Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cream of Chicken Soup/Broccoli Rice Casserole

When I was a kid I hated broccoli. Every once in a while my parents would serve it with dinner*, and I would choke it down... often in tears at the injustice of it all. Then one day I was introduced to the best thing ever:

Broccoli. Rice. Casserole.

Apparently it had been served at holiday meals for years and I had been oblivious all that time. I was in college and someone pointed out the casserole to me and I bluntly replied, No thanks. I don't like broccoli. But whoever this angel was convinced me that you couldn't even taste the broccoli, so I decided to be polite and took a small portion to try. I was an adult now, after all.

So I grudgingly took a bite of this casserole that I was sure I was going to have to immediately wash down with whatever I was drinking, and then the sweet deliciousness grazed my tongue and I was in love. With the casserole, anyway.

Broccoli didn't suddenly become my favorite food of all time, but I'll at least eat it willingly now. I don't think I've mentioned, but I'm currently assisting with some of the school gardening programs in Houston, so recently I've become acquainted with the broccoli plant.


Before this, I always kind of thought broccoli just grew right out of the ground, sort of like asparagus. 


Just imagine those little stem toppers blossoming into a broccoli head. That's basically what I thought happened.

So anyway, I learned the broccoli is actually the flower bud of a very large plant and if you let it continue to grow, little yellow flowers will blossom out of the broccoli head. Also, I learned that fresh-picked broccoli is delicious.

Arlond, on the other hand, has not been convinced. For a man that loves his vegetables, he's actually pretty picky about which ones he eats (mostly potatoes, peas, corn, and carrots—but only if they're cooked!). I recently roped him onto the asparagus bandwagon...but only because bacon was involved. Baby steps, I say.

So I tried the same route that got me on the broccoli train, but he didn't fall for the cheesy goodness that is broccoli rice casserole. I'd kind of given up on the idea until I had an epiphany:

Chicken Broccoli Rice Casserole.

I mentioned it to Arlond and he said it sounded good. So I decided to whip up a test batch. Anyway, here's the recipe for the original:

2 sticks of butter
1 16 oz. bag of chopped broccoli
2 cups of rice
2 cans of cream of mushroom soup
2 cups of shredded cheese (I use sharp cheddar)
1 cup milk
1 cup water

1. Sauté broccoli in butter
2. Mix all other ingredients together in a 9x13 dish
3. Add broccoli to pan--mix well
4. Bake at 375°F for about an hour

While this recipe is delicious, there are a few issues that I wanted to address:

1. I want to add chicken.
2. A 9x13 casserole is perfect for taking to a social gathering, but much too big for the two of us.
3. I've always used instant rice, but I want to switch to whole grain.
4a. I don't really like mushrooms.
4b. I want to get away from using canned soup. Especially condensed soup.

So my goals were to make a smaller portion using whole grain rice, a homemade substitute for the cream of mushroom soup, and also throwing some chicken in there somewhere. I also used fresh broccoli instead of frozen, but that wasn't a serious change. I've gotten pretty good at downsizing, so my biggest concerns were the substitutions.

I figured that the rice would be in the oven long enough that it would cook similarly to the instant rice, so I just decided to test it out that way (Note: This did not really work, but more on that later). I basically just decided to mix the chicken in with everything else and see what happens. I debated on whether or not to pre-cook the chicken, and ultimately decided against it. My chicken nugget recipe only has the chicken bits cooking for 20 minutes before they're done, so I figured doubling that would most definitely be enough when they're cut approximately the same size. So all that was left was the condensed soup.
I googled "cream of mushroom soup substitute" and basically learned that all I needed to do was to make a roux. I checked out a few different recipes and decided to wing it:

1-2 Tbs butter
1/4ish cup flour
Chicken stock
Sea salt

Melt butter is small pan. Slowly add flour until a thick paste forms. Add equal parts milk and stock until desired consistency is reached. Salt and pepper to taste.

Also, I realized this is basically identical to my dad's gravy recipe, except for the whole turkey/chicken stock difference. So since I learned from my mistakes last time, the roux actually came out quite nicely and could potentially serve as a chicken gravy.

So when it was all said and done, this was roughly my recipe:

3 Tbs butter
1 head broccoli, chopped
1 chicken breast, diced
3/4ish cup whole grain rice
1 recipe homemade cream of chicken soup
More milk
1 cup cheddar cheese

Sauté broccoli in butter. Mix chicken, rice, cream of chicken soup, and milk in 8x6ish glass baking pan. Add broccoli and mix. Add cheese. Bake at 350°F for about 40 minutes.

So the one major problem with my final product is that the rice did not fully cook and was still crunchy. Despite this, it was delicious. Also, I'm pretty sure the rice in the remaining servings is soaking up all the remnant liquid-y goodness and is getting slightly less crunchy as I type. It probably won't be completely cured, but it's a start. Next time, I'm debating between partially pre-cooking the rice or just adding more liquid for it to soak up in the casserole and possibly cook it a little longer. I plan to ask my rice-loving friends at school tomorrow for input. I will keep you posted on the results of my queries. 

*Note: Earlier I claimed that my parents served broccoli out of a can when I was a child, but I was recently informed that this was simply not true (or at least, my mother never did). As such, I have retracted the statement and instead would like to say that they served me frozen broccoli. My mom also claimed that she may have possibly served us fresh broccoli, but I don't remember ever seeing it in the fridge, so I think she made that part up.

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