Cooks Corner

A new generation discovers Tex-Mex chicken casserole

Q. I used to make one of your recipes all the time when my children were in elementary school and we were always having to take a dish to PTA potlucks. It was easy and everyone loved it — a Tex-Mex thing with chicken. I remember it fed a bunch from a single chicken.

I got pretty tired of it and haven’t even thought of it in years, but my daughter who now has her own kids in school asked me for that recipe recently and I just couldn’t find it. Can you help?

Kristie C.

A. What a kick to think of a second generation using a Cook’s Corner recipe! I believe the recipe you remember is this King Ranch casserole, which was contributed to the column by dozens of readers in 1991 in response to a lost recipe request.

The historic King Ranch spans 825,000 acres in South Texas — more land than the state of Rhode Island — and though its history goes back more than 150 years it has somehow become arguably more famous for this recipe than its cattle ranching, championship thoroughbreds and agribusiness (and, recently, secret hunting trips for Florida politicians). The kicker is that no one knows why, since the ranch lays no claim to its invention, probably in the 1950s.

Reader Question: Russian Salad Dressing

Q. I don’t know what to do. One of my favorite recipes for chicken uses a bottle of red Russian salad dressing, and Kraft isn’t making it anymore. You bake the chicken with a bottle of the dressing, a package of onion soup mix and a jar of apricot preserves. I tried substituting Catalina dressing and it was not the right taste, way too sweet. My daughter told me to ask you.


A. The chicken recipe you mention has a long history, appearing in many a fundraising cookbook and even on the Kraft recipe website. So I’m sure there are lots of folks who — like you — are not sure what to do. The quick fix is that Wish-Bone still makes a red Russian dressing and it is available at both Winn Dixie and Publix in South Florida.

For those unfamiliar, red Russian salad dressing is a creamy, tomato-based dressing that’s both sweet and pungent, and not to be confused with the mayonnaise-based dressing known as both Thousand Island dressing and Russian dressing. I’m not sure why the bottled red dressing is called Russian dressing — any more than I know why the lurid orange stuff that haunted the 1960s tossed salad was called French dressing.

Just as an aside, my late mother was famous for her steak marinade, but the secret is that she made it with an 8-ounce bottle of red Russian dressing, 1/3 cup of A-1 sauce and a package of onion soup mix. She’d marinate the meat in half the mixture, then use the rest to flavor sautéed mushrooms she served on top of the steak. Sounds flawed, but my brothers still make it and we all eat it fondly!

If you want, you can make your own Russian dressing with the recipe here. I think it comes close to the bottled stuff. It’s sweet, with just a bit of a vinegary kick — and red!

Cookbook Corner

“One Dirty Bowl” by Christina Dymock ($18.99, Cedar Fort) is for those who enjoy quick fixes and easy clean ups, a dessert cookbook that relies heavily on packaged products and ingenuity.

Dymock, the mother of 4, whose days are spent “running from baseball practice to the school, from band concerts to dance recitals, and everywhere in between,” says the idea for the book came to her because “I am always looking for recipes that come together quickly and make a big impression.”

I thought these pecan bars were terrific — into the oven in minutes, one saucepan to clean up, and who’d have thought that the packaged cookie dough would spread perfectly to the edges of the pan, like you’d made the batter from scratch? Of course you just can’t go wrong with brown sugar, butter and pecans. I think you could use any flavor of refrigerated cookie dough — just be sure you buy the flat package and not the cylinders.

Send questions and responses to or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172. Replies cannot be guaranteed.

Main dish

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

2 1/2- to 3-pounds whole chicken, cut up, or preferred chicken parts

1 bay leaf

12 soft corn tortillas, torn in quarters

1 large onion, chopped

1 large green bell pepper, diced

3 tablespoons butter

1 (10 3/4-ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted

1 (10 3/4-ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted

1 (10-ounce) can tomatoes with green chilies, undrained

1 to 2 cups grated cheddar or jack cheese or mixture

Place chicken in a large pot and cover with water. Add bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes. Bone and skin chicken , cutting meat into bite-size pieces. Reserve cooking liquid.

Coat a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Place a layer of torn tortillas in bottom of dish. Place 1/3 of the chicken pieces on top. Lightly sauté the onion and bell pepper in the butter, just until onion becomes transparent. Spread about 1/3 over the layer of chicken . Combine undiluted soups, tomatoes with chiles and 1 cup of the cooking broth. Pour 1/3 over the casserole. Top with a layer of cheese. Repeat layers of tortillas, chicken, onion and pepper mixture and soup until all ingredients are used. Top with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes, or until bubbly hot. Serves 8 to 10.

Shortcut: Instead of stewing your own chicken, skin and debone a rotisserie chicken or use leftover turkey (you should have about 2 1/2 cups).

Variations: Kick up the seasoning by adding chili powder or taco seasoning to the soup mixture. Add sliced jalapeños or roasted green chiles if you like a spicier casserole. Add a drained can of corn and/or pinto or black beans to the onion and pepper mixture. Add garnishes to taste, such as salsa, sour cream, jalapeños, sliced black olives, tortilla chips, diced avocado.

Per serving: 524 calories (53 percent from fat), 31 g fat (11.4 g saturated, 11 g monounsaturated), 93 mg cholesterol, 33.3 g protein, 29 g carbohydrate, 5.2 g fiber, 1412 mg sodium.

Source: Updated by Linda Cicero from Cook’s Corner archives.


Red Russian Salad Dressing

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup ketchup

1/3 cup cider vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

Measure ingredients into a blender or food processor and whirl until well incorporated. Adjust salt, pepper and vinegar to taste. Makes about 1 1/2 cups. Keep refrigerated.

Per tablespoon: 56 calories (74 percent from fat), 4.5 g fat (0.6 g saturated, 1.3 g monounsaturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 0 g protein, 3.5 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 45 mg sodium.

Source: Linda Cicero for Cook’s Corner.


To-Die-For Pecan Bars

1 (16.5-oz.) packet refrigerated snickerdoodle cookie dough (the flat sheet, not the roll)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1/2 cup butter

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 1/2 cups confectioner sugar

1/2 cup pecan halves

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place the cookie dough, in the single block just as it is packaged, into an 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the edges are slightly brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, stir together the cream and brown sugar. Cut the butter into 6 cubes and add to the cream mixture. Place the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 1/2 minutes.

Take the pan off the burner and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Gradually stir in the vanilla and confectioners’ sugar and until the mixture is smooth. Add the pecans and stir well. Pour the pecan topping over the cooled cookie. Place in refrigerator to set — it will take about 1 hour. Cut into bars and serve. Makes 16.

Per serving: 316 calories (47 percent from fat), 16.7 g fat (7 g saturated, 6.9 g monounsaturated), 29 mg cholesterol, 1.7 g protein, 41 g carbohydrate, 0.6 g fiber, 138 mg sodium.

Source: Adapted by Linda Cicero for Cook’s Corner from “One Dirty Bowl” by Christina Dymock (Cedar Fort Publishing).