Reaching the final of Masterchef 2007 was a rollercoaster of emotion, with huge highs and lows, but I loved every minute and learnt a huge amount. I owe a great deal to John and Gregg who had faith in my ability when I did not believe in myself. Since competing on the programme my life has changed considerably. I now write cookery columns for two magazines, give cookery demonstrations and am just working on my 13th cook book - unlucky number for some but not for me!!! I love all forms of country cooking, using seasonal and locally sourced produce. This blog is to enable me to share with you a few of my recipes and baking ideas. Enjoy Hannah xxxx

Monday, 31 December 2007

Well, this must be my final Christmas post (2008 tomorrow) but I couldn't pass Christmas without showing you my Christmas cake with its electric street lamps that light up! It got me thinking that they would be ideal for a Narnia magic forest cake complete with wardrobe. This was my first ever Christmas cake and it was pretty good! Very moist and strongly flavoured with amaretto!!!!

Friday, 28 December 2007

I can now reveal the embroidery I gave my mum for Christmas - the gingerbread garden! Very Christmassy and I think I am going to have to stitch one for myself for next year!

Thursday, 27 December 2007

It is hard to believe that after all the weeks of preparation, Christmas has been and gone. I hope that you all had a lovely time. My brother's lovely girlfriend Amy has departed back to New York (I am not sure whether she survived the madness of our family!!!), the rest of the family have gone home and my husband is back at work so the house is feeling eerily quiet today. Perfect for a long soak in the bath and a spot of tidying up! We had a wonderful Christmas. Christmas Eve was spent with Kathy Brown and supper with her lovely family - see Jonathan's photos of the delicious food on his blog. We had fun playing party games and I even tried to play the piano - sight reading was never my forte - it must have provided entertainment for those watching as Simon (who sings very well) tried to keep pace with my awful timing! These are the photos Jonathon took of the Christmas fondant fancies I took as a present! Very bright icing!!!

Christmas lunch with delicious (if I say so myself) The turkey cooked for 14 hours and yet was really moist. There are two theories for this - my brother is sure it was the turkey injector that he bought from Mexico (and which we had all dismissed as a joke) which I had used to inject ginger wine into the turkey whilst it was cooking. I was convinced it was the mascapone and wild mushroom stuffing under the skin! In truth it was probably a combination of both. My mum's Christmas pudding (made to our family recipe) was the best we had ever tasted.

I had some wonderful foody presents which I will share with you as soon as my camera (which died on Christmas Eve) is fixed! What did Santa Clause bring you?

Monday, 24 December 2007

Well Christmas Eve is here and we are almost ready! As you can imagine, the last few days have seen my Aga (which is luckily mended) cooking non stop - 150 mince pies, a ginger beer roasted ham, gingerbread, 15 litres of mulled wine! The turkey is stuffed and is waiting to go in the Aga to slow cook overnight! The last few days have been lovely. We had Christmas lunch with my Dad and visited Waddesdon Manor with a crisp winter walk - I have not been there since Masterchef and it was lovely to go back and not be under any pressure!! Friday was our village carol concert which included a rendition of the 12 days of Christmas by the village junior choir (the youngest member is 4), all singing solos! They were wonderful. We currently have the "travelling crib" (a wonderful knitted nativity - complete with knitted sheep, shepherds, kings and a knitted baby Jesus in a crib) which travels round the village spending a night with most families, ending up in the Church this evening - assuming that I do not forget to drop it off!
So, as Christmas Eve is drawing to a close, I wish you all a wonderful and heartfelt Merry Christmas with much love to you all and to all your families. Wherever you are tomorrow, I hope that you will be feasting well and that Santa remembers to leave you something nice under the tree. Happy Christmas one and all xxx

Friday, 21 December 2007

If you have young children staying with you on Christmas eve, keep the spirit of Christmas alive by making some magic reindeer food. Mix oats with glitter and foil stars and sprinkle outside your doorstep on Christmas eve to make sure that the reindeer know where to stop!

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Winter is definitely here this morning...I am freezing! Our Aga is being serviced again this morning - I am getting a bit worried about whether we will actually be able to cook a turkey this year - fingers crossed that it will get fixed this time. So it is cold and I would rather be under a quilt, but that said, I would not change the views in our garden this morning for anything. It looked like a winter wonderland. My wonderful hens are miraculously still laying despite the dusting of snow in their pen this morning - I am convinced the porridge is doing the trick and am wondering whether it would be prudent to serve them some warm carrots for lunch! A bullfinch also came to visit outside my office window this morning and stayed for ages!

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Christmas is primarily a time for children and today a few deserve a special mention. Firstly David Hall's (bookthecook) little girl Cerys who has very kindly bestowed on me a "Well Done Angel" award. I think she looks magical in her fairy outfit and am very honoured to have received an award from her! Thank you Cerys and I hope Father Christmas brings you lots of goodies!

The second mention is George who performed a wonderful puppet show for us all at our family party on Sunday - "Bob the Builder and Mickey Mouse follow the star". Whilst it may not have been a Christmas story that many of you will recognise, it had us laughing out loud and you will be pleased to know that they followed the star all the way to the north pole where Father Christmas made a guest appearance and gave them some presents!

Monday, 17 December 2007

My brother has arrived from America to stay for two weeks! It is so nice to see him after far too long. His new girlfriend Amy is arriving next week and we are all keen to meet her although we are hoping that meeting the family doesn't put her off him! Anyway, as if from something from We Three Kings, he arrived bearing gifts...Gold (a golden Sees Candies Christmas Hamper - we thought we had died and gone to heaven when we lifted the lid and saw the goodies inside)
Frankincense - some delicious smelling elderflower liquor with cocktail recipes - we will be trying these tonight! Oh ....and a turkey injector for injecting wine into the turkey flesh to keep it moist! Only my brother could find something like this! He bought it in Mexico! I have to say I am yet to be convinced by this but we will give it a try!

Well I have now finished work for Christmas holidays - how wonderful to have a whole week and a half to get ready for Christmas. The first task was to make the swag for our fireplace - always a tricky task as it is balanced on a series of nails across the top of the fireplace rather than a shelf. Anyway, it was finally balanced and secured with a lot of wire and help from Sacha and we had lots of fun decorating it (almost like having a second Christmas tree!)

I hope that your Christmas preparations are going well and that you are having as much fun as we are!

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Freddie and Charlotte of The Great Big Veg Challenge have move to Q and requested suggestions for Quick Vegetable Recipes. I assume this means there are no Q vegetables and sitting here I have to confess I cannot think of any! So this is a super quick pea and mint soup, stove to table in 10 minutes!

In a large pan, fry a finely chopped onion in 1 tbsp of olive oil with a pinch of salt for 2 minutes until softened. Add 300 grams of peas and a good slug of calvados, sherry or maderia and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 litre of chicken or vegetable stock and a handful of chopped mint. Simmer for 5 minutes until the peas are soft. Add 100ml of double cream or milk and blitz with a handblender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Hey presto - a super quick and tasty supper! Serve with some warm crusty bread.

As always Charlotte's team of dedicated followers and contributors have all come up with wonderful suggestions and she has links to all these recipes on her site.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

If like me you have lots of visitors staying over the Christmas period, there is always a dilemma of what to serve for breakfast. I try to serve something different every day but don't always have time to make waffles or cook an English Aga breakfast. If you are short of time and want to serve something yummy, make french toasts with cinnamon raisin bread (I usually have a bag of this in the freezer as standby). For 6 slices, whisk together 4 eggs and a few tablespoons of double cream or milk, a pinch of ground cinnamon and a teaspoon of caster sugar. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a large frying pan and soak your cinnamon bread slices in the egg mixture for a minute (don't leave it too long otherwise the bread will go soggy) making sure that all the bread is covered with the egg mixture. Fry the bread in the butter until it is golden brown on both sides. Serve with a drizzle of maple syrup and a spoonful of whipped cream if you wish! What more could a girl ask for when it is below zero outside and her chicken's water is frozen!!!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

I have recently collected four of my embroideries from the framers and thought I would share the results with you. They have done such a lovely job and the colours they pick for the mounts and frames are always perfect. The fourth one will have to remain a secret as it is a Christmas present for my Mum and the surprise would be ruined if she saw it here!

Monday, 10 December 2007

Yesterday was our niece's birthday and we had 18 people for lunch, eating in three sittings! My niece had asked for an ice cream cake and loves strawberries (yes I know they are out of season and yesterday we discussed moving her birthday to the summer so that she had better strawberries on her cake next year!) This cake is very quick and easy to make but won't last long as the ice cream melts! Line two 8 inch cake pans with cling film and fill with ice cream - you can use any sort! Leave in the freezer to set, remove from the cake tins, cover with another layer of cling film and return to the freezer until 5 minutes before you are going to serve the cake. Make three sponge cakes in the same size cake pan - once cooled, I topped mine with white chocolate, pink icing, strawberries and white ferrero roche. When you are ready to serve, layer the cake and ice cream and serve immediately.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Today's project was a Knights, Dragons and Princess' cake for a birthday party in London tomorrow. I had to take the cake to London by train, arriving at Kings Cross at 5pm in the rush hour and managed to get it to its destination in one piece. What a relief - I think I must be mad to have even attempted this!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

I collect many things - baskets, jugs, teapots, samplers, picnic hampers...to name but a few! Our house could legitimately be called cluttered! My favourite collection is my walking stick basket collection, pictured here leaning against our pantry cupboard, which are perfect for collecting things from the hedgerows on country walks. I do not find sticks with baskets very often and my collection totals only three so far (which is probably already more than we need). My mum is also an avid collector - particularly of jelly moulds - and I have used one of hers this morning for my Country Kitchen recipe - a rhubarb and custard jelly - which is looking pretty with its pink and yellow layers as it cools in the fridge. I do hope it will turn out of the mould in one piece when the photographer comes later today!

So what lovely collections do you have? And how many collections are too many?! Can a girl ever have enough wicker baskets?

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

I am just back from being in London and I must say that it is nice to be home! My hens have laid me three eggs (they had stopped laying for a few weeks as it was so cold) including a rather unusual brown egg with white speckles on it! I am not sure which hen is laying them and will have to keep an eye out on the coup! Steven and my brief appearance on cooking the books is being shown this evening at 6.30 and tomorrow at 12.30 lunchtime on Channel 5. I am hoping that my orange and fig cake will look nice on the camera!

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Mince pies - Two Ways
Makes 12

500grams shortcrust pastry
flour for dusting
1 jar of mincemeat
Filling 1 - Lemon Mascapone pies
2 tbsp mascapone cheese
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Filling 2 - Ginger pies
2 preserved gingers, finely chopped
1 tbsp stem ginger syrup
1 tbsp ginger wine
Milk for glazing
Icing sugar for dusting

Roll your pastry out thinly, sprinkle with flour to ensure that it doesn't stick and cut out 12 circles, approximately 3 inches in diameter. Grease a bun tin with butter and press the circles gently in each hole. For lemon mascapone pies, add a teaspoon of mincemeat to each pie and top with half a teaspoon of mascapone cheese and a small amount of zest. For the ginger mince pies, mix 3 tbsp of the mincemeat in a bowl with the preserve ginger, syrup and wine. Place a small spoonful in each pie. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut 12 x 2 inch circles or stars or flowers! Top each pie with a small circle and then brush with the milk to glaze. Bake in a moderate oven Gas Mark 5/180oC/Aga roasting oven below a cold shelf for 10 - 15 minutes, turning the tray half way through cooking, until golden brown. Transfer the mince pies to a cooking wrack and dust with icing sugar. Serve warm with brandy butter!
Our Christmas Tree Seller!

Monday, 3 December 2007

The 2nd December is our wedding anniversary (six years since our Christmassy wedding in Islington) and we traditionally put up our Christmas tree on this day. So yesterday, despite the storms, wind and rain, we wrapped up warm, went to a lovely Christmas tree farm near here and spent a long time picking our tree. Every year I think I must drive Brian Pell, the owner, crazy as I ask him to pull out tree after tree so that I can inspect them all! I know we say it every year, but I think this year we have the best tree we have ever had! Not too wide but nice and tall although I am slightly concerned about the lack of space under the tree for Santa to leave presents! So here is our tree in full decorated glory - just the swag for the fireplace and wreaths for the doors to make and we will be ready to welcome Christmas visitors (the first of which arrive next weekend). We had our first mince pies for supper last night, together with mulled wine and a roast chicken supper and crackers (we all refused to wear our novelty hats on account of it being early December) - so Christmas has definitely arrived in our cottage!

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

This week is busy as I have 37 recipes to write for various projects and articles. I am beginning to wonder whether this is ever going to be possible but I have made a good stab at it this evening. Some of the recipes are for a healthy eating project and so, taking inspiration from Ken Hom's wonderful cooking at the show yesterday, this was our healthy supper!

Spiced Chicken Noodle Soup

Serves 4, preparation time 10 minutes, cooking time 15 minutes

1 tbsp vegetable oil

4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 shallots, peeled and finely sliced

1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped

1 skinless chicken breast fillet, chopped into small pieces

1 – 2 chillies, finely chopped (seeds removed if desired or omit the chillies if you wish)

1 stick lemon grass, trimmed and bashed with a rolling pin to release the flavours

1 carrot peeled and slices into small strips or grated

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp sweet soy sauce

Juice of 1 lime

1 litre chicken or vegetable stock

3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

1 tbsp chopped thai basil (or regular basil if thai basil is not available)

3 chopped spring onions

1 small packet of thin Chinese noodles, soak in boiling water for 3 minutes or according to instructions

In a wok or a large frying pan, heat the oil and then add the garlic, shallots and ginger and cook for 2 minutes until soft, taking care that they do not burn. If the oil gets to hot, turn down the heat. Add the chicken, lemon grass and chillies and cook for a further 3 minutes. Add the carrot and cook for a further minutes. Pour in the fish sauce, both soy sauces and the lime juice and give a good stir. Add the stock and simmer on a low heat for 5 – 8 minutes until the chicken is cooked. Add the coriander, basil, spring onions and cooked noodles and heat for a further minute. Spoon into bowls and serve immediately.

Our autumn harvest!

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Today Steven and I are off to a channel 5 programme Cooking the Books. Masterchef David was on the programme a few weeks ago as well - you may have seen him! We have been asked to cook a dish from one of our favourite cook books so I have chosen Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi's Return to Tuscany - this is their fig and orange upside down cake and I am pleased that it doesn't look too far off the picture! It smells really yummy and to be honest I would quite like a slice now, but I can't imagine turning up with a half eaten cake would go down well. The cake does not contain any butter, margarine or milk so would be good for someone who is allergic to dairy products.

Giancarlo's Fig and Orange Cake
7oz granulated sugar
4 figs and 2 oranges
41/2 oz caster sugar
3 large eggs
4 1/2 oz plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 orange
3oz caster sugar
1 vanilla bean
1tsp ground cinnamon (this was my own addition - I hope GC doesn't mind but I am feeling so Christmassy at the moment that cinnamon is going in everything)
grated zest of the 2 oranges

Place the 7oz caster sugar in a saucepan with 2 tsp of water and heat until the sugar is melted and goes golden brown (it will take longer than you think!). Pour the caramel into the base of a flan or tart tatin dish (8inches). Thinly slice the figs and peel and slice the oranges and layer then in patterns on top of the caramel. Whisk the eggs until they are doubled in size and then gradually add the sugar. Whisk in the baking powder, zest and cinnamon and then gently fold in the flour. Pour the batter on top of the fruit and bake in a moderate oven for 20/25 minutes until a knife comes out clean. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then place a plate on top of the dish and invert - be careful as there is hot caramel which may spill.
I then made a syrup to go on top (as there looked to be a clear syrup drizzled over the cake in the photo and I wanted to make it look identical) - simmer the juice of an orange with the 3oz sugar and vanilla pod until all the sugar is dissolved and it is thick and syrupy. Drizzle over the cake and serve warm or cold.

Monday, 26 November 2007

My Dad has recently been over to New York to visit my brother - it was so noisy that he had to wear ear plugs at night! How different my brother's life is to mine where the only noises we get here at night are the occasional owl hooting and then the dawn chorus from the rooster and peacocks! These are the delicious treats I was bought back which I have used in my baking! See's candies are just the best ever and I hope that my brother reads this and remembers to bring some over for Christmas! He is coming to stay for two whole weeks and I am really looking forward to seeing him!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

I do love my Aga but, being over 80 years old, it can be temperamental and this week it has gone on strike. Sadly the result is no real cooking in our house as our only alternative means of cooking are the BBQ (not great in this weather) and a microwave. Luckily the engineer is here at the moment fixing it so hopefully by this evening it will be working again and boiling a kettle will take less than the 25 minutes it was taking earlier in the week! Hopefully you will allow me to use this as a valid excuse for not posting a recipe today!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

There are few things more satisfying than making your own spice mix. The aroma released by the spices as you heat them in the pan is terrific. I remember waiting in the Masterchef studio when we were just about to start cooking at the start of the semis (this was my ginger chicken and prawn with spiced chips dish). My spices had been placed next to the oven and had warmed up - it felt as if they were speaking to me telling me to cook with them! If you have ever seen the film "Mistress of Spices" you will know what I mean - I love that film! There are no rules really about what you can and can't add to a spice mix - it is all about personal preference! This one contained coriander seeds, cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, fenugreek, cumin seeds and yellow mustard seeds. Once the spices are heated, simply blitz them in a spice grinder or crush them in a pestle and mortar and then seal them in a jar. Although they do last, some of the flavour is lost over time so it is best to make small quantities. For a delicious spiced omelet cook a finely chopped small onion in a tablespoon of ghee or olive olive in a large frying pan together with some finely chopped ginger, garlic and chilli (the chilli can be omitted if you want) with a pinch of salt until they are all soft - don't rush this stage! Add a few teaspoons of your spice mix (or shop brought garam marsala is fine if you don't have time to make your own spice mix) and cook for a further 2 minutes. If I have any in the fridge I also add a tsp of rose harissa paste for an extra chilli kick - again not essential! Whisk 4 eggs in a bowl and then pour into the frying pan and cook until the egg is set - if you have a grill you can place the pan under the grill once the omelet is almost cooked and it will rise slightly to give you a fluffier omelet. Serve with bread and coriander chutney.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

It is not often that I have moments of finesse in my cooking as those of you who watched Masterchef will be well aware. I know that this is something that I really should aspire to as it was the constant criticism (albeit constructive) that I received from John and Gregg but I rarely have the time and for me taste is the most important thing. Occasionally I do make something bordering on elegant - this is a pudding I made for a supper party recently. A Sauternes's jelly with suspended gold leaf and a panne cotte with damson compote. The flavours went really well together and scored highly with the guests on presentation!

Monday, 19 November 2007

Freddie and Charlotte of The Great Big Veg Challenge have ask what my favourite jacket potato filling is as part of their "P is for Potatoes" project! I love jacket potatoes - particularly in this sort of weather - as they provide instant warmth and satisfaction. They are lovely just with butter and grated cheese - or with baked beans and cheese! My favourite filling at the moment (I had it twice last week!) is herb scented mushrooms! It is delicious and so quick to make. I microwave my potatoes for 7 minutes (per potato) on high power and then transfer them to the oven to crisp the skins.
Herb scented mushrooms
served two hungry people
2 large jacket potatoes (microwaved on full power for 14 minutes and then crisped in the oven or cooked for one hour in the oven until soft)
1 small punnet of mushrooms - I used chestnut but any mushrooms would be fine
A large knob of butter
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig thyme
1 red onion finely chopped
1 clove garlic crushed
1 tbsp chopped chives
1 good slug of calvados or brandy (omit this if cooking for children)
100ml double cream
salt and pepper for seasoning

Add the butter to a large frying pan and add the onions, garlic and mushrooms, together with the rosemary and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for approximately 10 minutes until the onions and mushrooms are soft. The mushrooms should smell nice and earthy and remind you of walking in a forest (this is Giancarlo's test for when mushrooms are cooked!) Add the chives and the calvados and cook for a few minutes until the alcohol has burned off. Add the cream and cook for a few minutes further until the sauce is thickened. Divide the mushrooms between the two potatoes and serve immediately!

Amanda from Figs Olives Wine and David from Book the Cook are also providing potato filling recipes so drop by their sites to see their delicious recipes

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

David Hall, of Masterchef fame, was quite shocked when I admitted to him yesterday that I had never made a Christmas cake. Chocolate logs, chocolate truffle cakes decorated with chocolate holly leaves yes, but never a traditional fruit cake with icing and marzipan. We are not a household of fruit cake lovers but I have decided that this year is going to be the one where I attempt to convert everyone. I have scoured all my cook books for Christmas cake recipes trying to decide which one to make but ended up devising my own recipe. I am a huge fan of amaretto and so I wanted to use this in my cake. I soaked my fruits for 48 hours in the ameretto and they were juicy and plump when the time came to make the cake. We also really all love nuts so in an effort to make the cake appealing to non fruit cake lovers, I made it very nutty adding pistachios and cashews, together with the more traditional hazlenuts, almonds and brazil nuts.

So here is my first Christmas cake attempt. I cannot yet vouch for how it tastes as it is sealed in a tin and will be fed with more amaretto for the next month until Christmas, but if smell is anything to go by, it is going to be pretty tasty!

Christmas Cake
1 kilo mixed fruit (you can buy fruit ready mixed in bags in the supermarket or choose any combination you want from sultanas, currants, raisins, dried apricots, mixed peel, dried pinapple - David Hall has made his with dried figs and prunes)
1 large tub glace cherries, chopped in halves
100ml amaretto (or brandy if you are feeling more traditional)
225g/8oz butter, softened
170g/60z muscovado sugar
50g/2oz caster sugar
4 large eggs
170g/6oz plain flour, sifted
50g/2oz self raising flour, sifted
200g/7oz unsalted mixed nuts, roughly chopped
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp mixed spice
a good grate of nutmeg
zest of two lemons
1 tbsp treacle

Soak the mixed fruit and cherries in the amaretto overnight, or longer if you have time, stirring occasionally. Cream the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy and then beat in the eggs on at a time. You need to get as much air into the cake at this stage as the majority of the flour is plain and will not rise. Gently fold in the flours and spices followed by the treacle and zest. Fold the fruits into the cake mixture (you will need a large bowl for this). There will be much more fruit than cake batter so it is important to make sure it is well mixed. Grease and line the base and sides of a 10inch round spring form pan. Pour in the cake batter and bake for 4 hours at Gas Mark 2/150C/Aga roasting oven below a cold shelf for 30 minutes, then transfer to the cooling oven, covering the cake lightly with foil towards the end of it starts to brown too much. Once the cake has cooled, wrap it in greaseproof paper and cling film and store in a sealed tin. Open it once a week, prick the surface with a darning needle or a fork and pour over a spoon of Amaretto.

Last night Sacha and I were invited to have dinner with Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi at their new restaurant Caldesi in Campagna in Bray. All I can say is...yum yum yum yum yum! As you enter the restaurant you are met by a scent of delicious truffle and the decor is just beautiful - I love their new logo! The food was delicious! I started with roasted vegetables (aubergines, artichokes, baby carrots and peppers) with a delicious truffle cream, followed by "melt in your mouth" osso buco with a delicious tomato ragu and truffle polenta. To finish, we had doughnuts with sambuca sauce (with lovely overtones of blackcurrant and aniseed) and a vanilla cream. There was not a crumb left! All in all a super meal, lovely company (I am so lucky that Giancarlo has taken me under his culinary wing) and I definitely recommend a visit if you are near Bray. Giancarlo has asked me to teach at his cookery school - what an honour! I need to brush up on some Italian desserts as I am not quite sure that Toblerone tiramisu would be highly regarded in an Italian kitchen!!!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

For an unusual gift, pack a basket full of onions and top with your favourite recipe for French Onion Soup. Tie with a bow - and hey presto - a thoughtful present that someone will love!