Casserole - a dish that usually consist of pieces of meat (such as chicken) or fish (such as tuna), various chopped vegetables, a starchy binder such as flour, potato or pasta, and, often, a crunchy topping. Liquids are released from the meat and vegetables during cooking, and further liquid in the form of stock, wine (for example coq au vin), beer (for example lapin à la Gueuze), gin, cider or vegetable juice may added when the dish is assembled. Casseroles are cooked slowly in the oven, often uncovered. They may be served as a main course or a side dish, and may be served in the vessel in which they were cooked. Source Wikipedia.
After reading that definition of a casserole, it does not sound very appetizing. Pieces of meat. Starchy binder. Liquids are released from the meat and vegetables. It sounds more like a science experiment than an entree or side dish. And really, making a casserole is somewhat like a science experiment. To prepare a delicious casserole, it is necessary to have the right mix of a meat, like chicken or beef, along with vegetables that do not turn to mush when cooked with rice or pasta and coated in a saucy sauce. And it is important to have the right amount of sauce because no one likes a dry casserole.
In actuality, making a casserole is not too difficult. Most novice cooks start with the basic recipe which uses condensed soup, specifically cream of mushroom, as the base for the dish. Classic examples of soup based casseroles include tuna noodle casserole and the Thanksgiving Day staple of green bean casserole. While I must admit that I have made many a cream of something casserole, I prefer to make my casseroles a bit more modern when I cook today.
Roasted Chicken and Brown Rice Casserole with Spinach and Baby Portebellos is just one such casserole. The traditional condensed soup is replaced with a Swiss cheese based white sauce enhanced with nutmeg and lemon juice. And the casserole is loaded with roasted chicken, fresh spinach and mushrooms. A healthy brown rice stands in for the typical white rice or pasta to add a slightly nutty taste to the dish.
I made this casserole for one of my personal chef clients recently. She kept passing through the kitchen to take a taste or two while the dish cooled on the counter and commented, "This will be our dinner tonight! And what is that I taste in the sauce?" It was the nutmeg that compliments the Swiss cheese so well. I am taking that as an endorsement of this recipe.
Make a casserole for dinner tonight. This one is perfect to serve half for dinner and package up the rest for the freezer. You will be doing the happy dance when you pull this out to serve and all that needs to be done is heating it in the oven.
Chicken and Brown Rice Casserole with Spinach and Baby Portebellos
adapted from a recipe in Cottage Living, September 2005
serves 8 - 10
5 tablespoons butter, divided
1 medium onion, sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 (10-ounce) packages baby portebello mushrooms, sliced
2 (6-ounce) packages prewashed baby spinach
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
2 cups Swiss cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons lemon juice
5 cups cooked brown rice
4 cups cooked, shredded chicken - roast boneless chicken breasts in 375 degree oven for 25 - 30 minutes
In a large saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook for about 6 - 8 minutes. Add the garlic and mushrooms and cook for an additional 8 minutes or until softened. Add half of the spinach and cook, stirring constantly, until spinach begins to wilt. Add remaining spinach and cook to wilt. Remove from pan to a large bowl and set aside.
In the same saucepan over medium high heat, add the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and melt. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook for about 5 minutes, whisking occasionally until mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Remove from heat and whisk in the cheese until melted. Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and lemon juice. Pour cheese mixture over the spinach mushroom mixture and stir to combine. Stir in the rice and chicken. Transfer mixture to a greased 9 x 13 inch (4-quart) casserole dish.
At this point, the dish can be cooled, covered and refrigerated overnight or frozen for up to a month. Either bake as directed below directly from the refrigerator or thaw the frozen casserole for 24 hours in the refrigerator before baking as directed.
Bake, covered with foil in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35 - 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.