Monday, September 29, 2014

Spinach and Rice Casserole

Another recipe for my Greek class. It draws from the very popular Spanakopita which is a Greek spinach pie. Spanakopita is made with phyllo dough but that's not the easiest thing to deal with for beginning cooks. Here, we make it easier by mixing the spinach filling with some brown rice. This is a stick-to-your-ribs vegetarian entree.

Frozen spinach comes in packages ranging from 10 oz to 16 oz. Use whatever you can find. You do need to thaw it and drain it, but no need to squeeze out the water, as is usually done with spinach filling recipes.

Spinach and Rice Casserole
(serves 6-8)

about 5 cups cooked brown rice*

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained

4 eggs
1 cup low fat or whole milk
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, about 4 oz.
1 cup crumbled feta cheese, about 4 oz.
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
2 Tablespoons chopped dill
1 teaspoon salt or more to taste
½ teaspoon black pepper

non-stick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and spinach. Cook for a few minutes until heated through. Remove from the heat, transfer to a large bowl, and allow to cool for a few minutes, so you don't scramble the eggs when you mix them into the spinach. Spray a 9" x 13" baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Beat the milk into the eggs. Add this and the remaining ingredients into the spinach and stir to combine. Spread into the baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 10 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature; refrigerate any leftovers.

*Cook 1 ¾ cups raw brown rice in 3 ¼ cups water to yield 5 cups of rice. Depending on the rice, they take 40-50 minutes to cook. If you cooked the rice ahead and it is cold, zap it for a minute to warm it up. Precooked brown rice cooks up in less time than white rice and is a good option if you want this dish in under an hour. Check the box for how much rice you need to cook because the yield is different than for raw brown rice.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pastitsio - Greek Baked Pasta

This is a Greek version of lasagna. It is similar to many Italian versions except:
  • It is not made with flat noodles. It's always made with elbow macaroni.
  • The red meat sauce, usually lamb but could be beef,  is flavored with cinnamon.
  • It isn't heavy on cheese. The richness comes from a cheaters* béchamel, a white sauce made with milk and enriched with eggs.
It is familiar, and yet not. The cinnamon is the secret flavor which makes it totally unlike any Italian lasagna.

This recipe makes a lot. It's rather a production, so that's a good thing. You can freeze it or you can share it with your friends. You can eat it for breakfast, if you like. I have!

Because there are a number of components and steps, it's important to read through the whole recipe to understand what happens when. You want to wait until you are ready to assemble the casserole to cook the pasta. Otherwise, it will be over-cooked and mushy.

(serves 8-10)

Meat Sauce
½ Tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground beef or ground lamb, or a combination of the two
1 large onion, chopped
½ cup dry red wine
½ cup tomato sauce
3 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained

1 pound elbow macaroni
salt for pasta cooking water

White Sauce
2 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
½ cup cold water
3 cups whole milk
¾ teaspoon salt
4 eggs, beaten in a medium bowl

2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
ground cinnamon for garnish
non-stick cooking spray

Spray a 9"x13" lasagne pan with cooking spray. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground meat and cook until starting to brown. Drain off the fat to leave about 1 Tablespoon. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, under softened. Add the remaining meat sauce ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the remaining components are complete. Make sure to taste it for salt. If the sauce is bland, the casserole will be bland, so season well.

While the sauce is simmering, bring a pot of salted water to boil. 

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Dissolve the cornstarch in water. Add the milk, cornstarch, water, and salt to the saucepan. Cook until the sauce starts to thicken, stirring to prevent sticking and scorching. The sauce will not thicken until the milk comes to a boil. Remove the sauce from the heat and pour about 1 cup of it into the beaten eggs, stirring to combine. Then add the rest of the sauce to the eggs, mixing well. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cook the macaroni until just under-done, about 7-8 minutes. Drain well. Place ½ the macaroni in the lasagne pan. Pour the meat sauce evenly over the macaroni. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the grated cheese. Spread on the rest of the macaroni. Pour the white sauce over the pasta, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese and  ground cinnamon. Bake for 45 minutes. Let sit for 5 minutes before trying to cut.

Tastes even better reheated the next day.

*It's a cheaters version because a classic béchamel is thickened with a roux, a mix of butter and flour. This one uses cornstarch, which also helps to stabilize the proteins in the eggs, keeping them from scrambling in the hot sauce.

Monday, September 22, 2014

School of Eating Good, Inc. officially a not-for-profit charity

Sorry about the lack of recipes here lately. It will be picking up shortly. The School is giving a class on Greek food tomorrow evening at CU and those recipes will be up this week. I've been traveling quite a bit, so no time for testing and posting. Don't worry - we haven't gone away.

In fact, great news came our way from the Internal Revenue Service - how often does that happen?! School of Eating Good, Inc. was granted tax exempt status under section 501(c)(3). Which means that we do not have to pay income tax and you can make donations to support our mission and your donations are tax-deductible (if you pay US income taxes). This is a big step because it makes our mission as an educational organization more legit. We can start planning some interesting new initiatives, raising money for these, and bringing food education to even more people.

To get you primed for the Greek recipes coming later this week, here's a recipe that jazzes up plain white rice in a Greek way: with the addition of dill and lemon. I am not a fan of dried dill. Like its cousin cilantro, it loses most of its flavor when it is dried. I recommend you buy a big bunch (it's in season right now), chop it, and freeze it. You'll have fresh dill all winter long.

Lemon-Dill Rice
(serves 4-6)

2 Tablespoons olive oil
½ medium onion, chopped
1 cup white rice
zest of ½ a lemon
juice of ½ a lemon, about 1 ½ Tablespoons
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 ¾ cups water

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, a couple of minutes. Add the rice and sauté for another minute. Add the remaining ingredients, stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low to maintain a simmer and cover. Cook for 18-20 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Recipe adapted from Lemon-Dill Rice, #250959 at

Illustration: "Illustration Anethum graveolens0". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons