Rice and Bean Casserole with Guacamole

Over the summer while we were on vacation at the beach, we made a recipe from Eat Live Run for Rice and Bean Casserole with Guacamole.

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This recipe stood out for a few reasons. The ingredients were cheap and easy to transport (nothing has to be refrigerated). It looked easy to adapt, easy to prepare, and easy to clean up. I was nervous to try a new recipe while traveling, but it turned out to be an excellent meal.

We followed the basic casserole directions (omitting the cumin and the garlic powder because we didn’t have any on hand). We added a few fresh veggies to the casserole for texture and flavor. I minced four cloves of garlic, diced a whole onion, and sliced two cups of baby bell peppers. I sautéed the garlic, onion, and peppers in olive oil until they were softened and began to caramelize and we added these to the casserole before baking. When the casserole was done, we sprinkled cheddar cheese on top and popped it back into the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese.

For the guacamole, I omitted the jalapeño and cumin because we didn’t have any on hand. Instead, I added a clove of minced garlic, a few minced baby bell peppers, and some chili powder. I also chopped tomatoes to serve alongside the casserole.

The best part of the casserole was that Artie prepared the casserole while I made the peppers and the guacamole. Then, the casserole baked for 90 minutes while we went to the beach to watch the sunset and dinner was ready when we got back to the house.

My family gave the casserole rave reviews. They did serve it alongside grilled brats and burgers (because, let’s face it, my brothers have a hard time imagining a meal that doesn’t include meat) but they liked it nonetheless.

We’ve made this casserole several times since vacation – probably at least twice a month. We really like it because we can pop it in the oven and then clean the house or work on other projects while dinner is cooking. If you are looking for an easy, affordable meal that pleases a crowd, I would recommend giving this casserole a try.

Roasted Veg and Polenta Casserole

I made this meal a few weeks ago when I had friends over to watch Glee.  I had a large container of leftover roasted veggies in the refrigerator and at first I was going to serve the veggies over polenta but then, in a stroke of genius, I came up with the idea for this casserole.  The girls seemed to think it was pretty good (either that, or they didn’t want to hurt my feelings).

Start by making four serving of polenta according to the package directions.  Add a handful or two of shredded cheddar cheese to the polenta (mozzarella would work well, too, but I used what I had on hand).  Spread a layer of the polenta on the bottom of a baking dish.  Don’t make the layer too thick (you probably won’t use all four servings).

Top the polenta with a thin layer of marinara sauce.  I used Trader Joe’s Roasted Garlic Marinara.  Oh my gosh.  So good.  So fragrant and garlicky.  I’m going to have to go back to TJ’s and get more.  Stat.

Top with marinara with a few handfuls of roughly chopped spinach and a drizzle of marinara.

Top the spinach with a giant pile of roasted vegetables (probably a few cups worth).  I used sweet potatoes, eggplant, mushrooms, and broccoli.  There is a quick explanation of how to roast vegetables at the end of this post.

Top the roasted veggies with another layer of marinara sauce.

Top the marinara sauce with a sprinkle of extra sharp cheddar cheese (again, you could use mozzarella cheese, but I had cheddar on hand).

Place the casserole on a baking sheet and bake at 350 until the cheese is melted and the casserole is hot and bubbly.

I didn’t get a picture of the casserole after it was served because I was too busy devouring what was on my plate!  I’m a big fan of casseroles and this one didn’t disappoint – the polenta was creamy and cheesy, the vegetables had great flavor from being roasted, and the tomato sauce tied the two together perfectly.  All in all, I would say it was a success and I would be happy to make it (and serve it to guests) again!

I’m hoping to do a separate post with pictures of how to roast vegetables, but for now here is a quick explanation.  Not all vegetables roast at the same rate, so for this recipe, cook the vegetables in two batches – first the sweet potato and eggplant, then the broccoli and mushrooms.

Chop a large sweet potato and a medium eggplant into 1/2-inch cubes.  Toss the sweet potato and the eggplant with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Spread the sweet potato and eggplant in a single layer on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Bake at 450 for 35 minutes or until the eggplant and sweet potato are tender when poked with a fork.

Chop a crown of broccoli into equal sized florets.  Quarter eight ounces of baby bella mushrooms.  Toss the broccoli and mushrooms with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Spread the broccoli and mushrooms in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake at 450 for 15 minutes or until the broccoli and mushrooms are cooked but not mushy.  Watch the broccoli carefully because it doesn’t take much to burn the florets.