One of my favorite things in the world is this novelty we call a library. I have millions of books and movie & music media at my disposal for the mere cost of a bit of gas, a few taxes (I suppose), and time (and the occasional overdue fine, but we try to avoid that at all cost). Now I realize that in this day and age of convenience, an e-reader device is a great thing to have, but it can never replace the ability to browse shelves and shelves of books. I don’t know how many times I’ve found great books by accident as I was looking for another title. I’m also pretty sure that being able to test-drive a cookbook for free from the library is a lot less awkward than asking to borrow the kitchen at the café at Barnes & Noble for a couple hours.
I will be the first one to admit that I am not the slow cooker queen. I can make a mean soup and keep it nice and warm in a slow cooker, but actually using the thing to cook… well, I don’t usually venture beyond a beef roast. It’s not that I don’t have slow cooker cookbooks–I do. But I’ve been saddened by the recipes, as many require cans of condensed soup or become watery and virtually flavorless after hours cooking. So I’ve been very appreciative of the work my “friends” at America’s Test Kitchen have done in developing slow cooker recipes that work. The first one I tried was White Chicken Chili from their original slow cooker cookbook. It’s a good cookbook, but a lot of the recipes require some work ahead of time to ensure a good end product. So that’s why their second volume is even better, as the subtitle suggests: “Volume 2: The Easy-Prep Edition.” After taking the library’s copy for a spin, I fell in love and am more than grateful to my dad for this awesome Christmas gift.
Last week I tried the Cheesy Chicken and Frito Casserole. Pulling the dish together couldn’t have been much easier, as it truly is throwing a couple cans of tomatoes and beans in the slow cooker with chicken on top. The results were good, though I would adapt the recipe a bit the next time around to ensure a bit more flavor and leftovers that aren’t full of soggy chips.
So, the next time you’re at the library, if you haven’t already found the 641 section, I suggest that you do. You might be amazed at the world of cuisine and adventure that is open to you and your palette for no cost other than opening a book.
Slow Cooker Cheesy Chicken & Frito Casserole
from America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution Volume 2. My adaptations are in italics.
- 2 (10 oz.) cans Ro-tel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies, drained
- 1 (15 oz.) can black beans, rinsed
- 2 Tbsp. instant tapioca
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 Tbsp. taco seasoning (not in original recipe)
- 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, trimmed
- salt & pepper
- 1-1/2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend (I would use 2-1/2 to 3 cups)
- 1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed
- 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro (you may choose to reduce this amount or omit altogether, depending on how much you like or dislike cilantro)
- 4 cups Fritos or gluten-free corn chips*
- Combine tomatoes, beans, tapioca, and cumin (and taco seasoning) in slow cooker (the recommended size is a 5-1/2 to 7 quart slow cooker; I say use what you’ve got 🙂 ). Season chicken with salt and pepper and nestle into slow cooker. Cover and cook until chicken is tender, 4 to 5 hours on low.
- Transfer chicken to cutting board, let cool slightly, then shred into bite-size pieces. Stir 1 cup Fritos, 1 cup Mexican cheese blend (I would stir in 1-1/2 cups), corn, and cilantro (if using) into slow cooker until cheese is melted and mixture is thickened slightly. Gently stir in shredded chicken and season with salt and pepper to taste. (Adjust filling consistency with hot water as needed.)
- Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup (1 cup) cheese and remaining 3 cups Fritos (I would leave this step out and serve the Fritos on the side), cover, and cook on high until casserole is heated through and cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Serve. Tasty with lettuce and sour cream.
*If you cannot find gluten-free corn chips, use your favorite gluten-free tortilla chip.
To make this for one to two people… simply reduce all amounts by half and cook as directed.