In the 90's it was a sure bet that I could silence a table full of my foodie friends by simply uttering the word 'casserole'. I would whisper, "I love casseroles" and people would shriek, "YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING!!". Well, I am here to report that those same folks that just a couple of years ago could be found gathering up the latest baby vegetable at the organic Farmer's Market on Saturday morning now have real babies of their own. And no time. But they still need to eat and, on occasion, entertain. This is where the casserole fits in perfectly.
A casserole needs to be carefully composed. It is not a garbage dump. Think French 'cassoulet' and you will get the idea. A variety of different, often already cooked items, are tossed together, arranged in a casserole and placed in a hot oven where their flavors meld.
The following recipe was adapted from one given to me over 20 years ago by a gal who knew her casseroles. For some reason, we had a lot of pot luck dinners back then and Vicki was always asked to bring this dish.
6 chicken breasts, poached, shredded into bite sized pieces
1 can chili without beans
1 bottle salsa (Don't get snotty - just use Pace brand Chipotle Medium Salsa)
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 can whole, pitted black olives, drained
1 3 ounce package cream cheese, cubed
2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, grated
2 cups Cheddar cheese, grated
Place shredded chicken in 3-4 quart baking dish. Combine chili, salsa, scallions and cream cheese. Pour over chicken. Sprinkle with cheeses. Bake 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly.
I serve this with heated tortillas. Top each serving with a dollop of sour cream and a sprig of cilantro. The leftovers are great!
I encourage you to invest in a nice casserole dish. Pyrex will do but search out the 'Emile Henry' line of Burgundian clay vessels. They come in great colors and are beautiful enough to go from oven to table.