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~Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Cauliflower Rice Casserole~

IMG_7441'Twas the day after Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse.  After all the holiday cooking and cleanup, mom was so exhausted she declared it HER holiday.  She took a casserole out of the freezer and let it thaw on the counter for the afternoon. She popped it in the oven at 4:00PM, everyone enjoyed a wonderful meal around 5:00PM, and, by 6:00PM mom was lounging in her favorite chair, sipping a G&T, watching a movie.

Every cook, every where, needs, at the very least, one, hearty, relatively easy-to-make, go-to casserole recipe that can be counted on to please and feed a crowd.  This is mine.  There are as many versions of the 1980's era Chicken, Broccoli and Rice Casserole recipe "out there" as there are Cub Scout den mothers, which is how I came to start making it for my family thirty-plus years ago.  That said, all versions arrive at a point where they head in one of two directions: the cream of chicken soup version (which was introduced by the Campbell's Soup Company in the 1940's), and, the Cheez-Whiz version (which was introduced by Kraft Foods in the 1950's).

IMG_7468The many reasons (I have) to love this casserole:

This is a super-yummy, creamy-cheesy wonderful family-style dinner.  It pairs great with tomato soup and/or a Caesar salad. It's perfect to serve at a ladies lunch or a festive brunch and it holds up really well on a buffet table (it even tastes great at room temperature).  It travels well too.  Men, women and kids love it, which makes it a great meal to take to tailgate or a pot luck school event or church-supper.  It gets everyone to eat vegetables.  Leftovers?  If you have a microwave at your place of work and this casserole leftover in the refrigerator, you'll be looking forward to brown bagging lunch.  All you need is one stockpot to prepare it, and, as an added bonus, if you double the recipe, it takes no extra time to make two: bake one and freeze one for a later date.

6a0120a8551282970b019aff73c661970bDon't be quick to judge my use of Cheez-Whiz, instead of making My Basic Cheddar Cheese Sauce for Vegetables, until you've tasted this dish.  Trust me when I tell you, Cheez-Whiz used in this recipe is not only not a compromise, it's a fantastic time-saver (which is kind of the point when making a week-night casserole).  If it's all scratch-made you desire, feel free to make my sauce -- it's delightful.  That said, I've never served this casserole anywhere that everyone wasn't thrilled with it -- just as it is.

Super-yummy & relatively-easy is what makes a great casserole.

IMG_73792 1/2-3  pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders (5-6 cups cooked, diced chicken)

32-ounces chicken broth

2  10.8-ounce steam-in-bag frozen broccoli florets, cooked according to package directions (4 cups steamed broccoli florets)

2  10.8-ounce steam-in-bag cauliflower florets, cooked according to package directions (4 cups steamed cauliflower florets)

12-ounces diced yellow or sweet onion

6-ounces salted butter, total throughout recipe (1 1/2 sticks/12 tablespoons)

1 1/2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

2  cups uncooked basmati rice, steamed in a rice cooker (Note:  The nutty flavor of basmati rice is far and above better than the usual extra-long-grained rice typically used to make this casserole.  Trust me on this point.)

2  15-ounce jars Cheeze Whiz Cheese Dip

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dishes

IMG_7325 IMG_7325 IMG_7325 IMG_7325 IMG_7325 IMG_7325 IMG_7325 IMG_7325~Step 1.  Place the chicken tenderloins in a wide bottomed 4-quart stockpot with enough chicken broth to cover (32 ounces).  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Partially cover, reduce heat and simmer, until the chicken is just cooked through, 6-7 minutes. Drain and transfer chicken to a cutting board.  Slice chicken into bite-sized pieces, transfer to a medium-large bowl and set aside.

IMG_7368 IMG_7368 IMG_7368 IMG_7368~Step 2.  Working one-bag-at-a-time steam broccoli florets in microwave according to package directions. Remove from microwave and carefully open the bag.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer florets to a plate that has been lined with several layers of paper-towels.  Allow broccoli to drain thoroughly.  When cool enough to handle with hands, transfer broccoli to a cutting board and rough-chop into large bite-sized pieces.  Set aside.  Repeat process with the cauliflower florets.

IMG_7349 2 IMG_7349 2 IMG_7349 2 IMG_7349 2 IMG_7349 2 IMG_7349 2~Step 3.  Return stockpot to stovetop.  Over low heat, melt 6 tablespoons butter and stir in the black pepper.  Add the onion and increase heat to sauté, until onion softens, 5-6 minutes.  Turn heat off (temporarily) and leave stockpot on stovetop.  

IMG_7381 2 IMG_7381 2 IMG_7381 2 IMG_7381 2 IMG_7381 2~Step 4.  Using a standard 1-cup measure, (not the cup/measure from the rice steamer), place rice in steamer.  Again, using a standard measure, add 2 cups of water to the steamer.  Turn on, to steam.  When the steamer shuts off, the rice should be firm and just slightly undercooked. Open the steamer's lid and add the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter. Rake through rice with a fork until the butter is melted and the grains are evenly coated in butter. "Raking rice" is term used to describe the last step of cooking rice on the stovetop.

IMG_7386 IMG_7386 IMG_7386 IMG_7386 IMG_7386 IMG_7386 IMG_7386 IMG_7386~Step 5. After the rice is done steaming, add the Cheez-Whiz to the onion mixture.  Over low heat, stirring constantly, mix until the mixture is thick and smooth.  Turn the heat off.   Add and stir in the diced chicken, followed by all of the steamed rice.  Add and very gently fold in the steamed and chopped broccoli and cauliflower florets.  Remove stockpot from the stovetop.

IMG_7419 IMG_7419Step 6.  Transfer mixture into a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick.  At this point, casserole can be covered with plastic and refrigerated up to three days prior to baking or frozen for a later date.    When ready to bake:

IMG_7426 IMG_7426~ Step 7.  Cover casserole with foil.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven 20-25 minutes.  Uncover and bake an additional 20-25 minutes, or, until lightly browned on top, bottom and around edges. Cool 5-10 minutes prior to serving hot.

Casserole beauty is in the eye of the beholder of the casserole:

IMG_7434Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Cauliflower Rice Casserole:  Recipe yields 1, 13" x 9" x 2" casserole, 12-16 servings , 12 total cups and/or 3 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; large slotted spoon; plastic wrap (optional); electric rice steamer; 13" x 9" x 2" (preferably glass) baking dish or 3-quart casserole; aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b0168e8d40b78970cCook's Note: Prior to baking, the casseroles can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated, up to 3 days prior to baking and serving, or, frozen for up to 6 months.  In either case, remove casseroles from refrigerator or freezer and return to room temperature prior to baking according to above directions.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)


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