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Easy Crack Chicken Tacos

I had been eyeballing a recipe on Delish for a while now for Crack Chicken Tacos.  They looked fabulously tasty, but they also looked a bit faffy, with having to bread pieces of chicken breast etc.  The idea of that really kind of put me off.  I want my tacos to be quick and easy. 

Then I discovered these in the frozen food section at our local grocery shop.  Reasonably prices and 100% chicken, and with only green and amber lights, they are fairly healthy.  And so I picked up a couple packs to see if I could do something with them. 

The original recipe called for breading chicken breast chunks with egg, flour, panko, seasoning, etc.  You can certainly do all that faffing about if you want to, but I can tell you right now, it's not necessary.  You can have something just as tasty on the table in a fraction of the time and with a great deal less effort. 

The sauce is amazingly simple.  You just warm together some of your favourite BBQ sauce, brown sugar, lime juice and some garlic powder. 

I cut all the quantities of the original recipe in half and found that it was more than plenty! 

The original recipe called for simply rolling the finished chicken in the sauce before putting it into the tortillas.

That could be why they needed more sauce.  I coated the chicken chunks in it 5 minutes prior to the finished bake time and returned them to the oven to actually cook in the sauce for a few minutes, which really enhanced the flavours of the sauce, so you needed a lot less of it for a larger flavour impact. 

The original recipe also called for a simple bed of shredded cabbage to sit the chicken on in the tacos.  I felt I could do much better than that. 

I added a shredded carrot and some sliced spring onions and a couple TBS of Ranch dressing to make it into a coleslaw.

This worked beautifully as a wonderfully tasty bed for those delicious chunks of chicken.

All that needed to be done after that was to drizzle them lightly with some more ranch dressing and sprinkle some chopped coriander leaf on top! 

Oh boy but these were fabby do!

Really FABBY DO!!

The flavours were fantastic! 

They were quick and easy to make! 

And they provided us with at least one of our five a day!  You can't go wrong!

Yield: 4

Easy Crack Chicken Tacos

prep time: 10 minscook time: 15 minstotal time: 25 mins
Probably some of the tastiest tacos you would ever want to eat. Quick, easy and delicious!


350g pack of frozen battered chicken breast chunks (12 1/2 ounces)
4 soft flour tortillas, or tortilla boats

For the sauce:
125g BBQ Sauce (1/2 cup)
50g soft light brown sugar (1/4 cup)
2 TBS lime juice
1/2 tsp garlic powder

For the salad:
1/2 small head of cabbage, finely shredded
1/2 carrot, peeled and shredded
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely shredded
2 TBS ranch dressing

You will also need:
freshly chopped coriander leaf for sprinkling (Cilantro)
ranch dressing to drizzle


Preheat your oven to the temperature designated on the package of
chicken.  Line a baking tray with foil and pour out the chicken pieces
onto the foil.  Bake in the oven according to package directions.

To make the sauce, gently heat together the BBQ sauce, sugar, lime juice and garlic powder.  Keep warm.

To make the salad, mix the vegetables together in a bowl along with the ranch dressing.

 5 minutes before the chicken is done, remove it from the oven and toss
it with the sauce.  Return to the oven for the remaining cook time. 
Heat your tortillas according to package directions.
 serve, divide the coleslaw salad between the warmed tortillas, top each
 with 1/4 of the coated chicken pieces.  Drizzle the chicken with some
ranch dressing and sprinkle with coriander leaf.  Fold over and serve
Created using The Recipes Generator 

I used this Essential 5-in-1 vegetable shredder to do my carrots for the salad.  It is so easy to use and comes with a handy bowl that you can shredd your vegetables into.  I just mixed up my coleslaw in that same bowl.  Its a really handy kitchen tool.  Easy to use, clean, store and maintain.  I love it and use it a lot.  You can find out more here

We both really enjoyed these tacos.  They fit the bill on all counts and fulfilled my kitchen motto, which is for most of what I cook to be quick, easy and delicious!  Love, Love, Love! Happy Weekend! 

Marie Rayner
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Maple Mashed Butternut Squash

One vegetable which I really, really, REALLY love is Butternut Squash.  Actually I quite like any Winter squash, but I love butternut squash most of all.  Kind of funny really because when I was growing up my mom couldn't get me to touch squash with a ten foot pole, and now it is one of my favourite things! 

Butternut Squash is sometimes known in Australia and New Zealand as butternut pumpkin or gramma. It is a type of winter squash that grows on a vine, with a sweet, nutty taste which is quite similar to that of a pumpkin. It has tan-yellow skin and orange fleshy pulp with a compartment of seeds in the bottom. I always

Its a pretty essential ingredient for autumn dishes and a must for the holiday table. It’s a big player in comforting soups, stews and sautes, but finding the right one can sometimes be difficult. If it’s underripe, the squash won’t have developed its signature taste. If it’s overripe, it may be dry, mushy or flavorless. Follow these tips the next time you’re at the grocery store or farm market to find the perfect recipe-ready butternut squash.

First pick it up to feel its weight. A ripe butternut squash should be hard and heavy for its size. Use your own judgement and pick up other squashes to get an idea of the average weight. If a squash is too light, it’s not ripe enough yet. You can also do the tried-and-true knocking test. Tap the outside of the vegetable. If it sounds hollow, it’s ready to eat. I also like to pick squashed that have large thick tops or "Necks",  necks that are almost the same size as the bulbous bottoms.  You get much more squash for your money.  The bottom is mostly seeds, so most of the flesh will be in the upper part of the squash. If you get one with a tiny neck, you are really missing out!!

Examine the skin colour The deeper the hue, the better. A butternut squash should be dark beige. Green spots or streaks mean the squash isn’t fully ripened. Look for one with a matte finish, with colour that’s even across the entire surface. The thickness of the shell is also important. Use your fingernail to try to gently prick the surface. If your nail goes through easily, it’s not a good squash. You want one with a really hard exterior.

Stay away from any squash with obvious cuts, gashes, or soft spots that might lead to rot or mold. Brown marks, usually caused by frost, are a sign the squash won’t last as long or will have an undesirable texture.

The skin on the butternut squash is very tough and it can be somewhat difficult to cut. If you want, you can pop it in the microwave before you start preparing it for a couple of minutes which will help to make it softer and easier to remove.  If  you are slow roasting the squash, you can just leave the skin on as it is quite edible and gets softer when baked. 

How to cut and peel your squash 
Hold the squash steady on your chopping board and use a sharp knife to trim off the top and bottom.  This will make it easier to stand still. Once you have done that, split the squash in half at the point where the long “neck” section meets the round base section. If you want to remove the skin you can either use a Y shaped or swivel blade vegetable peeler or a knife. Once the skin has been removed, cut the base section in half to expose the seeds. Scoop them out using a spoon, and discard. Now you can slice the prepared butternut squash into wedges, chunks or small cubes, depending on what you plan on doing with it.

For this dish, I peeled the squash and cut it into wedge sized pieces, each about 1 inch thick.  These were tossed in a bowl along with some olive oil and maple syrup, along with some salt and pepper for seasoning.

You place them onto a lined baking tray that you have sprayed with a non-stick cooking spray.  Its important that you line the tray unless you want a stuck on mess to clean up. 

This then gets roasted in a moderate oven until the pieces of squash are fork tender and just beginning to caramelise a bit.  You don't want them to get too dark, or burnt, but the roasting really helps bring out the natural sweetness, and also helps to keep the vegetable dry.  Cook squash can often be very damp, even too damp, if you boil or steam it.

Oh yes, I also added a few sprigs of thyme to further flavour  the squash while it is roasting.

Once its all tender you just tip it into a bowl and mash it until it is fairly smooth along with some butter.  You decide how much. 

You will want to taste it and see if you need any more salt and pepper. And if you need or want any more maple syrup, now is the time to add it.  I sometimes add another small drizzle.  Its just soooo good!

Stir in a bit more fresh thyme, chopped . . .  the leaves only, and your beautifully flavoured mashed squash side dish is a fait accomplis!

Yield: 8

Maple Mashed Butternut Squash

prep time: 10 minscook time: 30 minstotal time: 40 mins
This is a delicious way to prepare your holiday side of Butternut squash.


2 lbs. butternut squash flesh (after peeling and de-seeding)
a small handful of fresh thyme stalks (about 8)
1 TBS olive oil
2 - 3 TBS maple syrup
3 - 4 TBS butter
salt and black pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 200*C/400*F/ gas mark 6.  Line a
 baking tray with aluminium foil.  Spray lightly with non-stick cooking
spray.  Slice the butternut squash into wedges.  Toss together in a bowl
with the olive oil, maple syrup and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Scatter
onto the baking sheet with the thyme stalks.

 in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until tender and just beginning to
caramelise.  Remove and tip into a bowl, discarding any stalks of
thyme.  Mash together with butter to taste and the fresh thyme.  Taste
and adjust seasoning as required.  Keep warm until ready to serve.
Note - This can be made several days in advance.  Cover and refrigerate and reheat in the microwave when needed.
Created using The Recipes Generator

Another thing I really, REALLY like about dishes like this, is that you can make them up well ahead of time and just reheat them in the microwave at the last minute.  It can really save a lot of time and hassle on the day you plan on serving it, especially during the holidays when you have about a bazillion other things to do!  This is just so delicious!  Never soggy and always perfectly cooked!  This is a winner in every respect and goes very well with all kinds of roasted meats and poultry! Nom Nom!  

Marie Rayner
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Creamy Parsnip Soup, with Ginger & Cardamom

This delicious soup I am sharing with you today is one I frequently made for dinner parties when I cooked at the Manor.  It is elegant enough for entertaining, making it perfect for the upcoming holidays,  but is also  uses simple ingredients and is very easy to make. Another plus! 

If you are not familiar with Parsnips, they are a root vegetable which is closely related to carrots and parsley. Its long, tuberous root has cream-coloured skin and flesh. Unlike other root vegetables, it is  left in the ground to mature in the autumn, as it becomes sweeter in flavor after winter frosts.

I quite simply adore them, and you will often find them in my soups and stews as they lend a wonderful flavour to these types of things . . .  and on their own they make a beautiful soup.

At Christmas many people roast partially cooked parsnips in the oven with a honey butter glaze as their flavour makes them a beautiful accompaniment to turkey and game.  When I was a girl my mother used to par-boil them and then fry them in butter.  Such a treat! 

This delicious soup makes great use of some of the warm baking spices  . . .  ginger, and cardamom . . .  you will also find garlic, which you might not think would work, but it does  . . .  beautifully!  There is a bit of cayenne for heat, and of course along with the parsnips, there is onion. 

A soup without any onion in it, is sadly lacking in something important in my opinion!  Onions and garlic lend such wonderful savoury flavours to things.  Without them, this soup might be a bit too sweet, I think.

The toasted hazelnut and dried cranberry topping on top gives this simple soup a bit of class.

It is a beautiful garnish with plenty of texture and colour, which helps to set off an otherwise very ordinary looking soup.

The hazelnuts adding a bit of crunch and the cranberry some jewel like sweetness . . .

The creaminess of the soup . . .  that crunch of the nuts, the sweetness of the cranberries . . .  it just all works in harmony to give you a delightful first course for any occasion!

Yield: 4

Creamy Parsnip Soup, with Ginger & Cardamom

prep time: 10 minscook time: 35 minstotal time: 45 mins
Creamy soup with a wonderful hint of sweet spices, ginger and cardamom, along with a toasted hazelnut and cranberry topping.


2 TBS olive oil
1 1/2 pounds parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 TBS butter
large pinch of sugar
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom (remove the seeds from green cardamom pods, and
grind them to a powder in your mortar and pestle)
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 pints chicken broth
1 1/4 pints single cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper

To Garnish:
1 TBS coarsely chopped skinned hazelnuts
1 TBS dried cranberries
1 tsp butter


Heat the oil in a large deep saucepan over medium high heat. 
Once it shimmers, add the parsnips, and onions.  Saute,stirring very
little at first, and then more frequently towards the end, until the
parsnips start to turn golden brown. This should take 7 to 8 minutes. 
Reduce the heat to low and add butter, sugar, and garlic.  Continue to
cook, stirring occasionally until all the vegetables are a rich caramel
colour, some 10 minutes longer.

Add the spices and cook, until
fragrant, then add the broth.  Bring to a simmer over medium high heat.
 Reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, until vegetables
are tender.  This should take about 10 minutes.

Using a stick
blender, puree the soup until smooth.  Stir in the cream and heat until
warm.  Season to taste with some salt and pepper.

Heat the tsp of
 butter for the garnish in a small saucepan.  Add the hazelnuts and
dried cranberries.  Cook until golden and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.

ladle the hot soup into heated bowls and top each serving with a portion of the hazelnut/cranberry saute.  Delicious!
Created using The Recipes Generator

You need not wait for a special occasion to make this delicious soup.  It tastes good any time. I often make it just for a light supper with some crusty bread.  I don't always do the garnish in that case.  (I know, lazy me.)  This is one of the recipes that you will find in my new book coming out in the New Year, entitled "A Year In The English Kitchen".  Bon Appetit! 

Marie Rayner
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Proper Bechamel - Broccoli & Cauliflower Cheese A tutorial

One skill that every cook should master is the ability to make a proper Bechamel Sauce.  To be able to do so will hold every cook in good stead in the kitchen and in all truth a basic bechamel, or cream sauce as it is also called, forms the basis for many other sauces. 

Bechamel is a white sauce which is made by combining hot flavoured or seasoned milk with a roux (which you can see in the photo below). One of the basic sauces, the classic recipe calls for milk flavoured by heating it with a bay leaf, slice of onion and a blade of mace of nutmeg.  This is left for about half an hour to infuse and then the sauce is thickened with a roux.

A roux is made from combining equal parts of butter and flour.  Generally speaking, there are three different kinds of roux:  White, straw-coloured (blond) or brown, depending on the colour you want your finished sauce to be, with the difference in colour having been created by browning the flour (or not) to varying degrees. 

After mixing the melted butter and flour in a saucepan over heat, the roux must be cooked and stirred for a short time to help eliminate the floury taste.  The longer a roux is cooked, the darker it becomes.  For a basic cream/bechamel sauce you will  not want it to brown at all if you can help it. 

When thickening a preparation with a roux, it is crucial to respect the hot/cold balance of the mix.  A hot roux must always be mixed into a cold liquid, and a cold roux into a hot liquid.  When using a cold roux (which is made simply by rubbing butter and flour together without heating it) you must allow enough time for the roux to melt and let the thickening liquid to cook for a few minutes.  Then it should thicken nicely without leaving a floury after-taste. 

I scanned this photo from my original Betty Crocker Cookery Book, which I have had for many years.  It best describes the steps to follow when making a basic bechamel or cream sauce and gives you quantities to use for the various thicknesses.  Thin sauces are what you will want when you are using it for a garnish for meats, vegetables, etc.  For a bake you will want the sauce to be of a medium thickness and if you are making something like meat or vegetable croquettes, you will want a thick sauce.

Yield: Makes  1 cup

Bechamel Sauce

prep time: cook time: 15 minstotal time: 15 mins
I think this was one of the first things I learnt how to make in home economics at school.   When well made, this simple sauce has a proper place in homey, creamed dishes, often making leftover stretch or giving cooked foods a new life.  A good bechamal is the basis for many dishes such as souffles, or macaroni and cheese.  The foolproof way to achieve a perfectly smooth sauce is to have the milk hot when you add it to the butter and flour.  It uses an extra pot, but perfection is perfection.


2 TBS butter
2 TBS plain flour
285ml of hot milk (1 1/4 cups)
freshly ground black pepper


Melt the butter in a heavy
bottomed saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook,
whisking constantly until the flour is cooked out and bubbles a bit.  Do
 NOT let it brown.   This will take about 2 minutes.   Whisk in the hot
milk, slowly, whisking constantly until the milk is all whisked in and
the sauce thickens.   Bring to the boil.  Stir in the salt and pepper to
 taste. Lower the heat to very low and continue to cook, whisking, for
an additional 2 to 3 minutes longer.   Remove from the heat.  If you are
 using the sauce later, cover the top with a round of baking parchment
to prevent a skin from forming.  (You can also pour a very thin layer of
 milk over top which works in much the same way.)


 Cream Sauce - Use 3 TBS of flour to 225ml/1 cup of milk.  This is the
consistency needed for souffles and meat, poultry or fish croquettes.

 Cream Sauce - Just before serving, beat in 2 large egg yolks, 6 TBS of
butter (1 TBS at a time) and 1 TBS fresh lemon juice

 Sauce - Stir in 60g/1/2 cup of grated Cheddar cheese during the last 2
minutes of cooking, along with a pinch of cayenne pepper.

 Sauce - Add 2 TBS of grated Parmesan Cheese and 2 TBS of grated Swiss
cheese during the last two minutes of cooking.  Stir until blended. 
Just before removing from the heat, beat 2 TBS of the sauce into 1
lightly beaten egg yolk.  Stir the yolk/sauce mixture back into the
sauce and add 2 TBS butter.    Continue to cook, stirring, for one
minute longer.
Note - to make a larger quantity, simply double the ingredients.
Created using The Recipes Generator

One of the most common uses for a bechamal sauce is something you have probably already done if you have ever made a macaroni cheese from scratch, and that is to make a cheese sauce!  That is what I have done here to make a variation of one of our favourite dishes and that is a Broccoli & Cauliflower Cheese!

Basically, it is a very simple dish.  Blanched florets of broccoli and cauliflower, put into a baking dish you have lined with some cheese sauce and then napped all over with the same sauce.  I like to add a crispy topping to mine. 

This topping is very easily made by blitzing some bread, butter and strong cheddar together in a small food processor.  It makes a lovely crumble that you can then scatter over top of the whole dish. 

As the dish cooks in the oven, the crumbs crisp up beautifully with a lovely golden finish. 

One key for success is to make sure that your vegetables are drained really well before adding them to the dish. If you don't do this then you could end up with a bit of a watery finish, which is not exactly what you want! 

I could sit down to a dish of this all on its own quite happily!  It also makes a great vegetarian main if you have a veggie coming to supper! 

Whether you enjoy this as a side dish or a vegetarian main there is one thing you can count on for sure and that is that it will be enjoyed by all! 

Make sure you use a well flavoured cheddar for the sauce.  It makes all the difference in the world. 

Yield: 4

Broccoli & Cauliflower Cheese

prep time: 25 minscook time: 25 minstotal time: 50 mins
Some people may eat this as a main course, and it certainly makes for a delicious one.  Other's may choose to have it as a side dish.  Whichever way you choose, you will not be disappointed.


1 medium cauliflower, broken into bite sized florets
1 medium broccoli, crown, broken into bite sized florets
1 1/2 pints milk (3 cups)
1 bay leaf
1 onion, halved
a few whole cloves
freshly grated nutmeg
4 TBS butter
4 TBS flour
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tsp Dijon  mustard
120g mature farmhouse cheddar, grated (1 cup)
5 TBS finely grated Parmesan cheese

To finish:
30g strong cheddar cheese (1 ounce)
1 TBS cold butter
1 slice rustic white bread torn


First make the bechamel sauce.  Place the onion, stuck with the cloves
and the bay leaf into a saucepan with the milk.  Bring just to the boil,
 then remove from the heat and allow to stand for 30 minutes to allow
the onion and herbs to infuse the milk with their flavour. At the end of
 half an hour, melt the butter in a saucepan.  Whisk in the flour.  Cook
 for one minute, then slowly whisk in the infused milk, discarding the
onion, bayleaf and cloves.  Whisk and cook until thickened.  Turn heat
to very low and allow to cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently
as to prevent it from catching.  Remove from the heat and then whisk in
the grated cheddar and Parmesan, along with the mustard.  Flavour with
some grated nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C/400*F/ gas mark 4.

 a pot of salted water to the boil and then add the vegetable florets.  Cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, until they are crispy
tender.  Drain very well.  Cover the bottom of your baking dish lightly with some of the cheese sauce.  Add the well drained vegetables.  Pour the cheese bechamel sauce over top, covering  it well. 

Blitz the topping ingredients in a small food processor until crumbly.  Scatter these crumbs over top.

Place in the heated oven and bake until it begins to brown in places and the sauce is bubbling.  (20 to 25 minutes) Serve hot.

Created using The Recipes Generator

Broccoli & Cauliflower Cheese

You can make a delicious casserole out of almost any cooked vegetable and a cream sauce.  Potatoes, carrots, swede, turnips, etc.  All work very well.  You can add a bit of horseradish to the sauce when cooking potatoes or carrots.  This is delicious.  Cabbage is really delicious when steamed until crispy tender and then baked in a bechamel sauce with some crumbs on top.  Fish is also lovely when baked with a bechamel.  Once you have mastered this sauce the world really is your oyster as to the number of ways you can use it!  Bon Appetit! 

Marie Rayner
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