Barbecue Chicken Quinoa Bake
Last winter, I attended a very exclusive hipster concert in Brooklyn. If that seems slightly out of character for me, that’s because it is—my friend Bay tricked me into it. She asked if I was free one Tuesday night, and when I said yes (assuming she wanted to grab dinner or drinks), Bay informed me that we would be spending the evening at someone’s apartment in Brooklyn watching a handful of indie bands do their thing. Blergh. But I obviously couldn’t back out because I’d already said I was free. Tricky, Bay.
When I asked for more details, Bay was cagey. (Probably to avoid me coming down with an obscure illness and having to bail.) She simply told me to show up at 8pm at the address she had given me, and that I could bring my own booze and snacks if I felt like it. So, when Tuesday night rolled around, I begrudgingly donned my finest skinny jeans and flannel ensemble, stuffed my purse with beer and chocolate bark, and made my way across ze bridge.
It was pouring rain when I finally reached the given destination, which (unsurprisingly) looked far more like an abandoned warehouse than a residence. Unable to find an entrance, I thought I might be in the wrong place, but thankfully Bay appeared around the corner just as I was contemplating my escape about to call her. Soaking wet, we climbed the stairs to the third floor and were immediately ushered into what was probably the coolest Brooklyn loft I had ever seen. (And I’ve seen at least two other Brooklyn lofts!)
The living area had been cleared of furniture, and there was a little “stage area” with mics and instruments at one end. The rest of the room was jam-packed with people—leaning against the walls, perched on windowsills, and sitting cross-legged on the floor. (Hipsters on hipsters!) Bay and I wiggled our butts into the few remaining square inches of floor space just in time to hear a badass British lady explain “SoFar Sounds.” We would see four bands, each of which would perform three songs. We were not to speak during the performances, as that would disrupt what was meant to be a “listening” atmosphere. No phones. We could go to the bathroom between each band. She hoped we would enjoy our intimate concert experience.
Despite the no-talking rule, I felt inexplicably excited about what was about to happen. Hot, and squished, and worried about the chocolate bark melting in my bag, but excited nonetheless. (Honestly, I really do love live music.) Patting my rain-induced ‘fro in anticipation, I cracked a beer and said a few last words to Bay as four strapping young men took the stage.
Although I can’t remember the name of that first band or any of the songs they played, I was completely enthralled by one of the performers. The egg player. This dude’s sole responsibility in the band was to shake a small plastic egg. (You know, the kind that has rice or something inside of it and makes noise like maracas.) At first, I figured he was probably the group’s “percussionist,” and he would later pick up a tambourine or a rain stick or something. But he didn’t. It was just egg for that whole set, and it was mesmerizing. He played the SHIT out of that egg.
I’m aware that the above statement may seem ridiculous, but it’s true. This guy was literally shaking and bopping with his egg like his life depended on it. He looked completely ecstatic the entire time, and at points he would reallllly get into it, closing his eyes and smiling dreamily from ear to ear. (He even broke a sweat from all the physical exertion.) Yes, he could have been on drugs, but I choose to believe that he was just super passionate about what he was doing, and it made him THAT happy. There were a lot of other awesome performers that night, but it was the egg virtuoso that stuck with me. I left thinking that we should all make like him and fill our lives with the weirdness we love. (Deep thoughts by Serena.)
I’m telling you all of this nonsense because I am the egg player when it comes to quinoa bakes. People always ask me what my favorite thing is to cook, and while I sometimes spout off a fancy/impressive-sounding meal, the real answer is QUINOA BAKES. They’re simple, sure, and they’re definitely not the sexiest recipes on the block, but when you commit to giving one your all, the end result is surprisingly exciting. Quinoa bakes are my percussion egg, and as I’ve mentioned before, it takes enormous self-restraint not to share my creations on the reg. Luckily, it’s been a while since my last offering, so I thought it was safe to post this Barbecue Chicken Quinoa Bake today.
This bake may just be my best yet, friends. The quinoa is loaded with juicy grilled chicken breasts, sweet corn, red onions, grape tomatoes and barbecue sauce (I went with a sweet and spicy bottle, but you do you), and then topped with melt-y Monterey Jack and crispy whole-wheat Panko. This comforting whole grain casserole is awesome on its own, but loading it up with lots and lots of fresh toppings is what really puts it over the edge. The combo of warm burst tomatoes, and fresh, juicy ones is perfection, and I’m always down with a generous amount of cilantro and scallions. If you want to really cut loose, diced avocado and a dollop of sour cream are also excellent additions. (Do ittt.)
I know there’s a lot going on here, but the recipe is actually pretty painless. Prep and cook the veggies while the chicken and quinoa cook, then you just stir everything together and pop it in the oven for 25 minutes. (I used this method to cook a couple chicken breasts, but you can use store-bought roast chicken if you want to save time.) The bake will probably run you an hour from start to finish, but I swear it’s worth it, and it’s practically guaranteed to induce egg player-esque delight…
Barbecue Chicken Quinoa Bake: (Serves 4-6)
1 cup uncooked quinoa (I used tri-color quinoa, but any color will do.)
1½ cups low-sodium chicken broth (or water)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup sweet corn kernels (from 1 ear of corn)
½ medium red onion, finely chopped
Fresh ground pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping cup grape tomatoes, halved (You can also use 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained)
2 cups diced or shredded chicken breast (I cooked 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts using this method.)
½ cup barbecue sauce
1½ cup grated Monterey Jack, divided (Pepper Jack and sharp cheddar are also bomb.)
3 tablespoon whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs
For garnish: (optional)
Thinly sliced scallions
Preparing your Barbecue Chicken Quinoa Bake:
-Pre-heat your oven to 375.
-Place the quinoa and chicken broth in a small saucepan. (If your quinoa is not pre-washed, make sure to rinse and drain it first.) Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cover and cook for 14 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Let rest for 5 minutes, covered, then fluff with a fork.
-Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet. (If you don’t have an ovenproof skillet, don’t panic. You can transfer your quinoa mixture to medium baking dish before putting it in the oven.) When hot, add the corn, red onion.
-Season with a pinch of salt and plenty of fresh ground pepper. Cook for about minutes until the corn is tender and the onions are translucent. Stir in the tomatoes and garlic, and cook for 2 minutes until the tomatoes are just softened and the garlic is fragrant.
-Turn off the heat and add the cooked quinoa, chicken, barbecue sauce, and ¾ cup of cheese to the skillet. Stir until everything is well combined. (If your skillet isn’t ovenproof, now is the time to transfer the mixture to a baking dish.) Top with the remaining cheese in an even layer and sprinkle with Panko.
-Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 25 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling and top is lightly browned. Garnish with toppings of your choice and serve hot.
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