Many of us are tryig to eat healthier in the new year. Chicken can be a very lean meat for us but it is important to realize all the extras you put into it, especially in casseroles (or hot dish). I’ve been working with #SandersonFarms for few months now and currently we are focusing on healthier eating. (Disclosure: I am compensated via OM Media on behalf of Sanderson Farms for my recipes and sharing.) Casseroles are a truly American classic comfort food but we all know that typically they aren’t the healthiest meal even though they are filling. I decided to take the classic chicken cheese broccoli and rice casserole and update it with Sanderson Farms chicken to make it healthier for me and my family.
The biggest change is using quinoa instead of rice. I used tri-color quinoa today, but you can use any quinoa you like. Quinoa provides all 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Quinoa is a gluten-free and cholesterol-free whole grain, is kosher for Passover, and is almost always organic. You can find quinoa in your grocery store by the rice. It is super easy to prepare, just bring liquid to a boil, add quinoa, stir and cover, and take off the heat for 15-20 minutes generally.
I have enjoyed quinoa since the first time I tried it. Hubby, however, was a bit iffy about it. What I learned is that if there is a sauce on the quinoa Hubby likes it much better and doesn’t balk at all. Within a casserole, like this one, it is perfectly acceptable to just about everyone, even kids.
It has become much easier to find quinoa in the grocery stores these days. I recommend getting PLAIN quinoa, not anything that contains a “flavor packet” since that is mostly salt. There are several varieties of quinoa including plain white, red quinoa, and even mixed like I used in this recipe. If you are just starting to use quinoa I would recommend the plain white variety as it is the least toothsome of all of the varieties I have tried. When you cook your quinoa you can follow the package directions but I always use stock instead of plain water. It adds so much more flavor! You really can add any liquid you want, vegetarian stock, beef stock, pork stock, chicken stock, seafood stock, etc. or even use plain water but add some herbs into the water for more flavor.
I used Sanderson Farms chicken for this recipe. Specifically the Sanderson Farms chicken tenderloins because it was on sale this week. You can use chicken breast, thighs, or whatever chicken pieces you would like for this recipe. Just remove skin and bones, if needed, and cut into small bite sized pieces. I simply seasoned with salt and pepper before browning.
Side note: See that engraving on my wooden spoon? My mom got me a set of these for Christmas that say “GaGa’s Kitchen” and they were truly my favorite gift this holiday season. GaGa is my name for the twins (rather than Grandma) and I love wooden spoons when I cook. I’m going to love using these over the years as I teach my granddaughters to cook!
As you are cooking you can just keep adding the different ingredients to the casserole dish. You could also mix all of it in a big bowl, but I try to keep the amount of dishes I use when cooking to a minimum since Hubby usually does the dishes.
The pimentos were added for color and flavor. A pimento is a sweet cherry pepper that is chopped and generally pickled. They really are delicious and add a lot of flavor. As always, I’m not the recipe police and if you truly don’t like pimentos it is okay not to use them. If you do use them be sure to drain them well as the liquid can easily, and not favorably, tint what you put them into. You could use fresh red pepper or any other veggie ingredient you like as well.
Now let’s talk broccoli. You can use fresh or frozen in this recipe. I used frozen small broccoli florets when I made this recipe. If you use frozen just thaw out before adding to the casserole. If you use fresh broccoli I would par boil it before adding to the casserole.
Save on dishes by using the same skillet that you browned the chicken in for the mushrooms, shallots, and garlic. As you saute all of these items be sure to use a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits “stuck” to the bottom of the skillet as this “fond” is loaded with flavor. You could use dehydrated minced onion and granulated garlic, but in this case it really will not be as good. Because we are lowering the fat content it is important to add as much flavor in other ways as we can. Fresh mushrooms are a must though, not canned (never canned). Chopping up a shallot (or onion) and some garlic is not hard at all. If you are not great with knife skills you might invest (about $20) in a mini food processor. They are kind of like regular food processors in that they have a bowl, blade, lid, and motor, but not quite as heavy duty or as large of capacity of a regular food processor.
No need to use any canned cream soups in casseroles any longer. I promise you that you will not miss it. I used one small single serve size of 0% fat plain Greek yogurt (I used Chobani brand which was a 5.3 ounce package) mixed with my cheeses and added just 1/4 cup of skim milk to loose it up a bit. I still used a good deal of sharp cheddar cheese but I also used some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. This is not the recipe to use the Kraft (green can) Parm in though, get a wedge and grate it yourself. When you add a hard cheese, like Parmesan, it adds a ton of flavor in a smaller amount. Mixing the cheeses helps you lower the fat content but boosts the cheese flavor all at the same time. If you wanted to boost up the nutrition and cheesy flavor even more you can add some nutritional yeast into the mixture.
Once you have the quinoa, broccoli, pimentos, chicken, mushrooms and the rest in the casserole, mix it up a bit. Then pour your yogurt and cheese mixture on and mix really well. Cover with foil and bake about 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, remove from the oven. Uncover. Stir well again.
Now add the remaining cheese and bread crumb mixture to the top and cook uncovered for 20 minutes or so. Let sit 5-10 minutes before serving after you take out of the oven. If you want an even browner topping you could also put it under the broiler for a minute or two.
FYI this casserole is even better on day 2 as a leftover, even if heated in the microwave. I had it for lunch today actually. So yummy!
I really would encourage you to try this recipe for the entire family if they like a traditional chicken and rice casserole. This version is much healthier but still so amazingly flavorful. You don’t have to tell the family what is in it, just put it on the table. If they must know a name just call it a cheesy chicken and broccoli casserole which shouldn’t be too scary. If your family is new to quinoa use the plain white variety to start just so they do not notice it as much.
Please join me on January 24th for a #SandersonFarms Twitter chat starting at 8pm ET by a 15 minute post chat show on Facebook. We have great prizes to give away as we. Get all the details of the #SandersonFarms chat and be sure to RSVP.
I would love to know what you all think of this recipe. Is it something you would try? What would you change?