Inaugural Post

Welcome to ChefAbilities!

Want to learn to cook all that minimalistic fancy, schmancy restaurant food with microgreens and foam all over it? No? Me neither! Come on, who eats like that?

I’m a Texas gal and down here, we EAT!

This blog will hopefully guide you thru some cooking basics, teach you some recipe awesomeness and coax you to stretch your culinary legs in the kitchen! Believe me, your family and friends won’t mind being your food test crash dummy! That’s what the hubby refers to himself as! He loves trying out my new recipes and gives me very constructive critiques. He’s even learning how to cook in the process since he always seems to hover around the kitchen when I’m cooking!

Now, a little about me! My name is Melalee Winkler. I know, quite a mouth full! It’s pronounced like Melanie, but with a little change at the end! I’ve been cooking ALL my life! For goodness sakes, my sister gave me a Wok set as a high school graduation present. Not your usual gift for a high school graduate! I think I used it the very next day!

Well, as I said, I’ve been cooking a long time and every time I would cook for family or friends I would hear, “You should have been a chef”, or “You missed your true calling, you should be a chef”. Well, dad gum it! (Texas slang). I finally heard it one time too many while drinking wine with my husband during a Saturday night steak dinner I prepared. He was eating and paused and said, “This is why I hate eating out when I travel. I always get better food at home. Seriously, Melalee, you should have been a chef!” Or something to that effect! Well, I guess it was the wine, cause I just said, “Okay, why don’t I go to culinary school?” We clinked our glasses together and the rest is history!

Now I have my degree in culinary arts and have my own company called ChefAbilities. Get it? Chef + Ability = ChefAbilities! I teach group, couples, children’s and one-on-one cooking classes and it’s loads of fun! My students always seem to be very happy with what they learn. I hope you will be too!

Just to start off on the right foot, here’s an inaugural recipe! What self-respecting Texas girl wouldn’t have a recipe for King Ranch Chicken in her repertoire? Now, I was born and raised in Texas, so King Ranch Chicken Casserole is something that I grew up with. At one point, it reigned the buffet table at many family reunions and church socials. Not only that, it would be blasphemy for a true Texan to turn her nose up to it! And, yes, there really is a King Ranch!

I’ve had my share of really, really bad King Ranch Chicken. Also, I’ll do almost anything to NOT use processed food. Just about every recipe for this casserole calls for a can or two of “Cream of Something” soup, so I decided to develop my own recipe for this classic. You won’t be disappointed!

The ingredient list is long, but it’s easy, filling and your man folk will definitely go back for seconds, or thirds! Happy Cooking!

King Ranch Chicken Casserole

Recipe courtesy: ChefAbilities
Yield: 4-6 servings
Difficulty: Moderate Time: Prep 20 minutes, cook 45 minutes

2 6 oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup diced yellow onion
½ cup diced celery
½ cup diced red pepper
4 oz button mushrooms, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup flour
¼ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
⅛ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups chicken stock, divided
4 oz can green chiles (preferably Hatch)
8 oz Rotel (1/2 can)
1 cup fat free milk
8 oz shredded Mexican blend cheese
9 corn tortillas
¼ cup sliced green onions

Preheat oven to 350°.

Boil or roast chicken breasts and shred with a fork, set aside.

Melt butter in a large sauce pan. Add all the vegetables and saute until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the flour in 1/3 increments, stirring until all white is gone before adding more. Add all the spices, salt and pepper. Stir until combined. Slowly add the chicken stock, reserving ¼ cup. Stir well to combine and thicken.

Add the can of chiles and the Rotel. Stir to combine and cook until thickened. Remove from heat.

Cut the corn tortillas in half and soak briefly in the remaining ¼ cup of chicken stock to soften.
Spray a 7 x 10 inch casserole dish with cooking spray. Lay 6 tortilla halves in the bottom, overlapping tortillas. Pour 1/3 of the sauce on the tortillas; layer half of the chicken, then 1/3 of the cheese, repeat. Finish off with another layer of tortillas, sauce; and then cheese. Sprinkle with green onions and cook at 350° for, 45 minutes uncovered until hot and bubbly.

Let sit 10 – 15 minutes before cutting.


2 thoughts on “Inaugural Post

  1. Hello,

    I found your blog! It was so nice meeting you today at my favorite boutique. 😉 Also, the King Ranch Chicken looks AMAZING! I look forward to trying your version.


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