Comfort, Baked: How a Casserole Becomes Famous

food at a potluck

Hands of the Hungry: Potluck, Trabuco Canyon Community Church. September, 2013.

It Started at Shipmates

When I was a small child, my family worshiped at First Congregational UCC in San Bernardino. Our parents belonged to Shipmates, a couples’ fellowship. Many of my most enduring memories of that congregation stem from Shipmates-instigated activities. Notable among these events were Pal Week (a secret-friend type weeklong adventure that must remain a tale for another day) and the potlucks.

Those Shipmates knew how to throw a potluck. Yes, someone was sure to bring that “salad” made from green Jell-o, cottage cheese, and pineapple. But someone else would bring spaghetti. With meatballs. And garlic bread.  Someone baked a chocolate cake.  Someone made apple pies. Homemade macaroni and cheese? Check. 

But for all that deliciousness toted into the fellowship hall wrapped in tea towels and kindness, it was the spirit of the gathering that I loved as a child. The camaraderie nourished me as much as that home-cooked food did. These feasts impressed me so much that  when Rich and I left the Great Big Church and moved to Trabuco Canyon Community Church in 2011, I all but squealed with delight when I learned that our new church family enjoys  potlucks.

Every month. 

One Seiler family relic of the Shipmates years is the recipe for Chicken Enchilada Loaf. To the best of my memory, this worthy ambassador of comfort food entered my mom’s culinary repertoire after we made its acquaintance at a Shipmates potluck when I was about six. Today, it’s a dish we prepare when people are gathering and busyness is expected to ensue, like when there’s a family wedding. Or a funeral.

In other words, chicken enchilada loaf is part of the vocabulary of love for many members of my family. It’s also part of our secret code: If I tell my sister I made a chicken enchilada loaf, she asks, what’s going on? And that’s a totally appropriate question. I make it when I’m feeling a need for comfort. I make it for people I love.

Sunday, after going-on three years at TCCC, I introduced my brothers and sisters in Christ to the wonder that is Chicken Enchilada Loaf. 

Saturday, you see, was sure to be a tough day. My baby cousin Marcia, the one who died in 2000? September 14 was her birthday. She’d be 46 if she were still alive. It’s also the anniversary of my boss’s father’s death, an event connected not only to her grief, but in my mind to my baby cousin, somehow, and to the turmoil I was living at the time he died in 2006.

And this past weekend, September 14 would be spent at our church home, paying our respects to a dear member who had been called home the weekend before.  Then we were picking up a grandson and heading to my father’s house to celebrate his birthday.

What a bipolar kind of day. But Sunday would come, all the same, and the third Sunday of each month is Potluck Sunday. At Saturday’s services I had noticed how many of the people gathered were members of our church family, come to support a grieving sister, come to say their own goodbyes, come to be a quiet, visible sign to his family: His life mattered. We loved him. 

This past weekend, it was time. I took Chicken Enchilada Loaf to the potluck. Nobody there knew: If I feed you this, it means I love you. 

But they ate every bite. 

Recipe: Chicken Enchilada Loaf


2 cups or so of cooked chicken (shredded, diced, or cut into chunks—I used shredded chicken that I’d frozen after a chicken taco meal)

1  (14 oz) can of chicken broth

1 (10 oz) can of cream of chicken soup

1 (10 oz) can of cream of celery soup

1 (4 oz) can mild diced green chiles, drained

1/2 a large onion, diced

12 or so corn tortillas

8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese


Heat oven to 350° fahrenheit/175° celsius.

Grease and set aside  9 x 13 pan.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the diced/shredded/chunked chicken, the broth,  the soups, the chiles, and the diced onion.

Now build your casserole as you would lasagne:

Cover the pan with a layer of corn tortillas (cut them in half and put the straight edges agains the pan’s edges if you, like me, have OCD and can’t abide the roundness of the whole tortillas bumping up against the straight edges of the pan).

Spoon half the chicken/soup/chiles/onion mixture over the layer of tortillas.

Sprinkle half the shredded cheese over the mixture.

Lay down another layer of tortillas, spoon and spread the other half of the chicken mixture, sprinkle the rest of the cheese.

Bake, uncovered, about 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and  the edges are bubbling away as any self-respecting casserole’s edges should.

Let stand for at least five minutes before cutting into squares and serving.

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.

Hebrews 13:1 (NIV)

I’m linking with my friend Michelle DeRusha for Hear It on Sunday, Use It on MondayWon’t you stop by? I’m also sharing with my friend Ann Kroeker for Food on Fridays, but I’m not smart enough to put her gorgeous button here. Please go look for yourself.


  1. I felt the love 🙂 Very tasty!

  2. Yum, Sheila! Sounds wonderful. I sure could use a hug from a casserole. Sounds like a dinner plan 🙂

  3. I had to copy this recipe and it should be a hit at our next pot luch at First Congregational Church UCC here where I attend at this time.

  4. I like to love people with food, Sheila! Thank you for your interesting post and a recipe within!

  5. LOVE this, Sheila. And I’m copying that recipe – it sounds delish.

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