Friday, March 6, 2009

Spinach Rice Casserole: Play With Your Food

Occasionally, I find a dish I mostly like, but doesn’t completely sell me. Inevitably, it'll be moderately tasty, but there are one or two elements that knock it from a solid A to a less-impressive B-minus. And then, the demands of blogging / working (/ showering / sleeping / listening to hours of Heart videos / drooling) prevent me from trying it again. It’s a bummer, but thus is life.

Then, along came Spinach Rice Casserole from Tammy’s Recipes. The first time I made it, I followed the recipe to the letter. And the inaugural bite elicited the following reaction:

“Wow. This exceeds all my expectations. I really like how the fresh spinach plays off the cheddar, while the rice lends it some heft beyond a quiche, making it more suitable for dinner. Also, I think the … FOR THE LOVE OF BEA ARTHUR, HOW MUCH SALT IS IN THIS THING?”

It took a minute, but once the salt and Worcestershire sauce hit the tongue, they overwhelmed the other flavors. Not so much that the casserole was inedible, but enough to make me want a glass of water, stat.

Still, beyond that relatively minor issue, the dish had crazy potential. So, a few nights later, I took another shot, and changed a few things around for health/to my taste. I:
  • substituted two egg whites for one of the eggs
  • swapped 2% cheese in for full-fat cheese
  • switched in brown rice for white rice
  • halved the salt (though you could go even lower)
  • halved the Worcestershire sauce
And? MAN it was good. Those minor tweaks catapulted the casserole from Merely Acceptable to Rotation Worthy. Which lead me to this sweeping, giant, somewhat hastily-considered decision about all recipes, everywhere: if you’re 75% on a meal, play around. Odds are you can get it to at least 90%, which in my book merits an A-minus / moderate college scholarship .

If you decide to go ahead here, a few things to know:

1) In a pinch, I’m pretty sure frozen spinach would work in this, but it wouldn’t be nearly as good. Fresh wilted leaves add just as much texture as flavor, and the frozen stuff, being much mushier, will compromise the bite.

2) Buy a block of cheese and shred it yourself. It’s worth it. Trust me.

3) You’re gonna need a side dish. The casserole is substantial, but needs an addition to make it a full meal. We used bananas, because – why not?

And with that, happy weekend, everybody!

Spinach Rice Casserole
Adapted from Tammy’s Recipes
4 servings

9 or 10 ounces fresh spinach leaves
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons of fresh, minced onion
1 cup cooked brown rice (measurement is after cooking, not before)
1 cup (4 ounces) 2% sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/3 cup 2% milk
1 egg, beaten
2 egg whites, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Cooking spray

1) Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray an 8x8 baking dish with cooking spray.

2) Heat a large pan or nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add spinach and water. Cover. Cook a few minutes, until spinach is wilted, stirring occasionally.

3) "In a large mixing bowl, combine all other ingredients." Stir. Add spinach. Stir again. Pour everything into the baking dish.

4) Bake 35-40 minutes, until top looks golden brown and it's not mushy in the middle. You can test this with a knife, fork, or toothpick.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
200 calories, 11.4 g fat, $0.94

9 or 10 ounces fresh spinach leaves: 65 calories, 1.1 g fat, $1.99
1 tablespoon water: negligible calories and fat, free
2 tablespoons of fresh, minced onion: 8 calories, 0 g fat, $0.06
1 cup cooked brown rice (measurement is after cooking, not before): 216 calories, 1.8 g fat, $0.11
1 cup (4 ounces) 2% sharp cheddar cheese, shredded: 360 calories, 36 g fat, $1.00
1/3 cup 2% milk: 41 calories, 1.6 g fat, $0.08
1 egg, beaten: 74 calories, 5 g fat, $0.13
2 egg whites, beaten: 34 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.25
1/2 teaspoon salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce: 3 calories, 0 g fat, $0.11
TOTAL: 801 calories, 45.6 g fat, $3.74
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 200 calories, 11.4 g fat, $0.94

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Moxie said...

MMMMmmmmmmmmmm...looks GOOD! Fruit is a GREAT side dish :) Thank you for the new recipe!

Erin said...

Hey, thanks for tinkering with this! I read about it in your Menu Planning entry a few days ago and bought all the ingredients...I was going to make it tonight: now I'll take it much easier on the salt.

Marn, eh said...

I read about this one in your meal planning post, too.

I'll try it your way next week.

I thought it might be fun to pull it in a Greek direction. To make it healthier, I swapped in brown basmati rice. I swapped out 1/4 of the cheese for feta cheese and threw in two cloves of minced garlic.

My spousal unit and both loved it, but then we both love anything with spinach and garlic.

Thanks for posting the recipe!

BusterFrito said...

It sounds great! I agree about the fresh spinach instead of frozen. It makes it all the better. What about soymilk instead of regular. I use soymilk in pancake batter and it works just fine. I wonder how it would work in this dish?

Kris said...

Marn, eh - sounds like a great version. Feta makes the world go 'round, y'know?

Buster - I think it would work. Maybe unsweetened a bit better than sweetened? Not sure.

Anonymous said...

if you had a recipe that called for white rice and you wanted to substitute brown rice instead, how much longer should you cook it? i have a really yummy rice a roni dish with chicken and salsa and corn but i don't think i would be able to figure out how to make up a new recipe entirely. here is the recipe i am trying to change!

please help :(

Baby Signs(R) With Elizabeth ICI, INC. said...

This looks perfect! I have spinach and feta to use, but every other recipe calls for an insane amount of cheese and bread (not that those wouldn't be tasty). I started cooking some brown rice and was hoping I'd run across a recipe like this :) Your picture is mouth watering, gotta love that crisp golden outside. I think I'll substitute a little of the cheddar for some feta and have this for dinner tonight!

Anonymous said...

this time around, i'm going with fat free cheddar and instead of the milk, fat free sour cream. i did a little more rice and also added some chopped onion and paprika.

Bob@emedoutlet said...

It looks and seems yummy. It's healthy also. But I am big fan of chicken. Without pieces of chickens, my meal remains incomplete. How about adding some soft chicken pieces? I would love to give it a try.