Broccoli and Rice Casserole

I love how casseroles can be prepared in advance so you can make them when you have time and just pop them in the oven when it’s time for dinner. It can be tricky, though, to find good vegetarian casseroles. I was searching for a casserole that used broccoli because I had some leftover from my mac & cheese that I wanted to use up. Almost everything I saw was just cheesy potatoes. While I love a good hash brown casserole, I really wanted something that was rice-based and filling. So, I made it up. It turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. Again, this is a pretty easy one to adapt however you want, so add meat or whatever veggies you have on hand. You can also reduce the amount of cheese you use, too. If you want to cut out the cheese all together, use 2 cans of cream soup (a cream of chicken would be good for you meat-eaters) instead of making a roux.* (Can you tell I really like making roux?)

Broccoli & Rice Casserole

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dry brown rice
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 head of broccoli, chopped into florets
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup*
  • 1 Tbs. flour
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 3/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1/2 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
  • pepper, salt, and cayenne to taste

*If you don’t want to use canned creamed soup, you can make your version (like this one), or just double the roux (using milk instead of broth) and add some chopped mushrooms.

Directions

  1. In a medium-sized pot, bring 5 cups of water to a boil. (I know that’s very specific, but it’s for the rice. If the directions on your package of rice calls for a different rice:water ratio, use that.) Add the broccoli and corn to the boiling water, and cook for 2-4 minutes, until the florets become a bright green. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain.
  2. Now add the dry rice to the boiling water, and cook according to the directions. I let the rice boil for 5 minutes on high. Then I turned down the heat to let the rice simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. The rice should be tender when done. Drain.
  3. In a large glass bowl, combine the rice, broccoli, corn, and mushroom soup. Add your spices (I used about 1 1/2 tsp. pepper, 1 tsp. salt, and just a dash of cayenne pepper.). Set aside.
  4. In the same pot, melt the butter. Sauté the onions until translucent and tender. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and melted butter, stirring until it forms a paste. Slowly pour in the vegetable broth, whisking constantly, until the roux thickens. Add the cheese, and stir until the cheese is melted. Take off the heat and let cool slightly.
  5. Prepare an 8×8 casserole dish with deep sides (or similarly sized dish) with cooking spray. (If you’re going to cook the casserole right away, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.)
  6. Stir the cheese sauce over the rice & broccoli, combining everything. Pour into the casserole dish. (If you’re not cooking right away, let cool–just so it’s not piping hot–and cover with foil to store in the fridge. Cook within 12 hours.)
  7. To cook: Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, so the edges are bubbly.

I don’t have pictures for this one because we gobbled it up before I remembered to take any! So trust me that this is a delicious, cheesy, filling casserole.

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Veggie Mac & Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite meals. It’s the ultimate comfort food.

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This recipe is easy and adaptable. As you can see in the picture, it’s got 2 different pastas! It’s penne! It’s shells! It’s madness! (It’s because I had a little bit of penne left and a little bit of shells left. Resourcefulness!) Clearly, I prefer penne or shells for mac & cheese (usually not at the same time), but elbows or chifferi (twirly elbows) are great choices, too.

It’s really easy to add veggies or meat to mac & cheese. I had some broccoli in the fridge, and I used a frozen veggie medley (Cascadian Farm with peas, carrots, and corn). It’s also really good with yellow squash. You can use whatever cheese you want. I usually 2 different types (cheddar and something else). This time, I used this new chipotle white cheddar and a sharp cheddar. The chipotle cheese was AMAZING. It added this really subtle kick and smokiness that I loved.

So without further ado:

Veggie Mac & Cheese

Ingredients

  • 10 oz pasta*
  • 1/2 cup cleaned and chopped broccoli
  • 1/4 cup frozen veggie
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 2 Tbs. flour
  • 1 cup vegetable stock/broth (or low fat milk for a creamier version)
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup cheese (I used 1 cup chipotle white cheddar, 1/2 sharp cheddar)

*This isn’t quite a whole box–if you’re using a whole box, use 4 Tbs. butter, 4 Tbs. flour, 2 cups broth/milk, 2 cups cheese.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium-sized pot, boil water. Add your pasta, and cook according to the box instructions. A few minutes before the pasta is done (when it’s soft enough to chew, but it’s still got a little crunch), add your vegetables. This will thaw them if frozen and cook them enough so that they’re soft. Drain.
  3. In the same pot you cooked the pasta, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender. While the onions cook, prepare a small casserole dish with cooking spray. Pour the pasta/veggie mix into the dish.
  4. Whisk in the flour, making a paste. Now slowly stir in the vegetable stock. Keep whisking so the roux gets thick. Season the roux with pepper (and salt, if you choose). Add your cheese, and whisk it all up, melting the cheese.
  5. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta, and give it a stir so everything is mixed nicely.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden on top and bubbly around the edges.
  7. Enjoy!

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The Best Tomato Soup You’ll Ever Eat

This week’s recipe is not my own. In fact, I didn’t even make it. This one is all my mom, and it is AMAZING.

I haven’t had the best week, so my mom has been making my favorite comfort foods (because she’s awesome). Tonight, she made homemade tomato soup. I’ve always loved tomato soup and grilled cheese. It’s so simple and delicious. Her soup is based off of Rachael Ray’s creamy tomato soup recipe.

You need a blender or food processor for this recipe. My aunt Nancy thoughtfully gave me a HealthMaster blender, and it’s so easy to make soups with it (I’ll share my butternut squash soup soon). In fact, the only contribution I made to making this dinner was teaching my mom how to use the blender. 😉 

The Best Tomato Soup You’ll Ever Eat

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Ingredients

  • 1 can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1  box of vegetable broth*
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • onion powder
  • dried basil
  • pepper

That’s it! My mom said it’s only marginally more difficult to make than a pre-made can of soup, and it tastes SO MUCH BETTER.

*You can use chicken broth instead of veggie. A lot of soups call for chicken broth, and the original recipe for this soup does, too. The cool thing about most of those soups, though, is the simple switch of chicken/beef broth to vegetable broth is all it takes to make it vegetarian.

Directions

  1. In  a large saucepan, combine the vegetable broth, tomatoes, and spices. (Add as much of the spices as you like, depending on your tastes.) Bring to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Once it boils, lower the heat, and add the heavy cream. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until everything is incorporated, stir occasionally.
  3. Take the soup off the heat, and let it cool for a few minutes. (You don’t want to add anything to a blender or processor when it’s piping hot.)
  4. Pour the soup into your blender or food processor. The goal is to puree the soup so everything’s blended. In my blender, we decided to set the speed on 8 and blended for 90 seconds.
  5. Serve and gobble it up!

We had this soup with grilled cheese (did I mention how much I love grilled cheese?).  But really, what’s tomato soup without grilled cheese?

I hope you make this soup because it is fantastic. Let me know what you think.

All I know is, I’m already excited for leftovers tomorrow.

Cucumber Salad

Gurkensalat

While I suppose this is more a summer dish, cucumber salad is really a comfort food to me, so I like it any time of year. The first time I had it, we lived in Germany. My brother made “gurkensalat” for his German class – an assignment to bring a traditional German dish. I loved it. Ever since then, this simple salad has been a staple in my house. I get the recipe from “German Cooking Today.”

Ingredients

This is the best spice mix--a German creation that's organic, non-GMO, gluten free, and delicious!

This is the best spice mix–a German creation that’s organic, non-GMO, gluten free, and delicious!

  • 2 medium cucumbers
  • 1 small sweet onion
  • 3 Tbsp. vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • about 1/2 Tbsp. pepper
  • about 1 Tbsp. spices
    • salt, oregano, dill, basil, garlic powder, etc. I used Seitenbacher Herb Salt, a combo of spices
  • about 1/2 Tbsp. sugar

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar, oil, and spices. You’ll definitely want pepper and salt, but the rest are up to you. My herb mix had oregano, basil, salt (so I didn’t add any extra), and thyme. If you like dill, that’s a good one to put in because it pairs well with cucumbers. Whatever your tastes are.
  2. Dice the onion and add to the vinegar dressing. Sprinkle about 1/2 Tbsp. of sugar over the onion (depending on your tastes, you can add more or less). Stir everything up and give it a taste. Add any additional spices/sugar you want now. Let the bowl sit in the fridge.
  3. Peel the cucumbers and chop each one in half, so it’s easier to slice them on the mandolin. You want thin slices of cucumber. You can do it with a knife if you feel confident in your ability to get even, consistent slices without chopping off a finger. I did not feel that way, so I used a mandolin.
  4. Stir the cucumbers into the dressing until everything is covered. Enjoy!

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I adore this salad. I ate mine with some cheese pizza, but it’s good with pretty much anything. You could probably add cherry tomatoes, and that’d be yummy, too! I hope you like it.

Vegetable Hand Pies

OK, I know that “hand pies” is the weirdest name for a food. It’s totally bizarre and sounds odd, but I had no idea what else to call these. They’re not really empanadas, and they’re not pot pies. They’re little triangles of pie crust filled with all kinds of veggies. This is a good recipe to use up all those leftovers you have in the fridge and pantry (that one zucchini, those two random potatoes…I had planned to use eggplant, but it had gone bad.) I basically made this up as I went along, and it turned out pretty tasty. I really would have loved this with the eggplant, but the zucchini was a great addition. I think mushrooms would be yummy, too, if you like them.

I forgot to take a picture until I was putting the leftovers in tupperware.

I forgot to take a picture until I was putting the leftovers in tupperware.

Ingredients

  • pie crust (I used a leftover Pillsbury pie crust from the holiday season. They come with 2 circles of pre-made, pre-rolled dough. It wasn’t quite enough dough for all the filling I made. If you have a homemade recipe you like, by all means, use it!)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil (I think…I just sprinkled in enough to coat the bottom of the pan and to keep the veggies from getting gunky and too crispy. And obviously “gunky” is a technical cooking term.)
  • 2 potatoes, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • 1 zucchini, chopped into small pieces (not peeled)
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced (It was a really strong white onion. If yours isn’t that strong, feel free to add more.)
  • 3 oz. tomato paste (about half the can)
  • spices (I used salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, oregano. Add or subtract whatever you want.)
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 c. vegetable broth
  • *If you like your pie crust golden and crispy (and really, who doesn’t), you’ll need an egg and about a Tbsp. of water.
  • **chicken, if you want to add meat (I used these precooked chicken strips and warmed them up over medium heat in a separate pan. I separated the rest of the filling and added the chicken to one half.)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare your baking sheet (spray or line with parchment paper)
  2. In a large saucepan, boil the potatoes for about 5 minutes, so you can stick a fork in them but not pierce through them. Drain and rinse.
  3. In the same saucepan, heat up the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the vegetables and your spices (but NOT the potatoes) and sauté them for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add the potatoes and tomato paste and give everything a big stir until combined. Keep on the heat for about 3 more minutes. (Don’t worry if the tomato paste doesn’t incorporate fully. It will when you add the roux.) Take the pan off the heat and set aside. You want to let the veggie mixture cool significantly before assembling the pies (or else the pie crust will melt and it will be messy and awful and you’ll have a glob of veggies and dough and you’ll have to scrape it off the counter. Probably.)
  4. Make the roux! I don’t really know how to explain what a roux is if you don’t know what it is, except that it’s flour, butter, and a liquid (here it’s broth), and it makes a thick sauce-like thing – it’s in a lot of macaroni and cheese recipes. So first, melt the butter in a small saucepan. When it’s all melted, add the flour and give it a quick whisk until it’s made a paste. Still whisking, slowly add the broth. Keep whisking, being sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the pan, until the rue becomes nice and thick. You really will be able to tell when it’s done because it gets creamy.
  5. Pour the roux into the veggie mixture, and stir until everything is incorporated. Let it cool some more. You don’t want a veggie/dough glob.
  6. While the mixture cools, prep the dough. I had 2 circles of dough. I used a pizza cutter and just cut four pieces in each circle, so I ended up with 8 quarter-circles (really 7 because of that veggie/dough glob incident I alluded to). If you make your own dough, I think cutting full circles would be easiest, so the pies turn into half-moon shapes. *At this point, prep your egg wash if you’re doing that. Whisk an egg and a splash of water together, and set aside.*
  7. Now it’s time to put together the pies. For my size quarter-cirlcles, I put about a 2 Tbsp. of filling in each pie. Put the filling to one side of the dough, then fold over the remaining dough (mine were triangle-shaped). Pinch the edges together, creating a pie! Put the pies on your baking sheet (I used parchment paper) and brush the tops with the egg wash.
  8. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until golden and flaky. Enjoy!

This was a filling meal for a cold, wintry day. I thought it was easy to make, but if you’re a beginner cook, it’s probably a mildly difficult meal (only for the roux, which can be scary to make at first because it sounds scary and fancy). If you make this, I’d love to hear what veggies you use and how you like it!