Friday, October 30, 2015

Baked Potatoes with Broccoli Cheese Sauce

Last Year's Post:  Chicken and Caramelized Broccoli Ramen
Two Years Ago:   Italian Tuna Sandwich (No Mayo)

Baked potatoes and broccoli are healthy, right?  Cheese sauce maybe not so much, but if you have this as a meal it's actually not too bad - just don't have it as a side dish to a big steak or something. It's a filling and very satisfying vegetarian meal on its own, or you could serve it with a salad on the side.   To me it's real comfort food.  Be sure to scrub the potatoes well so you can eat the skin as well as the flesh because there are a lot of nutrients right under the skin.

There are a couple of keys to making this recipe successfully although it's not at all hard.  First, don't under-bake your potatoes or they won't get that nice soft, fluffy texture. Second, grate your own cheese for the sauce because the pre-shredded packaged stuff at the store has an additive that keeps it from sticking together that also can cause clumping.  And third, use room-temperature milk because it helps eliminate lumps in the sauce.

I like to use fresh broccoli rather than frozen whenever possible.  If you cut the crown off the stem and then peel the stem before slicing, it's very edible - just cook the stem pieces a little longer than the florets.

The potatoes will take around an hour to bake, and you can cook the broccoli and make the sauce during that time which could qualify this as a weeknight meal if you have 60 minutes.  Otherwise you could bake the potatoes in advance and reheat them in the microwave while you make the sauce which would cut the time down a lot.  And if you have different family members coming home at different times, they can each reheat their potato and sauce whenever they show up so it works for a busy night too.

And if you have any broccoli cheese sauce left over (doubtful), just thin it out with more milk or chicken broth the next day, zap it in the microwave, and you've got broccoli cheese soup.  Maybe make a double batch of sauce...

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Baked Potatoes with Broccoli Cheese Sauce
Serves 4

Notes:    Cheese sauce is easy to make but also easy to mess up if you don't follow the directions exactly. Cheese should be freshly grated (the packaged, pre-grated cheese has an additive that keeps it from sticking together but can also make for clumping). Room temperature milk works best (zap it in the microwave to take off the chill). Be sure to take the pot off the heat and add the cheese very gradually, stirring well and allowing it to melt completely between additions.

Broccoli should be soft, not crisp-tender, if you plan to puree some or all into the sauce.

4 large russet (baking) potatoes
3 cups fresh broccoli florets and peeled sliced stem pieces, divided (about one large crown)
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups milk, at room temperature
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Adjust oven rack to center position. Preheat oven to 425°F.

Prepare potatoes by washing, drying, and pricking with a fork. Lightly coat each potato with olive oil. Place potatoes directly on oven rack, allowing some space between each one. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until potatoes are tender all the way to the center when pierced with a knife or small skewer.

Meanwhile, fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Place broccoli stem pieces in first for 30 seconds, then add broccoli florets and boil for an additional 3 minutes or until soft. Drain broccoli and set aside.

In the same pot that was used to cook the broccoli, prepare cheese sauce. Place over medium heat and melt butter. Use a whisk to stir in flour, whisking continuously until light golden brown, about 2 minutes. Continue to whisk while slowly and gradually adding milk. Whisk until sauce is smooth and thickened, approximately 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat. Add grated cheese, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until completely melted and smooth before adding more.  (Reserve a small handful of cheese for garnish if desired.)  Once all cheese has been incorporated and cheese sauce is smooth, stir in garlic salt, chili powder, and pepper to taste.

Stir half of the cooked broccoli into the cheese sauce. Use an immersion blender (or potato masher) to purée/mash the broccoli until the sauce is smooth. Stir in the remaining broccoli, reserving a few florets for garnish if desired. Taste sauce and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Slice the top of each potato with a small knife, then gently squeeze to open it up.  Serve with broccoli cheese sauce and reserved broccoli florets and shredded cheese on top.

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