February 24, 2013

3 Cheese Quinoa Casserole

You guys, I've got something super special planned for the blog starting in March, and I'm so totally excited about it. I've been going crazy researching recipes and techniques and writing myself all kinds of notes that, taken out of context, totally make me sound like a serial killer. (Stick a bamboo skewer in hand, freeze.Stick in blue Jell-o)

I haven't decided whether or not I want to tell you guys what I've got planned, or if I want it to be a surprise. I'm actually terrible at keeping secrets. Doing secret Santa is agony for me, because I always want to go up to the person and be like, "I got you. I'm totally shopping for your present right now. I'm putting lots of personality and thought into it, too."

Strangely, I've never had a problem keeping what I bought a secret. I guess because they're already expecting a present, and I just want them to know that I'm the one buying it.

Anyway, I can't decide if this thing I'm planning would be better as a surprise, or if I should just tell you. It's probably better as a surprise, right? People like surprises. But I want to tell you.

So as a compromise, I'm gonna drop you guys hints in each post, from now until I start. Maybe that will keep me from bursting out with it, because I have a whole month longer to wait, and I can't stand keeping it a secret anymore! And if you guess, well, cat's out of the bag and I don't have to keep it a secret.

So, hint #1: I'm planning on doing another series (like Sunday S'mores) starting the end of March.
Super special auxiliary hint: This casserole has absolutely nothing to do with your surprise.

I've seen recipes around the interwebz for quinoa mac'n cheese, and I'm all like, "It's quinoa, not macaroni, so shouldn't it be qui'n cheese?" But they looked tasty, so I let it slide.

As my house still has an overabundance of quinoa, I decided to try it out. I made a cheese sauce based on the one from my favorite mac'n cheese (with actual mac) recipe. I had some sausage meat and some frozen broccoli, so I threw those in to make it a full meal. Then I slopped it all in a baking dish, added some panko and some parm to the top (and a little parsley, for pretties) (and some extra garlic, because I'm me), and baked it until it bubbled like the swamp thing.

How did it taste? Well, like mac'n cheese. But if you made mac'n cheese with like pastina instead of regular pasta. Or, you know, with quinoa. Oh, and I'm super proud of this 3-cheese sauce, because it was uber-yummy and gooey all by its lonesome. I could probably just sit there with a spoon and eat it straight from the pot.

3 Cheese Quinoa Casserole {Printable Version}
Yield: 6-8 servings

For the quinoa
1½ cups uncooked quinoa, rinsed
3 cups water
½ tsp. salt

For the sauce
1 lb. sausage meat*
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. pepper (freshly cracked)
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
¼ grated parmesan, plus extra to top
12 oz. frozen broccoli, thawed and drained
Panko bread crumbs, to top

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Prepare the quinoa: In a large saucepan, bring 3 cups of water and ½ tsp. salt to a boil. Add the quinoa, and return to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork, and allow to cool.

Prepare the sauce: In another pot, cook the sausage over medium heat. Drain off the excess fat, and remove the cooked sausage to another plate. Add the garlic, onion, and butter to the pot, and heat over medium-low heat until the butter is melted and the onion is translucent. Add in the flour, salt, and pepper and mix well. Gradually add in the milk, stirring constantly. Continue to heat until it starts to boil. Remove from heat, and add the cheese ½ cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. The cheese should be completely melted before the next batch is added. When all the cheese has been added, add the cooked sausage, quinoa, and broccoli, mixing well.

Spread the mixture evenly into a 9x13 inch baking dish and top liberally with extra parmesan and bread crumbs. Bake 40-50 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool slightly before serving.

*Any meat can be used in place of the sausage, or it can be skipped altogether for a vegetarian dish.

Recipe by Kim