Many years ago I worked as a mental health counselor for a couple of board & care facilities. Among the many duties we were supposed to perform was the great task of cooking for 18 people, sometimes up to 40 depending on whether we had something special planned for our clients. Needless to say, I got really good at cooking for a small army and prided myself in being the cook all of the clients wanted to make their meals for them (some of my coworkers were, sadly, not very adept in the kitchen). Unfortunately a lot of the recipes we worked from were not in the healthiest vein, partly because of what was donated to us and partly because there is only so much a non-profit can actually afford to buy. Still, there were wonderful things I ended up doing to pork loin and chicken (culinarily, of course, for my naughty-minded friends who read this) and I think the whole experience really helped me hone my Poor Girl skills long before I became said Girl.
The following recipe is a healthier adaptation of a very simple, non-rocket-science, easy-to-make casserole that my crisis house clients used to love, mainly because of the insane amount of cheese that was involved. I know, I know, I was just praising myself in my last post for my ability to get over the cheese addiction, but I didn't say I was totally over my favorite dairy product! I can just control it better these days. :) Though this has a fair amount of cheese to be pleasing, I use non-fat milk, brown rice pasta and fresh broccoli & cauliflower to make up for the sinful stuff. The original version calls for about double this amount of cheese, a ton of white pasta and Velveeta (for crying out loud!), not to mention half a chicken or so, making it a caloric nightmare.
The excess of measurements alone also made the original a rather costly affair, the only redeeming quality being that I could make use of the vegetables I knew my clients wouldn't eat otherwise (Moms & dads of finicky eaters, take note: this is one possible way to get those veggies into otherwise reluctant little mouths!). By reducing the amount of cheese, omitting the chicken and throwing in those vegetable remnants that sometimes get forgotten in the refrigerator drawers, this goes down not only in calories & fat grams, but in price as well. Of course, if you have some available and want to add a little bit of leftover chicken, by all means do so! But I wouldn't suggest going out of your way to add it, unless you are looking to make this the entrée for your meal. This is a great meatless entree but works far better as a side in my opinion. Let's check out this super-simple but comfort-foodie recipe.
Cheesy Broccoli, Cauliflower & Pasta Bake (makes 4 servings; total cost per serving: $1.10)
2 c cooked, al dente brown rice penne (whole wheat will also be fine if you can't find brown rice pasta)
1 can fat free cream of mushroom soup
3/4 c nonfat milk
1/2 t granulated garlic
Salt & pepper to taste
3/4 c broccoli florets
3/4 c cauliflower florets
1 1/2 c reduced fat cheddar cheese, divided
Small amount of cooking spray
Preheat the oven to 400°. In a small saucepan combine the milk, cream of mushroom soup, garlic, and salt & pepper, and whisk together over medium low heat until smooth. Combine the pasta, broccoli, cauliflower and 3/4 c of cheese in a large bowl and add the mushroom soup, folding everything together so it's evenly mixed. Lightly spray a 9" x 12" casserole dish with cooking spray and add the pasta & veggie mixture. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is melted & bubbly. Serve as a side or with a salad as a meatless entree and enjoy!