Nacho casserole on a sheet pan

Garnish you taco bake with all your favorite fixings, lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, etc. Want to be even more creative? Swap out the chicken with with shredded beef. 

During the summer, one of my favorite things to do is drink my morning coffee on the deck and watch and listen to the world as it begins a new day. There’s something calming and peaceful about that time — there are very few human noises other than a few cars driving down the street as my neighbors go off to work. I’ve seen deer, my resident groundhog, who lives under my shed, and even an opossum in my backyard as I sipped my early morning coffee.

My true delight this summer has been watching the birds that live in my literal neck of the woods. I was fortunate enough to see a pair — male and female — of Baltimore orioles, a bird my late husband used to claim he could hear around the house and I never believed until they perched on the top of my neighbors’ fence. Through an app on my phone, I was able to identify the orioles’ song, along with those of cardinals, Carolina wrens, tufted titmouse, red-bellied woodpecker, a warbling vireo and possibly a red-eyed vireo. And then there was the pileated woodpecker who spent the summer drilling a very large hole at the base of a tall stump next to the driveway

I went out the other morning and quickly noticed two things — it was too cool to actually sit on the deck for any length of time and, except for the blue jays and crows screeching, there were no other birds singing. It’s the end of summer and they’ve started their journey to warmer climes.

As the days and nights get cooler, I find myself also shifting into winter, craving hot soups and stews, and comfort foods, like mac and cheese and meatloaf. My friend, Sue, recently shared a recipe that fits the bill perfectly — Keat’s Taco Chicken. Sue and her husband, Mike, hosted young men playing for the North Adams Steeplecats for many years, including Keaton Everitt from Kirkland, Wash., a pitcher from the University of Washington, in the early 2000s. This recipe originally came from his mom, Lisa. Keaton is now the director of the Washington A’s. He was drafted in 2005 by the New York Yankees.

Sue confessed because she doesn’t like spicy foods, which I already knew, she omits the taco seasoning, while I’m inclined to think a few chopped jalapeno peppers would be a nice addition. It’s up to you. Any leftovers — if there are any! — reheat well and the dish may even be just a tad bit better the day after.

KEAT’S TACO CHICKEN

(Courtesy of Lisa Everitt via Sue Downey)

Serves 6 to 8

INGREDIENTS:

4 to 6 chicken breasts, cooked and then chopped

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 large container sour cream

1 package taco seasoning

3 cups cheddar cheese

1 large package tortilla chips

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan (or larger) with cooking spray.

Line the pan with the tortilla chips. Layer the cooked, chopped chicken over the chips in the pan.

Mix together the soups, sour cream, taco seasoning and about 2 cups shredded cheese, and pour over the chicken and chips. (if making a large amount, Sue adds one-half to a whole soup can of water to make it saucier).

Top with remaining cheese and bake uncovered until heated through, about 30 to 45 minutes.