Baked Chicken Chili Brown Rice Casserole: Or, How to Clean Out Your Fridge in Style

When I first moved into my apartment, I was talking to my roommates about how I wanted to batch cook so that I could have quick freezer meals without having to cook every single night of the week. One of them responded that she didn't want to be forced into eating the same thing all week, which is understandable - but batch cooking and monotony are not one in the same. I find it extremely satisfying to come up with a weekly meal plan in which the recipes complement each other, using similar ingredients yet delivering widely different dishes. Having leftovers doesn't mean that I will be eating the same exact thing the next night - it means I have an extra serving of food that can challenge me to come up with a new way of enjoying it (or, you know, freeze for a month down the road - either way).

This recipe for Chicken Chili Brown Rice Casserole is a more structured example of how I do this. Most of the time, I take a leftover ingredient or even a full leftover portion of a meal, and just throw it into a skillet and see what happens, or put it between two slices of bread or on top some salad greens. However, I found this recipe online, and actually planned to have it as a part of my weekly dinner line-up to incorporate extra chili and chicken I would have on hand from recipes earlier in the week. I have to tell you, if you make this from 100% leftover ingredients (I had to make the rice from scratch), this is throw-together-cooking at its finest, with a generous dollop of comfort food and enjoyment thrown on top. 

I found the sum to be a little underwhelming compared to its individual components, but I chalk that up mostly to a no-frills approach to the chicken and rice components, along with a fairly subdued chili (as far as chili is concerned). I added some spices at the end to counter this, but I can't begin to tell you how over-the-top this would be if you had already flavored leftovers in the chicken and rice departments - it's hard with Leftover Cooking to say that next time I'll plan anything, but if I am able to plan my next use of this recipe, I will definitely make it on a week when I have some bangin' chicken and rice to use up. I will also be making it in a smaller, deeper baking dish and potentially even adding some more cheese (certainly couldn't heart, right?). But the best part about this is that you'll really never make it the same exact way twice - it will change and transform itself depending on what you happen to have on hand. Its beauty is in its versatility, a word I probably use too much on here, but one that is so crucial in cooking, especially when you're doing it in big batches just for yourself or you and one other person. If I can take a recipe and switch it up infinitely depending on the season, weather, my mood, and the contents of my refrigerator, it's a keeper. This casserole, right here, is definitely a keeper.

Baked Chicken Chili Brown Rice Casserole, courtesy of Gluten Free Goddess
Yield: 4 servings

The Ingredients
2 cups cooked brown rice
2 heaping cups leftover chili
1 - 1 1/2 cups cooked chicken pieces
3-4 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
fresh (or dried!) herbs of your choosing*

The Method
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly oil an 8x8 inch casserole or baking dish**.

Spread the brown rice along the bottom of the dish and top with the chili - don't skimp on any juices that may have developed, either! Pour it all in. Add the chicken pieces in an even layer on top, scatter with the halved tomatoes, and top it all off with the cheese and herbs.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, removing only when the center has heated through, the cheese has melted, and you can see bubbly juices from the chili along the edges of the dish.

*The original poster suggests basil, parsley, or cilantro - but I say go with whatever pairs nicely with the rest of your leftover ingredients. I used cilantro.
**I halved this recipe and still made it in an 8x8, so I would assume that making the full batch in this size dish would be perfect.

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