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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

King Ranch Vegetarian Chicken

Tex-Mex at it's best....

One of the advantages of being the family cook is that you get to make things you like and if anybody complains, you can just whip off your apron and hand it to them. You'd be surprised how few takers you get. One of the disadvantages, of course, is you have to clean up afterward, but if you're a guy who is also a good-enough cook, the womenfolk feel guilty and will clean up for you. Secretly, even women, who are completely fed up with cooking, feel proprietary about "their" kitchens and will never fully relinquish control to a mere man. I, apparently, have never fully mastered the art of proper dish cleaning and putting things away where they belong. The ladies throw me out of the kitchen in frustration ever once in a while and make a fabulous meal to show me who's boss and do a really thorough and proper cleanup.

Boy do I ever learn my lesson when they do that!

King Ranch Chicken is a fantastically popular potluck chicken dish. It can be fiery stuff if you go with the very hot Rotel Tomatoes, but it's not too overly spicy the way we make it. Still it has plenty of Tex-Mex flavor. The dish is named after the famous King Ranch in south Texas which takes up an entire county south of Corpus Christi and upon which the movie "Giant" was based.  My wife reconstructed this dish for me the other day from memory. Her version is wonderful and she walked me through the preparation. It was all kind of delicious.  Wish you could have been there. 

Since you weren’t, I’m going to tell you how it was made so you can make it yourself and give your family a real treat.  This is one of those dishes, guys, that you can make one of your specialties on nights you’ve got kitchen duty. Plenty of manly chopping and dicing to preserve your image and if you make it, your wife can’t skimp on the cheese.

Cutting board
Sharp knife
Large casserole dish or baking pan
Electric skillet

  • 2 boxes of Morningstar Farms Vegetarian Chicken Patties or 2 cans of Worthington Fri-Chik or Worthington Diced-Chik vegetarian chicken
  • 2 cans mushroom soup
  • 1 can Rotel ™ tomatoes and green chilies (mild to hot – your choice)
  • 8 oz. Shredded cheddar cheese
  • ¼ block Velveeta ™ cheese, diced small
  • Small onion – chopped
  • Bell pepper – chopped
  • Small jar of jalapeno slices
  • 15 corn tortillas
  • Sour cream
  • Small can sliced black olives (optional)
  • Olive oil
  1. Dice up the vege-chicken pieces into small cubes.Worthington offers diced vegetarian chicken if you prefer. I like to crisp them in the skillet along with the onions and peppers.
  2. Sautee the chopped onion and bell pepper with the diced chicken in a little oil in the electric skillet. I prefer olive oil because it’s a healthier fat, but any oil will do.  Dice up a few jalapeno slices and toss them into the oil.  I only put a palmful of small pieces into this recipe - enough to lightly flavor it without adding a lot of heat or a nasty surprise for those with tender tongues. One thing you can do to tame the fire of jalapeno peppers is to slice them and then cut out the seeds and inside bits, leaving only green jalapeno pepper rings. All the flavor and you won't make little kids cry.
  3. When the onion, jalapeno and bell pepper are done, pour in the 2 cans of soup and the can of Rotel ™. Any tomatoes and green chilies will do. I like the mild Rotel for the sake of the children.  Otherwise this dish can get a bit fiery. 
  4. Stir in the vege-chicken pieces and heat the mixture till it begins to bubble. Then turn off the skillet.
  5. Chop the tortillas into strips.
  6. Lay down a layer of tortilla strips in the bottom of the casserole dish.
  7. Spread a layer of diced Velveeta ™ evenly over the tortillas about an inch or two apart, then cover with a layer of soup/chicken/veggies mix – not too thick.  You can sprinkle on a layer of black olives if you want them at this point.
  8. Repeat one more time with tortillas, Velveeta, chicken mix and olives (optional).
  9. Sprinkle grated cheddar cheese over the top to give it a finished look and because I like a lot of cheese.  You can also add a few optional jalapenos and black olives to make it pretty. Spread out the jalapenos so the wimpy people with tender tongues can find them easily and pick them off. If you cut out the centers, they won't have to.
  10. Cover the casserole dish with foil and bake in the oven at 350 degrees till the cheese on top is thoroughly melted and the whole thing begins to bubble at the sides.  Turn off the oven and let it set there till you have the rest of the meal set out.
A couple of dollops of sour cream on this after you take it out makes a really tasty garnish with maybe a little sprinkling of cilantro.  This dish goes really well with a nice green salad, Ranch dressing and a few crisp corn tortilla chip strips for garnish, iced tea and a big bowl of sweet corn.  You don’t need a bread with this because of the tortillas in the casserole.  This recipe serves about six people or four typical Texans. I like to bring out the Fiesta-ware to serve this meal on because anytime you make King Ranch casserole, it's a fiesta!. If you don't have any Fiesta-ware, I highly recommend you scoot by Marshall Pottery in Marshall, Texas and get you some plates and saucers and stuff that are just like the original Fiesta-ware my grandmother used to serve us meals on when I was a kid. King Ranch casserole just screams for those colorful Fiesta-ware plates.

The other nice thing about this recipe is that it's easy to stretch - very forgiving of variations in ingredients. You can add more vege-chicken and veggies, another can of soup, some extra tortillas or more cheese to stretch it out for a family gathering or potluck at church. The recipe is very forgiving.

You're really going to like this Texas treat.

Tom King © 2011

Sunday, March 8, 2015


When I was a kid I used to pedal my bicycle past Blair's store six days a week. Most of the time there would be this wonderful smell drifting out the front door.  Mrs. George makin' vege-burgers.  Those things were great. She'd fry them up on this heavy iron griddle with some carmelized onions. The patties were already chock full of onions. Now, when I was a kid I hated onions, but somehow, Mrs. George made all those onions delicious.

Mrs. George would never tell anybody what was in her vegeburger mix. It was her big secret. By keeping that recipe under her hat, she remained the top vege-burger maker in Keene, Texas, my hometown, for some 50 years. Keene is an Adventist college town and everybody there was either a vegetarian or at the very least, a semi-vegetarian. Vegeburgers were to Adventist kids, what Big Macs were to everybody else. I used to save up two or three days' paper route money to buy one of those imminently delicious things hand made things. When Blair's closed, Mrs. George went on to work at the Railhead and several other short-lived cafes and burger joints around Keene. She never gave away her recipe, till she finally told it to Melba Bruce, March 09, 2004 as she sat in Mrs. George's living room. Mrs George passed away a few weeks later. It's like she saw it coming. A special thanks to Melba's son, Stanley Bruce who collected a copy of the recipe and shared it on Facebook. God bless him.

- Tom King

At last - the secret is revealed:


1.One 16 oz can Loma Linda Vegeburger
2.Three eggs
3.Two medium sized onions finely grated
4.One tablespoon garlic powder
5.One teaspoon sage
6.Salt to taste
7.½ cup quick oats


1.Open vegeburger, add to mixing bowl with grated onion, eggs, garlic powder, sage and salt and stir.
2.Add half cup of oats
3.If the mixture is still too thin, add a little flour. The vegeburger mix should not be runny nor should it be too dry and thick.
4. Fry the patties in a small amount of oil. Never bake them.

Making the Actual Burger:

1. Heat the buns in the oven or on the grill
2. Add still sizzling patty and pile on the fixings.
3. Eat while making soft sounds like “Ooooooh” and “Aaaaaah” and “Mmmmmmmmm”

(c) 2011 by Tom King

Monday, March 2, 2015

The #1 Best Vege-Meat Dish Ever

I figure if I'm going to start a vegetarian cooking weblog, I should start off with one of the best dishes you will ever put in your mouth. If you ask any member of my family what their favorite meal is (including meat dishes) they'll say Barbecue Tender-Bits.

Eating vegetarian meat substitutes is a great way to reduce the cholesterol in your diet dramatically and many of the products produced by such companies as Worthington Foods, Loma Linda Foods, Morningstar and Boca offer vegetarian alternatives for a variety of meat products.  But when I get really hungry I crave this really unique vegetarian meal that is my wife's specialty.

Miss Sheila trained under two of the finest cooks I ever knew of - my grandmother and hers. She can hold her own with either of them and, although I would never have told either of them, she outdoes them on many things. Her original idea for barbecue Tender-bits(TM) is everybody's favorite for celebratory meals in the King household. Since Sheila has made me promise to outlive her, I made her teach me how to make her signature dish. I buy Tender-Bits by the case. It is my go-to showoff dish.

Barbecue Tender-Bits
Original Recipe by Sheila King

- Ingredients -
  1. 2 Cans Loma Linda Tender-bits
  2. Flour
  3. Seasoned Salt
  4. Oil
  5. Bulls-Eye or KC Masterpiece BBQ Sauce
- Instructions -
  1. Remove the top and bottom from both Tender-bit cans and press from the can. Drain the Tender-bits and halve or quarter each "bit" as you prefer.  I like mine larger, Sheila likes 'em quartered.
  2. Put a quarter to half cup of flour in a large mixing bowl and toss in the Tender-bits.  Dust them thoroughly and lightly season with seasoned salt.
  3. Just cover the bottom of a large frying pan or electric skillet in canola oil and heat..
  4. Place floured "bits" into the oil and cook stirring twice till the outsides are crisp and turn golden brown.
  5. Pour a bottle of barbecue sauce over the Tender-Bits and remaining oil.  With the flour that got into the oil along with the Tender-bits, the barbecue sauce will make a delicious gravy that will cover the vege-meat.  When the gravy begins to bubble, turn the heat down to keep the dish warm while you cook the rest of the meal.  This allows the Tender-bits to marinate in the barbecue gravy.
Setting:  These are our favorite side dishes to go along with Barbecue Tender-Bits

  1. Mama's Southern Mashed Potatoes with a little garlic, butter and cream cheese
  2. Broccoli with a bit of melted Velveeta Cheese
  3. Salad finely chopped with Ranch Dressing
  4. Honeymama's Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls (so good they don't even need butter)
  5. Peach Cobbler with Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
Where to Buy:
Barbecued Tender-Bits as God intended

This meal illustrates why all vegetarians are not emaciated skeletons. Many of us are quite substantial individuals. This is not a low-cal/low-fat dinner. Tender-Bits are a vegan meat substitute, though for what meat I am not exactly sure. They most resemble seitan, a Chinese wheat gluten product from which they are derived. They work really well in Chinese dishes. One thing, however, if you're expecting chicken, you'll be surprised. Not in a bad way I think but Tender-Bits aren't much like chicken.  They make a nice neutral meat-like garnish for spicy dishes and with tangy sauces.  You can order them by the case on, from Loma Linda or from any regional Seventh Day Adventist book store or vegetarian food store (found in most Adventist college towns) and online.

Tender-Bits are labeled "Vegan" and we don't put any cowish or chickenish ingredients in them, so you need not be cowed by any militant vegans when you serve them up at potluck. A word of caution, however. Be toward the front of the line or they will be gone before you get there.

As you can see from the picture, even just half a can makes up a nice sized batch for two.  When we have the kids and their families over, Sheila makes two or three cans and when it's all done, there are never any leftovers.

© 2015 by Tom & Sheila King