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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