I just spent last ten minutes reading about “comfort foods”. I found many definitions but decided this simple one by The World English Dictionary said it best: “Food that is enjoyable to eat and makes the eater feel better emotionally.”

Not only do I sometimes want to eat a familiar, warm, nostalgic food, I also am struck by the need to prepare it for those I love who need comforting. A few weeks ago I heard that one of our daughters was not feeling well and within a few hours I had whipped up a batch of chicken soup with orzo. (By the way, she wasn’t sick at all – she was suffering from a broken finger, but cooking some delicious soup made both of us feel better.)

My favorite comfort foods are all homemade. Some I grew up with and others have become favorite dishes since we have been married. Baked macaroni and cheese, enchiladas, homemade noodles, chicken noodle soup, sugo (Bolognese sauce) are favorites that come to mind, and as of two nights ago, this particular dish has been added to my list.

Warm and cheesy, filled with tender broccoli, chicken and rice, it all was baked together in one dish. It turned out so blissfully delicious it may become a family comfort food to pass down for generations. The meager portion that was left at the end of the meal was packaged up and sent to work with a grateful daughter the next day.

A few notes: The original recipe calls for a rice blend. My favorite includes wheat berries. The wheat berries added a bit of a nice chew, which everyone loved. Also, this really can stand alone without the chicken, but I had others to look after and felt the meal needed a little more sustenance.

Broccoli, cheddar and wild rice casserole with chicken. A recipe inspired by Smitten Kitchen. Serves 4.


  • 1 cup (diced or shredded) cooked chicken
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • Salt
  • 2/3 cup uncooked wild rice blend, rinsed
  • 1 pound broccoli
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 8 ounces cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
  • Freshly ground black pepper


Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add rice to onion and cook for 1 minute, then add 1 1/3 cups water and a few pinches of salt. Bring mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to lowest temperature and cook with the lid on for about 50 minutes (or whatever amount of time is suggested on your package of rice).

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Peel broccoli stems and dice them into large chunks. Cut florets into 1-inch pieces. Cook in boiling, well-salted water until barely tender, for 2 to 3 minutes, then drain.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in pan over medium heat. Add a pinch of cayenne and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add flour and whisk until combined, cooking the butter-flour mixture for 1 to 2 minutes. Add milk, whisking constantly, then broth and wine. Bring to a simmer and cook mixture at a simmer, stirring the whole time, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and stir in 1/3 of grated cheese until melted. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Combine cooked wild rice blend, broccoli and chicken in a 2-quart baking dish or a 9-inch oven-safe skillet. Pour cheese sauce over and gently nudge to ensure all pieces get some sauce. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top. Bake casserole for 15 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly. Reposition dish to a higher oven rack and broil until golden brown on top.