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

Friday, 30 March 2007

Today I am going to a reunion dinner (15 years since matriculation) at my old college - it's making me feel so old (I am still not sure that it can possibly be 15 years) but am really looking forward to catching up with people I have lost touch with over the years. So much has changed in that time and I wonder whether any of them will have been watching Masterchef! At least I will have something to talk about when they ask me what I have been doing and I will be the only person there who has cooked at 10 Downing Street so at least I have one claim to fame! It will also be good to sample college food again - as a student I remember it being pretty good (£4.20 for the three course meal - no one can complain at that!) but my palette has changed considerably over the last 15 years so I hope it will be as good as I remember!

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Another recipe for the fabulous Freddie (of Great Big Veg Challenge Fame) who has progressed from cabbage to corn in his A - Z. Hope that you like this one as much as the cabbage Freddie!
Corn and corriander fritters
4oz self raising flour
2 tsps caster sugar
2 eggs separated
3/4 cups milks
1 1/2 oz butter melted
1 tin sweetcorn drained and 1 handful fresh corriander, finely chopped
butter for pan frying the fritters

Sift flour into a bowl and add the sugar, egg yolks, milk and melted butter. Whisk until everything is incorporated. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites to sift peaks and then gentle fold into the batter mixture. Stir in the sweetcorn and corriander. Melt the butter in a large frying pan and place spoonfuls of the batter a small distance apart in the pan. Cook until golden, turning over half way through cooking when the batter is almost cooked on the top side of the fritter. Keep the fritters warm in a low temperature oven until you have cooked the remaining batter mixture. I like to serve these with soup as an alternative to bread.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

It has been a while since there has been a dessert recipe on my blog so here is a new one I invented last night for Gregg Wallace who I am seeing for lunch today and who had requested a toffee cheesecake. Let's hope he likes it! I have not made toffee cheesecake before so this is a bit of an experiment and I should really know better than experimenting on Gregg (lavender duck, thyme sabayon etc)....perhaps I will learn one day!
You will need a 10/12 inch spring form tin, some clingfilm and a deep roasting tray which the tin fits in. Firstly make the cheesecake base:
140grams self-raising flour
1-teaspoon baking powder
25g butter
25g caster sugar
1 egg beaten
1 tablespoons milk
Rub the butter into the flour and baking powder with your finger tips. Fold in the sugar and egg and mix to form a soft dough. If the mixture is too dry add a little milk. Press this mixture over the base of the tin, cover with greaseproof paper and weighdown with some baking beans. Cook at 180oC/Gas Mark 5/Aga roasting oven below a cold shelf for 10 minutes until the dough has risen and the paper lifts away easily. Set aside to cool.

Now for the filling
1 Jar of toffee sauce - Merchant Gourmet or similar
600g cream cheese
140g caster sugar
seeds from 1 vanilla pod
4 eggs
227 grams clotted cream (I use Roddas)

Put all the filling ingredients except the toffee sauce in a blender and blitz until smooth. Wrap the base of the cake tin in plenty of clingfilm to ensure that water won't leak in. Half fill the roasting tin with water. Spoon half of the toffee sauce over the base and then pour over the cheesecake mixture. Place the tin carefully in the roasting tin and slide into the oven. Cook at 150oC/Gas Mark 4 for one hour/Aga roasting oven below a cold shelf for approximately one hour turning half way round. The cheesecake is set when it wobbles when you move the tin and is springy to touch.

Leave to cool in the fridge overnight. Spoon the remaining toffee sauce over the cheesecake and top with white marshmellows, fudge chunks, toffee popcorn and pieces of crunchie bar. Melt 100grams of chololate (1 minute full power in the microwave) and drizzle over the topping. Chill in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

Monday, 26 March 2007

I had a lovely day yesterday at the Stagsden Farmers Market and Craft Fair - signing lots of autographs (something that I still haven't got used to!) It was really warm and sunny and finally feels like Spring has arrived.

The market was held at the farm of my favourite butchers, Browns of Stagsden. Browns were huge supporters of mine throughout Masterchef and provided lots of free bones that I used to make my stocks during the competition. Their pork and cracked black pepper sausages are the best! We had filmed there for the final programme but they were sadly edited out. If you are in the area, I definitely recommend a visit.

The fair was full of local producers - something I am very much in favour of supporting. The highlight for me was meeting a local beekeeper who is going to teach me about keeping bees - this has been a long term dream of mine and it might now become a reality! I can think of nothing nicer than having a cupboard full of jars of my own cottage honey and a lovely white beehive in our orchard!

I discovered a new ingredient this weekend - the Kiwiberry - it seems to be a cross between a grape and a kiwi and is actually quite yummy - very sour and sweet and juicy. I decided to make a salad with it last night which went really well with some steaks we were having.
Kiwiberry Salad
1 small bag rocket
3 spring onions finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
10 kiwiberries, halveds (available in waitrose)
1 raw courgette, finely sliced (I love raw courgette!)
2 tbsp chopped corriander
2 tbsp chopped mint
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp caster sugar
salt and pepper to season
Toss all the salad ingredient together in a bowl. Whisk together the dressing and pour over the salad. It's as easy as that!!!

Friday, 23 March 2007

I have to say that I am overwhelmed by the number of requests I have had for the lamb with wild mushroom recipe from my final menu. I don't think I will ever live down undercooking my lamb and my only excuse can be that I had flu on the last day and was just a bit fuzzy in the head. I am certain however that, even had I cooked my lamb properly, Steven would still have been crowned the rightful winner. Deservedly so as his final menu dishes were perfect. The recipe for the mushrooms can be found on the bbc food website at the following link http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/database/rackoflambwithwildmu_85852.shtml

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Last night my friend Jess and I decided to experiment with some cookies and this was the result!

Bounty Cookies (makes approximately 20)
4 1/2 oz butter, 12 oz self raising flour, pinch of salt, 200g caster sugar,
1 tbsp golden syrup, 1 egg, beaten, vanilla seeds from one vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract, 3 bounty bars chopped into small pieces

Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Melt the butter and syrup, pour over the dry ingredients and mix in. Leave the mixture to cool slightly. Mix in the beaten egg and stir through the bounty pieces. Place small balls of the cookie dough on baking trays lined with greaseproof paper and bake at Gas Mark 6/160 oC for 12 - 15 minutes until golden brown, turning the tray half way through to ensure even cooking.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Here's a quick recipe that I gave to the BBC in response to their request for a "pudding they might not have thought of". It was inspired by the book the Food of Love which talks about stuffed meringues although I have not been able to find a recipe for them. This is my own interpretation - chestnut and pistachio-stuffed meringues: whisk two egg whites to soft peaks and then whisk in 100g/3½oz of caster sugar until the mixture is glossy. Dollop small meringues (approximately 3cm/1.2in diameter) on a greaseproof paper lined tray. Bake at 150C/300F/Gas 2 for an hour until the shells are crisp and the insides are still gooey.
While the meringues are cooking, mix together four tablespoons of unsweetened chestnut purée, 100g/3½oz of ground pistachios, two tablespoons of icing sugar and five finely chopped marrons glaces. Put the mixture into a piping bag and when the meringues are cooked, carefully lift them one at a time from the tray and pipe the nut mixture into the meringue from the underside. They can be eaten hot or cold, with double cream. Lovely!

Monday, 19 March 2007

I love my Aga. Before we moved to our cottage I had never experienced cooking on a Aga and it took a while to get used to but now I wouldn't be without it. It keeps our kitchen lovely and warm, bread can be proved really quickly and clothes dried on it. There is nothing nicer than putting a casserole in the slow oven in the morning and them coming home from a long walk in the afternoon and it is ready to eat.
I have to admit that, at the outset of Masterchef, it was a real hurdle getting used to cooking in a normal oven again. Everything I cook is done very slowly and it therefore came as a bit of a shock to have to cook two dishes within an hour!

Hurrah for a fantastic party on Friday! It was so nice to see the Masterchef crew again, John and Gregg, my wonderful Italian chef Giancarlo Caldesi and Steven's chef Brendan from Bentleys. It bought back so many happy memories of our time filming and it was fantastic to all watch the final programme together for one last time and yes....I cried yet again, but very happy tears!

Black Olive and Sweet Potato Salad
Serves 6 as a side dish, preparation and cooking 20 minutes

3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into pieces

500 grams of baby new potatoes

5 spring onions finely chopped

20 black olives, stones removed and finely sliced

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

course sea salt and pepper

Simmer the sweet and new potatoes in boiling salted water until they are just cooked. Drain the water and return to the pan. Gently crush with a masher so that the potatoes are broken but not mashed completely and stir through the spring onions, olives and olive oil. Season with the salt and pepper, although you will not need too much salt as the olives will already have added a nice saltiness to the dish. This is really good served with grilled fish.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Ok these are good but very naughty. However I make no apologies for this. They are perfect for a day like today when it is freezing cold and snowing (!) and you are in need of a little pick-me-up. I always keep a bag of pecans in my cupboard so that these can be made on the spur of the moment if someone I know is in need of something to lift their spirits.
Buttered caramel pecans
2 egg whites
100grams melted butter
200 grams caster sugar
300 grams whole pecans
1 tsp cinnamon
Whisk the egg whites to form stiff peaks. Fold in the sugar one spoon at a time as if you were making a meringue, whisking until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Stir in the pecans and cinnamon and pour over the melted butter. This will reduce the size of the meringe considerably. Stir to ensure that all the pecans are coated. Pour the pecan mixture onto a baking tray lined with grease proof paper and bake in a moderate oven (Gas Mark 5/180oC) for 25 minutes until caramalized and golden brown. It is important to take the tray out of the oven every 10 minutes and move the pecans around to ensure that they don't burn. Leave to cool. They are very moorish, never last long and are also delicious as a topping on vanilla ice cream.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Just wanted to post a huge congratulations to Steven, Masterchef 2007! I am fiercely proud of him and his achievements and he was such a worthy winner. Steven is an amazing cook and has a palette unlike anyone I have ever known - he can make even the simplest things like scrambled eggs taste stunning, just by adding a dash of truffle oil and some chives - completely elevating the dish to a level I would never even have thought of. I am so, so pleased for him and am grateful that Masterchef has brought us together - we have often said we are cooking soul mates and I know that we are going to be friends for a long, long time. Yes OK maybe Steven isn't totally aware of how fast the hands go round a clock (!), but I would sit and wait patiently for a plate of food from him any day. Believe me, the wait is worth it. Steven is destined for great things and I hope that one day Charles Campion will have to eat his words!

Also a huge congratulations to Ben - we all achieved so much and pushed ourselves way beyond any normal limits. When condensed into 30 minutes it is often hard to imagine why we were all so stressed. The level of intensity that we were sometimes under was unreal and I felt so proud watching us all at Downing Street, the Savoy and in Paris. Ben's presentation and technical ability is awesome. He will be a great chef and I fully expect to one day be eating in his Michelin starred restaurant. I always looked at his plates of food agog with amazement - they are so far removed from my rustic style of cooking and I can only hope that one day I may elevate my food to such a high standard. Ben was always there for me when I needed a shoulder to cry on - the two of us were away from our friends and family for five weeks, living out of a suitcase in a hotel, surrounded by complete strangers and cameras and cooking under immense pressure - COOKING REALLY DOESN'T GET TOUGHER THAN THIS - believe me! I know that Ben will go on to achieve the great things he deserves.

As for me, Masterchef has been the most amazing journey of my life - I was a last minute stand in and came to the heats with 24 hours notice (hence the rather rushed decision to make blueberry duck and saffron mash - thank goodness I won't have to see "that" clip any more!!!) I am so proud of what I achieved - I learnt so much with expert tuition from John and Gregg who would quietly pass on useful tips when they were walking round the kitchen and who saw something in me which to this day I still find hard to see in myself and the amazing Giancarlo Caldesi who was there for me at my lowest point in the competition, who picked me up, dusted me down and taught me about getting amazing flavours from a few ingredients which give a dish the wow factor that I was seeking. I am so lucky to have been taught by some monumental chefs - particularly Helene in Paris who was truly inspirational with her silent kitchen - I have never worked anywhere more calm and relaxed and really loved it and at the Ritz Paris which never made the final programme but where we learned some remarkable dishes. I am so privileged to have cooked at 10 Downing Street and for the Michelin Starred chefs at the Savoy - to this day still can't quite believe the praise I was given and am very proud of myself for what I achieved that day. That said, the highlight of the series for me has to be Gregg putting his face in my blueberry cheesecake (literally) on my first day which sadly didn't get shown but was very very funny!

Big thanks to John and Gregg for the continued support and also to the wonderful crew from Shine who were there with us throughout the whole journey, including during the last few weeks when at times it has been hard to have your every flaw shown on national tv. At least, in the knowledge of how far I came, I can look back at those less than perfect moments (pizza dough, chocolate slop in a pot, fruit tart flip flops (as Gregg so kindly named them), tears) and laugh!

I have lots of things in the pipeline and I know that this isn't the end of my cooking journey but for now, it's Friday...tonight is Steven's victory party and I can't wait to get there and congratulate him in person.

Thanks to everyone who has supported me throughout the competition, for all the lovely comments and emails of support and to those complete strangers who have come up to me in the street and wished me luck. It really has meant the world to me.


Thursday, 15 March 2007

What a week this has been! Steven and I watched yesterday's programme together and I think we were both amazed by what we had achieved at both Downing Street and the Savoy. It all seemed like a dream watching it back and I was so proud of my chocolate dessert. There were chefs there to guide us but we did every step ourselves and I am so proud of us all. I can safely say it is a night I will never forget and we rocked! Best of all was that John and Gregg were so proud of us all and I, for one, am glad that we didn't let them down.

No time for a recipe today so thought I would just post a picture of my little dragon cake! It went down very well for my nephew Taran!

Monday, 12 March 2007

Another weekend...another cake! This was a victoria sandwich filled with clotted cream, fresh strawberries and strawberry jam. I use the same quantaties as the lemon drizzle cake below but omiting the lemon zest and lemon icing. For an extra treat melt some dark chocolate and spread over the two cake halves whilst the are cooling. Chocolate, cream and strawberries - is there any better combination?

Watching Friday's episode of Masterchef was harder than I ever imagined. Steven and I watched it together and were both horrified at how bad we were. That day was one of the most emotional of my life and it was absolutely devastating to see David under such pressure and then for his dream to come to an end. It wasn't a great day for me - I had realised at 8pm the night before that the dish I was planning on cooking couldn't be done in the time and therefore just had to make something up with the ingredients I had requested. I really believed I was going to be the one going home that day.

David is an amazing cook - totally unique - I so admire his determination to bring back good old British classics that really should never have been forgotten in the first place. David and I share a love of baking and I know that we will always be friends. He had amazing support throughout the competition from his lovely wife Helen and daughter Cerys and I really look forward to meeting them one day soon.

David is already following his foodie dreams - I know he will be a great success and I wish him every bit of luck in the world with his new projects xxx

A sheep cake!

Sunday, 11 March 2007

F is for Freddie, a very special person who is undertaking a fantastic project of cooking his way through the alphabet of veg. Congrats to Freddie's mum for coming up with such a cool idea to encourage good healthy food and cooking a such a young age. I am sure that Gregg (veggie expert and lovely MC judge) would be very impressed with Freddie.
Freddie is currently on C is for Cabbage - so this one's for you Freddie! Hope you like it - it's one of my favourite winter dishes.

1 savoy cabbage, leaves separated
1 pack of sausages (any variety but we like traditional English best)
salt and pepper
50grams salted butter

Blanch the cabbage leaves for 3 minutes in boiling salted water until soft. Drain and set aside. Remove the skin from the sausages and mix the sausagemeat together. In a cast iron casserole dish, line the bottom with some of the cabbage leaves, places a third of the sausagemeat on top and then continue layering the cabbage leaves and sausage meat, seasoning between each layer and ending with cabbage leaves on top. Chop the butter into small pieces and sprinkle over the top cabbage layer. Place a sheet of greaseproof paper on top. Press down and fold in at the sides so that it forms a tight lid. Place the casserole lid on top and cook in a moderate over Gas Mark 5, 180 oC for approximately 40 minutes. Serve in slices with warm crusty bread. Very simple but definitely tasty!

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Quinces are such lovely things - I can't sing their praises enough and am so lucky to have a large quince tree in our garden. Their vanilla scent fills the kitchen. As soon as they are ripe and loose their fir, I gather them in and preserving them in every way I know how. We are now reaping the benefits in these wintery months with quincemeat cake, crumble and baked apples stuffed with quincemeat. Luckily I don't think I would ever tired of eating quince.
My most popular recipe is quince brandy - a lovely deep nectar drink that tastes like nothing else I know. I make litres of this every year and it never seems to last long enough.
Take a sterilised 2 litre kilner jar, or something similar with a tight fitting lid. In the jar place 6 cups of coursly grated quince and 2 cups of caster sugar. Add in 3 large cinnamon stick and 20 cloves. Pour over 1 litre of vodka - I have tried many different types (!) and find Smirnoff Red Label gives the smoothest finish. Top up the jar with water and seal. Put the jar somewhere warm and sunny and shake every day for two weeks so that the sugar dissolves. The liquid will turn a darm golden colour. Then leave the mixture to sit for a further two weeks. Strain through muslin and put into sterilised bottles - it is ready to drink immediately and is truly delicious!

Thursday, 1 March 2007

With a large family, it always seems to be someone's birthday and it falls to me as our family "baker" to make the cakes. This is the cake I made for my Grandma's 86th birthday - lemon drizzle cake with lemon curd, buttercream and strawberries decorated with butterflies and fresh flowers. It is made in several layers - three layers in a 10 inch cake pan and then the top layer is half a sphere, made using a football cake pan I have - with the cream and lemon curd between each layer.

Lemon Drizzle Cake
Gas Mark 5/180 oC
10 inch ring pan lightly greased
8oz marg or butter
8oz caster sugar
Cream the butter and sugar together
Add in 4 large eggs and mix until light and foamy.
Sift in 8oz self raising flour and fold in grated rind of two lemons and fold in gently. Bake in the oven for about 25 mins - I usually turn it round half way through so that it browns all over. Just before the cake is ready, heat the juice of two lemons with a large table spoon of icing sugar in a saucepan. Pour over cake as soon as it comes out of the oven and leave to cool.

Christine's LEMON CURD
Makes 1 pound of curd

4 oz butter
8 oz sugar
6 tbsp lemon juice (I use a large old tablespoon)
Grated rind of 3 large lemons
3 eggs beaten - I use large ones, double yolks if possible

Place butter, sugar, lemon juice and rind in a large bowl. Cook uncovered on full power (650 watt) for 3 minutes stirring half way through. Beat eggs into mixture gradually but quickly using a balloon whisk. Make sure it is well blended. Cook for 5 minutes or until lemon curd thickens. CHECK AND STIR EVERY MINUTE - DO NOT ALLOW TO BOIL (or you will have lemon scrambled egg!) Allow to cool a little then put into a clean jar or two. Happy cooking - the smell when you are making this is divine!

Blueberry and Lemon Cheesecake

I made this in the first round of Masterchef in the invention test. I was so proud as Gregg said in his interview in the Radio Times that it was his favourite dish of the series!

500 grams Marscapone cheese, 250 ml creme fraiche, 1 or 2 lemons, 300 grams blueberries, 300 grams digestive biscuits, 100 grams melted butter, 100 grams whole almonds, 2 tbsp caster sugar, 1 tbsp icing sugar

Line and grease a 10inch spring form tin. Blitz the digestives and almonds together in a food processors to fine crumbs. Pour in the melted butter and stir to ensure all the biscuit crumbs are coated. Press the crumb mixture into the base of the spring form tin and leave to cool slightly. Heat 100grams of the blueberries in a baking tray in the oven for approximately 5 mins until they become soft and very juicy. Sprinkle the warmed blueberries over the biscuit base. Mix together the mascapone, finely grated rind of the lemon, the creme fraiche and 1 tbsp icing sugar. Taste for sweetness - if you like it sweet add more icing sugar or if you prefer a tarter flavour add a small squeese of the lemon juice. Spoon the mixture into the tin and chill in the fridge for an hour (or longer if time permits). To make the blueberry sauce simmer the remaining blueberries, caster sugar with the juice of the lemon and 50ml of water for approximately 10 mins, until the blueberries are very soft and the sauce is thick and syrupy. Taste for sweetness and add more sugar or lemon juice as needed. Leave the sauce to cool and pour over the cheesecake to serve.

Last weekend was our niece Devina's birthday - she is growing up so fast and is now 13. We had a lovely family party and my brother Gareth was over from New York! This is my standard chocolate cake recipe - it is so easy to make and very versitile. For Devina's cake I doubled the receipe and make it in two cake pans one slightly smaller than the other to give the tiered "wedding cake" effect. When cooled I covered the cake in vanilla buttercream and covered it with fondant icing, pink buttercream andlots of red and pink sweets and ribons and feathers. Chocolate cake (to make one 10 inch sandwich cake)

Ingredients: 8oz stork margarine, 8oz caster sugar, 4 large eggs, 7oz self raising flour, 2oz Cadbury's cocoa powder, 100grams of chopped chocolate (any will do but I like white chunks for contrast)

Grease and line the two sandwich tins. Cream the margarine and sugar until light and fluffly. Add in the eggs one at a time mixing so that the batter becomes light and creamy. If the mixture curdles, I add a spoonful of the flour. Sift in the flour and cocoa and fold gently to incorporate. Fold in the chocolate pieces and divide between the two cake tins. Cook for 20/25mins in a moderate oven 180 degrees, gas mark 5 or roasting oven of the aga with a cold shelf above until the cake springs back when you touch it and a knife comes out clean. Leave to cook and then sandwich together with chocolate butter cream.