Brown Rice, Spinach, and Feta Casserole

Just one short week ago this happened.

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Sitting on the swing in the backyard soaking up some much needed vitamin D and remembering what it feels like to forgo the puffy coat. People were coming out of the woodwork to enjoy the weather it seemed and, honestly, can you blame them? Lola was a trooper this winter; she patiently navigated a path in the backyard to do her business despite snow piles 5 times her height. She provided much needed (and much appreciated) snuggles to her perpetually cold mama and single-handedly contributed to a reduction in our heating bills at night.

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The least I can do for this beautiful girl is indulge her desire to play ball. I am convinced that she understands English and there’s no convincing me otherwise. When asked she will bring her ball and leap with excitement while simultaneously anticipating where you will throw it. Such a smart girl. I love her like crazy.

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 Plus, she can fly! I often get a kick out of watching her leap through the yard but I have never quite caught her in the act so perfectly.

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On this particular day she ran and leapt with a gigantic smile on her face. She truly enjoys every moment of being outside; the sun, the company, the activity. She exudes utter bliss when playing fetch or stretching out on the patio soaking up the sun; I think I could learn a lot from her.

The memory of this afternoon in the sun is holding me over during an April flash snow event. Oh well, the snow will be gone in a day or two and I squeezed in one last warm, comforting casserole before changing gears (for good) to Spring foods. This play on chicken and rice takes a Mediterranean twist by including spinach and feta. I dreamed this baby up while driving home from the grocery store the other day; you just never know when inspiration will strike. While it is not the most colorful or beautiful dish, it is absolutely positively scrumptious. And absolutely positively a perfect dish to make for someone you love.

Ingredients

  • 1 c. brown rice
  • 2 c. water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 1 pound)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 2 (6 oz.) packages fresh baby spinach
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 c. low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 c. crumbled feta cheese
  • Salt/pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare rice according to package instructions; I used 2 c. water and 1 c. rice and made it several days in advance. Cooked rice stores very well in the refrigerator.

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Grab a big sauce pan and warm olive oil over medium heat. Season chicken breast with salt/pepper and add to the pan.

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Cook the chicken 5-8 minutes on each side, or until completely cooked. Set aside to cool.

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Next, add diced onion and a little bit of salt/pepper to the same pan you cooked the chicken in; add a little more olive oil if needed. Saute onion for approximately 8 minutes, or until translucent. Add garlic and red pepper flakes; cook until fragrant, about one minute.

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Add spinach in batches and toss with tongs frequently until wilted.

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It looks like a lot of spinach at first but it will wilt down considerably. To make the sauce: melt the butter then whisk in flour to make a thickener; cook for 3 minutes to remove the raw flour taste. Add vegetable broth and cook over medium heat until the sauce thickens and coats the back of a spoon, stirring often. Add mozzarella cheese and season with salt/pepper.

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Once chicken is cooled, dice into bite size pieces. Combine brown rice, chicken, and spinach mixture.

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Add the sauce and pour into a large casserole dish.

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Top with feta cheese and a little extra pepper for good measure.

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Bake the casserole for 30 minutes until it is bubbly around the edges and the feta is golden brown. Let sit 5 minutes before serving.

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Holy moly the salty bite from the feta with the creamy texture of the sauce is irresistible; my husband and I both had seconds! Enjoy!

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