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, 29 June 2007

For someone who has every kitchen gadget under the sun, it is perhaps surprising that none of them ever get a mention on this blog. Acquiring kitchen gadgets is right up there with my compulsive cook book buying! Recent acquisitions include herb cutting scissors (thank you Owen and Jonathan) and a large olive stoner that I am using to stone Damsons with - clearly essential. However the latest cake tin discovery couldn't go by without a loud shout about it.

I was introduced to the Baker's Edge brownie pan by Jonathan and Sarah of http://www.aroundbritainwithapaunch.blogspot.com/ - fellow foodie fanatics! Jonathan is Kathy Brown's son and we met at our supper there a few weeks ago. Jonathan's girlfriend Sarah made fantastic brownies in the pan (see below picture) which had arrived that day from the States. They were heavenly!

The idea of the pan (and it works perfectly) is that there is a lovely crusty edge on each brownie you make - therefore avoiding the really gooey middle brownie that invariably appears when brownies are made in a rectangular pan. I have to say it is simply genius! It would also make fantastically shaped jellies or mousses or a snake or maze (a la Harry Potter) cake. It set my brain whirring and I can't wait for mine to arrive!

Thursday, 28 June 2007

There are few things more quintessentially British than a beach hut and I have fond memories of childhood holidays at Wells next the Sea in Norfolk where we would huddle in our little beach hut and have cups of tea and toast marshmallows on a fire after playing on the beach. These colourful beach huts are from Southwold where we went for a holiday last autumn - so bright and colourful against the dark autumn sky.

I especially like the one with the children painted on the doors!

My love of beach huts comes from my mum and she has just built one at the bottom of her garden - no sea in sight but it is a lovely hideaway for a cup of tea or a glass of wine in the evening.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Sunday was my Grandma's birthday - her birthday treat was to come and see my cookery demonstration (probably not the most exciting of birthday treats but everyone at the demo sang happy birthday to her!) We then came back to our cottage and had a birthday tea including her birthday cake which she is seen enjoying here with my brother who was visiting from New York. Cake fireworks are great no matter how young or old you are!

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Toblerone Tiramisu
Serves 6
Preparation time 30mins plus baking time and overnight chilling

4oz caster sugar
4oz butter or margarine
2 large eggs
3 ½ oz self raising flour
1 oz cocoa
2 tablespoons of instant coffee powder
200ml boiling water
150ml Amaretto liquor
500ml crème fraiche
500 grams mascarpone cheese
3tbsp sifted icing sugar
cocoa powder for dusting
200gram bar of Toblerone coarsely chopped

Begin by making the Toblerone cupcakes. If you are short of time you can substitute these with shop bought trifle sponges or amaretti biscuits. Cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. If the mixture starts to curdle add a spoonful of the flour. Sift in the flour and cocoa and fold gently to incorporate. Place 12 cupcake cases in a bun tin and half fill each with the cake mixture. Place a chunk of Toblerone in the centre of each and then cover with a spoonful of the remaining cake batter. Bake in the oven, Gas mark 5/180oC/Aga roasting oven below a cold shelf for 12-15 minutes until the cupcakes are firm to touch and bounce back when pressed with a finger. Leave aside to cool.

Dissolve the instant coffee in a jug with the boiling water. Pour in the amaretto and leave to cool. Whilst the coffee mixture is cooling, stir together the mascarpone, crème fraiche and icing sugar in a large mixing bowl. Soak the cupcakes in the coffee mixture for about a minute until they have soaked up some of the coffee mixture but are not too wet. Place half the cakes on the bottom of a trifle dish, pressing them down with a spoon so that the cake covers the bottom of the dish. Sprinkle over half the chopped Toblerone and dust with cocoa. Spoon half the mascarpone mixture over the cupcake layer, dust with another layer of sifted cocoa and then repeat the layers again, ending with a cocoa dusted layer on top of the mascarpone. Chill in the fridge, preferably overnight which will enable the flavours to develop.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Yesterday was Kathy Brown's Garden Open Day for the NGS. Despite the rainy weather a lot of people came - one man even cycled 3 hours in the rain to get there! I gave two cookery demonstrations to 140 people with talks about Masterchef and behind the scenes insider information! The demonstrations (toblerone tiramisu, strawberry chocolate and rosewater tart, lime and ginger cheesecake) were followed by rose petal cream teas including my glittery lavender shortbread (ok so the glitter is becoming a bit of an obsession but they looked really pretty!)

It was also our village church cream tea yesterday so in addition to the 160 lavender shortbreads, I also made 60 scones, 50 cupcakes and 36 fondant fancies (oh and a birthday cake for my Grandma). It's lucky that I enjoy baking! I have never made fondant fancies before so was really excited by how they turned out. Violet flavour with violet syrup in the icing and violet liquor. I hope that Tom from Fitzbillies would be proud of me as I made the fancies exactly as he showed me - cutting the cake into really thin layers that you separate using a metal sheet and then drizzle each layer with alcohol and a thin spreading of buttercream. Tom must have asbestos fingers as I kept burning mine on the hot fondant but it was worth it for the end result. I am sure that they will get better with practise too. And yes they were decorated with purple glitter!

Friday, 22 June 2007

In order to cover the electricity costs, the illumination of our village church is sponsored each week. This week I have sponsored it for my Mum's birthday so last night she came over to visit and we had a late night trip up to the Church - not quite Blackpool illuminations but it looked really stunning! The colour of the sky was amazing.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

A friendly cow!

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Second only to cooking, sewing is my passion - one shared by the other members of our village sewing circle "stitch and bitch" and lovely Susan from my old work. Every year my mum's birthday present is a sampler and this is the one she received at the weekend - I know it's Christmassy in June but it means that she can put it up at the beginning of December (logical in my view)! Throughout Masterchef I was sewing a sampler for my friend Jess and it has a lot of memories sewn into it having been stitched in Cyprus and Paris and at the studio!

I thought this morning that I would post a few of the samplers I have made in the last year - an online exhibition for you!

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Sometimes, weekends are filled with birthdays and last weekend was no exception. In addition to my Mum's birthday it was also Rosie Pea's first birthday. Rosie is my friend Jess' little girl and it seems hard to believe that a year ago I was babysitting for her brother Joshua Pickle (my food taster) whilst Jess was in hospital having Rosie. It makes you realise just how much can happen in a year!
So this was Rosie's first ever birthday cake - lots of pink and butterflies and edible baby pink glitter! She is definitely going to be a girlie girl!

Rosie Pea on her first birthday - loving the pink tissue paper more than her presents!

Monday, 18 June 2007

Today is my Mum's birthday "Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday Dear Mum, Happy Birthday to you". It's a special birthday but I won't say which!!!!

We celebrated yesterday at Paris House in Woburn (picture below) with a lovely dinner attended by my Grandma, Aunts and Uncles and my cousin Charles who has just returned from working in Ghana. Paris House was built for an exhibition in London many years ago and was then transported to Woburn Abbey where it was used as a hunting lodge. There are hundreds of deer in the surrounding parkland and it is very idyllic.

My mum loves sunflowers and last year made a sunflower "room" on her allotment. So this was the the perfect theme for her cake! It was a lemon drizzle cake with cherries and buttercream, sugar sunflowers and mini champagne truffles from Hotel Chocolat.

Friday, 15 June 2007

Tomorrow we are having supper with Kathy Brown in her beautiful gardens http://www.kathybrownsgarden.homestead.com/
Her husband has described Kathy and I as kindred spirits as we both love cooking with flowers and I am glad that Masterchef has thrown us together. This is Kathy's cake from her book The Edible Flower Garden (definitely worth a read!) which just looks so dreamy and there was a lovely article about her in the Independent on Sunday last weekend.
Next weekend I am doing cookery demonstrations in her gardens when she opens them for the National Garden Scheme. We are creating Rose Petal Cream Teas and Kathy and I are having a lovely time coming up with ideas for what to serve - the more flowery the better! No doubt this will form the main topic of conversation tomorrow evening - I do pity our poor husbands sometimes!!!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Last night I had the honour of helping Gian Carlo Caldesi with one of his cookery demonstrations at the Caffe Caldesi cookery school. What fun we had! On arrival I was told that I could demonstrate any pudding I wanted and was sent out to Tesco Metro to buy ingredients of my choice! This was 5 minutes before the class was due to start and just my luck Tesco's wasn't very well stocked yesterday evening. The various ideas I had all went out of the window when there was no fruit available. So we experimented and made a chocolate, vanilla and ginger cheesecake which went down well!

This was to serve 20 so you might want to scale it down a bit! Utterly calorific and not one for the faint hearted!

1kilo mascarpone

500grams cream cheese

500ml extra thick double cream

2 vanilla pods

50grams caster sugar

4 packets of chocolate coated ginger biscuit, blitz into crumbs

150 grams butter, melted

100grams plain chocolate, melted

10 Ferrero Roche, cut in half

Begin by making the vanilla syrup - remove the seeds from the vanilla pod and put both the pods and seeds in a small saucepan with the sugar and a small amount of water. Simmer until the mixture becomes very syrup. Remove the vanilla pods and leave to cool (you can speed the cooling process up by putting the bottom of the saucepan in a sink of cold water). Stir the butter through the ginger biscuit crumbs and press firmly into 2 10inch ring tins to form the cheesecake base.

Mix together the marscarpone, cream cheese and thick double cream. Stir through the vanilla syrup. Pour 3/4 of the melted chocolate mixture and stir through gently - you are aiming for a swirled effect so not too much stirring is needed! Spoon this mixture on top of the biscuit base, drizzle over the remaining chocolate with a fork and decorate with the ferrero roche. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour - longer if you have it - we didn't!!!

Sadly the photographic evidence is in London as I left my camera behind but for a quick last minute pudding with no recipe - it looked pretty good!

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

I have had a long term dream of keeping bees in our garden. I can't imagine anything nicer than having jars of my own honey in our larder and perhaps one day I will be able to persuade my husband that bees in the garden would be a good thing!
I have just been given a honeycomb and last night we had some of the honey on fresh bread with cream cheese which was delicious. I just wondered if anyone had any interesting suggestions as to what to do with my honeycomb?

Monday, 11 June 2007

Yesterday was Open Farm Sunday at Stagsden with wonderful craft and food stalls, animals, farm walks and cookery demonstrations from yours truly. There is something about cooking with the sound of geese gaggling loudly in the background which is rather fun!

I demonstrated four main courses (including THAT lavender and blueberry duck), three desserts and a cocktail - which all went down well. Liz Fryer of Delissimo then demonstrated some wonderful fish dishes - including beetroot cured salmon which was stunning! All in all a lovely way to spend a Sunday and thanks (yet again!) to my Mum for acting as sous chef in the demos!

Friday, 8 June 2007

Last night I had a lovely girlie evening with my friend Jess - a nice thai curry, a trashy chic flick and finished off with some experimental violet desserts! I have to admit that the chocolate violet tart did not work - it was far too sickly - you live and learn! However, the chocolate violet fondue was just delicious! Really chocolaty followed by a strong hint of violet - yum yum! You definitely need fruit to dunk as cake or marshmallows would just be too much I think!

Chocolate violet fondue (to serve 4 - it is very rich and you don't need much!)

200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)

200ml double cream

60ml violet liquor

1 tbsp violet syrup

red cherries to dunk

Melt the chocolate, cream and violet syrup and liquor in a saucepan, heating gently. When the chocolate has melted, pour into ramekin dishes and serve with the cherries - it's as easy as that!

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

There is something about a pithiviere tart that is really surprising. It is rather ordinary looking from the outside but when you cut in to it you are greeted by a gooey, nutty, buttery filling. This is my recipe for pistachio pithiviere but you can substitute the pistachios with any other ground nuts and the amaretto for any other spirit that you like!
Pistachio pithiviere
1 pack of puff pastry
2oz butter
4oz icing sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp amaretto
4oz finely ground pistachios
1 egg and 2 tbsp icing sugar, mixed for the glaze

Begin by making the filling - cream the butter with the icing sugar, yolks and amaretto and then add in the ground pistachios. Roll out the puff pastry and cut out two dinner plate size circles. Place one pastry circle on a greased baking tray. Spoon the pistachio filling into the middle of the circle and spread out, leaving a 1 1/2 inch gap around the edge of the pastry. Wet the edge of the circle with water using a pastry brush and top with the second circle of pastry. Seal the edges with a fork and brush the top with the egg and sugar glaze. If you are feeling artistic, use a sharp knife to score patterns on the top of the pastry, being careful not to cut through the pastry to the filling. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes and then bake in a moderate oven Gas Mark 4/1800C/350F/Aga roasting oven below a cold shelf for 20/25 minutes until the top is golden brown. Serve warm or cold.

Julian hopefully you can use this for your almond powder. Not sure whether you can get puff pastry in Japan but it is quite easy to make yourself. Let me know if you need the recipe!

Monday, 4 June 2007

Friday night was Mike's birthday dinner and this is the allotment cake I made for him. It took less than 2 hours from start to finish including baking the cake which must be a record for me!