Is it still considered healthy if you double the cheese?

Mexican Chicken Casserole w/ Charred Salsa

Ironically I hit the first bump in my New Years resolution as I was eating my first attempt at sticking to my resolution. Mouth full of cheesy macaroni, I was simultaneously pawing through my massive binder of recipes to find the next one to try out. This is when I realized why I always find it so difficult to cook the things that, at some point, I wanted to make so badly I mutilated a magazine just for the recipe.

The main issue is that I am drawn to recipes that are full of butter, cream, cheese, pasta and cured meats. I am half Swedish, but trust me when I say the quarter Italian and quarter French part of my heritage always win when it comes to food. I’m not satisfied with smoked fish on rye crackers, I want ravioli bathed in béchamel sauce, ragu, scallopini and gnocchi, and things covered in cheese.

However, I find it hard to cook these things unless there’s company to help share in the calories. For some crazy reason, I feel actual guilt when I indulge in tender cheese-filled pasta pillows, snuggled in a creamy pesto sauce and topped with pecorino — even if that’s really all I want to be eating. I just look at the recipes longingly and then make a vegetable-filled bowl of ramen — noodles with roughage instead of delicious cheese. When I go out to eat, I’ll eat every cream-laden dish on the menu, but in cooking for myself I have too many control issues.

Resolution Recipe #3 from Cooking Light, Jan. 2011

Enter Cooking Light — a magazine which you’d think would help with this dilemma. I haven’t had a subscription in a long time, but my mom always passes her old issues on to me. Sometimes things look good so I give them a chance, or at least use their ideas as inspiration. My main annoyance with CL has always been that they love to cut the serving size in half to magically “lose half the fat.” I can appreciate the effort, but really – who is going to just eat one boneless skinless chicken thigh for dinner? Not me, that’s for damn sure.

Yet, this recipe intrigued me. It was full of things I like (enchilada sauce, zucchini, corn and chicken) and I’m a fan of casseroles in general. They give you leftovers to enjoy for the next couple days, saving you the effort of more cooking. Or they would if your husband didn’t come home and eat it all. I knew I should have hidden the rest of the casserole better, maybe in the vegetable drawer. It’s safer there…

Anyways, I knew my friend Oliver was coming over for some scandalously trashy TV watching, and it seemed easy enough to throw this together for our dinner. While it was maybe a tad time-consuming, it was certainly not “actively” time-consuming. It was more like throw this stuff in the oven for ten minutes, stir it around, cook it another ten, puree it. Chop a bunch of veggies, sauté and layer. I mean really, not difficult stuff here.

Some notes: I did follow their instructions and make the salsa early so it had a few hours to marry the flavors. Also, I never just have shredded cooked chicken breasts hanging out, so I took some boneless skinless breasts and poached them in chicken stock, onions and garlic.

I also (thankfully) followed this gal’s recommendations. Because of her, I spiced up the chicken mixture with extra cayenne and jalapeño, more cumin and pepper, and (wait for it) salt. Not more salt, not extra salt. Salt in general — because nowhere in the recipe does it call for salt. Which, as someone who has contemplated purchasing a salt lick for personal use, I just cannot abide by. So I said screw the sodium intake and added a generous amount of salt, which really saved the dish from being lost in a purgatory of blandness.

And, oh yes, I doubled the cheese. Doubled the cheese, you might say, really? Yes, really. I threw caution to the wind, and trust me, it was necessary.

All in all, a tasty simple meal. The corn tortillas almost melt into the dish preventing it from being very photogenic, but it had good flavor and a nice kick of spice. I would certainly make it again. And hey, since I used nonfat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, that makes up for the cheese, right?

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