Mexican Rice Casserole - South of the Border Comfort Food

I have to thank Pam, from "For the Love of Cooking" for this recipe inspiration. Pam loves Mexican food as much as I do. I had all of the ingredients, and I am still emptying out my freezer, so I decided this would be tonight's dinner. I made a few changes, because I have a lot of canned goods in my pantry I want to start using up. If I'm not careful, I tend to hoard food!

From the freezer, I thawed about 1 1/2 pounds of pre-cooked and frozen ground beef. (This is a great time saver for work night cooking).

The rest of my ingredients included El Pato Mexican tomato sauce (can pack some heat) and regular tomato sauce, olive oil, onion, garlic, an orange bell pepper (that was nearing the end of it's life).
My cilantro is thriving in my herb garden, so I cut what I needed.

I really liked Pam's choice of spices, so I decided to mix up a larger batch so that I can use this for other quick Mexican inspired meals:

Cumin, garlic powder, paprika, chili powder and oregano... I save spice jars for my own blends.
I love the colors!

While the rice was cooking (40 minutes of time) I prepared the meat mixture:

Since the meat was pre-cooked, I shoved it off to the side of my non-stick skillet, and I cooked the onion and bell pepper with a little olive oil. Fresh garlic was added, for just 1 minute and then the meat was combined with the cooked vegetables. I added 1 Tablespoon of my Mexican Seasoning. Wow, that smelled good!

Now, for the liquids-- one small can of diced green chili and then the tomato sauces were added (I like a combo if El Pato sauce and regular tomato sauce-- the heat is just right). I didn't have fresh tomatoes, so I used one can of petite diced cut tomatoes. I was so tempted to add corn and sliced black olives, but I resisted. Next time...

I added about 2 cups of brown rice, fresh cilantro, and gave this a stir...

After tasting the meat filling, it was perfect. I didn't feel a need to add salt, pepper or red pepper flakes. Then into a baking dish (coated with olive oil spray)...

Last, a nice layer of cheddar and Monterey Jack was added. You can use any kind of cheese, but this is what I had on hand.

I liked Pam's idea of coating aluminum foil with non-stick spray (clever girl) so that the cheese won't stick.

Into the oven at 350F it went, for 20 minutes. That gave me time to tidy up the kitchen, and whip up some guacamole (I use avocado, salt and pepper, fresh lime juice and a smidgen of minced garlic (or garlic powder).

Pam, you are an inspiration! This was really delicious!

If you haven't paid Pam's blog a visit, please do. She's an amazing cook and quite the photographer.

This recipe is a keeper!

Mexican Rice CasseroleThis dish has a lot of room for improvising. First ...
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