Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Broccoli Cheese Casserole

Now that we're back from America, I'm trying to get my family back into our regular eating habits. One of the side effects of being home for a month was eating a large amount of meat, which I suppose can be good occasionally to boost our iron stores that tend to get low here. Although we like to eat vegetarian most days of the week, in the cold months I'm always trying to strike a balance between veggie mains and hearty dishes that keep you warm and full for a while. I think this casserole does it. A canned soup version was often a side dish at potlucks during my childhood, but I think this one can stand on its own as the star performer of a cozy winter meal. I found this recipe at Salad in a Jar (which is such a cool idea by the way!), but made some minor changes to replicate my favorite flavors from Chicken Divan into a veggie dish.

Broccoli Cheese Casserole
2 small to medium broccoli heads (about 4 cups chopped)
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 thin stalks celery, finely chopped (optional)
3/4 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
2 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
2 cups cheese, grated
1 1/4 cups cooked rice (even a little undercooked is okay)

After washing and chopping the broccoli, steam for 3-5 minutes or blanch them for 1-2 minutes (I like it to still have bite after cooking).  Rinse in cool water to stop the cooking. Melt butter in a saucepan over med-low heat and add the onions, garlic, celery, and mushrooms to the pan. Cook until the onions become translucent and the water from the mushrooms has evaporated. Sprinkle the flour over the pan and stir for 1-2 minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. Pour in the milk, stirring to get rid of any lumps. Bring the sauce up to a boil and then simmer until it begins to thicken. Turn off the heat. Add the salt, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted. Add the broccoli and cooked rice to the sauce, and stir gently until everything is nicely coated. If it seems to thick, add milk a spoon at a time. Pour into a greased casserole or Miracle Oven. Bake in a preheated oven at 170C/350F until bubbly. It takes about 20 minutes in the Miracle Oven.

Notes: For the mushrooms, just use whatever you have. In my neighborhood we get big oyster mushrooms so I just used one of those. To minimize waste, go ahead and use some of the broccoli stalk. I sometimes go up to 5 inches down from the florets and still have tender pieces. Just be sure to chop those finely in case there are fibrous bits. And yes, the mayonnaise might sound weird, but it adds a real richness that makes the dish. You could even sprinkle the top with salted biscuits (Ritz-type crackers) before baking for an extra crunch.

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