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Creamy Parmesan Chicken Casserole

Creamy Parmesan Chicken Casserole

We were invited to a Pot Luck lunch yesterday  and so this casserole I am showcasing today is a little something I came up with to take to the affair.  I love Pot Lucks, or Covered Dish Suppers as they are also called.  They are a wonderful opportunity to taste a little dab of this and a little dab of that, to rub elbows and mingle with friends over some good food and to taste and try new and, hopefully, delicious things!

My mother always called me the Queen of Casseroles.  She said I had the ability to make an old boot taste good, and I guess (in all humility) I do.  Its not a special talent however, anyone can do it.  It just requires a knowledge of what flavours and textures goes together with each other.  Its simple really. 

First you want a starch of some kind . . .  potatoes, pasta, rice . . .  all work well.  We have pre-cooked packaged of rice over here and they are ever so handy to keep in the cupboard for days like this. Tinned  and frozen potatoes also work very well in casseroles! 

Next you will want a protein of some kind.  Tinned fish, cooked meat or chicken, beans and legumes, all work very well.  I always have some of these in my cupboard also.  Today I used canned chicken, but it is very easy to cook chicken just for this purpose.  Just take a package of chicken breasts, cover with water or stock, bring to the boil and then simmer until tender.  Let cool in the liquid, then drain and shred.

Next you will want some herbs, spices, aromatics.  Think chopped onions, chopped celery and or peppers . . . chopped mushrooms.  Fresh or dried herbs.  Herb and spice blends.  Today I used chopped onions and a Garlic Italian Spice blend, along with parsley flakes. 

Next you will want a sauce of some kind. You can use tinned soups or sauces.  Or you can make a simple cream/cheese sauce.  Today I mixed equal parts of double cream and chicken stock. That always works well.  Even with meats. You can use beef or ham stock with cream also.

Cheese.  I don't know about you, but I think casseroles are better with cheese, both inside and out.  I can't think of any vegetable or protein that doesn't go with cheese.  Today I used Parmesan in the casserole itself, and a mix of cheeses for the topping.

Vegetables.  I like peas, corn and beans in casseroles.  Here's a handy tip . . . for use with peas and with corn. If you are using frozen, reserve any toppings for the last bit of cook time, stir in the frozen veg and then top and return to the oven to finish off.  You end up with perfectly cooked peas and corn, with a beautiful colour and not dried out in the least.

Today I used peas and fifteen minutes was just long enough to cook them through and they retained that lovely bright green colour.  I know its not always possible such as when you are making a cottage pie or such, but if you can do it, it works out beautifully.

Finally  . . .  the topping.  I love cheese on top of most casseroles, but I also ADORE some crunch on top!  Crushed buttered cracker crumbs, buttered bread crumbs, crumbled croutons, crushed crispy fried salad onions/durkees, crumbled potato crisps/chips, etc.  All work very well.  Today I used a small packet of crumbled cheese & onion flavoured Sun Bites.  Altogether this was very, very delicious!

*Creamy Parmesan Chicken Casserole*
Serves 4

Just a little something I threw together for a pot luck lunch. It was delicious! 

1 (354g) tin of premium chunk chicken breast (12.5 oz tin), drained well and flaked
(I get mine at Costco, you can use 2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
3 tsp garlic Italian seasoning
1 tsp dried parsley
salt and black pepper to taste (just a pinch of each)
2 pouches ready cooked brown rice (about 4 cups cooked rice)
240ml heavy cream (1 cup)
240ml chicken stock (1 cup)
90g coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
150g frozen peas (1 cup)

To top:
3 TBS each grated Parmesan, Cheddar, Mozzarella cheeses
a handful of crisps coarsely crushed

Preheat the oven to 180*C/350*F/ gas mark 4.  Butter a large shallow baking dish.  Set aside.

Put the onion into a microwave proof dish and cover.  Cook for 1 1/2 minutes on high.  Dump into a bowl.  Crumble in the rice.  Stir to combine. Add the garlic Italian seasoning, parsley, salt and black pepper, flaked chicken, cream and stock, along with the Parmesan cheese.  Stir to mix together well. Pour into the baking dish.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Uncover and stir.  Stir in the frozen peas.  Combine the cheeses for the topping and sprinkle over top.  Sprinkle with the crushed crisps.  Return to the oven and bake for a further 15 to 20 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown.  Serve hot.

There is no end to the combinations you can come up with:  Ham, potato, corn, cheese, onion; chili beans, sweet potato, onions, corn, cheese; fish, potato, broccoli, cheese, onion; I could go on and on.  The point is casseroles like this are very simple and quick to make.  All you need to do is keep a few basics in the cupboard/larder and you are never very far from a delicious bake!  Perfect for when unexpected company arrives!  Bon Appetit!

PS - Yes I did make a small extra casserole to taste before I took it to the pot luck.  Doesn't everyone?  I just wanted to make sure it was tasty enough to wow the others!  It was!

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Marie Rayner
Enfrijoladas Bake

Enfrijoladas Bake

When I first moved over here to the UK, the idea of ever being able to enjoy Tex Mex delights seemed to be but a distant dream.  These types of ingredients were few and far between and very hard to come by.  There are still some things which are really hard to find, but happily there are quite a few ingredients which are a lot easier to find.  Yay.

I think we can owe a lot of credit for that to Tomasina Miers who won Master Chef in 2005 and whose main speciality has always been Mexican Cuisine! Greatly influenced by her frequent trips to Mexico, she is the co-owner of the Wahaca Chain of Restaurants.

This recipe I am sharing with you today is one which I first saw on the Betty Crocker site and have adapted to what is available here in the UK. It looked really delicious and really simple to make.  I also was able to halve the recipe quite successfully for just we two Tex Mex food lovers.

 It used fairly simple ingredients such as salsa and refried beans . . .  also tinned green chilies, which are not so easy to find here, in fact I have never seen them. So what I do is roast fresh green jalapenos and then chop them up and use them. 

Just wash them and roast them in a hot oven (225*C/425*F/ gas mark 7) until blistered, take them out, pop them into a plastic bag, let sweat, peel and chop up. You can discard the seeds if you want less heat.

I blitzed the beans, salsa, and peppers in my CookHouse Kitchen mini food processor. It works a charm.  Dip flour tortillas in the result, fill with cheese, fold and fold again.

Placed into a baking dish, with the remaining sauce spooned over and additional cheese and baked, these are such a doddle to make and very quick as well.  You can have them on the table in about half an hour tops, and that is stretching it! 

Top with sour cream and your favourite taco/nacho/enchilada toppings to serve.  I used sour cream, some salsa and a kind of fresh salsa that I made by chopping together fresh parsley, red onions, and green and black cured olives.

Normally I would have used spring onions, but I was lacking them, and I have to say what I did use was really, really delicious!  YUMMY even!

*Enfrijoladas Bake*
Serves 5

What can I say . . .  refried beans, green chilis, tortillas, salsa, cheese, delicious! 

1 (435g) tin of refried beans (16 oz.)
1 can (4.5oz) tin of chopped green chilies
(I used 4 fresh jalapenos, roasted and chopped)
240ml thick and chunky salsa, any strength (1 cup)
240g 4-cheese blend (2 cups)
1 package (6 inch) flour tortillas for soft tacos and fahitas

To serve (Just some suggestions):
chopped spring onions or red onions
dairy sour cream
chopped black olives
grated cheese
chopped coriander
more salsa 

Preheat the oven to 200*C/400*F/ gas mark 6.  Butter a 13 by 9 inch baking dish.  Set aside.

Put the beans, chilies, and salsa into a blender or food processor.  Blitz until smooth. Pour into a pie tin.  Take your tortillas one at a time and dip into the bean sauce to coat. (I leave it flat in the dish to do the following)  Sprinkle 2 TBS of the cheese blend over half of the tortilla and fold over to a half moon, fold in half and then in half again. You should have a triangular shape. Place into the baking dish.  Repeat with the remaining tortillas.  Spoon any remaining sauce over top along with any remaining cheese.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.  Serve hot with your favourite toppings!

I really hope you give these a go!  They are simple and quick to make and I think your family will really love them. Mexican food is one of those things that doesn't really look overly appealing, but the flavours are really delicious. I used corn and wheat tortillas which is what I had and they worked beautifully.  Provecheeto!!

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Marie Rayner
Blueberry & Corn Salad

Blueberry & Corn Salad

Make no mistake about it.  I am a salad lover.  There is no end to the combination of flavours and colours and deliciousness when it comes to making salads.  This is a salad my friend Rhondi posted on Instagram the other week and I bookmarked it. It was just interesting enough and colourful enough that I knew it was something we would enjoy! 

The original recipe comes from Yummly, by way of A Healthy Life for Me, and is Gluten Free and Paleo.  Of course I adapted it a bit to what I have/had in my house and garden, and with most delicious results I might add! 

I have always ascribed to the notion that there is a reason certain foods ripen together and in the same season . . .  to me it usually means that they are ingredients that go well with each other. You might think that blueberries and corn are not things that would go together, but you would be totally wrong! 

Not only do they ripen at approximately the same time, but they also work wonderfully together when served in a salad such as this.  Blueberries are not all that sweet when raw . . .  the sweetness only really comes out when they are cooked.  When raw they are a bit tangy and earthy, at least they are to me! 

Corn, when cooked properly is crisp and sweet and juicy . . .  fresh tasting.  Mix the two together and you have a beautiful marriage of crisp, sweet, tangy, juicy wonderfulness! 

There is also cucumber in this, which has an almost melon quality, and red onions for a bit of sharpness.  I added some raw courgette/zucchini . . .  because I like them raw and in salads and I thought it would add interest.

The dressing is fabulous!  Sweet and tangy . . .  with lime and honey  . . .  cumin for a bit of warmth, some hot pepper sauce  . . .

and a bit of herbiness from the use of fresh oregano and basil.  The original recipe used coriander/cilantro, but I thought oregano and basil would taste much better and I was right.  They worked beautifully with the rest of the flavours!

with the end result being a salad that was not only a feast for the mouth, just bursting with flavour and textures . . .

But a wonderful feast for the eyes!

Don't be tempted to overlook this because of the unusual qualities of it  You will be missing out on a real gem if you do!  Its a true winner and now one of our favourites!

*Blueberry & Corn Salad*
Serves 6

A delicious, healthy and unsual salad which makes a fabulous use of seasonal ingredients! 

6 ears of corn husked
250g fresh blueberries (1 cup)
1 medium cucumber, washed and sliced
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 small courgette (zucchini) , halved and cut into half moons

For the dressing:
1 tsp green pepper sauce
2 TBS fresh lime juice
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
2 TBS liquid honey
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 TBS minced fresh oregano
1 TBS minced fresh basil
salt and black pepper to taste

(You can either cook the corn or not for this recipe.  I cooked it. 5 minutes in lightly sugared boiling water.)  Cut the kernels of corn from the cobs and place into a bowl.  Toss together with the blueberries, cucumber, red onion and courgette. (I used a yellow courgette/zucchini.)

Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients until well blended. Pour over the vegetables and toss together to coat. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Give it a final toss at the table.  Delicious!

We had this the other night when we had guests over or supper.  I served it with a cheese and onion quiche, potato salad and sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.  It went down a real treat!  Bon Appetit!

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Marie Rayner
Baked Eggs with Swiss Chard & Garlic Croutons

Baked Eggs with Swiss Chard & Garlic Croutons

We've been really  blessed these past few weeks having been gifted with some lovely free-range farm eggs.  They are just beautiful eggs and we are most appreciative of them! 

We've also been fabulously gifted with bags of beautiful vegetables  . . .  corn, beans, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, courgettes, beetroot and some lovely rainbow Swiss chard.  I adore Swiss chard.

Like Kale or spinach, it lends itself beautifully to stir frying, and other simple preparations.  Just so long as you wash it really well.  Dirt collects in all of those wrinkley folds, so do take care and wash it well.  I like to put it into a pan of cold water and give it a good swish around, and then a quick rinse under the tap again.  After that you can put it into a net bag, go out into the garden and swing it around a few times to dry it off a bit.

Today I braised the swiss chard in a skillet, with a bit of white wine and some fresh herbs from the garden.  Chard and kale do take longer to cook than spinach. They lend themselves beautifully to braising . . .  

While it was braising I had some leftover ciabatta that I toasted in a skillet and made into croutons.  I love croutons . . .

The chard and the croutons got put into baking dishes.  I made a bit of a hollow in the centre of each  . . .

and then I broke one of those lovely farm fresh eggs into those hollows and popped the dishes into the oven . . .

It only takes about 10 to 15 minutes and you have beautifully baked eggs. I sprinkled a few more fresh herbs on top, a sprinkle of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper, and dinner was served!

*Baked Eggs with Swiss Chard & Garlic Croutons*
Serves 2

You can actually bake eggs over a multitude of things . . .  ratatouille, stewed tomatoes, peppers, etc.  We especially like this version I came up with when gifted with a lovely big bag of rainbow Swiss Chard and some very fresh Hen eggs! Summer in a dish.

2 TBS butter
2 slices of a rustic type of bread, cut into cubes
pinch each garlic and onion powder
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 big bunches of chard, any colour, stems trimmed off and leaves roughly chopped
60ml dry white wine or vegetable stock
1 TBS chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp each fresh chopped rosemary leaves and fresh thyme
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 4 (depending on appetites) large free range eggs

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C/400*F/ gas mark 6.  Melt half of the butter in a large skillet. Add the cubes of bread and dust lightly with some onion and garlic powders, salt and black pepper. Toss together and brown lightly over medium heat, until golden brown but not hard. Scoop out and set aside.  Melt the remaining butter in the skillet.  Add the shallots.  Stir and cook until softened without colouring.  Add the chard and white wine, along with a healthy seasoning of salt and black pepper.  Mix together the herbs and toss most of them into the pan, reserving some for the garnish.  Cook and toss together.  Cover and cook until well wilted and tender.  Divide between two buttered single sized baking dishes along with the croutons.  Make a well in the centre and crack in one or two eggs.   Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or so until the whites are set and the yolks to your preference. Dust with a bit of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and a sprinkle of the reserved herbs. Serve immediately.

Oh, I am so enjoying all of these beautiful gifts of the season this year.  You can't go wrong with vegetables that are freshly grown and local.  This summer weather has been really good to us and our vegetable gardens this year!  We are truly blessed! Bon Appetit! 

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Marie Rayner

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