Not Your Mom’s Chicken and Broccoli Casserole

Remember how your mom used to make that chicken, broccoli, and Campbell’s cream of mushroom casserole? Remember how delicious it was? A comfort food classic!

Well, I’ve updated it with fresher ingredients, and I think you’ll like the result. While my recipe is a little more involved than throwing canned chicken, frozen broccoli, and canned soup into a casserole dish, it’s really very easy. This one doesn’t dirty many dishes, and makes enough for some leftovers for your lunch (unless you have several kids!). There are a few steps, but the prep time is pretty minimal, making this a great weeknight recipe. Hey, there’s a reason Mom made it so often! And it’s just as satisfying as you remember, without all the salt!

2 large chicken breasts
~1 tsp olive oil
2 cups uncooked brown rice
3 Tbsp butter
1/2 one white onion, finely diced
2 cups cremini mushrooms, chopped
~1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp celery salt
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups broccoli florets, chopped into bite-size pieces
4 heaping Tbsp Greek yogurt
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)

1. Preheat your oven to 325°. On a cookie sheet, lay out a large piece of foil. Place chicken breasts on the foil, and drizzle with olive oil. Tent chicken in the foil and bake for approximately 25 minutes, until chicken is cooked through, tender, and juicy.

2. Meanwhile, prep your other ingredients as above. Start by combining the rice and approximately three and a half cups of lukewarm water in a stock pot and bring it to a boil. Once boiling, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Allow the rice to cook for ten to twelve minutes, until it’s done and almost all of the water has cooked off.

3. While the rice is cooking, begin the vegetables. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium low heat. Add onions and mushrooms and cook for approximately ten minutes, until fragrant. Add balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and celery salt, and stir. Continue cooking for about one or two more minutes, then add chicken broth and stir again. Finally, add the broccoli. Cook for approximately five minutes, or until broccoli is bright green but still somewhat firm.

4. Meanwhile, remove the chicken from the oven. Once it’s done, allow it to cool slightly. Lightly grease a 3 quart baking dish (I use a rectangular Pyrex dish) with olive oil or butter. Cut the chicken into workable pieces, and finish shredding it into rough chunks with your hands, putting the pieces directly into your baking dish.

5. When the rice is done, drain any excess liquid and add the rice to the casserole dish with the chicken. Next, mix in the vegetables and any broth in their pan. Add yogurt, cream, pecans, and more salt and/or pepper, if desired. Mix thoroughly with a large spoon, then use the back side to press the mixture down in the dish to form a casserole of even depth.

6. Place the whole dish back into the oven and bake at 325° for a further 20 minutes. Remove from oven very carefully, and allow to cool on the stove top for about three to five minutes, then serve. Garnish with parsley, sage, sour cream, and/or cheese, if desired.

Serves 6.

Also makes excellent leftovers—just microwave and stir!

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Beef Enchilada Casserole with Chipotles

1 lb. ground beef
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 large white onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 oz. chipotle chiles, finely diced*
1 cup enchilada sauce
4 fresh corn tortillas
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated
sliced black olives, to garnish
sour cream, to taste

1. In a large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add raw beef, breaking it up with your spatula or spoon. Add onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and chipotles, and stir. Cook for approximately 15 minutes, or until beef is thoroughly cooked, stirring frequently.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the enchilada sauce in a separate skillet if you haven’t done so already. Cut the tortillas into strips about one half inch wide, and set aside. Preheat oven to 350° F, and grease a medium casserole pan with a little olive oil (I use a 1.5 quart Pyrex dish).

3. Once the meat is evenly cooked, turn off your burner. Spoon out about one third of the meat directly into the casserole dish. Add a light layer of enchilada sauce, and top with one third of the tortilla strips, criss-crossing them on top of the sauce. Repeat two more times, to use up all of the meat and tortillas. Pour any remaining sauce over the top. Bake at 350° for approximately 25 minutes.

4. Carefully remove the casserole from the oven and place on the stove top. Add the grated cheese to the top in an even layer, and return to the oven for approximately 5 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.

5. Remove the casserole from the oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Plate each serving using a large, flat spatula, trying to keep the shape of the casserole as you ease each piece onto a plate (it’s tricky!). Top with black olives and sour cream, and serve.

This casserole will also keep very well in the fridge for 3-4 days, and makes a rich, hearty meal of leftovers on a weeknight.

*For these, I used the regular old chipotles-in-adobo in a small can (3.5 oz.). If you have fresh chipotles on hand, even better. Also, note: adjust the proportion of chipotles for desired spiciness. Using about half a small can results in a nicely spicy, but not hot, casserole. Use less if you just want a little kick; throw in the whole can if you’re brave like my mom and really enjoy a strong chile flavor.

Not Nigella’s Shepherd’s Pie

The pie.

Okay, so it’s 104° here in Austin (seriously), and I decided to make a shepherd’s pie.  Am I crazy?  Judge for yourself.

British food still has a reputation for being bland. I lived in England for four years, and since returning to Texas in 2005, I have been on a mission to share the diversity of delicious British food with my fellow Americans.

Britain enlightened me to the fact that there are more types of pies than chocolate merengue.  In fact, while the sweet dessert pie is virtually unheard of in the UK, the array of meat pies is astounding: cottage pie, shepherd’s pie, Melton Mowbray pie, chicken and mushroom pie, beef and ale pie, steak and kidney pie.  And don’t forget eel pie.

Before I moved to the UK, I had never eaten lamb. I have often  opined that it would’ve been better never to try it, because I am a stickler for adorable baby animals and lamb is succulent and singular.  Lamb was a revelation.

One weeknight, I had a pound of lamb and a bag of potatoes that needed eating. So I whipped up a delicious pie. The resulting recipe has become a family favorite!  This crispy potato topping is especially tasty.  This dish is perfect for reheating, but be aware that nothing beats a shepherd’s pie straight out of the oven!

Since I adapted this recipe from beloved British food broadcaster Nigella Lawson’s, I decided to call it Not Nigella’s Shepherd’s Pie.  Enjoy—but don’t forget to give Britain credit!

Not Nigella’s Shepherd’s Pie

1 lb. ground lamb
~ 4 cremini mushrooms, chopped
1 shallot, finely diced
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Worcestershire sauce, to taste
2 Tbsp tomato paste, diluted in 1/2 cup water
1/3 cup red wine
pinch of cinnamon
4 medium potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 Tbsp melted butter
additional pat of butter for greasing pan

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. In a large saucepan over medium heat, saute garlic and shallots in olive oil until fragrant (about three minutes). Meanwhile, boil potatoes in salted water in a separate pot.

2. Add lamb to garlic and shallots, breaking it into fine pieces and stirring until brown. Add mushrooms, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce to taste. Once browned, add wine, tomato paste mixture, and cinnamon, and stir thoroughly.

3. Drain and mash potatoes; add cream and about 3/4 melted butter and stir thoroughly. Set aside.

4. Grease a medium casserole dish (I used a quart Pyrex) with butter. Fold meat mixture into dish and top with mashed potatoes. Smooth mash potatoes evenly over surface with a spatula or large spoon, then make a criss-cross design with a fork. Drizzle remaining melted butter over the top, and then sprinkle with additional Worcestershire sauce, if desired.

5. Bake at 425° for about half an hour, or until topping is crisp and brown; broil for a minute or so at the end of cooking, if desired. Remove from oven and allow to cool for approximately five minutes, then serve.

This dish is perfect for reheating, but be aware that nothing beats the crispy potato topping straight out of the oven!

Dad’s Roman Holiday

This is a slightly updated version of – you guessed it – my dad’s Roman Holiday. A staple of my childhood weekends, this recipe is definitely unpretentious, easy, and filling. For me, this mixture of beef and macaroni is a real comfort food, and it’s a great choice for those “what to make for dinner?” week nights, bare-cupboard ends of the month, or anytime you need to whip up a hearty meal quickly. I hope you enjoy it as much as my dad and I do!

1 lb. ground beef
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove of garlic, chopped fine
1/2 large onion, chopped fine
1 red bell pepper, chopped fine
1 cup dry macaroni pasta
1 tsp fresh oregano, roughly chopped
1 tsp fresh basil, roughly chopped
bottle of ketchup
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

For the seasoning sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1/8 cup barbecue sauce (I use Stubb’s Hickory Bourbon)
splash of Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp Gebhardt chili powder
1/2 tsp Allspice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large skillet, saute onions, bell pepper, and garlic in olive oil over medium heat for about three minutes, until the onions begin to become translucent. Meanwhile, grease a 1.5 quart baking dish and set aside. Preheat your oven to 350°F.

2. Increase heat to medium high and add ground beef to the pan, breaking it up with your spatula and folding in the onions and peppers. Cook for about five minutes, continuing to stir occasionally. Meanwhile, mix up the seasoning sauce ingredients in a 2 cup measuring cup, stir thoroughly, and set aside.

3. Add liquid seasoning mix to the pan and stir thoroughly. Cook beef for approximately ten minutes, until a good amount of the liquid has been absorbed / cooked off. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring a quart or so of salted water to a boil and cook macaroni for about five minutes, until al dente. Drain and add to beef mixture, stirring thoroughly so that pasta is evenly distributed.

4. Pour your beef and macaroni mixture into the greased pan and toss in fresh oregano and basil. Squeeze some ketchup out over the top in a lattice-work pattern, and top with grated cheese. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the cheese begins to bubble and brown. If a crispier result is desired, broil for a couple of minutes at the end of cooking.

5. Remove dish carefully from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes on the stove top before serving. Spoon the dish out onto plates and top with more ketchup if desired.

Serves 4-6.

This dish is even better the next day, so be sure to refrigerate your leftovers! It makes a great leftover lunch for workdays, too – it just needs a quick reheating in the microwave.