John Wayne casserole always makes an appearance at my family's Christmas celebration. (Thanks Auntie J!) It's a deliciously cheesy Tex-Mexican casserole dish and while the recipe may vary, one thing is for sure: the Duke loved this cheddar-stuffed, cholesterol frenzy course of comfort food.
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The History of John Wayne Casserole
The name of John Wayne casserole is not some cheeky Americana reference. In fact, it directly honors the dish's true pioneer: Wayne himself. In 1979, Wayne contributed a recipe for the main dish to Cooking with Love from Cara and Her Friends, a cookbook compiled by a Cara Connery. The book featured recipes from several celebrities as a form of a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society
Wayne's Original Recipe
Owing to his roots filming across the American Southwest, Wayne's contribution to Connery's book was a Southwestern casserole. However, what was printed in Cooking with Love from Cara and Her Friends is not what John Wayne casserole always looks like today. Wayne's own take was unfussy. Called simply "Cheese Casserole," it included just Pepper Jack cheese, cheddar cheese, eggs, evaporated milk, flour, and green chiles. (This is closer to what my aunt J makes, using jalapeños.) But over the years, the John Wayne casserole evolved into a heartier, meatier dish. The most popular is called South-Mississippi Style.
John Wayne Casserole Recipe
Although the glistening layers of cheese steal the show, regionally, the John Wayne casserole varies. The dominant Mississippi version is more of a biscuit casserole in which a biscuit layer made of Bisquick mix covers the base of the baking dish. Including 1-2 pounds of ground beef is also standard. You can also pack the dish with flavor using diced tomatoes, yellow onions, jalapeño peppers, green bell peppers, or the classic green chiles. Season with veggies to your liking!
Brown ground beef and add taco seasoning and water, according to packet instructions, and set aside. In a separate bowl, combine sour cream, mayonnaise, 4 ounces of cheddar cheese, and half of the onions, and set aside. Stir biscuit mix and water (directions on box) to form a soft dough. Pat dough on the bottom and one-half-inch up the sides of an 11?--17-inch greased casserole dish. Sauté remaining onions and bell peppers until slightly tender. On top of biscuit mix, evenly distribute ingredients in the following order: ground beef, tomato slices, green peppers, onions, jalapeno peppers, sour cream mixture, and end with remaining shredded cheese. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 30-40 minutes or until edges of the dough are lightly browned.
With a relatively quick prep time, one large skillet of John Wayne casserole can easily feed the whole family. Enjoy!
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