I am serving up comfort food realness today. Comfort food because: hello, cheesy casserole! And realness because there are no cans of soup or blocks of faux cheese involved. It takes a little more time to make your own cheese sauce, but trust me, it’s completely worth it.
This Broccoli Cheddar Brown Rice Casserole was not inspired by a casserole at all, but by Rice-A-Roni. Or maybe Uncle Ben’s. I don’t know! But growing up, my mom would always make broccoli cheese rice from a box. That was one of my favorite side dishes, even if the cheese was powdered and the broccoli was microscopic. I didn’t care! I was making a cheese sauce for mac & cheese several weeks ago and started thinking about that rice and wondering if I could make my own version of that rice using a homemade cheese sauce. Although I took the extra step of baking it, you could also just serve it right out of the pot—that works too!
I hadn’t really intended this to be a Thanksgiving post because I think most people have their menus planned by now, but if you’re looking for an extra side dish, this one is definitely a crowd-pleaser. (And if you have French-fried onions left over from your green bean casserole you can use those on top instead of panko!) Because cheese sauce has a tendency to be temperamental, particularly when it’s made with cheddar, I wouldn’t risk making the whole casserole in advance—just cook the rice and broccoli, then make the cheese sauce and assemble the casserole on Thanksgiving day.
This post was originally published on November 25, 2013.
Cheese sauce can be temperamental, so while I usually encourage substitutions and experimentation with recipes, it's best to follow this one to the letter so your sauce doesn't separate. Whole milk makes a more stable sauce, but I have successfully made cheese sauces with reduced-fat milk too. If at all possible, use cheese that you've shredded yourself—bagged shredded cheese contains anti-caking agents that can affect the texture of cheese sauces.
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