Growing up, family dinner was a given. No matter how busy we all were, at 6:30 in the evening we gathered around the table. My mom held a full time job till I graduated high school, yet she never failed to pull together a tasty and healthy home-cooked meal. Of course we had the occasional pizza or Chinese takeout night, but even then it was our family ritual to eat together at the kitchen table and talk about our day. Sometimes dinner would turn into a debate session as my stepfather challenged my opinions and ideas, encouraging me to think harder and look at a situation from many different perspectives. The meal would often stretch well into the night as we discussed our thoughts and opinions. Even after the dishes were done, my mom and I would sit chatting about this and that. Those nightly chats are some of my favorite memories growing up.
Looking back, I realize how tough it must have been for my mom to cook a full meal for us every night. She worked an 8-hour shift before coming home to a hungry family. It didn’t matter how tired she was, we always had dinner on the table. Chicken cacciatore, tacos, tuna casserole… she had her regular meal rotation, and each of us had our favorites. I was especially fond of her broccoli rice with cheese. I’m a sucker for warm cheesy side dishes, especially in winter. I find them incredibly comforting.
Back then, when we were enjoying our family dinners together, I never dreamed that I would one day write a food blog… the internet was brand new and the term blog hadn’t even been coined yet! I didn’t realize that those precious evenings spent with my family would influence my culinary future. Today, I am still inspired by the ritual of family dinners. In fact, I continue the tradition with my own family. I find the experience to be therapeutic. Preparing a meal from scratch for my loved ones fills me happiness. Cooking to me is about more than just nourishment; it’s a reflection of culture, family traditions, and a connection to our past. This is one of the reasons I collect vintage cookbooks and explore old-fashioned recipes. These dishes carry with them the energy of the people who made them so many generations ago. A meal can bring together people from all walks of life, regardless of background or belief system. A meal can also bring together a family, every person busy with their day-to-day existence, to hit the pause button. We breathe, we reflect, we savor the flavors of a home-cooked meal. Life slows down for a moment as we reconnect with the things that are really important.
In honor of family dinners everywhere, I’m sharing this recipe for Zesty Cheddar Broccoli Rice. It’s my own version of the side dish my mom made growing up. Simple broccoli rice with cheese took on a new personality when I cooked the rice in Swanson Vegetable Cooking Stock, which gave it extra savory flavor and depth. I added a peppery, spicy kick to my favorite creamy cheddar sauce and mixed it into the rice, along with steamed broccoli and roasted bell pepper. The resulting rice was ridiculously delicious—spicy, warm, cheesy goodness. My family could not stop eating it. Enjoy it as a side dish or even a meatless entrée at your next family dinner.
The power of a home-cooked meal inspires me. It is one of the many reasons Why I Cook. What was your favorite family dinner comfort food growing up?
- 2 cups white or brown rice (not instant)
- 3 cups broccoli florets
- 1 package (28 oz.) Swanson Vegetable Cooking Stock
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp flour or 1 tbsp potato starch or corn starch (use starch for gluten free)
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 3/4 cups milk (lowfat okay)
- 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 large red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and diced
You will also need
- Large pot with lid, colander, medium saucepan, whisk
- Every variety of rice is slightly different, so read the cooking instructions on your package of rice and take note of the amount of water needed to cook 2 cups of rice. In a large pot combine 2 cups rice with Swanson Vegetable Cooking Stock, using the same amount of vegetable stock as you would water (top off with water if necessary). Do not add salt or butter, even if the rice cooking instructions say to. Bring rice to a boil, return heat to medium, and cover the pot. Steam the rice for the amount of time advised on the package.
- While rice is steaming, place broccoli in a medium saucepan with 1/2 cup water (if you have leftover vegetable stock, use it instead of 1/2 cup water, topping off with water if necessary). Bring to a boil. Cover the pot with a lid and let the broccoli steam for about 4 minutes till bright green and tender. Drain any excess liquid from the broccoli in a colander.
- Rinse the saucepan, dry it and return to stove. Melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour or starch and 3/4 tsp salt to form a thick and bubbly paste.
- Slowly whisk in the milk, ¼ cup at a time. Heat the milk mixture over medium heat for a few minutes, whisking frequently, till it thickens and bubbles around the edges. Do not let the sauce boil. Whisk in the grated cheddar cheese, cayenne pepper (if you’re spice sensitive cut down to ¼ tsp cayenne) and 1/4 tsp black pepper, stir till melted and smooth. Let cook for a minute or two till slightly thickened. Reduce heat to lowest setting, stirring frequently, until rice has finished cooking/steaming.
- Fluff the cooked rice with a fork. Add the steamed broccoli and diced roasted pepper to the pot along with the cheddar cheese sauce. Stir gently until all ingredients are well combined and the sauce is distributed throughout the rice. Serve hot. Leftovers keep well in a sealed container in the refrigerator.