Lightened-up Cheesy Chicken & Broccoli Bake


Last Saturday was such a tease – almost 60 degrees and sunny – perfect for Scranton’s Parade Day (the second largest parade in the country!). The Irish in this area apparently have some serious pull, because right after Parade Day, the cold came again – snow flurries, winds whipping, etc.  Perfect for some end-of-winter comfort food. This cheesy chicken & broccoli bake was an incredibly rich-tasting meal for how little actually went into it.  I know a lot of these recipes can use a ton of butter, heavy cream, or even a block of Velveeta, but here, butter is used sparingly, and making a little “roux” to start really thickens the sauce on its own. 2% milk and some organic chicken broth combine to make the cheese sauce really deep and flavorful. Also, this takes about fifteen minutes tops to throw together, so you can have a fresh, hot meal on the table in less than an hour. We had this over a little orzo, but pasta would also work, or even quinoa.  

– 1 lb. chicken, diced into bite-sized pieces
– 12 oz. broccoli florets, steamed until bright green (or frozen, and totally unthawed)

– 2 cups grated cheddar, or cheese of choice
– 4 tbsp. butter
– 3 tsbp. flour
– 1 cup 2% milk
– 1 cup chicken broth
– 2 pinches nutmeg
– 1/2 tsp kosher salt
– couple of grinds black pepper
– 1 cup panko breadcrumbs

1. Pre-heat oven to 350.

2. Rub a little olive oil around the base of a casserole dish.

3. Add broccoli & chopped chicken to the casserole dish, mix to combine.
4. Get your “roux” started.  A roux is a thickener for recipes, and also acts as a base for creating a deeper sort of flavor from whatever you’re adding to it. To start, melt 3 tbsp. butter over medium heat.  Then, whisk in 3 tbsp. flour, and continue to whisk while the mixture changes consistency, color, and smell.  It should start to become a golden color, almost a light brown, and smell kind of nutty.

5. At this point, whisk in the milk and chicken broth – Pacific makes a fantastic organic chicken broth in a convenient 4-pack of 1-cup boxes – and raise heat just to a boil, continuing to mix.  
6. Reduce heat to a low bubble, and whisk constantly – approx. 2 minutes.  The mixture will start to feel (and look) thicker.  When it reaches this point, remove from the heat and whisk in nutmeg, salt, & pepper.  

7. Whisk in the cheese.  For this recipe, I used 2 Laughing Cow Babybel  cheddar cheeses, and 3 of their Bonbel mini cheeses.  It’s up to you whatever cheese you’d like to use, though!
8. Pour cheese mixture over the chicken and broccoli mix in the casserole dish, stir well to combine and coat.

9. In a saucepan, melt the remaining tbsp. of butter.  When melted, add the cup of panko breadcrumbs, and stir to cover the breadcrumbs with the butter.
10. Evenly top the broccoli/chicken/cheddar mix with the breadcrumbs.   

11. Bake at 350 for approx. 30 – 40 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.  (Optional) Ten minutes before this is done, top with a little more grated cheese, and let melt on top of the casserole.
12. Let cool a bit, serve over orzo/pasta/quinoa, and enjoy. 

Best Broccoli Ever

This recipe was one of Brad’s best finds. He says he made it because of one specific line in the recipe he read online:  “This broccoli is better than a steak”.  It’s kind of unbelievable how roasting veggies makes them completely different, and broccoli is no exception. Add some lemon, parmesan cheese, and toasted pine nuts, and this side could stand on its own (although sometimes nothing can substitute for a steak). It’s delicious and looks like you put a lot of effort into it, but is quickly thrown together while you’re making an entree.

BEST BROCCOLI EVER (serves 4 or so – copied almost exactly from The Amateur Gourmet)

– 3 medium heads broccoli
– 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
– 5 glugs EVOO
– 1/2 of 1 lemon (zest and juice)
– 1/4 C. freshly grated parmesan cheese
– 1 tbsp. julienned basil
– 3 garlic cloves, sliced

1. Heat the oven to 425.

2. Cut broccoli heads into medium size florets, wash and dry thoroughly. 

3. Toss broccoli florets and sliced garlic cloves with 4 of the 5 glugs of EVOO, and kosher salt and pepper (approx. 1 tsp. of each).  Arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, or until some edges are brown.

 4. Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts (if using) and set aside.

5. When broccoli is roasted, remove from oven, zest the lemon half over the broccoli, then squeeze the juice of the lemon over it as well.  Add toasted pine nuts, parm cheese, basil, and another glug of olive oil, and stir to combine.

6. Serve and enjoy – we had this alongside portabella mushroom “pizzas” for a healthy, carb-free, and delicious dinner.