Monday, July 25, 2011

Joey's Chicken Florentine Casserole

I was recently in the mood for some comfort food, but I didn't want the usual mac n cheese or mashed potatoes. I figured a casserole would be the way to go, and decided to make it with rice instead of noodles. So I threw a few things together in a pan, made a sauce, and BOOM! we have a new recipe! Isn't it fun how that works? I was going for convenience since I already had most of the ingredients on hand, and actually, it was pretty inexpensive over all. Not only that, I'm sure you could feed a crowd with it. But the most important thing is that it was just thing to hit the spot! Delicious! I love it when a plan comes together, don't you? :)
Try it!

1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2  10 oz pkgs frozen chopped spinach, thawed
3 or 4 boneless chicken breasts
4 tbs butter
1/2 cup flour
3 cups milk
a couple pinches of nutmeg
8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
6 cups cooked long grain rice
Salt and pepper

Heat oven to 350F.
In a large skillet, over medium heat, saute onions until they become soft. Add garlic and continue to saute. Squeeze any extra water out of the spinach and add it to the onions. Stir them together for a minute or two. Remove them to a bowl. Set aside. Cut chicken into small pieces. Dredge the pieces in seasoned flour. Add a little oil to the pan and add the chicken in two batches. Brown the chicken on all sides, but don't cook it all the way through. When the chicken is lightly golden, remove it from pan and add to the bowl with the spinach. In the same pan, melt the butter, then whisk in the flour, making sure to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Let it cook for a minute or so, then whisk in the milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper. When it thickens, add half of the cheese. Stir until smooth. Now it's time to put it all together.
 There's really no right or wrong way to assemble the casserole. A, you can place all the rice in a greased 9x13 dish, then layer the other ingredients on top. (just as you would make Broccoli Rice Casserole). B, you can mix the sauce with the rice and then spread half the rice mixture in the greased casserole dish, then layer the chicken and spinach over it, followed by the other half of the rice mixture on top. Or C, you could even throw everything into a big bowl, mix the whole works together and pour it into your casserole dish. It'll turn out fine any way you do it. (As you can see, I opted for plan B.) Bake it for about 30-40  minutes or until bubbly, topping the casserole with the reserved cheese just at the last 10 minutes. Let it sit for about 15 minutes after you take it out of the oven to give it a chance to set up. 

If you like mushrooms, feel free to add them to the onions when you saute. 
I used leftover cooked rice. If you're cooking your rice just for this dish, do that first before you start the recipe. The rice will be ready by the time you're ready to assemble the dish. Also, use chicken stock or bouillon to cook the rice instead of water. It makes a HUGE difference! Oh, and I know it's usually an option to add butter to the rice when you cook it, but don't. There's plenty enough butter in the sauce.
If you're not feeling the Moneterey Jack, choose another cheese that melts really well.
Make sure you season as you go. Every component needs to be seasoned well, otherwise your casserole will be bland. Season the onions and spinach as you saute. Season the flour with salt, pepper and garlic powder before you dredge the chicken. And season the sauce with lots of salt and pepper, even bouillon granules or a splash of white wine.
Be sure to take the time to let it set up after you remove it from the oven. It's really a much nicer presentation if you cut it into squares. Besides, if you eat it as soon as you take it out of the oven, you'll burn your tongue.

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