Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cheesy Tex-Mex Casserole

My Venture into Recipe Development

As many of you know, my joy in cooking comes from creating new recipes or modifying existing ones to better suit my taste and style. Whenever I come up with a new recipe, I type it up the way I plan to make it. After I make it the first time, I then usually make long notes about changes I'd like to make to improve the recipe the next time I attempt it. I note things that didn't work and things I'd like to try. Sometimes, I experiment with a recipe more than 20 times before I post it on my blog – if anything to make sure it comes out consistently every time. Today, however, I am going to give you real insight as to how I develop new recipes. The notes below are for a recipe that I just started developing today. I thought it up, made it, took pictures of it, and tasted it. It was actually pretty good!

Tentative Recipe Name: Cheesy Tex-Mex Casserole
Date of First Attempt: January 24, 2010
I'm in the mood for Mexican food. Mexican 7-layer dip sounds good. Maybe I can do a casserole that is reminiscent of that dip. I'm wanting something with refried beans, taco meat, and lots of cheese. Maybe I could do a casserole that's topped with some cornbread or masa or something. Heck, maybe I could throw some cheese in the cornbread, too. What do I have in my pantry? Let's see. I know I have some canned refried beans and 2% sharp cheddar cheese. I think I have some taco seasoning. I've got some hamburger and some cornbread mix. Do I have sour cream? I think I do but it's probably light sour cream. I need to check the expiration date before I use it. That reminds me. I need to buy some buttermilk. I don't think I have any cilantro though. I know I have scallions and a red bell pepper that I need to get used up. I think I also have a couple jalapeños, too.

Let's see, maybe I could spice up the refried beans and put them in the bottom of a dish. That might not work well. The problem with putting beans on the bottom of the dish is that I won't be able to get them out very easily after everything is baked to take a good picture for my blog. I could put some corn tortillas on the bottom before adding the beans. That would certainly make it easier to spoon out the casserole for a picture but, if I use cornbread, I think it would be too corny. HA! Too corny! I crack myself up. Geez. I'm sitting here typing and cracking myself up like a crazy person. Anyway, what was I thinking? Oh, yeah. Beans on the bottom of the dish. Oh, what the heck. I'll just put the refried beans on the bottom and, if the picture looks crappy, I'll try something else next time. Maybe I could add a layer of sour cream on top of the beans. I'll bet the heat in the oven will make the sour cream curdle. Hmm. Well, the sour cream would be in the center of the casserole so maybe it won't separate as much as I think it will. My clone of Taco Bell's Baja Sauce would be really good in there. Nah. I think that would make the recipe too long so I'll skip that and just try sour cream.

I think I'll make some basic taco meat using one of those taco seasoning packets. I think I'll add some onions and garlic to it. I need some veggies in here though. Maybe I'll add the red bell pepper and jalapeño in with the meat. If I remember correctly, you have to add water when you use one of those taco seasoning packets. Hmm. That might make it too soupy. Well, I do plan to add cheese to the meat so that'll help tighten it up some. OK. I'll add the water in small amounts and notate if it is too loose after it's baked. I can add less water next time, if needed. GEEZ LOUISE, I need to take out my trash! That seafood I made last night is really stinking up the place! Hey, now that's an idea. Instead of beef, I could use seafood. Maybe some imitation crab or some cod. Maybe add some shrimp, too. I could still use the taco seasoning but just use seafood instead. Hmmmm. I'll need to think about this some more and maybe try the seafood in Attempt #2.

I'll use a box of corn muffin mix for the topping and throw in some cheese. I wonder how much cheese I should add to it? Oh, heck, I'll just add some little by little until it looks right and then write down how much I added.

I wonder if I should bake this a 400F like the box of Jiffy says to do? I think that'll be too high because the center will never get hot before cornbread is done. Yeah, you're right. I better stick with 350F.

Garnish…garnish…garnish. How should I garnish this when I'm done? I'm sure it's going to need some color on the top to help with the picture. Hmm. I don't have any cilantro. I have a tomato but the other one I bought tasted like the place where flavor goes to die so I'm not thrilled about eating it. Ugh. I hate tomatoes in January. That reminds me – I need to buy couple of pomegranates before they go out of season. Oooh. Now that's an idea for another recipe. I could make a pomegranate vinaigrette and pour it over some mixed greens and decorate it with some fresh pomegranates on top. Oh, that sounds really good. Where was I? Geez! You're never going to get this done if you keep interrupting yourself! Let's see. Oh yeah yeah. Garnish. Maybe I could reserve a little of the red bell pepper to sprinkle on top for color. I'll sprinkle on some scallions for some green. If I added a dollop of sour cream, I'd be using some red, green, and white on top – the colors of the Mexican flag. Or is that the Italian flag? Hmmm. I need to look that up before I cause a major international incident.

That's pretty much the thought process I went through when I was developing the recipe. I then typed up a tentative recipe and made it. At the bottom of the recipe below, you'll see the notes I would normally make to myself after I make a new dish. You are welcome to try the recipe as is or make your own changes. I think it was very tasty and worthy of continued experimentation. Enjoy – and happy creating!

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Cheesy Tex-Mex Casserole

** Recipe Testing is still in progress as of January 24, 2010 **
(Printable Version)

Taco Meat
1 TBSP oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb hamburger
Salt (if your brand of taco seasoning does not contain salt)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeño with seeds and ribs removed, minced (optional)
1 1.25 oz packet taco seasoning
1 c water
5 oz sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated

Refried Beans
1-16 oz can of refried beans
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt (1/4 tsp table salt) or to taste
3 oz sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
4 oz sour cream

1 egg
1/3 cup milk
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
1 8.5 oz box cornbread muffin mix (such as Jiffy)

Preheat oven to 350F.

For the Layer of Taco Meat:
In a skillet over medium heat, add the oil. When hot, add the onion and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the hamburger and salt (if needed). Brown then drain the meat. Add the garlic, red bell pepper, jalapeño (if using), and taco seasoning packet to the meat and stir to combine. Heat the meat over medium heat for about 2 to 3 minutes to bloom the spices. Add the water and bring to a simmer. Cover and lightly simmer the meat for 7 to 10 minutes – stirring periodically. Take the skillet off of the heat, uncover, and allow the mixture to cool for ten minutes. Stir every couple of minutes to help the mixture cool. Add the cheese and stir to combine.

For the Layer of Refried Beans:
While the meat is cooking, mix all of the ingredients in a medium bowl. Transfer the bean mixture to an 8x8" baking dish. Spread the sour cream evenly over the refried beans. When the taco meat has finished cooking and has cooled slightly, transfer it to the top of the refried beans.

For the Cornbread:
In a medium bowl, beat together the egg and milk. Add the cheese and cornbread mix and stir until just combined. Carefully dollop the cornbread on top of the taco meat. Use a fork to carefully spread the batter into an even layer.

Bake for 26 to 29 minutes or until the cornbread is deep brown. Let the casserole rest about 10 minutes before cutting into it.

Notes to myself for future attempts:
1) First attempt looked and tasted great! No obvious problems or big corrections to make.
2) As expected, the sour cream did curdle some. I think it's OK to leave in the recipe. One alternative would be to leave it out and allow eaters to put a dollop on at the table.
3) You have to use 1 lb of meat. Any more and you won't be able to fit it in the dish without moving up to a larger size.
4) I used 2% sharp cheddar and it worked well. I suspect that if I had used full-fat cheddar, it would have left an oil slick.
5) For me, the taco seasoning needs some oomph. This recipe is probably fine for public consumption but, for myself, I'd prefer some extra kick or, perhaps, the addition of a tablespoon of chili powder. One jalapeño was not spicy at all. In fact, you couldn't even taste it in there. For myself, add 2 to 3.
6) Ideas to include next time: Salsa (perhaps in the meat), cilantro, chopped olives, corn, Monterrey jack instead of cheddar. It might be interesting to add some spicy ranch dressing instead of sour cream sometime. It might be nice to try with light cheddar, light sour cream, and ground turkey instead of beef.
7) I still think it would be a nice idea to use prepared Mexican rice (you know, the kind that Old El Paso makes in those nukeable pouches). I could offer this as substitution for the meat for vegetarians. I certainly could not use it in addition to the meat in an 8x8" dish. I could, however, reformulate the recipe for a 9x13" dish. I could use the same amount of meat but use the rice in addition and try to make it more budget-friendly for larger families.


  1. Hello Blog Buddies!
    Due to a known problem with the blogging software I use on this website, you may get an error when you attempt to post a comment. If you try to leave a comment and get an error, simply click the "Post Comment" button again. It should work after clicking the "Post Comment" button one or two additional times.

  2. I enjoyed reading your thought process as you are developing recipes for your blog. I go all over the place while I am writing too, and I think we all have times when we have to pull ourselves back to task. The recipe looks really good, but then again yours always do!

    What's new with Fitch? I miss Fitch stories... maybe she will do something odd before your next post. One can hope!

    Be well!

  3. I haven't seen Fitch for about 3 weeks. I hope she hasn't moved out of my apartment complex because she is always a rich source of entertainment. :-)

  4. What about possibly subbing cottage cheese for the sour cream? Could lend a fun twist in texture and depth of flavor.


    Ps) I love your recipes! Thanks for an entertaining blog, I'm a long time lurker, first time commenter.

  5. You're pretty funny. I wish I could remember half of what I think about when I'm in the kitchen cooking.

  6. LOL! I love the comment "I'm a long time lurker, first time commenter"! The cottage cheese idea has potential.

  7. It almost looks like there's bacon in there - not that there's anything wrong with that! Loved your stream of cooking consciousness.

  8. Hi I think you are very funny. Anyway, can you post recipe of your clone of Taco Bell's Baja Sauce? I love that stuff but I dont eat there anymore so i'd like to recreate at home.

  9. Jessica -- Sure! I'll post it sometime. I'm still working on my idea for a mexican lasagna and I think I'll use the clone in there.

  10. Hi Vince !
    Yum yum I (also) like Tex Mex recipes ! Another one I am gonna try !
    How are you Vince, it is a long time we haven't speak together...
    Have a great day !

  11. Ok I made this for dinner tonight. We don't eat meat so I use the Morning Star crumbles. I also mixed the sour cream into the beans (and added a little of my home made enchilada sauce). I had to stop tasting it since its for dinner. :)
    Thanks for posting.
    Found you off Tasty Kitchen.

  12. I have to laugh at this one, just sounds like good comfort food. I have my own recipe that is very similar to this one, but I use corn instead of the refried beans. Been craving it, so I guess it's time!



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