole

"I want to live inside that!"  That being this:

That's exactly what Laura and Matt said as they took bite after bite after bite of this at dinner recently.  If there's a more satisfying comment about one's own cooking, I'd like to hear it because that one had me grinning wildly and patting myself on the back.  Thanks, you two :)

Having bookmarked the recipe a few weeks ago, I'd pegged it as a Mexican version of classic Italian lasagna.  I was looking forward to making it, assumed it would taste good, put the necessary items on the grocery list, and didn't give it much more thought until I got into the kitchen to cook.

When I did my shopping, let's just say I was in a bit of a hurry.  I'm regularly annoyed by the fact that the diced tomatoes and chilies are in a totally different section of the grocery store than the rest of the canned fruit and vegetables.  I knooooow.

But, on this particular occasion, I was really impatient.  After a whopping 20 seconds of scanning the shelves in the Italian & Mexican aisle, I made an executive decision: one can of diced tomatoes with green chilies would have to do.

I must've used up any remaining time/patience I had inspecting the five or six varieties of refried beans just prior.  I wanted to find a brand without copious amounts of lard.  (FYI, refried beans are usually beans cooked again in lots of fat.)  Don't get me wrong -- that was time well spent, especially considering how the recipe turned out with those changes.

Roughly 48 hours after my misadventures in the grocery store, my patience was still in short supply as I started cooking dinner.  Such is the story of a girl fresh (stinky?) home from the gym and about ready to eat her arm should dinner not appear soon.

Having never worked with refried beans before, I wasn't sure what kind of consistency they'd be.  After I opened the can and realized they were akin to a thick paste, I knew the directions I had in front of me weren't going to cut it.

"Spread a layer of beans on top of the turkey and tomato mixture."  Say wha?  This is not happening, I said out loud to myself.  Yes, I really do talk to myself, especially when I'm cooking.

To heck with directions!  Baking is a science.  Cooking is an art.  I'm not artistic, but I do know my way around the kitchen.

And, with that pep talk, I emptied the can of beans into the turkey mixture and stirred it all together.  No longer diligently checking the recipe, this unreal taco turkey casserole was assembled, layer by mouthwatering layer.

Cheese?  Yes, please.

After 30 minutes in the oven and a painstaking 20 minutes to set, we dug into this taco turkey casserole.  Bite after bite, we couldn't get enough.  Gooey cheese layered with smokey and savory turkey, chilies, tomatoes, and beans.  And, what made it even better was that every single bite was guilt-free!  Talk about a one dish meal that was balanced and healthy and still close-your-eyes-when-you-chew delicious!

Even with tray of cupcakes in front of us, we went back for seconds.  And some of us for thirds.  And then, when we finally made it to the cupcakes, we ate them while reminiscing about the taco turkey casserole.

Eating dessert and still thinking about dinner?  Mm hmm.  You read that correctly, friends.  I'm not lyin' when I say this was the bee's knees.  Top notch.  The cream of the crop.  The brightest crayon in the box.  The best of the best!

I think we all would've uttered those very same phrases and much more if our mouths hadn't been so full.  This was definitely a keeper!

One year ago: Copycat P.F. Chang's lettuce wraps
Two years ago: "Eggs in Purgatory" (dippy eggs in marinara sauce)
Three years ago: Irish soda bread

Taco Turkey Casserole
(adapted with many changes from Jenna's recipe)
-serves 6

A few notes: The ingredients in this recipe are easily substituted to fit your preferences.  Turkey can be replaced by ground chicken or beef.  The refried beans can be black or pinto.  The level of heat can be increased or decreased based on the amount of cayenne added.  Tortillas can be corn, flour, whole wheat, or even a fancy schmancy spinach variety.  As long as the quantities are kept relatively the same, the recipe is fool-proof!

1 pound lean ground turkey breast
1 (16-ounce) can refried beans (look for fat- and lard- free; I used black beans)
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 Tablespoon ground chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper)
2 (8-inch) flour tortillas (I used whole wheat), cut into 1-inch strips
1/2 cup salsa, plus more for serving
1 1/2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend
Sour cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Coat an 8-inch square casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Coat a large skillet with nonstick cooking spray and place over medium high heat.  Add ground turkey and, breaking up pieces as you go, cook until brown.  Add chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper, and mix well.  Add tomatoes and chilies (and the liquid) as well as refried beans to the turkey, stirring well until combined.  Remove from heat.

Spread a layer of turkey mixture (about 3/4 cup) onto the bottom of the casserole dish.  Top with 1/2 cup of cheese and 4 to 5 tortilla strips.  Repeat this process until all of the turkey mixture has been used.  After the final tortilla strips have been placed, top with salsa, spreading to coat evenly and top with remaining cheese.

Bake in oven for roughly 30 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbling around the edges.  Remove from oven and allow to sit 20 minutes before slicing (this will make serving much easier!).  Serve with sour cream and any other toppings you might want, like hot sauce or avocado slices.  Enjoy!

Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days.  Because this dish is very similar to lasagna, I imagine it would freeze wonderfully!

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