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A Farewell Recipe
By Dennis Linden


Several members of the Melissa’s staff are already familiar with this month’s recipe, submitted by Danny Mermingez, of the company’s Inventory Management Team. As Danny retires from Melissa’s this month, he wanted to leave us the recipe for a casserole that he has shared with office mates.

“I found the original to this recipe on the Internet,” said Danny. “Though I tweaked the ingredients to reflect my own taste preferences, especially my love of garlic, and I also simplified the prep to make it easier for anyone to make the dish ahead of time and reheat it.” Then added with some culinary pride, “I knew this dish was a winner when Chef Miki and several of my co-workers all requested that I make another batch for the office after bringing in some one day. Instead, I printed out the recipe!”

Danny’s casserole offers a surprising number of tasty flavors, which hit the palate separately as identifiable ingredients and also work great together as a satisfying and warming whole meal. There are three componets within Danny’s recipe that need pre-prepping, so plan ahead and this dish can be prepped, cooked and enjoyed in under an hour. First, the quinoa must be cooked; the broccoli steamed and the chicken cooked, then shredded.

Red quinoa has a crunchier texture than white quinoa and the grains do not stick together as much. Conversely, red quinoa does not “fluff up” as readily as its white counterpart. For optimum fluffiness, try cooking the quinoa more like pasta – that is, use a lot more liquid than the directions call for and pour the grain into a rolling boil. Once the quinoa has cooked through, pour off 90% of the water and let the pot stand covered and off the flame until all of the remaining liquid has been absorbed. Fluff the grain up with a fork. The pleasant texture of the red quinoa maintains its crunch throughout the baking process and really plays nicely off the field fresh flavor of the broccoli and cheesy-creamy texture of the dish.

BTW, whether you buy pre-cut broccoli florets or trim off your own from full stalks, always, always steam – do not boil – broccoli. For Danny’s recipe, the broccoli will be cooked through during the final bake; the steaming is done merely to soften up the vegetable for a shorter oven time. Extended submersion in liquid, as in boiling water or broth, will leach out some of the water soluble nutrients in broccoli, like Vitamin B, right into the cooking liquid. With a light steaming, all of the vegetable’s nutritional value is retained and, I believe, that the flavor and color is also better. Besides, since the definition of a casserole is a dish served in the same pan that it was cooked in, any nutrients that might become soluble in the casserole pan’s liquids during the longer baking process will actually be absorbed right back into the quinoa and not be lost. So, unless you are making vegetable soup, do not boil vegetables.

What’s great about this dish is that it can be prepared and baked in a relatively short time, then reheated in a microwave or toaster oven, providing several quick and healthy lunches and/or dinners. I got four meals out of my smallest of casserole pans. What a great convenience dish for someone who has little energy or time to spend in the kitchen after a long day on the job that includes having to commute hours in both directions. In fact, once I read the bio Danny submitted for this article, this dish suits the daily routine of its creator perfectly!



Danny Mermingez has been with Melissa’s for seventeen years, and is focused on managing the inventory flow of the company’s products in an out of the facility, a task that requires seamless speed and accuracy. Melissa’s receives in and ships out literally thousands of perishable fresh produce items, sourced from around the world, on a daily basis. There are also the hundreds of time-sensitive packaged branded products, mostly processed from fresh ingredients that also arrive from our co-packers and then are shipped to customers across the country. Obviously tracking, accounting for, maintaining and managing an inventory this large and perishable takes a lot more than a clipboard and an abacus these days! It’s a high-tech system that also must identify, categorize and communicate the varying quality standards of each fruit and vegetable that the company handles to the sales team.

“No two days are alike around here,” Danny explained. “The massive movement of product in and out of our facilities each day; combined and complicated by the ever-changing seasons, harvests and weather conditions, make keeping accurate track of it all at any one moment in time a vital key to the success of Melissa’s as an efficient distributor. Perishables leave no time for error – it’s been exciting to learn this business from top to bottom over the years.”

While commuting by train and/or bus is commonplace on the eastern seaboard, it is rare for anyone living in automobile-centric Southern California. Yet that is a part Danny’s daily routine and gives his delicious casserole a practical application that was no doubt developed with his daily commute in mind.

“I live in Long Beach, some 30 miles from the office, and don't drive,” said Danny. “I have to rely on public transportation to get to and from work. I rise everyday about 3:00 a.m. so I can enjoy several cups of coffee and the morning news before catching the 5:00 a.m. metro train and then a bus, to arrive at the office at about 6:00 a.m. By the time I get home I am pretty tired from the same trip in reverse. I usually have just enough time for a meal, the news, and maybe an hour of TV before I remember that the alarm rings early. I batch cook on week-ends and portion out lunches and dinners for the week ahead.”

So his casserole was created out of necessity -- easy to prepare and reheat, healthy and seems to improve with each warm-up. When asked what will be on the menu now that his alarm will no longer be needed, Danny was quick to answer.

“My immediate plans are to continue to set an alarm, just not quite so early, in order to finally explore this beautiful city of Long Beach that I have lived in all these years but have not been able to enjoy because of my work schedule,” mused Danny. “My weekends have always been taken up with household chores and preparing for the upcoming work week; it’s time to kick back and treat myself to some recreational reading or maybe an old movie instead of preparing next Thursday’s lunch! So I look forward to walks along the shoreline, doing some pier fishing, doing a little travel to visit the many relatives in other states I have not seen in a long time, and I have a trip to Texas happening very soon to see three of my grandsons! Simple stuff, really, but having the independence and time to smell the roses in my own backyard, so to speak, is enough for now and I plan to fully enjoy it!” Good luck, Danny! Have some fun!

Chicken Broccoli Casserole with Red Quinoa
Serves 6




Ingredients:

1 package of Melissa's Organic Red Quinoa, 6 oz.
12 oz. fresh broccoli florets, steamed
1 ½ cups Yellow Onion, chopped
6 Garlic cloves, minced

1 ½ Tbsp. of Olive Oil 12 oz. skinless, boneless chicken breast, boiled in chicken stock, shredded, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
12 oz. Almond or Soy Cheddar Cheese Shreds, divided
½ cup Mayonnaise
½ cup 1% low-fat milk, mixed with 1 tsp. Corn Starch
1 ½ Tbsp. Corn Starch
½ tsp. each, Salt & Pepper
4 Tbsp. Butter

Preparation



Prepare quinoa according to package directions, except use 2-1/3 cups of chicken broth instead of water. At the same time, steam the broccoli florets and sauté the garlic-onion in oil until onion turns translucent. Let all three components cool to room temperature, then combine in a large mixing bowl.



Add to the bowl the cooked chicken pieces, Parmesan, 8 oz. of the mock cheddar, mayo, both the milk mixture and extra TBS+ of corn starch. Toss ingredients until thoroughly combined.



Transfer mixture into a favorite casserole dish, coated with butter. Top with the remaining 4 oz. of cheddar cheese, cover with foil and bake at 400° for 15-20 minutes. Let stand for another 15 minutes before serving either family style or cut into individual servings. Enjoy!