Mexican Polenta Casserole

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Hello my friends. I am 2-weeks in to my new job and I’m loving it, but my weeknights are crazy! I used to have plenty of time for a lengthy dinner preparation, but now I’m getting home around the same time that we used to be sitting down for dinner. So my meal prep time has basically been reduced to zero.  Yet, I still want to provide a healthy and filling meal for my family. What’s a hungry mom to do?

Make-ahead meals to the rescue!! [Enter corny super-hero music here]

I simply spend an hour or two on Sunday afternoon, preparing a couple of meals like this yummy Mexican Polenta Casserole. Then during the week, all we have to do is heat up our delicious dinner, and enjoy!  You know the best part? No pile of dirty dishes to wash at the end of the day!

This casserole is full of delicious Mexican flavor, which only gets better after sitting in the fridge for a couple of days. I love how the slices of polenta get crispy around the edges and smothered with melted cheese. Yum!

I adapted this recipe from Recipe.com; click here to see the original recipe.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed
1 14-1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 cup bottled salsa
2 16-ounce tubes cooked polenta
2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese (or your favorite cheese), divided
2/3 cup chopped fresh tomato

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and sauté for about 2 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften.

Add the garlic, ground beef, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until the ground beef is thoroughly cooked.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Add the beans, canned tomatoes, corn, and salsa to the beef mixture, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Simmer gently, uncovered for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, grease a 13×9 rectangular baking dish with the remaining 1 tablespoon oil.

Cut 1 tube of polenta into small pieces and press evenly into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. (Note: this was a bit labor-intensive. Next time, I may try heating the polenta slightly, so it is easier to press into the bottom of the baking dish. I also think this would be good without the polenta on the bottom – although I haven’t tried that yet.)

Halve the remaining tube of polenta lengthwise, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices, and set aside.

Sprinkle 1 cup of the cheese over the polenta in the baking dish. Top with all of the meat mixture. Arrange the sliced polenta over the meat and then sprinkle with the remaining cheese and the fresh tomato.

Bake, uncovered, for 35 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

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Chiles Rellenos Casserole

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I love chiles rellenos, but I don’t always have time to make them. If you do have time though, I highly recommend my recipe for chiles rellenos that you can find here

This chiles rellenos casserole has the flavor of classic chiles rellenos, but is more family friendly and easier to prepare. I’ve added some ground turkey for a more substantial meal, but it would also be great as a meatless casserole.

I used the “Mexican” blend of shredded cheese, but you could try pepper jack if you like it spicy, or even add some cream cheese for a creamier texture.

Ingredients
1 lb ground turkey
1/2 onion, diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-2 cans whole green chiles (depending on the size)
2-3 cups shredded cheese, divided
1 can chopped green chiles
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup flour

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground turkey and onion, and cook, breaking up the turkey into small pieces with a spatula. Stir in the cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. When the turkey is fully cooked, remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.

Remove one of the whole green chiles from the can and tear one side of the chile open, so the chile lies flat. Scrape out any seeds, and then lay the chile flat in the bottom of a 7×11 inch baking dish (or similar size). Continue until the bottom of the baking dish is completely covered with chiles.

Top the chiles with about 1 cup of shredded cheese, and then all of the meat. Cover the meat with the remaining shredded cheese. Drain the can of diced green chilies and sprinkle them on top of the cheese.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and flour. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the casserole dish.

Bake for about 50 minutes until bubbly and golden brown. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

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Broccoli Cheddar Quiche

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Broccoli and cheddar cheese is a classic combination, and this Broccoli Cheddar Quiche is as good as it looks! Even my oldest daughter devoured it without the usual strong-arming it takes to get her to eat her broccoli. I’m picky about the egg-to-milk ratio in quiche – too much milk makes the filling too “soft” and too many eggs turns it into an omelet – but the ratio in this recipe is perfect. I hope you agree! 

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cup diced red onion
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 cup finely chopped frozen broccoli, thawed and well drained
3 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup milk (1%)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1 frozen pie crust

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds (reduce heat, if needed, to prevent burning). Stir in the broccoli, and remove the skillet from heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolks, cream, milk, salt, and pepper.

Press 1 cup of the shredded cheese into the bottom of the pie crust, making sure to cover the entire bottom of the crust. Mix 1/2 cup of the cheese into the broccoli mixture and then add the broccoli mixture to the pie crust. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the pie crust, and then top with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese.

Bake for about 40-50 minutes, or until the center of the quiche no longer moves, when the quiche is gently jiggled.

Let cool for at least 20 minutes. No, really. If you cut into the quiche too soon, it won’t set properly and you’ll be left with runny quiche (yuck). This quiche tastes even better the next day, so it’s a great recipe to prepare in advance. Enjoy!

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Pita Pizzas

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These little pizzas are a breeze to put together and much healthier than a traditional pizza pie. Since they come in individual sizes, it’s easy to please the entire family, which is often a challenge in my house since my daughter won’t eat pizza with tomato sauce, my husband likes a meaty pizza, and I prefer vegetarian. Have fun experimenting with different sauces and toppings. Below are the recipes for a vegetarian pizza with pesto sauce and a Mexican pizza with salsa sauce.

Vegetarian Pesto Pita Pizza

Ingredients
6 whole wheat pita breads
1 jar of prepared pesto
Shredded cheese
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 bunch of spinach, rinsed and roughly chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Parmesan cheese (optional)
Black pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the pita breads in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake the pitas in the preheated oven for about 5 minutes (this will help keep the “crust” crispy).

Remove the pitas from the oven, and carefully spread the pesto on top of each pita (as much as you like). Top with a small amount of shredded cheese, a few tomatoes, a handful of spinach (really pile it on because it will shrink in the oven), then a bit of feta cheese. If desired, sprinkle a bit of parmesan cheese and some black pepper on top.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is crunchy and the toppings are heated through. Cut into quarters and serve hot.

Mexican Pita Pizza

Ingredients
Whole wheat pita breads
Jar of your favorite salsa
Shredded cheese
Leftover taco meat, cooked
Tomatoes, chopped
Roasted green chilies, diced
Green onions, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the pita breads in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake the pitas in the preheated oven for about 5 minutes (this will help keep the “crust” crispy).

Remove the pitas from the oven and carefully spread each pita with a spoonful of salsa. Top with a handful of shredded cheese, taco meat, tomatoes, green chilies, and green onions.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is crunchy and the cheese is melted. Cut into quarters and serve hot.

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Cheesy Quinoa Casserole

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I love quinoa, but my usual preparation method was getting boring, so I was delighted to discover this recipe. It’s creamy, cheesy, hearty, delicious, and even my kids gobbled it up. It is an excellent side dish, but the high-protein quinoa makes it a wonderful vegetarian main dish too! My version below includes a few changes to the original recipe, which can be found here. If possible, save yourself some time and cook the quinoa (see instructions below) ahead of time.

Ingredients
1 cup quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 cup frozen corn (no need to thaw)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
8 ounces light sour cream
1/2 cup chunky salsa (you choose the heat)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

To prepare the quinoa, first rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer to help remove the bitter tasting coating (called saponins). While the quinoa is draining, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or deep skillet over medium heat. Add the quinoa, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer until the liquid is absorbed, about 15-25 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a casserole dish.

In a large bowl, stir together the corn, black beans, red bell pepper, sour cream, salsa, cheese, salt, cumin, coriander, and black pepper. Add the cooked quinoa and mix thoroughly.

Spoon mixture into the prepare casserole dish and bake for about 30 minutes, or until heated through. Serve hot and enjoy!

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Mexican Baked Fish

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We are trying to eat more fish in our house and I’m always looking for ways to spice-up our fish dinners. This recipe quite literally adds some spice and a lot of flavor to an otherwise ordinary piece of fish. This recipe doesn’t really require any measuring and is very quick and easy to prepare, so it’s perfect for a busy weeknight dinner. Click here to view the original recipe.

Ingredients
1 pound cod
1 cup salsa (mild, medium, or hot – your choice!)
1 cup shredded cheese (I used the Mexican blend)
1/2 cup coarsely crushed tortilla chips
Sour cream
Avocado (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a medium baking dish.

Rinse cod under cold water and use paper towels to dry the fish thoroughly.

Place the fish in a single layer in the baking dish. Pour the salsa over the top of the fish and sprinkle with the shredded cheese. Top with the tortilla chips.

Bake, uncovered, for about 15 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a slice of avocado, if desired.

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Mexican Casserole

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This casserole tastes just like nachos, without the chips! It’s cheesy and flavorful and easy to make. You can adjust the ingredients to suit your family’s tastes. It would be a great recipe to take to your next potluck too! This recipe will serve about 4 people.

Ingredients
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 package ground turkey (1.5 pounds)
2 tablespoons diced onion
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped green onions, divided
3/4 cup salsa
1/2 cup black beans
1 – 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (your favorite)
1/4 cup chopped black olives
Sour cream
Tortilla chips (optional)

Heat the oil in a skillet, over medium-high heat. Add the turkey and cook thoroughly. Stir in the diced onion, chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic powder, crushed red pepper, salt, and pepper. Remove the skillet from the heat.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Spread the cooked turkey in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish (or similar sized dish). Sprinkle half of the green onions over the turkey, and then top with the salsa and black beans. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the top.

Bake for about 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Garnish with the rest of the green onions, olives, and a dollop of sour cream. Serve with tortilla chips, if desired.

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Chicken Alfredo Lasagna

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This creamy, cheesy lasagna is made extra delicious with an easy homemade alfredo sauce. I adapted this from a recipe I found on the Allrecipes website. If you don’t want to make a huge dish of lasagna, divide this between two smaller baking dishes and store one in the freezer (after baking) for an easy dinner on a night that you don’t feel like cooking (usually Fridays for me). To reheat the frozen the lasagna, put it in the refrigerator the day before you want to eat it to let it defrost (it’s okay if it doesn’t defrost completely). Then put it in a 400 degree oven for 45-75 minutes, or until heated through.

Ingredients
1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
1/2 cup butter
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups milk
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups ricotta cheese (I used skim-ricotta)
2 cups cubed, cooked chicken meat
1 bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic in the butter until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in the flour and salt, and simmer until bubbly. Mix in the broth and milk, and simmer, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes or until slightly thickened. Stir in 2 cups mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Season with the basil, oregano, and ground black pepper. Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese and cooked chicken. Spread 1/3 of the sauce mixture in the bottom of a 9×13 inch baking dish (or two smaller baking dishes). Layer with 1/3 of the noodles, then all of the ricotta/chicken mixture. Arrange 1/3 of the noodles over the chicken, and layer with 1/3 of the sauce mixture, spinach, and the remaining 2 cups mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Arrange remaining noodles over cheese, and spread remaining sauce evenly over noodles. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes in the preheated oven.

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Bacon and Broccoli Quiche

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This is a hearty and delicious quiche that is bursting with bacon and broccoli. You can make this an easy weeknight dinner by preparing the ingredients and filling the quiche the night before, and then popping it in the oven when you get home from work.

Ingredients
4-6 strips of bacon, cooked and chopped
1 cup broccoli, cooked and chopped (I use frozen broccoli)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 cup half-n-half
3 eggs
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1 frozen pie crust

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Beat together the flour, salt, half-n-half, and eggs in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Press about 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese into the bottom of the pie crust (covering the bottom of the crust with cheese will help prevent a soggy crust). Sprinkle the bacon and the broccoli over the cheese. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the pie crust. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

Bake 45 to 60 minutes, or until the quiche is set and golden brown on top. Serve with a nice green salad.

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Balsamic Chicken Pasta with Olive Oil Toast

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I created this recipe last week when I wanted a meal that was easy to prepare and had to work with the ingredients that I had in my kitchen.  This is a quick and simple recipe, but the chicken needs to marinate for several hours, so be sure to start that step in advance.

Ingredients
1/2 cup olive oil vinaigrette salad dressing
1-2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (depending on how much you like it)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
Spaghetti (enough for 4 servings)
Olive oil
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning, with juice
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes

Add the salad dressing, balsamic vinegar, and chicken to a large zipper bag and marinate in the refrigerator for 4-8 hours.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the spaghetti until just under-done. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.  Add the marinated chicken (discard any remaining marinade) and sauté until cooked thoroughly. Remove the chicken from the pan; add another tablespoon of olive oil and the diced onions.  Sauté the onions for 1-2 minutes, then add the can of diced tomatoes (including the juice). Reduce heat to low, and then run a spatula around the bottom of the pan to scrape up any brown bits. Return the chicken to the pan, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.

When the spaghetti is done, drain it, reserving about ½ cup of the cooking water.  Add the spaghetti and cooking water to the pan with the chicken and simmer, uncovered, for 1-2 minutes, or until the spaghetti is al-dente. Just before serving sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the top. Serve with Olive Oil Toast (recipe below).

Olive Oil Toast

Crispy. Salty. Yummy. The perfect accompaniment to a hot bowl of pasta. I used a loaf of pugliese bread from my grocer’s bakery counter, but you can substitute any chewy Italian bread. Buy a big loaf . . . leftover Italian bread makes excellent French Toast!

Ingredients
Italian bread loaf (pugliese, ciabatta, etc), cut into ½ inch slices
Olive oil
Sea salt

Pour olive oil into a shallow bowl (about 1/4 inch deep). Heat a skillet over medium heat. Put a slice of bread into the bowl of olive oil and completely coat both sides of the bread. Then put the slice into the hot skillet and cook until the bottom is golden brown. Flip the bread and finish cooking the other side. Remove the cooked bread to a plate lined with a paper towel and sprinkle with sea salt. Repeat for remaining bread slices. Serve warm.

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