Chicken Quinoa Bake with Broccoli and Cheese

Hi, I’m Holly. Born in a small town in West Tennessee, I’ve lived in the Midsouth for most of my life. After a brief detour to Austin, TX in 2012 I’ve been back in the greater Memphis area since May 2013 and it’s great to be home! I live in a log cabin in North Mississippi with my sweet Arkansas-native boyfriend and a sometimes sweet but mostly spoiled rotten cocker spaniel, Wally. It’s a good life.

On this blog you’ll find little bits of the things I love most: cooking, gardening, and exploring the Midsouth (and maybe even further sometimes!). I’m not now nor have I ever been perfect as evidenced by the batch of quinoa I burnt last night and the two dead azaleas currently residing in our flower beds, but Ce la vie! We’ll learn together!

photo 6I don’t know about you, but I have given in to the slippery slope that is Pinterest. My boo and I have made a sort of serious effort to be healthier in the past few weeks (those 8 mini pies we had for his birthday last weekend do NOT count), and I’ve been a pinning maniac! Some recipes have been yummy, and others have been duds, but that’s the risk you take with Pinterest.

Apparently, I missed the boat when it comes to the trendy grains. I only just discovered quinoa within the past year, and while I do have to swallow hard when I put the tiny $8 bag in my shopping cart, I try to focus on its versatility and that I’m making a healthy choice. Another plus is that it lasts forever in the fridge and when made into a salad, only gets better the longer it marinates.

You can see why I immediately salivated when I came across the following recipe by Damn Delicious. White sauce, gooey cheese, and panko bread crumbs alongside broccoli, quinoa, and chicken so that I can justify the entire dish as healthy? Yes please. While it’s not the skinniest of dishes, it’s definitely better than a full-fat pasta alternative, and so it gets my seal of approval. I know that’s important to everyone!

IngredientsFirst, the ingredients. Now you should know that I don’t totally subscribe to the whole organic foods hullabaloo, and my boyfriend definitely doesn’t (he’s a farm boy at heart). I do try to buy organic fruits and vegetables when they’re on sale (mostly from the farmer’s market when I can make the 45 minute drive to downtown on Saturday mornings), but when it comes to meat, eggs, and dairy the most important factor to me is that it’s fresh and good quality. I’m an almond milk addict, and I always choose free-range eggs. We also keep 2% milk in the house to keep the peace, and that’s what I used in this recipe.

You’ll want to begin with the prep work, but don’t worry, there’s not much of it. Preheat your oven, grease your dish, and get the quinoa on to boil according to the directions on the back (if you can cook rice, you’re already a quinoa master). Slice up your broccoli and when your quinoa has about five minutes left on the clock, add the florets right on top and cover. You may have to turn the heat up a little bit to get the steam rolling, but this will cook your broccoli quickly and you won’t have to dirty up another pan. Two birds, one stone. Smarter, not harder. You know all those things they say.

photo2The recipe says to brown your panko bread crumbs in another pan first, and while I did that this first time around, I won’t when I make it again. They’ll brown in the oven later, so feel free to skip that step altogether. Instead, salt and pepper your chicken really well and brown on both sides until just cooked through (around 3 minutes on each side). Did you know that most professional chefs say that the main mistake most home cooks make is not seasoning their food enough? I’ve found that meat tastes so much better when you generously (and I do mean generously) sprinkle with S&P on both sides, and then let it sit at room temperature for at least ten minutes. I don’t know the physics behind it, and I probably could never prove it, but it just makes things taste better to me so that’s the way I roll.

photo3Once the chicken is browned and out of the pan, it’s white sauce time! Take advantage of the yummy drippings, melt your butter and then add the flour. My secret to a smooth white sauce is to make sure I have just a little bit more fat than flour. It makes the paste that forms really spread all over the pan and that in turn makes it brown and not clump up. Once you’ve cooked the paste for a few minutes and it’s turned a nutty brown color, whisk in the milk and stir until it thickens a bit. You can see that I switched to a wooden spoon as the mixture thickened, and when I could draw a clear line through the back of the spoon when it was coated with sauce, I knew I was good to go. My Nanny taught me that trick.

photo4The rest is just a matter of assembly. Toss the quinoa and broccoli right on top of the white sauce along with the shredded chicken, cheese, and Greek yogurt. Quick note on the yogurt: all I had was vanilla in the fridge, so that’s what I used. I was worried at first, but it turned out just fine! After you’ve stirred it altogether, smooth the mixture out into your pan, cover with a bit of extra cheese, the panko crumbs, and bake at 350 for around 20 minutes. The original recipe only calls for five minutes in the oven, but I found that mind needed longer. This is a matter of taste I think, but I like to crisp up the top and make sure it’s all warmed through and bubbly.

photo 5When it comes out of the oven, you’ve reached the most critical step of the whole recipe: WALK AWAY. Seriously, the dish needs at least ten minutes on the counter to set and reach the pinnacle of casserole yumminess. I won’t lie, it’s gonna be hard, but I promise you can do this. When you come back, it’ll still be warm and ready to serve. Be strong!

We ate half the pan last night, and I have leftovers chilling in the fridge for lunches the rest of the week. The whole process took about an hour, and it’s something I’ll definitely make again. I enjoy cooking on weeknights, even if the recipe is a bit involved, but if you’re not crazy like me this one may be something to save for the weekends. Either way, it’s a somewhat healthy, warm and filling dinner that everyone will love. I mean, you can’t get much homier than broccoli and cheese, can you?

photo 7And just so you know that I am not the cooking guru (I know that’s what you were thinking, right?) here’s one casualty of the meal. I turned my heat up too high when my quinoa and broccoli were finishing up, and the bottom of my saucepan paid the price. I’ve been known to turn the burner up to high heat more often than not, but I’m working on it!

You can find the entire recipe over at Damn Delicious. I just had the leftovers for lunch, and they were mighty fine.

So there you have it: post #1. Let’s meet back here early next week, and I’ll share my farmer’s market adventures from later this week, and maybe even a review of an awesome steakhouse we’ll be trekking to this weekend for a late birthday celebration. My boyfriend keeps talking about the 25oz Ribeyes. Oye!

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