Mexican lasagna / Food blogger envy

 

 “Jealousy is a very ugly thing, Dorothy. And so are you in anything backless!”

(Image from Starstills.com)

 

This line is among my top-40 favorites from The Golden Girls, one of my top-3 favorite sitcoms of all time. I agree with Sophia, that jealousy is a very ugly thing. In fact, I was recently thinking about this when I was pondering the question, what makes people snarky? I may blog about that one soon. In the meantime, I truly believe that rare–and lucky–is the man or woman who can honestly say they don’t feel jealousy with some frequency in their day-to-day life. And because I am talking true honesty here, I will tell you that I too experience my fair share of jealousy. Ugh.

I am jealous of people who live in Paris, women with easy straight hair or thighs that don’t rub together when they walk, men’s ability to go to the bathroom within a wide and flexible array of contexts, people who can eat certain foods without getting heartburn. The thing is, though, there is only so much I can do about many of these things. And that’s if I even wanted to. I am not going to go out and straighten my hair because–hello!–that would cancel out the easy part. The last time I tried to go to the bathroom standing up (after spending a lot of time around my brother and our male cousins), I was about 4 or 5 years old and it didn’t go very well. But I know I have had, and will have, plenty of other lifetimes for that one, and meanwhile I quite like being a girl in this one. And my thighs are an issue that I take one day at a time.

I stumbled on a new trigger for my jealousy through my tireless online searches for new recipes or tips on reinventing old ones. My love of cooking runs deep and sometimes borders on compulsion. I don’t boast much high-brow sophistication in my cooking (or in anything else I do), but I do like to think that it is healthy and flavorful comfort food. So seeing all the food blogs out there was starting to make me a little jealous. This blog post is simply in the interest of my own happiness: I figure that if I can knock off one of my jealousy triggers, it should make me happy.
Here, then, is my recipe for Mexican lasagna. It is half-vegetarian (for me), with pieces of chicken breast on the other (husband’s) side.
Ingredients:
1  4oz. can of diced green chiles
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
8 oz. shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 to 1/2 cup dry black beans, cooked (or 1  15oz can)
2 cups corn kernels
6-8 small flour tortillas
vegetable oil (for frying the tortillas)
2 small or one large zucchini or yellow squash, cut into 1-inch half-moons
1 small onion or half of a large onion (about 1/2 cup sliced)
1 bunch cilantro (nothing against haters of cilantro who think it tastes like soap, other than, well, you’re so wrong)
1 pint (=2 cups) half and half
1 chicken breast (2 if using chicken throughout the entire casserole)
1/4 tsp thyme
salt and pepper
Optional: your favorite salsa
Use a 2-Qt rectangular baking dish
Where I cut corners: buying canned chiles. Ideally one would roast poblano peppers, then peel them, remove the seeds, and dice them up. The main reason why I chose not to, aside from time, is that so far I haven’t been very good at it. I also bought salsa rather than making my own (not that I don’t have a fabulous, foolproof salsa recipe) for this particular dish.
Another area for cutting corners was to use frozen corn. I love how fancy it looks to cut the kernels off of ears of corn, and it’s awesome for when fresh corn is in season and you don’t mind having corn flying all over your kitchen. Using (thawed) frozen corn is pretty decent too, that’s all.
Areas where I did not cut corners: I like to start with dry beans and cook my own rather than use a can of beans. Three main reasons. 1) It is a lot cheaper. 2) I have often gagged when opening a can of beans and seeing that slimy goo that they have been sitting in. 3) This way I have a lot more control over the texture and flavor. I just cook about 1/2 cup of dry beans with half an onion, some of the same cilantro I bought for the recipe, and a bay leaf, with salt added toward the end.
I also grate my own cheese. It is significantly cheaper, and I do think there is a difference in freshness.
Cooking instructions:
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan, and sauté onions for a few minutes. Add the cooked beans, the chiles, and the zucchini, with about 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Cook until the zucchini just starts to get tender.
Melt the other 2 tablespoons of butter in a different pan. Sauté the garlic for about one minute, then add the corn, thyme, and 1/2 salt, plus another pinch of pepper.
When everything is combined, stir in the half and half. Cook the mixture for about 5 minutes. Cool a bit, then transfer to a blender, and puree. Taste for salt and pepper, it may need a bit more. It will appear chunky and not completely smooth, because of the corn; that’s okay, trust me. This garlicky, creamy corn sauce is the key to the unique awesomeness of this dish.
Roast the chicken breast for the meat-eater(s) in your family. Then shred or cube up the chicken.
Fry the tortillas for about 30 seconds on each side. This makes them more manageable. And very importantly, it makes them puff up, which provides an incredibly rich layer in the lasagna that I find similar to pastry. It’s that good. A cumbersome step, to be sure, but so, so worth it.
Begin the layering! First, spread 1/4 of the corn cream sauce on the bottom of the dish (see how it’s lumpy?).
 Add one layer of tortillas. You will need to cut some up to make them fit.
Layer half of the zucchini/bean/chiles mixture across the dish. Add half the chicken on one side of the dish.
Add a third of the shredded cheese, and chopped cilantro (about 2 tablespoons).
Repeat process: 1/4 sauce, tortillas, the 2nd half of the zucchini/beans & chicken*, 1/3 cheese and cilantro.
*Important note: If, like me, you feel strongly about keeping half of it vegetarian, make sure you keep the chicken on the same side of the dish during the second round of layering!
Add another 1/4 of the sauce and one more layer of tortillas. Top with the final 1/4 of the sauce, and the final 1/3 of cheese and cilantro (I added some cheddar at the end because cheddar is my husband’s favorite and it was his birthday.)
As with most of my cooking, I prepare this in the morning, then keep it in the fridge until dinner time. Then, I put it on a sheet pan (in case the cheese and sauce runneth over) and cook in a preheated 375 oven for about 20 minutes covered, 20-30 minutes uncovered until it’s bubbling and browned on top.
Hearty. Spicy. Yum. And dinner for easily two nights in my house. P.S. Yes, I forgot the salsa. It can add nice flavor and moisture, but really isn’t needed. The corn sauce, on the other hand …
Oh and we followed it up with this beauty.
Chocolate cake with pecans–pecans for the birthday boy, but on one side only for the kiddo who dislikes chunky nuts in his dessert; food segregation is quite important in our house!
I had vowed, after the holidays, to not bake a single thing in all of January–this was January. So this blog post could also be filed under “will I never learn?” I had good reason, though. We were snowed in and the man deserved birthday cake.
What’s my takeaway on jealousy? I believe like Iyanla Vanzant: “Comparing yourself to others is an act of violence against your authentic self.” It would be an impossible–and miserable–life if I was always trying to keep up with whatever makes me jealous about the perceived lives of others. But I have to say, writing this has made me very, very happy. Wow! The kind of “jealousy” that propels me to go after something that brings me joy? Yes, please, thank you. As for spending more, longer time in Paris? Timing is everything, and I am prepared to be patient.
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