- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2006

A new year has begun, but soon we’ll be dealing with last year’s splurges and indulgences, either on the waistline or in the checkbook — or both. It’s time to scale back a bit and opt for less rather than more so we can get back to a more comfortable size and spend less money.

This comforting casserole is just what the finance doctor ordered. It’s meatless but still substantial, what with the addition of broccoli, rice and cheese. Add a green salad, some fruit and possibly bread, and you have a complete meal that will please all ages, even finicky children.

My mother used to prepare this recipe for dinner guests and serve it alongside steak or fried chicken, but my children like it on its own. They dig into it just as they might dive into a plateful of macaroni and cheese. A bonus is that it bakes in 30 minutes and leftovers reheat beautifully for lunch or dinner the next day.

Five meatless dinner ideas

• Make lentil soup with carrots, onions, garlic and potatoes.

• Cook black beans and serve over white rice with chopped onion, salsa and sour cream.

• Bake your favorite macaroni and cheese and stir in green peas.

• Pull out your favorite French cookbook and whip up a cheese souffle, using whatever cheese you have on hand in the fridge.

• Don’t forget simple spaghetti and marinara sauce. As a splurge, add grated Parmesan cheese.

Mom’s broccoli and rice casserole

2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped broccoli

1 cup instant rice

1 10.75-ounce can cream of mushroom soup

½ cup processed cheese spread or shredded cheddar cheese (see note)

1/3 cup milk

Pinch of black pepper or hot pepper sauce

½ cup shredded cheddar cheese for the top

Place frozen broccoli in a microwave-safe dish and microwave on high power until broccoli thaws enough to be broken up, 2 minutes.

Transfer broccoli and its liquid to a 13-by-9-inch (3-quart) glass or ceramic baking dish and place in preheated 375-degree oven to continue thawing while you continue with the recipe.

Place rice, mushroom soup, ½ cup cheese spread or cheddar cheese, milk and pepper or hot pepper sauce in a large mixing bowl. Stir until well combined. Mixture will be thick.

Remove baking dish from oven and, using a wooden spoon, spread broccoli evenly over bottom of dish. It is fine if broccoli is still a little frozen. Spoon rice mixture over broccoli in an even layer. Sprinkle remaining ½ cup cheddar cheese on top.

Return baking dish to center rack of oven and bake casserole until bubbling throughout and lightly browned around edges, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve casserole at once or cover it with aluminum foil and let it rest for up to 20 minutes before serving. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Note: If you use shredded cheddar instead of processed cheese spread, use ½ cup instead of 1/3 cup milk.


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